When I started writing this post I thought the subject was the One and the Gods and how that applies to astrology. I very quickly figured out that I wanted to write about religious and political tolerance, especially the latter. I’ll get around to how that fits in with astrology and the Gods, but I need to give some context first.
One of the most spiritually dangerous things that a person can do is to be convinced that you are Right, that you have found the Truth, and that everyone who disagrees with you is Wrong. It is a corrosive spiritual poison.
In some ways I think we all do it – I know I do. There are certain sorts of religious or political opinions that are enough to send me into an instant blind rage, a push-button intolerance that kicks in a lot faster than any conscious thought. I recognize it in others, and I sometimes recognize it in myself. I blindly attack, just as I have been blindly attacked.
It’s easy to spot that sort of intolerance in others – not so easy to spot it in yourself. I am trying to train myself to watch for situations where my quick first response is to attack, or respond with anger, or scorn, or some kind of dismissive swearing. That is my signal to pause for a minute and consider what is setting me off – what am I finding offensive, and why.
Interestingly, I seem to be most susceptible to that sort of push-button intolerance on subjects where I am changing my mind – and I am confronted with a position that I used to hold but I am not quite free of, one that now fills me with blind rage and aversion. The negative reaction is a reflection of my own unsureness.
I used to be Christian, and I spent a couple of years in seminary when I was younger, convinced I was called to be a priest. I left both the seminary and the church a very long time ago – but after all these years, some topics related to Jesus or the church are enough to send me into a blind rage – I’ve got a sore spot there, after all these years, and there is a certain kind of Christian judgmental intolerant righteousness that makes me mad enough to want to kill… because I used to do it. I am not yet healed there.
I am currently having similar experiences with political opinions. The past year I have been going through some serious changes of viewpoint on political subjects – and when I mention some of these changes of mine to old friends I am shocked and hurt by the level of blind misunderstanding and hostility I sometimes get. There are certain kinds of opinions that it is just not okay to change – and otherwise friendly and tolerant people can get very intolerant and nasty when you cross the wrong line.
I’ve been badly hurt there, and I’m not healed yet.
For that reason, through all of my spiritual searches, I have gotten to a place where I need a system that is full enough to be intellectually and emotionally satisfying to me, and flexible and tolerant enough that lets me give other people plenty of room to follow their own paths, without my feeling I need to correct, or educate, or fight them in any way. I have no use for the One True God, and I by all I hold sacred I pray I never find Him.
Astrology makes most sense to me in a worldview that includes an ordered oneness, and that has room for multiple Gods within that oneness – a philosophical system large enough to be polytheist while still including all of Universe in a single grand ordered whole. That includes being flexible enough to allow for multiple ways of practicing astrology – that lets me make room for John Frawley and Stephen Forrest, Chris Brennan and Mark Jones.
The most satisfying philosophical context I have found is the late Platonist tradition, as it is fully articulated in Plotinus, Iamblichus, and especially Proclus.
This group of philosophers is usually labeled NeoPlatonist. I don’t use that term because it was originally meant to be derogatory. It is a coinage from European protestant Christian scholars of a few centuries back, who wished to distinguish the “real” Plato from what they viewed as the irrational and heretical mystic ravings of the late Platonists. Calling Proclus and Iamblichus NeoPlatonist is roughly equivalent to calling Martin Luther NeoChristian, and is meant to be about as condescending.
The late Platonists viewed themselves as continuing and articulating an unbroken spiritual and philosophical tradition that went back to Plato, and beyond Plato to Pythagorean and Orphic tradition, with roots reaching back into Egypt and Macedonia and beyond. This is the view of the great English Platonist Thomas Taylor, who was the first person to translate the complete works of Plato and Aristotle into English and who also translated a large body of the late Platonist material.
It is important to understand that any God we can conceptualize cannot possibly be the ultimate, the source of all, the highest of the highest and the most inclusive. This is because no concept we can have could possibly contain or comprehend all of existence on all planes.
We can point to the source of all, while still realizing that any conception we have falls short. This is not the same as a Christian conception of one creator God; it is far larger than that.
