Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Blog Valhalla, Polytheism, Books and More

¶ Yvonne Aburrow's Pagan theologies wiki has what might be the definitive list of active Pagan blogs. I am adding a link on my sidebar.

¶ Speaking of which, this blog now appears on BeliefNet's Blog Heaven page again. Thanks to everyone who made a fuss.

¶Bedside reading: I started, put aside, but will return to John Lamb Lash's Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief.

It is a difficult book for me to evaluate: I sympathize with Lash's point of view, but I think that he distorts some of his sources too much in order to support his views. He wants to use Gnosticism as a path that "can provide the spiritual dimension for deep ecology independently of the three mainstream religions derived from the Abrahamic traditions."

Gnosticism is still concerned with "salvation," a concept largely at odds with polytheism, as John Michael Greer points out (see below). Much Gnostic thinking disparages physical existences as a "mistake," so I am waiting to see how Lash reconciles that with deep ecology and its focus on our relationship with and as a part of nature.

Lash writes his introduction around the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Platonic philosopher murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE. He wants to view her as an "urban shaman," but I see her more as today's tenured professor of mathematics. An intellectual through and through. Note how she elevates philosophy over erotic attraction this story of her teaching, true or not.

Reviewing Not in His Image in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Kirch writes:

Lash is capable of explaining the mind-bending concepts of Gnosticism and pagan mystery cults with bracing clarity and startling insight. At moments, however, he slips into a kind of New Age rant as baffling as any mystical text. "What we seek in 'Gaia theory' is a live imaginal dimension," he writes in one such passage, "not a scaffolding of cybernetic general systems cogitation." . . . .

And when he considers what he calls the "sci-fi theology" of the ancient Gnostics, he comes uncomfortably close to affirming that the otherworldly "Archons" of Gnostic myth were authentic extraterrestrials.

An interesting book, but full of special pleading.

¶I am happier with John Michael Greer's A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, published by the Druidic group Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Greer's arguments for polytheism as offering a better model of the universe (including the evil and suffering in it) than monotheism and his lucid explanation of polytheistic spirituality deserve a wide hearing.

He works hard to show that monotheistic thinkers simply do not comprehend the polytheistic experience, and their arguments against it (unless enforced by violence as in Hypatia's case) simply fail.

Indeed, ancient and modern Pagans alike have the described mystical states in which they have become aware of multitudes of divine beings filling every corner of the cosmos; in the words of the Greek philosopher Thales, they have seen that "all things are full of gods." This is the polar opposite of henotheism; it is also among the most powerful and transforming of Pagan religious experiences.

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Blogger Yvonne said...

Thanks for the link to Blog Valhalla - three of your readers have already contacted me (and have all been added to the list). I've added some banners so people can link back to the page.

That Greer book on polytheism looks really good, but it's mega-expensive.

4:43 AM  
Blogger Kay said...

Thanks for posting that particular Greer book. I've been a monotheist (pagan or otherwise) for so long that I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around polytheism, even though I feel it is correct.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Dawnpiper said...

Greer's book is indeed excellent - and in today's book market I don't know that I would call $19.95 mega-expensive? Of course, a lot of what I buy these days comes from academic presses, so perhaps my basis of comparison is a little skewed... :)

6:52 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Maybe Yvonne was looking on Amazon UK where the book is much pricier.

Why that is, I do not know. Perhaps because ADF is a small, specialty publisher?

9:18 AM  
Blogger Dawnpiper said...

Maybe. It can also be ordered directly from ADF:

5:56 PM  
Anonymous dragoneyes said...

The collective belief in the inherent rightness and supremacy of One God/monotheism is VERY STRONG. Took me some time of being a practicing polytheist to finaly purge the monotheism programming from my system. Part of my insight had to do with "oneness" being a rather artifical or abstract descriptor... just as artifical as montheism really is.

Greer's book is excellent, as is another book on polytheism by Jordan Paper called "The Deities Are Many".

Lash's Metahistory site is pretty good and I like what he has to say about beliefs and the importance of belief change. Then I started reading Lash's book last week, and while he makes some important points... I just couldn't stand his arrogant pseudo-gnostic prosyletizing and have gone to the next book in the pile. He's merely offering up yet another set of beliefs... I'm disappointed in him.

1:35 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Yes, getting over "monotheistic conditioning" after being told all of your life that it represents progress over so-called primitive beliefs does take time.

Paper's book is good too.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Jordan Stratford+ said...

Lash is capable of explaining the mind-bending concepts of Gnosticism and pagan mystery cults with bracing clarity and startling insight.

Lash's "Gnosticism" has nothing whatsoever to do with Gnosticism as it is currently practiced nor as it was evident in the classical period. Lash is essentially indistinguishable from David Icke in his literal belief in shape shifting reptiles from outer space. Which is fine if you go for that sort of thing, but it has as much to do with Gnosticism as a Southern Baptist has to do with Rastafarianism.

Much Gnostic thinking disparages physical existences as a "mistake,"

This is a literal interpretation of some later, fringe texts obliquely concerning Gnosticism, and contradicts the world/sex/material valuation in the "center-mass" of Gnosticism; the Valentinian / Sethian / Thomasine continuum. Phyisical existence is not a mistake; the system of "the powers that be" - racism, sexism, bigotry, injustice - is what Gnosticism rejects.

"Salvation" in Gnosticism deals with liberation from this man-made system of injustice, not "eternal damnation". We are saved from ignorance by knowledge - gnosis.

Panentheism is only at odds with a very literal reading of polytheism; the ancient Egyptians, for example, viewed their myriad gods as "names" of one ground of being; facets of one gem, not individual entities unto themselves. It is in a Greek reading of Egyptian polytheism that panentheism, and Gnosticism, have their roots.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Broomstick Chronicles said...

We have chosen and installed Hypatia as our 'guardian ancestor' at Cherry Hill Seminary.


5:09 AM  

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