Saturday, November 20, 2010

God and gods.

I haven't been to the lab for a while. I have things to do that require me to shift my sleeping pattern away from nocturnal and it's not easy. It hasn't worked yet.

So I have had time to think. And read blogs.

I read a lot on ancient Celtic religion and other things that come under the 'Pagan' banner, as well as on modern religions. I am not religious, neither am I atheist. Pascal's wager states that belief is better than non-belief because if there is no God, it doesn't matter - but if there is, it matters a lot.

Pascal was wrong. You can't just say you believe, you either do or you don't and if there is a God, he will know. So if you don't believe, don't waste your time pretending. It's not going to work. You might as well enjoy some debauchery, drunkenness and devilment because you're going to Hell anyway. So I didn't take up Pascal's wager even though I don't have time for any of those other things.

I am not a believer. I am also not a fervent non-believer. I am an apathist. I don't care whether there is a God or not, I'm an outside observer. However, I am very interested in the reasons people believe or don't and in the structures of religions. A study conducted some time ago suggested that there was a genetic component to belief and that priests were likely to beget more priests. That's bad news if you're Catholic because your priesthood has been busy wiping out their own genetic predisposition to the priesthood. All they have now are politicians and paedophiles.

Maybe I'm looking for something, maybe I'm just curious. I don't know. One thing that came up on Tom Sheepandgoats blog led to me wondering if there was a subliminal reason I left the church in my youth. On the back wall of the church I visited were the Ten Commandments (Exodus ch. 20). The second one says 'No graven images - you worship a graven image and you're hot pitchfork fodder, matey' or words to that effect. At the front of the church was a carving of Jesus on the cross. A graven image, and we all had to bow before it. Perhaps my subconscious thought the dichotomy was just too much.

Anyway, I left faith and became a 'don't care'. Even so, my interest remained. The thought processes were fired up again by a post on Tessa Dick's blog.

What I chiefly noticed about all the other gods, Pagan, Roman, Greek, Norse, all of them (before Gerald Gardner's New Age revision of the Pagan faith) was that these gods had to be appeased rather than worshipped. There were gods of war and of storms and all sorts of nasty things and if they didn't get what they wanted, people got hurt. This was more a Mafia of gods than any sort of benevolent father figure.

The Abrahamic god structure through the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all depended on one god (they call it by different names but it acts much the same way) who basically says 'Follow me, be nice to each other and you're in. Oh, and smite the unbeliever while you're at it.' I am, so far, unsmited but with all those religions out there it's only a matter of time. One thing the Abrahamic religions state, unlike the rest, is that their God will not whack them just for fun.

All of these trace back to something called a War in Heaven in which many angels decided they could do better than their creator and staged a takeover bid. They failed and were cast out. Not to Hell. To Earth. They weren't the first.

The best known is, of course, Lucifer but he wasn't one of those who first came down in defiance of law. Nor was he the serpent in Eden. He was still allowed into Heaven in Job's time, at least. According to the book of Enoch (not in the current Bible), it was Semjaza and eighteen others, plus many unnamed ones, who came down to Earth and took wives, giving rise to the Nephilim or giants, depending on the version you have. The Nephilim eventually died out and the angels involved were fired.

They weren't killed. Separated from their source of power they would be limited in what they could do but they were most likely still immortal. So they're still around.

Could they have set up their own godlike structures? They knew how to do it, they were trained by the best. After the heavenly war they would have been joined by many others. In Solomon's time, according to Goetia (definitely not part of the Bible, but part of Lemegeton which won't be found in any devout Christian library, although you can get it on Amazon), seventy-two of the fallen asked to endure penance so they could go home. Solomon sealed them in a brass casket and threw them into a lake beside Babylon. The Babylonians, thinking he was hiding treasure, eventually retrieved the casket and opened it and the compressed fallen angels, by now driven nuts, escaped. Shades of Pandora's Box?

What interests me is the way it all fits together. Most of the pantheistic gods can be somewhat petty at times and none of them have the omnipotence and all-over power of the one God. Each of the gods in a pantheon is a specialist. None of them - not even the leader - is all-powerful and none are omnipresent. Tales of Zeus/Jupiter producing children from human women matches Abrahamic tradition of angels - not God - doing the same. God only does this once and even then it's not absolutely certain he was the father. Nowadays he'd be paying maintenance anyway.

It's an enormous jigsaw puzzle but the pieces fit together gradually. Solomon and the seventy-two fallen angels, Pandora's box. The Nephilim, and Leda and the swan. Immortals cast to Earth with limited powers and pantheons of gods with one power each. Pantheons that come and go - Norse gods, Roman and Greek, changing names and moving to a new patch just as businesses do nowadays.

I am not convinced that this stems from a God. Before the Abrahamic religions, there was one that regarded the snake as a carrier of wisdom. It is logical, therefore, that the new religion would try to discredit the old by casting the snake in the role of deceiver. Whether that is what actually happened, thousands of years ago, is impossible to say. Nevertheless, it must be included as a possibility.

It's just that there are so many coincidences in these things. The dates of festivals are irrelevant - Easter is there to overshadow the spring equinox, Christmas to cover the winter solstice (the holly is not of Christian origin, but stems from the Pagan battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, and you are probably happier not knowing where the tree decorations originate). Even Halloween was once just Celtic New Year. There is considerable overlap in religion as the new always strives to eradicate the old.

Still, there is too much overlap to ignore. Goetia/Clavicula Salomonis and the story of Pandora do not reference each other at all. Neither do the tales of Zeus as a lusty swan and those of fallen angels taking wives. Hercules and the Nephilim. I have seen no connections made between these.

There is much in folklore and religion that should be studied seriously but is not. Science dismisses without thought far too many things that really should be examined. Sure, they might turn out to be of no importance but can we really decide that with a snort and a sneer?

Is that modern science? All too often, I fear it is.


Regina Richards said...

Hmmm, I don't remember Jesus telling his followers to smite unbelievers. He did say to ignore them and move on (shake the dust, turn the other cheek, etc.)but smite? Must have been absent from Sunday school that day.

Southern Writer said...

"There is much in folklore and religion that should be studied seriously but is not. Science dismisses without thought far too many things that really should be examined."


Southern Writer said...

There are intangible realities which float near us, formless and without words, realities which no one has thought out, and which are excluded for lack of interpreters. ~ Natalie Clifford Barney

Romulus Crowe said...

Regina - the smiting was more Old Testament, it's true. Although the Church has indulged in a bit of smiting itself, now and then.

The point I was trying to make was that the Judeo-Christian God didn't smite people just for fun. There was reasoning behind it.

The Celtic, and other, gods might kill their followers just so they could watch a war. That's an entirely different mindset, and not a benevolent one.

Romulus Crowe said...

SW- Science now invokes other dimensions routinely but insists these invisible dimensions must be empty.

'Flatland' should be required reading for anyone in those subject areas. With particular emphasis on the reaction of the sphere, when questioned about the possibility of a four-dimensional world.

Regina Richards said...

Got it, Romulus. And I agree. Some of those old gods do seem inclined to look on humans as toys rather than beloved children.

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