The Importance of Myth in Practice

The easiest way to learn more about the gods is to read their stories, to study their myths, and to meditate on the meaning of what the gods show us about themselves in the stories.

One of the best ways to do this is to examine a myth through the lens of each god that plays a role in that story. In the myth that discusses the building of Asgard’s wall, the actions of Odin, Freyja, and Loki all show us different aspects of each of the gods.

Odin needs the wall built, and he is willing to do pretty much anything to do it – i.e. the ends justify the means. When the giant suggests that the price he wants for the wall is Freyja’s hand in marriage (alongside a few other key things, like the moon), it is Freyja who protests the price, not Odin.

That shows us that Freyja will not allow herself to be auctioned off or turned into a pawn in one of the All-father’s games, and it paints her as an independent, strong-willed goddess who can match wits with Odin himself.

The gods then turn to Loki to find a solution to their dilemma, and that immediately shows us that the gods trust in Loki’s ability to solve problems. He is a creative, cunning thinker, and he comes up with a scheme to prevent the giant from finishing the wall so that the ill-struck bargain cannot be completed. He is the ultimate con artist, and the rest of the story demonstrates that. It also shows us that he runs his cons for the good of the gods – and sure, his cons work out well for him too, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just from that one story, we get glimpses of the gods and their individual personalities. Odin is hell-bent on getting what he needs – there are no lengths too far for him to go. He is ruthless and determined and self-assured. He can be this self-assured because he knows that he can rely on Loki, and that is clear because he brings Loki in to find the perfect solution to his problem.

Being able to see these glimpses of the gods through the myths is why it is so important that people who come to polytheistic religions read the stories. The secrets of the gods are hidden in their stories.

Those stories, ancient as they are, were once the shared gnosis of entire civilizations. Myths are the collective understanding of the gods and their unique agencies in this world. That is why they are so important, why it is so imperative that people read the myths about the gods they wish to work with.

It is not about denying personal religious experience and gnosis when we experienced practitioners tell newcomers to read the myths and learn the stories about the gods they are wanting to honor. We tell them to do this because we know that the secrets of the gods are hidden in their stories. We tell them to do this because we know that those stories contain the key to unlock religious experience.

The more of the myths you read and seek to understand, the more you start to know the gods. The more you come to know the gods, the better and more reliable your personal gnosis becomes, and the greater your religious experience becomes.

If you want the key to your own greatest religious potential, read the myths. They are your greatest weapon and your greatest strength.

©Kyaza 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part III

Chapter Four of Sallustius’s treatise, On the Gods and the Worlds, starts out with a straightforward assertion; he claims there are five types of fables – myths.

The treatise reads thusly:

Of fables, some are theological, others physical, others animistic, (or belonging to soul,) material, and lastly, others mixed from these.

The five types of myths then are

  1. Theological
  2. Physical
  3. Animistic/Psychical
  4. Material
  5. Mixed

Sallustius then states:

Fables are theological which employ nothing corporeal but speculate the very essences of the gods; such as the fable which asserts that Saturn devoured his children; for it obscurely intimates the nature of an intellectual god, since every intellect retuns to itself.

This is interesting, as it suggests that what a god consumes that god already contains and is. This also suggests the gods are forces because there is a metaphorical level implicit in the story of Saturn consuming his children – by consuming them, he reclaims his own intellect, which in turn reflects his nature as an intellectual god.

At this level of myth, the gods are not seen as having physical forms but being pure essence, pure force, and the myths of the gods reveal information about their individual essences.

Sallustius continues:

But we speculate fables physically when we speak concerning the energies of the gods about the world; as when considering Saturn the same as Time, and calling the parts of time the children of the universe, we assert that the children are devoured by their parents.

Basically, when we equate the gods to particular universal forces at work in the world, we are interpreting myth physically. Saturn – or Khronos – as Time. Loki or Prometheus as Fire. Hela or Hades as Death. Gaia or Njord as Earth. These are physical forces at work in the universe.

A deep perusal of the myths of any pantheon will reveal the forces each of the gods holds within them, which of the forces they control. Gods share dominion over different forces, else it would not be possible for both Prometheus and Loki to be Fire. What is most fascinating is that they are both Fire, but they are each Fire in a different way than the other – that might be something worth reflecting on.

