Why Does Spirituality Matter?
The history of the materialist worldview and the social expression of spiritual realities.
It is a testament to the depravity of our situation that this is a question that must be asked and answered. An enormous portion of people have been raised utterly without guidance in this matter, though, and so it is also a testament to the human spirit that this is a question which is catching peoples’ attention. The answer to the question of why we should care about spirituality, religion, the metaphysical, may seem difficult to crack because it is largely self-referential; “You should care about your soul because it’s good for your soul to do so.” Alright, what if I don’t believe in the soul? Nobody can pull a soul out of a hat and squeeze it, no one can prove it’s real to someone whose reality is sheerly material, so how do we get you from point A to point B?
Anti-religious polemicists have sometimes supported their arguments with a “God of the Gaps,” an idea that religion is useful because it gives structure to phenomena that are imperceptible or inexplicable. Proponents of this rhetoric usually posit that religiosity has declined because the scientific method has made much, much more of the world materially explicable and so people see less of a need to turn to religion for information. The logic goes something like “Why worship Zeus if thunder is just air getting charged by the friction of wind and moisture?” or “Why teach a creation myth when now we know the Earth is billions of years old and we only evolved 100kya?”
But the explanatory power of the “God of the Gaps” is grossly insufficient and is predicated on an impoverished understanding of what religious practice is about. It is still operating in terms of things-as-perceived, it is not interrogating perception itself - and that is where we find that the spiritual, the divine, is actually expressed. Despite extensive investigations of the brain, consciousness itself remains materially un-explained. That leaves us essentially no more well-equipped to tackle metaphysics than our ancient ancestors were. Indeed it can be argued - as is my conviction - that we are worse off than they were in this regard, because fields like biology and psychology have blurred the line between consciousness and cognition in the eyes of the public. Cognition is discursive, reflexive, relative; it requires objects (in the grammatical sense) in order to function, and it functions on hardware that requires form, relation, and distinction in order to run. Consciousness, though, is supremely simple. It just Is. It is the power of experience, so simple, subtle, and mysterious that it is able to lose itself in the things that it experiences. This is the human condition, and using billion dollar research grants to probe specific cognitive phenomena -- specific experiences, objects and not subjects -- in hopes of jury rigging an understanding that could rival millennias-old wisdom is futile.
Increasingly, though, the modern person’s relationship to the spiritual world is not the dogged rejection which waxed high in 2010-era atheism. Instead it is a sort of listlessness. The rebellion against christianity is wrapping up, and now our culture’s fear and resentment of the archetypal father and of the past is sublimated completely into political and para-political projects. Most of my generation has been raised without spiritual practice, and most of those who have had “religion” have only had hollow christian platitudes or legalism supplied by parents who were either paranoid true believers or wanted a nice church to barbeque with. Nonetheless most choose to call themselves “agnostic.” Optimistically, this moniker signals a tempered desire to believe. Pessimistically, it signals a life lived with so little regard for the spiritual that the question has not even received enough thought to be answered.
As much scorn as “rational” materialism deserves for its dehumanizing and economizing project, and as much influence as it has on the culture and institutions we have inherited from the modernists, this generation at large is one which is ambivalent to it. They are open to astrology, psychedelics, californian “buddhism”, and many generally magical or almost-immaterial things, yet there is an intense cultural taboo against the “authoritarianism” of any system that would attempt to structure and package the experience of the metaphysical into something actually coherent and personally demanding. Unfortunately such a structure, a concrete system of values and actions, is the only thing that could possibly counter the entropic inertia of materialism and its many heresies - among them communism, capitalism, fascism, and wokeness. In order to understand why this is, we must understand how the materialist worldview expresses itself in the world, and then examine how a viable religious doctrine would do so. We must also investigate the different effects, even just materially, of these differing approaches. Only then will the undesirability, indeed the outright evil, of materialism be made plain enough that the reason I have undertaken this project can be understood.
