Friday, March 14, 2014

Deities and the Devil

When all the (how do I put this nicely) Euro-Asian stuff (Middle East-Europe and all that connects to it and the three religions of the Books -Judaism, Islam, Christianity) gets me confused and tangled up, including Hermeticism, and magic stuff, I turn to the other cultures of humanity to see what the roots of humanity have to say. And empirical atheistic science can be useful as well.

First, Judaism started as an animistic desert tribal religion of hunter-gatherers. Their "elohim" (desert and mountain Powers) seemed to be more like the manitous of the Algonquians, essentially nature deities/forces of the elements. Later Jewish theology developed them into faces or personifications of God, or messengers of God, aka angels (angel=Hebrew "messenger"). This is before the writings in the Bible, but can be seen in archaeology and linguistics.

Then as Semitic civilizations developed more complexities with the development of agriculture and the earliest cities like Jericho, there was similar elaboration and codification of a regular pantheon, with storm gods, fertility gods, etc. (similar to how other civilizations developed formal pantheons, like Greece's Olympians or the Mayan's Lords of Darkness). Of course the desert nomads kept the older forms going too (elohim), but the "city folks" developed temples and elaborate rites that formed and fed egregores (some based on actual human spirits/ancestors melded with functions like "god of the fields/fertility" (Baal = lord) or "god of thunder"). This is the time period of the development of formal pantheons/systems, which reflect the hierarchies developing from, and necessary to civilized (city) life (as seen in Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.) The Semitics developed pantheons like those of Babylon, and of course the pantheon which developed out of the roots of the elohim animism, namely El (followed by YHVH) and his goddess wife/consort Asherah/Athirat/Astarte/Ishtar (see
if you want to delve into this further). It is a story of tribal warfare reflected in the changing and mutation of pantheons.

When two tribes clash, and one wins decisively, the losers' deities are either demonized by the victors, or sometimes simply absorbed as lesser deities (the Aesir-worshippers defeated the Vanir-worshippers, while the ancient animistic gods/forces of mountains and sea were cast as the demonic giants and trolls). Or Tiamat in Mesopotamia as the forces of evil/chaos vs the forces of good/order Marduk.

Realize that elaborate pantheons are a reflection of the development of agriculture and agriculture's eventual offspring the city (civilization). My tribe for example, though we did some agriculture, did not get to that point. We still remained essentially hunter-gatherer in our theology, animistic, personifying the forces of nature, with a few protodeities like Trickster. And every society had/has some kind of trickster, who is the rootform of a deity of chaos and/or evil (blamed on when things go wrong, or worse, when things turn evil). The Norse Loki is an example. In some cases, the trickster is a benefactor of man (such as the "tricksterish" Prometheus), in others it becomes an adversary of man.

The idea of evil is as old as humanity. When there is violent and bizarre forms of death especially, slavery, torture etc. this feeds "something evil", sometimes the trickster-god, sometimes a city-god, or when there is human sacrifice, this is usually for agricultural fertility or success in warfare. Such things can either feed and mutate deities/ancestors or it can feed and form egregores into sentience. Whether most of these "things" existed before humanity is debatable, but really it is unimportant in terms of practical considerations, because they sure exist now. If anything possibly unreal, has real effects, then it is real enough to matter...whether gods, ghosts or magic ;-)

The Semitic adversary was Satan, introduced in the Book of Job, as the tester and inflictor of sorrow with God's permission on poor old Job. Just as "angel" literally means "messenger", so Satan literally meant "adversary." Setting aside the snake in the Semitic tribal origin myth found in Genesis, the first appearance of "the devil" (related to Sanskrit's "deva/devi" linguistically, the way "God" is related to Germanic "gott", and funny enough both "devil" and "god" mean "deity"...which is just from "deus" which also means the same thing!)

Lucifer, the light-bringer, aka the Morning Star (Venus), from Wikipedia: "In Latin, from which the English word is derived, Lucifer (as a noun) means "light-bearer" (from the words lucem ferre). It was the name given to the Morning Star, i.e. the planet Venus when seen at dawn. Use of the name "Lucifer" for the Devil stems from applying to the Devil what Isaiah 14:3–20 says of a king of Babylon whom it calls Helel (Shining One), a Hebrew word that refers to the Day Star or Morning Star (the Latin term for which is lucifer). This association developed in Early Christianity, in the 2nd or 3rd century. In 2 Peter 1:19 and elsewhere, the same Latin word lucifer is used to refer to the Morning Star, with no relation to the Devil. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus himself is called the Morning Star but not "Lucifer", even in Latin (Vulgata stella splendida matutina)."

So really, in Christianity, we have a range of beings and concepts that were distilled and synthesized from its various roots and later cultural contacts, into one Being, the Devil. A Christian would counter they were all the same being, or faces of the same being. So we have a chicken or the egg situation that presents itself. In any case:

Baal + Tiamat + various defeated Canaanite and other deities + Satan (Judaism) + Lucifer (Latin) = The Evil Spirit (devil="deity")

A KEY: Part of all of this can also be related to the innate workings of the human bilateral brain, and how it conceives of things in terms of natural oppositions (light-dark, good-bad, up-down, right-left, etc.) which also is reflected in binary code. If there is something All-Good, then there must be something All-Bad. Even in secular society you have sports and cross-town rivals ranting away at the other, or Chevy and Ford people ranting away, or Americans and Islamists ranting at each other.

ANOTHER KEY: For there to be an "us" there has to be a "them"...and if there is not a "them" we must be creative and create "a them." So doing this is a natural human trait, from our ape-band ancestors, and it is all about group identity in protecting one's territory and thus ensuring resources to increase one's reproductive success and survival.

But like everything else, when it grows too big and out of control, that which is natural and necessary becomes disordered and destructive. Of course destruction is also natural and necessary, or new things could not come into existence. People must die so that there is room for new people. Me included, though of course it is natural for me to fight my own death, till my last breath ;-)

Anyways, getting too long as usual, so I'll stop here. But I will post soon about some of the deities and powers in some of the belief systems and mythology of the indigenous people around this area.

EDIT 23 March 2014: I wanted to add a link to a very useful and well-written post by Josephine McCarthy, Demons, gods, and entities for beginners. My response to her post:

Things are so much more complicated than people make them out to be. I have said the same thing about good and bad for years using wolves and rabbits. A wolf killing a rabbit is evil to the rabbit and the rabbit’s young, but to the wolf’s pups and the wolf itself, it is natural, necessary and good. The wolf must do what it is made to do and the rabbit must try to escape. But if the wolf did not kill and eat the rabbit, the rabbits would reproduce so that they would destroy much of the vegetation and the health of the land. I say this while listening to Coyote yipping out there in the woods in the pre-dawn.

Here is a similar example, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” from ecology and one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Aldo Leopold: “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.”

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