Sallustius then says:

But we employ fables in an animistic mode when we contemplate the energies of the soul; because the intellections of our souls, though by a discursive energy they proceed into other things, yet abide in their parents.

Essentially, what the myths tell us about ourselves tells us more about the gods and the essence of the gods. This is another way to phrase that secret mystery – if you cannot find what you seek within, you will never find it without. This is that same mystery, wrapped in a different coat.

This is also the old maxim, as above, so below. The macrocosm and the microcosm reflect each other, so studying our own psyches reveals more to us about the psyches of the gods and studying the gods reveals more to us about ourselves.

This level of myth might be considered the beginning level for occult practitioners, as the evolution of self is the primary goal for most ceremonial magicians.

Moving on to the next level of myth, Sallustius says:

Lastly, fables are material, such as the Egyptians employ, considering and calling corporeal natures divinities; such as Isis, earth; Osiris, humidity; Typhon, heat; or again, denominating Saturn, water; Adonis, fruists; and Bacchus, wine. And indeed, to assert that these are dedicated to the gods, in the same manner as herbs, stones, and animals, is the part of wise men; but to call them gods is alone the province of mad men; unless we speak in the same manner as when, from established custom, we call the orb of the Sun and its rays the Sun itself.

Put concisely, Isis is the earth, but the earth itself is not a god. Osiris may be humidity, but humidity is not a god. Typhon may be heat, but heat is not a god.

In other words, this would be Sallustius’s answers to those who call archetypes gods. The gods can be archetypes – as in, Loki can be the trickster – but the archetypes cannot be a god. Therefore, Trickster is not a god but a construct that a god can embody when they choose to do so.

It’s interesting to see that Sallustius had an answer to the question only recently posed by archetypalists in the last twenty years back in the days of ancient Greece. He called those who would refer to the Sun itself as a god “mad men,” so it seems fairly clear that he would have no love for those who prefer to follow the Jungian style of polytheism many archetypalists of today adhere to.

Moving on to the final level of myth, Sallustius states:

But we may perceive the mixed kind of fables, as well in many other particular, as in the fable which relates, that Discord at a banquet of the gods threw a golden apple, and that a dispute about it arising among the goddesses, they were sent by Jupiter to take the judgment of Paris, who, charmed with the beauty of Venus, gave her the apple in preference to the rest.

For in this fable the banquet denotes the supermundane powers of the gods; and on this account they subsist in conjunction with each other; but the golden apple denotes the world, which, on account of its composition from contrary natures, is not improperly said to be thrown by Discord, or strife. But again, since different gifts are imparted to the world by different gods, they appear to contest with each for the apple. And a soul living according to sense, (for this is Paris) not perceiving other powers in the universe, asserts that the contended apple subsists alone through the beauty of Venus.

This is a great example of a mixed myth, and Sallustius does an excellent job of explaining it.

Discord throws a golden apple that causes a fight among the goddesses, resulting in them being brought before Jupiter for judgment. Jupiter turns the case over to Paris, who declares that Venus holds the ownership of the apple.

If the banquet represents the supermundane powers of the gods, and the apple the world, then the fight the goddesses are having is over which of the gods can be said to give the gift of the world. It is not as simple as fighting over an apple.

None of the myths are simple. All of them are heavy and laden with meaning. That is why it is so important that we read each and every myth carefully and several times, analyzing it further with each read.

The secrets of the gods are hidden in the myths – all we have to do is open our minds to the incredible richness of possibility in their interpretations.

*Note: While there are 21 chapters in the treatise, the first 3 chapters are the ones I find most relevant, so this particular series ends here. I highly suggest that those who are interested in reading further read the rest of the treatise for themselves, as it is free online. 

Sources

Sallustius. “On the Gods and the World.”

©Kyaza 2019

Why I Picked Up The Call

As I have explained in my previous post (The Calling of Shiva), I wasn’t born into a Hindu family and hadn’t had any exposure to Hindu culture up until I met my husband. My father still doesn’t really understand why I chose Shiva over the Christian God, so this post is as much for him as it is for the regular readers of the site.

To understand why I (and many others I have met later in my life) wholeheartedly chose Hinduism you need to take a look at its teachings of responsibility.