People act according to a few parameters:
What they desire/fear
What they see as possible
What their social group permits, encourages, or forbids
There are others, but these are broad enough to cover everything we’re concerned with right now. Each of these parameters interact with each other and fluctuate according to biological and environmental input, but they are all heavily dependent on the mind and on perception. This is where religion comes in. Even the most materialist psychologist, especially in the Jungian vein, will concede that religious experiences and the symbol-complexes that societies develop from them must be based, if not on actual Gods, then on genuine experiences which must arise from certain patterns that are so deeply ingrained into human cognition that they are universal enough to be both communicated between people and translated between entire societies. This is where culture rears its head. In fact, culture and religion are completely inseparable, because humans as social animals perform a large part of our cognition socially. We literally rely on other peoples’ brains in order to think in certain ways, and each person in a community is essentially a neuron in that communal mind. Life, and especially civilizational life involving specialized divisions of labor, is very complicated, and so our ancestors were naturally selected to rely on other people for value judgements in a huge variety of ways. You trust the cousin that’s best at hunting mammoths to give you good mammoth hunting advice, you trust your car mechanic neighbor to know what’s wrong with your car, and you trust your parents, elders, and peers to know what’s morally right. And if you disagree with one of their judgements, there are actually chemical functions in your brain that can force you to change your mind if the circumstances warrant it somehow; the mass-mind can and will overtake your own mind, and your mind will allow it to do so. This is the material mechanism for culture, though of course the material is only part of the story.
The brain is a survival tool, not a truth tool. Likewise for society itself. The point of mentioning all this is simply to demonstrate that at every single level, even those that seem objective, our aforementioned action-parameters rely on subjectivity, and that subjectivity even on the most personal level is at least partly social. This is the function of exoteric (surface-level) religion, to dictate action-parameters on a social scale towards certain ends that are determined by the esoteric (inward, “secret”) level of the belief system. That belief system is formed by the interaction of the “survival tools” of personal and societal minds with other minds, with their environment, and — here’s the important bit — their own subconsciences. All three of these things are constantly shifting and interacting and feeding into each other, but the human subconscious is the least yielding of them and will assert itself formulaically according to its own inborn structures. Let us now examine the inner doctrine of the materialist worldview, and the environment that mingled with our minds in order to produce it.
The thing about environments is that humans have an immense power to shape them according to our values, priorities, and parameters. Often, though, this happens without any intentionality, simply as a side effect. (That, by the way, is why it’s extremely important to focus on the first-order causes which occur in the mind and not on things like laws or “policies”). We must remember this so that we may understand that the modern world is not an intentional creation, it is a series of mutations. It has no intelligent design and it is superbly unstable, but that instability reinforces its own hegemony. It is a swirling centrifuge flinging shit and piss in every direction, infecting everything it touches. Imagine a zombie, totally hollow, rotting, existing only to spread the thing that destroyed it; that is the modern western world, shambling along slinging tomahawk missiles at anyone primitive enough to want to run their own national bank. Specific modernist institutions and nations will rise and decline and combust, but the modernist incentive-structure and worldview will survive until every possible host has been exhausted. We are watching this process in real time as America slowly navel-gazes itself into becoming China’s bitch.
Simultaneously sterile and filthy, that worldview reads quite simply: What exists is what can be measured with instrumentation. Even human sensory organs cannot be trusted unless mechanical data can corroborate them. When this perspective is internalized, the result is a default attitude of suspicion and condescension against all things metaphysical in the previous worldview, and so by extension all things in the preexisting environment and action-parameters whose existence was justified metaphysically. As it turns out, that was an awful lot. Now it should be remembered that really at no point during the process which has landed us here have the majority of people actually fully internalized the mechanistic worldview. Unfortunately, it was only necessary for a few powerful people, the people who produce a society’s incentives and shape its environment the most, to do so, and their adoption has roots in 16th century geopolitics.
