The Fine Art of Idol Making
This a meditation about Idols and idol making – what idols are, the purpose they serve, how we create them, how they can enliven and enrich our lives.
How we can become Idolaters.
Please notice that I am using the term Idolater in a very positive sense. This is very deliberate, and it is the exact inverse of the negative connotation most people place on the world in our Western “Christlemew” culture. (The word “Christlemew” is a coinage by Lon Milo DuQuette to refer to the common religious heritage of Christians, Muslims and Jews.) In that context, to be an Idolater is to worship something other than the one, true God. It assumes a monotheistic, single standard religion. Further, it assumes that God stands transcendent, outside of His creation (yes, I said His). Either Idols are not permitted, or only Idols of the God are permitted – for instance, pictures of Jesus, or statues of Mary or the saints.
I want to recover what is good about an Idol, to examine what the word means, and to consider how using an Idol affects how I relate to the world. I also want to consider how astrology can be enlivened by understanding and using Idols.
The word Idol goes back to a Greek root, eidos, that means image or form.
Enlivening an Idol or Image is basically treating it as if it is alive, as if it embodies or incarnates a living being. You treat it with reverence, talk to it, honor it, offer sacrifices to it, view it with devotion, and over time the Idol will increasingly embody your devotion. It takes on a life of its own.
You can get the feeling of what I am talking about if you visit an old shrine that has been used for a long time – the place itself has a certain presence, a numinousness. The God has come to inhabit the shrine, and you can sense the God’s presence, and you can communicate.
There is nothing exotic or out of the ordinary about the process; children do it all the time, and one of the best text books for creating an idol is the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. You take your teddy or other beloved doll or animal and love it, until it becomes Real. It takes on a life of its own, it communicates with you, helps you, guards you, loves you right back. If you think the process is “just fantasy” in a reductionist sense then you’ve never had a Teddy.
If you pour all your love and devotion into a thing or a place it becomes alive, inhabited, an idol.
A book can be an Idol, an embodiment of the divine. You know that if you’ve ever read and lived with a book until it wore out and you needed to replace it; it takes a while for the new physical book to wake up the way the old one was. The book is like an old friend.
A well-loved shawl can be an Idol. You can derive comfort from a favorite shawl far, far beyond just the warmth that a bit of wool provides. You might find yourself talking to the shawl, or sense the shawl talking to you through your feelings.
An idol is something material, or a form, that becomes alive, embodied with a living spirit. Precisely that is what we need to recover today – the sense that the physical world, including our bodies, is holy, and can and should be treated with reverence, fully accepted, fully enlivened, fully lived in.
In a physical sense it is completely living in the body, being in touch with what the body is feeling, listening to the body’s wisdom and learning the body’s language. A loss of connection to idols in the world around us is mirrored by a split in consciousness from our own bodies.
The point I am getting at here – we are used to viewing the physical reality around us as inanimate, dead, and we feel ourselves as separate from it. We need to recover the sense that ALL of physical reality is alive and can communicate with us. We need an active change of mind and practice to do that, and I think that recovering the concept and practice of idols is a useful step.
You could label this as a polytheist and pantheist conception of the universe – that the material universe is alive and inhabited by the Gods, and that it serves us well to become aware of these Gods and to be open to their communication.
In the Christlemew reality the domain of the Gods (including the Gods of astrology) is denied and repressed by the one transcendent God, and this has the effect of removing the divine life from the material world we live in. We’ve separated the physical from the divine in our objective, scientific and soul-less world, and we need to heal that separation.
We need Idols that reach all the way down into the little details of our daily lives, a sense that cooking is sacred, walking is sacred, washing is sacred – and doing any task in reverence and service to the Universe is sacred. The material world is not something we exploit, it is part of our living bodies and must be treated as such.
When we cook it can be reverencing the Moon, or Venus.When we work hard or exercise it can be reverencing Mars. When we write it can be reverencing Mercury. Whether you realize it or not you are invoking Mercury whenever you sit down to write, and adding conscious awareness of that does make a difference in the process. You write differently when you acknowledge you are in the presence of the Gods.
We need well-loved shawls, well-loved kitchens, well-loved bodies – we need to recover that each of these is every bit as much the domain of the holy as is anything else we could do. We also need to become aware that the Gods of astrology are embodied in all the little details of daily life around us. We need to re-learn how to converse with the Gods in those little details.
I’ve heard it described as, the re-enchantment of the world. It is an attitude and a practice, and it can be done deliberately by reverencing, by idol-izing, making an image, a form, a vessel, a body for the divine to manifest.
So get out there and practice being an Idolater.