Personal responsibility

Hinduism does not have a Savior in the manner Christianity has. Yes, there are stories of gods and goddesses saving mankind and the world in general from various dangers. But on a personal level, one is not considered a good person simply because they are worshiping a particular god. One will not get a better next life, achieve moksha (no more births) or ‘go to Heaven’ simply because they worshiped a particular deity.

One needs to get a grip over one’s own life and actions and lead a mindful existence, paying attention to every action one makes and thinking over how that action will affect one’s – and others’ – karma.

This theory of personal responsibility is what I like the most in Hinduism. Expecting salvation from outside is, at least in my opinion, futile. In my opinion gods, angels, saints, all the beneficial spirits can give us help, they can give us strength and encouragement to do the best we can, but if we ourselves are not working on it, then it is not worth a peanut. In a simple example, think of a drug addict. They can attend rehab, go to meetings and listen to people who came clear, get help from specialist doctors. But if they themselves don’t want to come clear, none of these external influences will help them. We ourselves have to want to be ‘good’. We have to work on our faults and make the most of what we have. No worries if the most is not much. There are many lives ahead of us, we don’t need to do everything at once. But the most it should be.

Reincarnation aka Samsara

This brings me to the second thing I really like about Hindu philosophy: reincarnation and that eventually everyone will reach perfection and attain God. Hinduism teaches that we are born here to experience human existence as a whole: in all its darkness and glory. In my view, every soul comes here to Earth to experience a certain set of things in each life. In one life it might be being a serial killer who had abusive parents, in another to be a perfect mother of ten children, and anything in-between. A soul needs to experience every aspect of Life, and every emotion available to us humans. When one has experienced every facet of light and darkness then nothing ties the soul to earthly existence, it has no desires left, and it can peacefully return to the Creator – to draw an analogy, it can go to Heaven.

For some it might take just a few lives; for some, hundreds and thousands. But eventually, everyone will reach salvation, where they don’t have to be born again and can join the Creator once more, in perfect peace and contentment. Everyone.

That means even The Worst Person in History has the potential to achieve union with God, through hard work on themselves, possibly in the course of many incarnations.

That makes so much more sense to me than having Heaven and Hell and chucking everyone into the latter who wasn’t mature enough to lead a ‘good’ life at their first go. And it just isn’t fair to expect everyone to be on the same level of ‘good’, irrespective of their circumstances. Yes, some Christians believe in Purgatory so there’s that. But the expectations are still very high, knowing human nature.

Karma, dharma, and lessons

Another reason I like Hinduism is the theory of karma, dharma, and lessons we need to learn through lives. It ties in with both personal responsibility and samsara but I wanted to talk about it separately. I might even write a post about it later, who knows. But to cut it short, here’s what it all means to me.

Karma means in very simple terms the law of action and reaction. You are a jerk, you get people treating you like one. Now put a twist on it: you are a jerk in this life, but that’s what you came here to do, that’s how you advance on your journey and that’s how you help others on theirs: it’s your dharma, your life task. Therefore, you go on being a jerk and people who expect karma to work like a policeman are surprised that you lead a happy life despite being a horrible person. Alas, karma is not a policeman, but after you die, you might be assigned the task to suffer from a similar ‘jerk’ in your next life – and learn what you have to from it: humility, standing up for yourself, or active rebellion.

Again, this does not mean that you don’t have to try and become a better person because being a jerk is “your life’s lesson”; if you realise that you hurt others by being a jerk, and change your behaviour, then it might just save you a life’s worth of lessons right there.

I think that overcoming our basic nature is one big step upward on the ladder of samsara – but I’ll write more about this later. What I like about all this is that there are countless opportunities for us to see behind the curtains and understand why things are happening and accept our lessons with grace.

Polytheistic world view

Hinduism has millions of gods. To a Hindu person, one god extra does not make a difference, and that is why initially early Christians, Persians, and Muslims could live in India in peace. No one cares what you believe in, or if you believe in any god at all. If you are a good egg, you can stay and you will be welcomed. Of course, by now this notion has been corrupted and many people forgot how to be tolerant towards others. Why, now there are Hindu Extremists out there! What a laughable notion! Only a Buddhist extremist would be further off the edges of sanity. Anyway, this is Kali Yuga, the age of darkness for you. I do find it refreshing that none of the gods say that he or she is the only one people should worship. In Hinduism, only demons say such things, and they are punished for their audacity at the end. Not that I want to draw a parallel with any other religion. And this is why sometimes you can even find statues of Mother Mary on Hindu altars, like for example in Skanda Vale in Wales? If you haven’t heard of Skanda Vale yet, you must google them.