The 1500s saw two developments that would impact the material condition and politics of the world more drastically than anything since large-scale agriculture: Widespread adoption of gunpowder and the rise of intercontinental naval power. The traditional European aristocracy was for a millennium predicated entirely on the fact that they were the elite combatants and commanders involved in premodern horse-and-sword warfighting, a combat style which requires decades of practice to master and whose particular quirks actually served as the basis for the chivalric moral code; For example, it was customary to pardon noble enemies not out of compassion but because you might receive ransom for them or their arms, and because if you were cruel then, if their surviving clan ever bested you, you could easily find yourself suffering the same fate. The result was a ruling class which, whatever its flaws, pathologies, or cruelties, was in constant and intimate contact with death and could not help but craft a value structure that emphasized courage. With the advent of gunpowder weaponry, warfare slowly became not a competition between warriors devoted to a craft, but a race to see who could build the best and cheapest weapon to hand to peasants with a week of training. This race expanded from artisans crafting weapons in a traditional guild environment to eventually drive industrialization and the factory model of labor. The result was that political power came to rest not with fighters nor even commanders but rather with whoever had the money to supply them and pay salaries, which were something not seen since the Roman period due to the feudal liege levy system. For a while the people with this money were monarchs fueled by taxation or particularly well-landed aristocrats who transitioned from a fighting role to a managerial one, but as competition ratcheted up it forced governmental powers to focus more and more on making their nations lucrative and industrial.
This race now leads us into the effects of intercontinental naval power, foremost among them being European colonialism. Overseas colonies gave European powers the economic oomph they needed in order to stay militarily competitive, but this new frontier would have ramifications far beyond the purview of monarchs themselves. The wealth of the colonies was of a different sort than the old economy dealt in. Where the feudal economy was local and resource or craft-focused, with wealth being measured in terms of acres as much as in gold, the new colonial paradigm hearkened to the silk road of the Roman Imperial era with an emphasis on luxury goods whose value was basically just that they were enjoyable and that other people found them valuable. With a new emphasis on goods travelling vast distances, the economy shifted from the traditional contract between producers and protectors, the traditional lower-middle and noble classes, to one in which the mercantile upper-middle class involved in shipping, distribution, and procurement became a parasitic middle man between the creative efforts of workers and the organizational efforts of aristocracy. This class had always existed and its function of providing liquidity so that an economy remains versatile is necessary, but with colonialism its influence bloated to a degree never seen before in the west.
The Merchant’s Jihad
As a result, the period from 1500-1920 was in essence the long march of the new upper crust of the merchant and banking class to hybridize, coopt, replace, or destroy the existing aristocracy, with there being three primary flashpoints: The Protestant Reformation, The American and French Revolutions, and World War One. To understand the importance of each of these events we must understand the mind of the mercantile human type. It is observable in life, and was acknowledged by the ancients of all cultures, that a person’s occupation both informs and is informed by the very deepest essence of what a person is, even across generations. Certain occupations both attract and create relatively homogenous clusters of people. The soldier’s very way of seeing and interacting with the entire world is heavily influenced by the experiences of danger, aggression, and comradery inherent in that profession; likewise the merchant is liable, to different degrees, to approach his entire life quantitatively. The merchant experiences a profession centered around a single value and its numerical measurement, an experience which cannot help but leak into the rest of his life. The most elite merchants will be the ones most consumed by their profession, and thereby the most quantitatively and empirically minded. This is the human type in which the materialist worldview ferments, and we are left to remember that the scientists and “philosophers” of the early modern and enlightenment periods were largely just businessmen with a hobby.