The One, the Good, the principle of principles – the word principle just means beginning – is prior to manifestation, or even prior to what we understand as existence – transcending all possible concept or form or causality, omnipresent, omnipotential, fully present in its completeness in all points of existence since it cannot possibly be limited by time and space.
When we consider creation of a Universe of form, of space and time, in this system that is a product of Gods, specific principles or beginnings that all emerge from, and participate in, the One and the Good.
All of creation participates in the One and the Good.
The reality we inhabit is not created and shaped by the highest god, but by gods. The Platonist creation myth in the Timaeus speaks of Zeus or Jupiter as the Demiurge, a creator or craftsman god, who fashions the manifest universe of space and time on the pattern of a higher model.
The creator God, and any god we can conceive of, by definition cannot be the ultimate source of All. The One and the Good is beyond the gods and transcends and includes all gods.
In the Timaeus myth the human is a composite being, with our immortal self being created directly by the demiurge, and the mortal and changing parts of us created by lower gods, subordinate deities – in a polytheistic system you could call these lesser gods or perhaps daemons.
In later Christian theology we have a parallel to this heirarchy of greater and lesser gods and demons, in the various ranks of angels, archangels, thrones, principalities and powers. This Christian mystical heirarchy is most fully developed in the work of Dionysus the Areopagite, and it is widely recognized that Dionysis drew heavily on the work of Proclus, in some cases borrowing whole passages word for word. I recall seeing Dionysus referred to by one scholar as “Proclus with the serial numbers filed off”.
In the Platonist heirarchy we do not have a simple two level reality with God up there and human beings in physical reality down here with nothing in between. In Platonism you have the great chain of being, where there is a heirarchy of levels filling all of the transitions from the highest, most abstract and inclusive One down to our mutable and differentiated physical reality in space and time.
Creation takes place through the Gods in an ordered process – and we as human beings are products of that process, and also have our own place in the chain. Part of us is immortal, and part of us is mortal – we live as conscious beings at the boundary between worlds.
Physical creation is an ensouled expression of God through the chain of gods and lesser beings. We physically are manifestations of higher levels of intelligence – we are creations of the gods, and the gods express through us.
This heirarchy of gods, the great chain of being reaching back to the One and the Good, includes the planetary gods of astrology. The physical planets are not the gods themselves, but are expressions or vehicles with which the gods manifest. They are the physical manifestation which is the expression of a prior to physical intelligent cause.
The gods of astrology are the expression of the order of Cosmos working from the One and expressing on the physical.
This is Polytheism within the One. It is not simply monotheist, and it is not simply polytheist – neither one god nor many gods. It is a philosophical oneness that has room for multiple gods.
The gods of astrology connect the physical world, and humans as part of that world, to the chain of being, to the gods and to the One.
This system of polytheism within a philosophical unity helps to explain a peculiar characteristic of human spiritual experience. Since each God is an expression of the One, this means we can get at or connect to the One through any and all of the gods. Any one of the Gods can be the God of all, since all of the Gods are rooted in the One that is prior to all Gods and the source of all.
You will see that in many of the hymns to the Gods collected by Thomas Taylor in the collection called Hymns to Orpheus. The god/dess being addressed at the moment is the one God, the all, including all, source of all. At that moment in time that one God becomes the shape of the One.
We see it in prayers to the Christian God. We see it in prayers to Allah. And so on. That one God is the all, the One. Each god is the One, but no one god limits, constrains or includes all of the One.
At each moment in time we relate to the One according to our own level of consciousness, our own perceptions, our own values. Whether we realize it or not we are part of the One. Our conception of the One changes as we grow and change, and by definition we never get to the point where we have found The Truth that comprehends all of the One.
This polytheism within unity explains how, when I was in the Christian church, I could have an experience at an Easter Sunday service where I knew in my heart that this was True, and Christ was risen indeed. I was right.
Later I was convinced there were things about the Christian faith that I could no longer stomach so I needed to leave. I was right to do that also, and that does not negate the validity of my previous experience.
The Christian God can be a means of experiencing the One, the God of all. I know that is true, because I have had that experience many, many times.
For a pagan the Great Mother can be an experience of the One and the All. I’ve been there.
If you are Muslim then Allah is the one God. I have not had that experience, but I respect that.
