One of the guiding motivations of my personality is “does it work?” I love ideas, I love debating them, discussion them, and generally playing with them over and over. It is one of the reasons I write. There is something very satisfying to me about pulling my ideas out of my mind and giving words to them, and manipulating the ideas in order to convey them to others. That is something I had trouble doing orally. I find things get a lot more muddled when I try to talk about them, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that my mind runs a lot faster than my mouth.
All that aside, as much as I like ideas, I find such idealism balance with another part of my personality, the pragmatic and practical side. After a point, “theories and politics” start to seem hollow to me if they don’t work, or have little in the way of application. Ideas are great things, but it circles back to “does it work?” Do these ideas enhance the meaning or add something to my life, or are they just “academic” questions with little in the way of usability?
Which brings me to the point of this post. I have struggled with how to even conceive of the gods in any kind of meaningful or practical way. So far in all my explorations, all my reading and writing, I have found few things that have really helped me to really understand the gods. So I wanted to explore that idea a little deeper here.
I define my animism in this way; “Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”
There is more to this as well, that plays into the notion of relationships, and relativism. The idea being, that the influence of a given persons varies in context. My influence over an ant hill might considered to be “bigger”. In addition, I acknowledge there are persons out there that might view of me in the same way as I do ants.
But some sense of “bigger” is not enough to be considered a god. Back in my reflections on the FFA, I stated the following;
“Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in humans. The gods as a “guardian of humanity has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and “the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”
I said at the time that there was something about this statement that resonated with me. As I have continued to sit with it, the more it has resonated. I want to dig into this a little deeper, and really get at the marrow of why I am attracted to this kind of conceptual thinking.
As an animist, and polytheist by proxy, the general logic looks like this;
- That the world is full of persons.
- That the relative influence of these persons varies.
- And that some of these persons might be gods.
The general characteristics of haltias gives me plenty of room to wiggle, and plenty of room to explore. But let’s take two avenues for the moment.
1) Gods as guardians/ancestral guardians
One of my conditions for “godliness” has been that there has to be some general regard for the welfare of humanity. A given person can be “bigger” (such as a mountain) and not have any concern for humanity at all. In Norse myth, there is a distinction made between “gods” and “giants”. A being of “bigger” status without a care for humanity would fit the bill, in my mind, for “giant” but not “god.”
The second part of this is the “safeguarding of the survival of the species”. Protection factors largely into this, and I cannot think of a better example than Thor, the “protector of mankind.” There is also the bit in there about the dead, in a more generalized form a kind of “caring” for the dead.
And this is just not limited to humanity, and is dependent on context. There can be Wolf Gods, that care nothing about humanity. They would be a god (protector, guardian, caretaker) to wolves, but might only be a “giant” (not really concerned with) towards humanity.
But a Wolf Person, might have an interest in humanity (their reasons are their own), and could be both a god of humans and wolves. See how the context changes?
I have often wondered about why many of our mythologies have the gods connected with a certain people, tribal in a way. Greek gods for Greeks, Norse gods for Norse, and so on. Each with unique origin/creation stories, and yet very grounded in the context from which they arose.
Could it be they are a kind of tribal “ancestors”? Concerned not with all of humanity, but with “their people?” I would think that the story of humanity being formed from driftwood might not have meant a “universal” humanity, but the creation of “the” gods people.
Even in the Bible the god Yahweh/Jehovah was more concerned with his own people, and leading them to safety and the “promised land”.
As a side note, I want to make clear that this is no way justifies Folkish beliefs. My view of ancestry is pretty wide, and has little to do with “blood and soil.” As an example, tribes were not always made up of bloodlines. Marriage, adoption, and many of things can lead to a group of people coming together who may not be blood related. In short, basically whoever the gods consider “their people” is really up to them.
2) Gods as the eldest of species, representatives
Which brings us to the next point. I have already commented on how things like wolves can be gods of their own kind, without being gods to humanity. Honestly, in case of “elder spirits” or representatives of a given species, where their interest lies is entirely up to them. They might have some concern for humanity (good, bad or otherwise), or they might not care at all.
What does probably concern them, is the welfare of their own clan. I am using clan here to mean “shares a common ancestor”, as such all gray wolves would have a common ancestor among Gray Wolf, and therefore would be all members of the Gray Wolf Clan. I would be counted among the Human Clan, as we all descend from a common ancestral hominid.
As such, is it impossible to conceive of the gods as some kind of representative or “elder ancestor” of our species, concerned specifically with our survival and well being? It has always struck me how very “human” we conceive of the gods. Of course, the argument could be made that we do this because of things like anthropomorphism, or that we might be limited to conceive of things in very human terms.
Still, I think it could also be said that perhaps the reason they look like us is because they are us, at least in a sense. They are often pictured as human, or every human like (the exception being shapeshifters), and with concerns that are very human-centric, things like agriculture and smith work. Things that really no other species share. The concerns of the gods are very human-centric concerns.
Of course, I am not saying they don’t have concerns outside humanity. That is their own business. But what I am saying, is that maybe they are human-like because they are some form of “elder” representative of our species. Now, less I be accused of euhemerism, I am not saying that gods were once living humans. It is possible of course, but I do not think that any one god can be traced to any one human.
As I said above, an argument could be made for gods being very “tribal” as in being connected to a certain people in a certain context. The flip side of that is that a given god might be a kind of communal/collective guardian spirit, that may or may not be ancestral. The entire tribe/clan would have been interacting with this “communal spirit”, adding stories and narratives and communal wisdom/beliefs; kind of like a spiritual mosaic. Ancestral stories/spirits might be added too, but the point being is that the given “god” would be “greater” than any of the individual parts; built up over time organically alongside the community.
So instead of a single ancestor forming a god, it could be that gods are a collective spirit composed of multiple ancestors, as well as the collective ideas and beliefs of a given tribe/clan . They could be the spiritual analog of their given community, tribe, or clan.
I think that this can get all very complicated very quickly, so I am going to leave this here for the time being. I feel like there is plenty more to explore, but that I am generally on to something that might work for me here. Feedback is welcome of course, as a way to help me develop these ideas further, or to find errors in my own thinking.
Thanks for reading!