Martin Luther’s father was one such businessman, one who wanted his son to become a lawyer. Martin’s brainchild, Protestantism, would eventually become the dominant religion of merchants and burghers and any country where such people were dominant. I do not want to exaggerate the degree to which this was the case for Luther himself or for his environment, but Protestantism as it developed can be broadly characterized with a few features: Biblical literalism, Iconoclasm (rejection or downplaying of sacred imagery), and individualistic emphasis on personal practice. All this reeks of a disgracefully un-poetic mindset, and even of a deeply selfish one as in the last feature listed. The protestant approaches religion transactionally; “my personal actions will land me in heaven, even if all of my family and most of the planet goes to hell.” Some Catholic readers may be getting smug about my derision of the prots here - I would remind them that Protestantism is leagues more Christian than Catholicism, recapturing the original apocalyptic, anarchic, iconoclastic lunacy of the early church whereas Catholicism is a shambling compromise between the paranoiac late roman upper class and the traumatized masses who just wanted to grill and couldn’t understand why statues were being torn down.
The short-term result of Protestantism was the erosion of public belief in the divine right of monarchs to rule, having no central church to guarantee it (except of course in England, whose monarchy has survived this long only through its sheer surrender to modernity). The new generations of bourgeoisie, enriched by tobacco and cotton and emboldened by a dramatic rise in literacy, came to surpass the old order intellectually and materially. They rode this high all the way to the White House; The American Revolution was a revolt against the British Crown by a coalition of Southern plantationeers and Northern shipping moguls. The United States has been in every way a bourgeois oligarchy since its inception.
The Reign of Quantity
This brings us to our second flashpoint, the revolutions of the “enlightenment” era. From roughly 1750-1850, Protestantism and mercantilism waxed ascendant hand in hand. Together they fostered the beginning of the very worldview that has dominated the world until today, a combination of empiricism and egalitarianism. The newly rich bourgeoisie attributed their success to merit, intelligence, “reason,” and were eager to use their reason to produce theories about why they’re definitely not inferior to the old nobility, about how all men are created equivalent and become differentiated only through injustice or a lack of education rather than by forces that can sometimes be positive or constructive. Along with the “democratization” of governance (which was actually just the *marketization* of governance via consent-laundering schemes like media and propaganda) came the democratization and atomization of religion. Understandably, after 8 million people died in the horrifying and accurately named Thirty Years War, people lost the will to fight over religion, as Protestant-Catholic tensions in Germany are what kicked it off. The Protestant emphasis on personal practice had the unintended side effect of not only turning Protestantism itself into a Perpetual Schism Machine with new denominations forming every week, but also of promoting in wider society a much more private way of thinking about the spiritual. Now buckle up, this next part is important:
In sequestering the world of the spiritual into a simple internal verbal contract between a person and a single god with a single doctrine, the protestant disenchants the world, impairing the natural process of mythopoetic consciousness. Protestantism and the resulting secularism neuter the spiritual life of a community by reducing the scope of possible interfaces between the conscious, subconscious, and numinous worlds, as well as depriving the people who do experience such things of a sufficiently rich vocabulary with which to communicate the spiritual to their community. Everything is condensed down to “God’s Love” or “God’s Wrath,” with expressions more complicated than that becoming suspect on account of “witchcraft” or “popery,” superstitious, un-enlightened, un-reasonable things.
In truth this is an issue with all monotheism, but Protestantism is a marked degeneration from Catholicism, on par with simplistic Islam (another religion with mercantile influences, though checked by militarism). The environments created by societies infected with Protestantism, lacking the spiritual technology of natural and ancestral faith, are invariably environments in which materialism festers and comes to overtake such a rudimentary imitation of religion. Such is the environment of the 19th century, which led to the industrial revolution that consummated the victory of the bourgeois. With industrialization, the mechanization of warfare was complete, but military and social doctrine had not yet caught up. The result was that when nationalist politics in Europe (nationalism is actually a form of liberal democracy; the ethnos is treated as an independent and self-determining political unit) kicked off the first world war, twenty million people died. This included at least 24 members of the British Parliament’s House of Lords and 95 of their sons, a huge proportion of the small remnant of Norman aristocracy. All across Europe the minor hereditary nobility, already in economic decline and with only military posts providing a hope for advancement, suffered absurd casualties as the residue of the chivalric attitude clashed with the brand new reductionist reality of industrial warfare; in the first year of the conflict the attitude of the entire public was one of sporting enthusiasm, and wives and mothers even relentlessly pressured their husbands and sons to enlist. The result was a war that imparted deep trauma on multiple generations, and in its wake the great political machines were manned not by generals or men of law or good breeding but by the magnates who owned the weapons factories or signed the loans that governments bought arms with.