I believe that from every religion, each and every god exists, and each and every one of them are facets of the one creator that has no personality nor a name, who we cannot imagine or describe by human words. Which facet you worship makes no difference.

The gods

Until now I wrote about philosophy and things that are more or less understandable why someone like me would be impressed by them. But here’s the thing: Hindu gods are weird. They have extra limbs, extra eyes, extra heads – sometimes that of an animal – they dress strangely – if they are dressed at all… it’s all very confusing to someone not versed in art history or art interpretation. One day my dad called me up and asked me why does Shiva have four arms and snakes all over him. My first, somewhat dumb reaction was… why not? He’s a god, he can look like anything he wants to! Or rather, any way the artist sees him.

It doesn’t really matter how an artist has painted the portraits of gods; they don’t really have bodies the way we do, therefore they don’t really have a form the way we do. They can appear to us humans any way they like, be it a man with four arms or a talking pillar of scorching fire.

And especially Shiva is said to be formless energy – that’s why he is represented by the lingam, or a pillar of fire too. Of course, his four arms on pictures have a meaning, as have all the other weird stuff, too. That belongs to art interpretation, and I will get to it in another post. So to ask why Hindu gods look the way they do is the same thing as asking why the Christian God is an old man with a beard sitting on top of the clouds. It’s because this is the image that over time has been widely accepted to represent that particular spirit. Nothing more, nothing less.

But why did I choose one of the weirdest of the weird gods, the one full of contradictions? Why not the (seemingly) simple Vishnu with his protective nature? Why not cute Ganesha who would remove all obstacles from my way? Why the dangerous Destroyer?

Well, as for myself, and many other ladies as I came to know later, the energy of Shiva has a magnetic effect on us. There is a certain primordial strength radiating from him, the suggestion of power, control over himself, a feeling of ancientness, of wisdom and fairness, of serenity and boundlessness. He is beautiful, inside and out. Some might even say, the perfect man – in India, girls pray to Shiva for a good husband because he is considered to be the best husband there is even though his true form is pure energy. More on this in a later post. As I said in the “Calling of Shiva“, his image as Nataraj grabbed me by the collar from early childhood, and the more I know about him the more I love him.

I have never got the same feeling of safety and peace from any other god what I have now with him. This is something no one can take away and something I would never want to give up. I may work with other deities, I might even keep an icon on my altar (I do actually). But Shiva has his place deeply embedded in my heart, for this life and the rest.

©Katalin Patnaik 2019

The Bedrock of Roman Polytheism: Pax Deorum

My polytheism centers on my efforts to maintain the Pax deorum (the Peace of the Gods), which is the center of the Religio Romana (the Roman religion). This is the harmony between humans and the Gods. Affirming the Pax deorum is the basis of pietas (Roman piety). What does this mean? Piety entails ritual purity, doing the rituals correctly, making daily offerings, and saying daily prayers. It is rooted in deep respect for the Gods.

Another part of piety is ius divinum (sacred law). This recognizes what is rightfully the Gods’. A part of keeping the right relations is understanding what the rights of the Gods are. Do They have the right to be as They are? Do I insist that apolitical Janus, the Doorkeeper of the Gods, be involved in the affairs of humans? Do I tell Ceres of the Aventine Triad to ignore the rights of the poor and downtrodden? To ignore Their Rights is an act of impiety and promotes ira deorum (the Anger of the Gods).

Another part of pietas is do ut des (I give that you may give), which is the reciprocity between the person and their Gods. This is a cycle of gratitude for each other. I give to the Gods expecting that They will return in kind. I give in gratitude for what They give to me, and so the cycle of gratitude continues between us. Since the tradition of Religio Romana is having a client-patron relationship with the Gods, I do for Them what They cannot do for Themselves, and They do the same for me.

These three principles – Pax deorum, ius divinus, and do ut des govern my Roman polytheism. It may seem restrictive and businesslike to some but it suits me. I embrace the Gods as They are, and They me. Order and structure in my polytheism gives me the freedom to love Them.