Does this mean there is no difference between the Christian creator God, Jahweh of the Jews, Allah of the Muslims, and the Great Goddess of pagans? Not at all – there are very significant differences in form and expression. Yet can any one of them be the connection to the One? Yes to all.
What is ultimate is not the form but the One. No one form is ultimate.
For me today, I come closest to experience of the One while I am reading and meditating on the works of Plato, or Proclus, or Iamblichus – when I am in just the right place they can bring me to a place of ecstasy, peace and spiritual oneness. That form of spiritual meditation matches my current needs.
Do I think I am more evolved now, or in any way superior to someone who is convinced Jesus is Lord of all – or do I think they are superior to me? Oh Gods, no. Hopefully I have been around long enough to know that I am not in any way superior or more spiritual or more evolved, or in any way more important than any other living being ever created. We are, every one of us, equally ordinary – and equally special. The fact that there are uncounted millions of grains of sand does not discount the preciousness of any one grain – William Blake was right about that.
For that matter… I recall listening to a sports commentator on the radio, talking about the satisfaction he gets from following the football season – and when he says, this is as good as it gets, I believe him. It’s not my gig, but I honor that it is his, and I do not think that I am in any way a superior human being because I prefer Plato and Proclus to the Eagles and the Patriots.
Thank the Gods, we are all created differently, and we were not put here to judge and put each other down. There is no quicker way to make yourself miserable.
For me this realization of a One that transcends any form of god helps to foster a spiritual and intellectual humility and tolerance. I now connect to the One and the Good through the platonist tradition, but this does not mean my path is the only way, or that any other path is invalid. I have no need to force my form of belief on anyone else.
This system of polytheism within a larger unity explains why multiple systems of astrology work – because any of the gods is God, or rather is contained in, and expression of, the One, the ultimate, that which is prior to the conception of any God.
The One needs to be Beyond Form – because if you confine yourself to any one creator god form, any single expression of the one as god, you then are limited by the biases of that one form. Being convinced that your one form of worshipping the One is the only valid form breeds religious intolerance. That is especially dangerous in today’s multi-cultural, multi-formed world society connected by the internet.
We need a polytheistic, multi-formed model of the divine to accommodate our multi-formed, multi-cultural reality.
We also need a multi-formed model of astrology to accommodate the many different schools of astrology, where no one form of astrology can claim to be the only True one.
Realizing that there is no One form of God that is ultimate and completely expresses and contains the All – and realizing that we are each limited in our perspective – I think this leads to a certain intellectual maturity and humility with political opinions also. Taking your God to be the One, or your political stance to be the only one that is True, means that any who oppose that God are by definition Evil.
I am not convinced that I know what is Good in any ultimate sense, or that my political opinions at any point in time are necessarily correct. I have changed my mind too many times over the years to think that. The older I get, and the more I look around, the more I see people with all kinds of different opinions and interests each trying to pursue the Good in the way that makes most sense to them.
I try to be tolerant of the religious convictions of others, and I try to be tolerant of the political convictions of others – and for many people today the arena of politics is effectively the new religion, since that is where questions of ultimate value are being played out for many people.
The one thing I have a very hard time tolerating, is intolerance – where I interact with someone who is convinced they are Right and I am Wrong, so they fling epithets and swear words at me with a great deal of intensity, trying to get me to change – or to at least back down and shut up. The best I have found to do in such a situation is to terminate the interaction as quickly and gracefully as I can – and then have nothing further to do with that person. I am not okay acting as a passive projection screen for their personal Devil.
So for me, where I am now in my life – wherever you happen to be spiritually, or religiously, or politically, I accept and respect that. I have been through enough changes that I no longer am sure that I am right, so you may hold whatever opinion you will. The One is large enough to include all of us.
I will dialog with you, I will listen to your viewpoint and respect you. In return, if you wish to dialog I need you to respect my viewpoint – it takes two to dialog.
I will not join you in hating whoever or whatever you are convinced is evil. There I have to draw the line.
Now, whenever I look out and see the presence of Evil in the world and feel the urge to attack, I realize that I am seeing the reflection of something within my own soul – and I pause.