We are almost on home turf now. The industrial world that crawled forth from the hellish womb of the “protestant work ethic” is only one step removed from our current digital world and many of its features will be familiar to us. This is the beginning of the “job,” the beginning of the separation of work and life. Traditionally one plies their trade from a shop connected to their own home and spends the workday with family nearby, especially so for farmers. With industrialization, for increasingly large amounts of normal people, one’s occupation, one’s function, became a less and less important source of identity as it compartmentalized itself away from family life. Commodification exploded onto the scene and turned the economy into one in which every class pursues the same profit-motive but for different reasons; the lower class for survival, the middle class for leisure, and the upper class (formerly the middle, now having usurped the aristocracy) for control. This new social structure expresses itself in “democratic” politics, where the upper class encourages the lower and middle classes to compete with each other over scraps and in turn breeds animosity. Divide and conquer. Home owners and small businesses become targets for the deprived lower class because they are more accessible to them, and the lower classes become objects of scorn and fear for the precariously perched middle who understands that a redistribution of wealth would not actually end up harming the superwealthy whose wealth is not liquid but is tied up in power structures such as factories, communications infrastructure, and PAC’s.
The human inhabitant of such an environment is bound to be altered in important ways. Dissonance between “home life” and “work life” manifests as psychological splitting and fracturing. The range of human experience accessible at any given time shrinks as it gets redistributed between numerous dissonant locales. The human being is also separated from the fruits of his labor by the wage system; the worker does not measure his success by his product itself but by the liquid result of that product. This has always been the case somewhat, but never to this extent. Deprived of a way to identify with and express himself through his function and his labor, the industrial man becomes unmoored and either drifts into oblivion or seeks alternative identities. Enter the rise of cults, of identity and “club” politics, and of communism.
Communism is perhaps the best distillation of the industrial worldview. It takes aim at the bourgeois money-changing upper class of its day but fails to see past the worldview that this class erected. Communism still fundamentally identifies the good with the material, positing that total material prosperity, security, and equity is prerequisite for human flourishing. Communism internalizes the quantitative, economic worldview of the bourgeois, as well as their politically-motivated “blank slate” theory of humanity, implicit in which is the contention that a human being is a purely material thing which can be altered in its totality by a change in material conditions. A slightly tweaked view of the blank slate theory is also central to the 21st century iteration of capitalism, which has masterfully absorbed huge swathes of communist and post-communist social theory without actually sharing its economic goal. This brings us to the next stage, the digital revolution.
The Western economy since around 1980 or 90 has retained the structure of industrial life while swapping the actual work performed from something tangibly productive to almost entirely “service” and “tech” jobs, dramatically worsening the average person’s alienation from their labor. Everyone can sense that they’re doing fake bullshit for fake money, and health conditions in the fluorescent-lit, chemical-bathed, oxygen-deprived modern office are certainly partly to blame for the health crisis of the last decade. In this environment, for perhaps the first time in history, forms of private, individual escapism are regularly pursued for significant amounts of time by the majority of the population, and because the consumer economy is now driven so heavily by the monetization of desire, more and more intensive and thorough methods of escapism have become available and continue to proliferate. Beginning with TV and movies, continuing into the modern day with video games and pornography, and possibly approaching a peak with future “virtual reality” technology, the advent of the digital age cannot be understood without accounting for the new demand and enthusiasm for mentally checking out of a stagnating and decomposing industrial structure.