One of my practices is to follow the Roman festival calendar. From that, I developed a system of “Gods of the Month” to focus on for that month. It helps me to keep my devotions for the month and to celebrate the various festivals. I would include the Gods of the Month in my morning devotions and afternoon ones, repeating various prayers that I wrote.

Of course, from “Gods of the Month” comes “Gods of the Day.” Each day, I would write a short prayer for the God of the Day, after my breakfast and before morning devotions. My prayers do include Gods from other pantheons, Who have requested that I make offerings to Them such as Marduk of the Babylonians and the Gods of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. For example, September and October, when squirrels are active, I write prayers for Ratatosk, the Squirrely One of the World Tree.

For me, being a Polytheist means daily devotions to the Gods. Like many modern Polytheists, my Gods do not all belong to the same Pantheon. Although I consider myself a Roman Polytheist, I do venerate Other Gods. Because of my brain injury and devotional work with the Dead, Anubis, Hekate and the Morrigan have requested devotions. Meanwhile, my Anglo-Saxon Ancestors want their family Gods honored. Finally for reasons unclear to me, the Gods of Babylon and Canaan have asked me for devotions.

To accommodate all the Gods Whom I honor, I had to set up a schedule. How did I go about doing this? First, I read the lore, and then did divination which days would be appropriate for which Gods. Finally, I broke my day into three parts – morning, afternoon, and evening for my devotions. Since we all have our daily rituals such as brewing coffee or checking our phones, including one for devotions seemed reasonable.

Mornings are devoted to the Household Gods. Before breakfast, I light a candle and offer incense. I offer to Janus (who always receives the first and last offerings) for his service in guarding the doors. Then to Apollo for the health of our family, and Juno Custos for guiding my family. Vesta, the Eternal Flame who warms our home, receives her offering and prayers next. Finally, the Genius of the Paterfamilias is thanked for guarding our family.

After I do this, I do my weekly devotions by splitting the various Gods into mornings and afternoons. My schedule is as follows – Monday – Anubis and Hecate (morning), The Lady of Beasts and The Morrigan (afternoon). Tuesday – Freya (morning), Anubis and Hecate (afternoon). Wednesday – Odin. Thursday – Hercules, Neptune and the Roman Pantheon (morning), the Gods of Babylon and of Canaan (afternoon). Friday – Frigga. Saturday – the Penates and Lars. Sunday – the Dead.

Why these particular days? Monday is “moon” day, and those deities prefer that association. Tuesdays is traditional for Freya, Wednesdays for Odin, and Friday for Frigga. Anubis and Hecate asked for Tuesdays, and the Gods of Babylon and of Canaan for Thursday. Since Thursday is Thor’s day, Hercules reminded me that it is his day also. The Roman Gods requested Thursday as well. Saturday is grocery day, which is when the cupboards are replenished. Sunday is for the Dead, since it is a day of reflection for me.

The evening is reserved for the Gods of the Month. Nightly, I say prayers to Them before going to bed. It is a part of my evening routine like brushing my teeth.

©Virigina Carper 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part II

Continuing on with Sallustius and his treatise “On the Gods and the World,” we come to his third chapter and his second major point: fables – aka myths – are divine.

He states:

This is the first utility arisng from fables, that they excite us to inquiry, and do not suffer our cogitative power to remain in indolent rest. It will not be difficult therefore to show that fables are divine, from those by whom they are employed: for they are used by poets agitated by divinity, by the best of the philosophers, and by such as disclose initatory rites. In oracles also fables are employed by the gods; but why fables are divine is the part of philosophy to investigate.

This is fairly straight-forward, as Sallustius essentially says that myths and stories are useful because they make us think. They keep us engaged with the world, and they help to keep us alert, awake, and inquisitive.

He also states that there are three types of people who use myths in the pursuit of their arts. Specifically, he mentions poets, philosophers, and priests. Poets, he says, find their inspiration in the stories of the divine. That, to me, immediately conjures up the knowledge that the Eddas – both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda – are fantastic examples of a poet divinely inspired to impart myth.

Because of his need to see the old poetic style preserved, Snorri composed the Prose Edda, and, in doing so, preserved many of the ancient Norse myths. Without the effort he put forth, we would have far less knowledge about the myths of the ancient Norsemen than we possess today. It may very well be that Snorri felt divinely inspired to preserve the stories of his ancestors, but that is a question only the gods can answer.

Sallustius also states that the best of philosophers use myths, and that it is the job of philosophers to determine why myths can be considered divine. That is what Sallustius, a philosopher in his own right, seeks to do in this treatise, so we can expect him to answer this question in time.

As for priests, Sallustius says that priests use myths to disclose initiatory rites. What he means by this is that a priest of a religion needs to know the complete mythos of that religion, as it is the myths themselves that reveal the secrets of that religion. The mythology of a religion is not simply a collection of stories but the stories interwoven in a composite whole. To become an initiate in a religion is to come to that understanding, and it is the duty of a priest to set a person on the path that will allow them to gain that knowledge.

Sallustius’s next point follows thusly:

Since therefore all beings rejoice in similtude, and are averse from dissimiltude, it is necessary that discourses concerning the gods should be as similar to them as possible, that they may become worthy of their essence, and that they may render the gods propitious to those who discourse concerning them; all which can only be effected by fables.

Here, Sallustius basically says that we embrace similarity and have trouble embracing difference – a truth that is, unfortunately, one that has caused our world to become far more divided than it needs to be, considering our shared humanity.

Sallustius explains that the discourse – communication – about the gods needs to be as similar to people as possible, so that people may better understand the gods and see the gods as benevolent and worthy. To accomplish this, it is necessary to employ myth.

Essentially, the myths show the gods as similar to humans because it allows us, as people, to better relate to the gods and see them as good. It is not that the gods themselves are like us, but that we need to understand them as if they were, in order to be able to relate to the gods in any productive way.

Sallustius continues:

Fables therefore imitate the gods, according to effable and ineffable, apparent and unapparent, wise and ignorant; and this likewise extends to the goodness of the gods; for as the gods impart the goods of sensible natures in common to all things, but the goods resulting from the intelligibles to the wise alone, so fables assert to all men that there are gods; but who they are, and of what kind, they alone manifest to such as are capable of so exalted a knowledge.

Here, Sallustius says that the myths imitate the qualities of the gods that they possess. Since they are imitations, however, it is important to understand that imitation is nothing more but a pale echo – the myths, therefore, cannot capture the full essence of a god, no matter how poignant the myths may be.

He also says that the gods gift the shared senses to those who inhabit the world, but the gods only impart intellect to the wise. I find that this sentiment echoes in the Havamal, the Sayings of the High One (i.e. Odin):

54. Wise in measure let each man be;/ but let him not wax too wise;/ for never the happiest of men is he/ who knows much of many things.

Wisdom, after all, comes at a price. It is not a price everyone will wish to pay, and it thus makes sense that the gods would only impart it to those that seek it. It seems, after all, that only those who seek wisdom hold the capacity for it, but that is my own perception of the world I have seen.

Going back to Sallustius, he also offers a sage piece of advice. He says that while myths assert to everyone that there are gods, the meanings of the myths are not made apparent to everyone. Basically, he asserts that there are people who understand myths on a level others cannot, and this serves both as advice and warning – the myths are not simply what they seem.

Sallustius then states:

In fables, too, the energies of the gods are imitated; for the world may very properly be called a fable, since bodies and the corporeal possessions which it contains, are apparent, but souls and intellects are occult and invisible. Besides, to inform all men of the truth concerning the gods, produces contempt in the unwise, from their incapacity of learning, and negligence in the studious; but concealing truth in fables, prevents the contempt of the former, and compels the latter to philosophize.

Here, Sallustius says that the world itself can be seen as a story, as it contains corporeal existence in the form of bodies and other tangibles. The reality behind that story, however, is the eternal existence of souls and intellects, as they are intangible and noncorporeal. We are all, in the end, just stories.

He then states that it would be unwise if the gods simply informed humanity of the truth of themselves. Sallustius seems to say here that the unwise would find the gods contemptible because they would turn their inability to learn and understand that truth against the gods themselves. Similarly, those with a passion for learning, would turn away from their studies and make no attempt towards understanding the gods, as the knowledge would exist already.

This, to me, says that the world would be a place full of contempt and unease if the gods simply revealed the truth of themselves to all of humanity. It would take the fun out of the life we live for those of us who enjoy the pursuit of knowledge, and it would cause nothing but ire and ill-will to burn in the hearts of those who suddenly find themselves faced with beings they can never hope to understand.