The result is that people now spend huge swathes of their lives in two modes: grinding an awful garbage fake job/education and engaging with fake media in order to relieve the stress of said grinding. Yes, that includes cherry-picked “current events” coverage - news junkies are in fact worse off in this regard than consumers of fantasy because their hobby causes them extra, unnecessary stress which they take on because it makes them feel like they are struggling nobly and not just as a caged rat. In any case, where in this equation is there any time for one to fully inhabit their own body and mind? People carefully schedule activities that enable such a connection and even pay great amounts of money for them in the form of gym memberships and fitness classes. Just as the industrial man experienced a splitting of his psyche between home and work, the digital human is fractured between stressful work and sedentary leisure, both of which remove them further from a centered human experience. When at leisure the mind is submerged either in the passive reception of emotional and narrative stimuli via movies and shows, in the active pursuit of the feeling of accomplishment and competition via video games, or in the gratification of the need for recognition and connection via social media. This last part is the most important; social media encourages people to consume relationships as entertainment. Your phone buzzes like a game controller when someone pays attention to you and your social validation gets quantified through measurable numbers of likes and followers as if counting a score ratio.
All of this dis-embodiment, paired with a rapid degeneration of basic bodily health thanks to sedentarism, seed oils, and mycotoxin-riddled carbs, has created an environment of sickness and decrepitude, much of which expresses itself as chemical/hormonal imbalance and mental illness. My generation is literally out of their minds, their center of consciousness has been unseated from their own hearts and heads and pulled towards an alchemical black scrying-mirror. The overwhelming condition, attitude, mass mind, collective unconscious, whatever you want to call it, of people born since the 1990’s is a frothing stew of paranoid schizophrenia, autism, depression, oversexualization, abandonment issues, and both under- and over-socialization depending on gender. This generation relates not just to each other but also to our very own inner selves pathologically. Gods know how the under-ten year old children spending most of their time on IPads right now are going to turn out compared to the nickelodeon and club penguin crop. And so we arrive at the current day, hopefully with an understanding of why TikTok is the great grandchild of both Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther.
All this discussion of history must seem a massive detour from the quite basic question of “why does spirituality matter,” but I have found it necessary to include because one thing must be understood: Materialism is not about “objective truth.” In fact the materialistic account of consciousness as only a side effect of sensory organs makes a comprehensive witnessing of objective truth totally inaccessible to humans while also ignoring and delegitimizing a broad range of widely attested and reproducible experiences of contact with the subconscious, the immaterial, and the numinous. Materialism, in fact, is only a single point of view with which to approach the sprawling, writhing mystery of life. It is a point of view with a simple and explicable origin: human types adapted to mercantile and mechanic professions gaining political ascendancy. It is also a point of view that warps the value structures and action-parameters of the people it infects to such a degree that they in turn exhibit behaviors and create environments that are deeply unhealthy, disjointed, and anti-human.
We must now attend to the alternative. It is clear that although there was much material benefit to the process of de-mystification, and it is certainly good to want to understand the mechanics of the world as well as possible, something which was occasionally impaired by superstition, the basic necessities of human health and happiness require us to now adjust our values to once again center the human being not as a mechanism but as a soul. Virtue above ease, relationships above profits, intimacy above desire, true freedom over licentious autonomy, this is what is demanded of all who wish to make it out of the coming decades with their humanity intact. An environment must be crafted in which people are facilitated and incentivized to connect with each other, with their surroundings, and with their own bodies and minds. We must think and act with the understanding that we exist not just as sensory individuals but also as nodes in a network much larger than us, whose health is our own health. A hugely important part of incentivizing such a thing must be the cultivation and internalization of an understanding that there are forces that are a fundamental part of reality that ask us to align our physical, psychological, and spiritual activities in a harmonious pyramid and that our success in that endeavor has ramifications not just for our descendants but for our very own selves beyond this one life. In order to understand what those forces are, or perhaps to even conceive of them at all, we must consult our ancient ancestors who knew them as the Gods.
Why Go So Far Back?
There are many today whose instinct is to retreat into christianity even as it leaks and buckles and betrays itself. In the absence of agreeable alternatives their instinct is understandable, even commendable compared to the disgraceful default of our age. The christ-cult, though, must be ultimately condemned for a single reason: There is absolutely no reason to trust its originators more than we ought to trust the thousands of years worth of ancestors who experienced divinity multifacetedly through the symbol-complexes of their native Gods. Christianity’s own account of its beginnings and its ascent to dominance, when compared to the historical evidence and accounts of third parties, makes it clear that we must believe that either an underground cult of fanatics were lying about their society or that the entire rest of that society was lying about them. It even demands of us that we treat every expression of the divine that is not specifically christian as actively evil and demonic, right down to the spirits of the wind and waves. This is the behavior of a gaslighting abuser who claims your family doesn’t love you as much as he does. Early christians frequently slandered their opponents - even other sects of christians - and produced countless forgeries towards that end. No amount of Roman Catholic dress-up can fully conceal their barbarity, but for brevity’s sake I will be detailing why christianity must be rejected more thoroughly elsewhere.
The fulcrum of the argument is essentially this: Their monotheist and exclusivist doctrine, which rose and was enforced politically rather than naturally, severs subjugated peoples from engaging with the intricate manifold web of spiritual realities expressed in Polytheist theologies by, as mentioned before in relation to Protestantism, depriving them of the symbolic dictionary and vocabulary needed to experience that reality through the limited capacity of the incarnate mind and then to communicate and distribute that experience through the social mind. In this regard circumcision is actually the perfect metaphor for monotheism itself; a part of the self is damaged and removed in order to prevent a person from being tempted to act outside of a prescribed milieu. Does the talk of being the “Bride of Christ” make more sense now? Indeed it is evident that the natural way for humans to experience the spiritual world is Polytheistically, as even in tribal societies the divine is conceived of multiplicitously either through Gods or through animistic symbols. Monotheism in fact is the first step towards atheism, detaching people from the experience of the divine in the mundane. In most strains, it even denies the expression of divine presence, participation, creativity, and individuation in every little thing on earth, something that proper metaphysics reveals to be an impossibility due to the un-being of matter. Do you see now why Protestantism is a more honest instantiation of Christianity than Catholicism is?
It must be affirmed that in this project we are not going “back” in a sense of regression; we are moving forward, past temporary delusions, and we are using the wisdom of the ancients not to imitate and reenact their experience of the divine but to inform and revive our own. If the divine is understood as real and eternal then there is no conceivable mechanism by which Gods or their symbols can become “outdated,” though they can certainly wax and wane in relevance and legibility to people depending on certain material conditions. Our greatest and most important challenge right now lies in making the Gods legible to the modern person not as stories, characters, “archetypes,” or historical curiosities, but as the conscious forces who create, shape, animate, and preserve the cosmos on every level of its existence, forces in whom our very souls and experiences of consciousness are rooted and with whom we are intertwined in the most inextricable way possible. Towards this end we must look to the traditions of the Greeks and the Romans, the ancient Celts and Germanics, the Egyptians and Babylonians, but also towards the very India that exists today as a Polytheist culture whose traditions largely descend from the same source as those of the Europeans. In each of these cultures we see expressions of the same divine forces, ways to connect with these forces, and philosophies such as Vedanta and Platonism that help us to consciously understand these forces and their interaction with the world.