That said, Sallustius completes this chapter thusly:

But you will ask why adulteries, thefts, paternal bonds, and other unworthy actions are celebrated in fables? Nor is this unworthy of admiration, that where there is an apparent absurdity, the soul immediately conceiving these discourses to be concealments, may understand that the truth which they contain is to be involved in profound and occult silence.

Of all the things Sallustius has to say in this chapter, this is my absolute favorite. In essence, he is saying that the myths that demonstrate unworthy actions on the part of the gods still require the admiration of the gods. He suggests that the actions are only unworthy at first glance, and that we will understand that the actions that seem bad only seem so – that, in fact, there are deeper truths to be found, if only we are willing to dig beneath the surface.

The Greeks believed that the Gods were inherently good, and we will eventually get to the part of Sallustius’s treatise that discusses that. For me, this particular section of this chapter of the treatise lightens my heart because it affirms something I have always seen as true.

The myths that paint Loki in a negative light, the ones that cause people to label him as evil or a frith-breaker or the bane of the gods – these are the myths that have the deeper layer. The ones that have more occult knowledge hidden within them than can ever truly be spoken. His stories are some of the deepest ones I know, and I am glad to find a treatise by a polytheist that explains why such seemingly cruel myths delve into sometimes unfathomable depths.

Sources:

Sallustius. “On the Gods and the World.”

Havamal Verse 54 from the Poetic Edda, Oliver Bray translation.

©Kyaza 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part I

Sallustius wrote one of the oldest known treatises on the Greek gods, “On the Gods and the World” in the 4th century. In this treatise, he discusses the characteristics of the gods and myths in dense detail. The treatise itself is under 15 pages, but it contains a wealth of wisdom for any polytheist interested in theology.

In the second chapter, Sallustius discusses the nature of the gods. He starts by saying that:

A god is immutable, without Generation, incorporeal, and has no Subsistence in Place.

This is the first argument about the gods that he puts forth, and he  explains it thusly:

The essences of the gods are neither generated; for eternal natures are without generation; and those beings are eternal who possess a first power, and are naturally void of passivity. Nor are their essences composed from bodies; for even the powers of bodies are incorporeal; nor are they comprehended in place; for this is the property of bodies; nor are they separated from the first cause, or from each other; in the same manner as intellections are not separated from intellect, nor sciences from the soul.

In the modern era, this is not an easy passage to interpret, especially as it concerns the nature of the gods themselves.

Even the first line can be difficult to wrap your mind around because how do the gods exist if they were not first generated? But Sallustius explains that the gods cannot have been generated, as the gods possess eternal natures and eternity itself cannot be generated – it simply exists.

His next statement holds some fairly interesting connotations since he states that eternal beings cannot be passive simply because they exist. That definitely implies that the gods are constantly in motion, constantly acting. They may be doing so in ways we cannot understand, but the lack of passivity definitely indicates that the gods are always in motion – that eternity itself is not a passive existence but a very involved one.

Sallustius then states that the gods do not possess bodies due to the fact that bodies hold powers that are incorporeal. By this, he means that the powers of a body do not impact the eternal existence of the material universe. In converse, the powers of the gods do impact and shape that existence, thus their powers cannot be found in something that holds a physical form. Essentially, if a god was bound to a body as physical beings are, they could not be gods, as the powers of the body would prevent the gods from acting upon the eternal existence of the material universe.

For a similar reason, the gods are not bound to place because only bodies hold the property of being bound to place. The gods are not restricted to where they are or are not – they simply exist. In some ways, this implies that the gods are both everywhere and nowhere because place means nothing – they are not bound to existence; they are existence.

Finally, Sallustitus states that the gods are never separated from the first cause or from each other, which is where this gets very metaphysical. Essentially, the gods are always existence, and, because they are always existence, they can never be separate from it. Since the gods are all always existence, and existence cannot be separated from itself, the gods themselves are always connected to each other.

This does not mean that all the gods are one god or that all existence is singular – it rather suggests that the gods each are a very particular type of existence that resides nested in all the other potentialities of existence. The gods are all in each, rather than all in one, which is the central component of the doctrine of polycentric polytheism.

Sallustius essentially establishes this principle within the second chapter of his treatise, where he lays out his basic understanding of the nature of the gods. In his third chapter, which I will examine in Part II, he discusses the divine nature of myths.

 

Sources:

Sallustius “On the God and the World”

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