Living the Tradition
It is regrettable that reliable information on the specifically western Polytheist traditions is currently lacking, thanks in no small part to the conversion and collapse of the Roman empire. The rebuilding of a canon is an immense task though, and so we must not allow awaiting such a thing to delay the beginning of basic actual practice and devotion. Luckily this part is not nearly as difficult as it might seem at first. All that is needed is respect, enthusiasm, and curiosity for the sources we already have as well as a desire to understand and appreciate the Gods. This article would be largely in vain though if I did not provide at least some introductory guidance, so here we go:
Everything that Is is One, the Monad. The One is unknowable, undefinable, and not actually a God itself - that is the folly of christian appropriations of neoplatonism. It is supremely simple, beyond being, beyond life and intellect and soul. The One is the form of the Good and the basis of all subsequent realities; it is so complete and full in itself that its activities spill out of itself to hypostasize as the rest of the structure of the cosmos, the forms of Infinity, Finity, Being, etc. This process is called “emanation.” It is at this early stage of emanation that the Gods exist as the “Henads,” the “Ones.” Each Henad participates in the One as closely as is possible for a being to do so, and through that participation they give structure to the substance of Goodness that flows through them to emanate further down the chain as it participates in more and more particular realities, splitting and diversifying like light hitting a prism until eventually it gets to where we are, the physical world, which is formed out of the interaction of the Forms, those emanated realities, with matter. Matter is simply the outermost limit of emanation. There is no being below it. It is the “least real” of all real things, and is often compared by the philosophers to shadow, which is formed only by absence of light and has no meaning without it.
Human souls approach matter when they self-divide out of unity with higher realities. The experience of the physical world, the “sublunar” or “encosmic” reality, is given to us as a tool of learning, purification, and reunification. The mission is simple; to align ourselves with the One, the Good, the Gods, by inviting their activity into our conscious lives and doing our best to emulate it, to become like them, as likeness attracts like. This is the foundation of religious practice and morality, which calls us to do a few particular things:
Cultivate the four cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Temperance (Health), and Justice.
Cultivate the final virtue of Compassion, Eleos, which can only arise from the fulfilment and alignment of those four cardinal virtues.
Participate in our relationships according to these virtues; Our relationships with ourselves, with our families and communities, with our environments, and with our Gods, recognizing that our own existence and experience subsists in all of these things and especially in the Divine.
In seeking refuge with the Gods, we are implored to submit to them not as a slave does to a master, but as a student does to a teacher. We are meant, above all else, to become as much like them as is possible for a human soul; to emulate them by growing in our own unity, selfhood, peace, and power. Doing so is not self-aggrandizing but actually self-effacing, because it means confronting the material mind and lower-self that drives us to fear the divine and covet the material. The point of the practice is connection, reconnecting the mind, body, soul, and community with their divine source. Doing so, in our condition, requires letting go of and detaching from an awful lot. In that way the Buddhists are quite correct. Creating and sustaining the proper connections does indeed require a renouncement of what this world has conditioned us to think of as the “self”, the bundle of pride and impulse and fear and discursivity that sits in the driver’s seat of so many bodies and even societies.
Just as most have never fully internalized the materialistic worldview despite having their worlds and minds shaped by it, most will never fully internalize the philosophical or theological worldview. Nonetheless it is very possible for people who have done so to assemble the expertise and networks needed in order to create an environment that reflects such a worldview, and in so doing benefit the average person immensely, not just spiritually but physically as well. We affirm, as the ancients taught, that the material proceeds from the immaterial. This means that a proper relationship with the immaterial is actually necessary for a healthy relationship to the material. We are not called to be ascetics, nor escapists, but to be builders and shapers just as the Gods are.
I have already discussed how an individual and their environment play off of each other, shaping one another. This often forms a feedback loop, a thing that is not inherently bad but is certainly dangerous in the modern world. The first and hardest task of any person who seeks to build a healthy environment is to attend to and redirect their own loop. Bit by bit you must alter your own patterns of thought, speech, and action, and alter the space you live in to better reflect what you want to be. It is only a community of people that have already managed such a task for themselves that will be able to consciously shape a new environment that can serve to break the loop for people who may not be able to do it alone for various reasons - a huge portion of humanity has always been and will always be such people. This is not to demean them, inertia is extremely powerful and very few people can even be expected to sense it let alone attempt to redirect it. The digital age, though, provides such people unprecedented access to each other and to all the information they need in order to do what must be done. All that is missing is Will and Trust, two things which we may find in our Gods once we actually start looking.