Link: Faith & Hubris: Baring the Aegis- Relationship with the Gods

Nederlands: Artemis (Louvre Paris)

Artemis (Louvre Paris) (Photo: Wikipedia)

I saw the following on a UU Pagan facebook page:

“Polytheists like to claim that the multiplicity of gods breeds a kind of pluralism that makes intolerance and acts of religious violence less likely. But as an earth-centered and Self-centered Pagan, I see more similarities than dissimilarities between polytheism and the monotheisms. And I wonder if what really distinguishes Paganism from the Abrahamic faiths is not the number of gods, but the belief that in some sense we are God. A polytheist would call this hubris and a monotheist would call it heretical. (At least an orthodox monotheist would. There have always been mystical strains within the monotheistic traditions which sought union with God.) But for many Pagans, the hubris of the statement, “Thou art God/dess”, is an article of, well, faith.” – John Halstead, on the role of faith and hubris in Paganism via The Wild Hunt

I followed it back to this blog post on the Allergic Pagan

…and traced his reaction back to several excellent posts by Elani Temperance.

How Far Would You Go to Appease the Gods?

You, In Relation to Deity

and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (again) part 1, part 2.

I made a comment on the Allergic Pagan entry:

“For a polytheist to identify with the gods would be hubris.”

Doesn’t really apply to ancient Egyptian practice, or much of modern Kemetic practice. It’s a common feature of temple rituals and heka to declare that you ARE a specific deity for the purposes of that ritual. “I am (the god) Shu, I have come to perform this rite for…” “I am (the god) Djehuty…” offering the restored Eye to Heru, and the restored testes to Sutekh, “I am (the goddess) Aset…” performing a healing action, as she healed her son Heru. 

Many of my fellow “recons” have a problem with majority pagans making sweeping statements about practice, statements that are quite exclusionary. If we point out that the “Threefold Law” is not universal, or that not everyone is “Earth-Centered,” these statements aren’t well-received. Diversity gets very little respect under the Pagan umbrella, IMO.

 

For one thing, I don’t see “Faith” having anything like the importance in Kemeticism as it does in Christianity, for instance. “The Quality/Strength of Faith” isn’t a test for the Egyptian afterlife at all, is it? The Netjeru don’t ask “How strong is your faith?” They ask “What have you done?”

“Hubris” seems pretty meaningless in a Kemetic context as well.

Definition of hubris, noun excessive pride or self-confidence: (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

Icarus is a common example. The son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in his artificial wings. He plummeted to his death. (To me this seems more a case of ignoring instructions than angering the gods!) Again, I don’t see any Kemetic context for hubris!

I’d like to know your thoughts on all this!

related: To  Pagan or not to Pagan?

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12 thoughts on “Link: Faith & Hubris: Baring the Aegis- Relationship with the Gods

  1. My reaction to that excerpt was pretty much the same as yours, along with no small amount of confusion. Needless to say, your response was spot on. Thanks for that. :)

  2. Unfortunately, most of the examples set within the Allergic Pagan blog post are Hellenic. Here comes the same issue in different form that we have experienced on Tumblr: someone assuming all hard polytheists are the same even spanning different belief systems.
    It doesn't work that way.

  3. What Halstead writes, "for many Pagans, the hubris of the statement, 'Thou art God/dess,' is an article of, well, faith," is more applicable and accurate to Ceremonial traditions (Hermetic, Luciferian) and Crowlean schools of thought than any Polytheist ones, both Modern and historic. And he doesn't seem to understand the meaning of "heretical." As a Medievalist, I can say with certitude that his use of the word is just . . . wrong, theologically and academically. To be heretical was to refuse and rebel against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. To declare oneself to "be God" in any terms would be itself a declaration of apostasy, not a heresy, and not a statement relaying desire for oneness with God within any school of Christian thought (especially Western Latin Catholic Christian thought). And he doesn't seem to understand the multitude of factors which theologically separate Polytheisms from Abrahamic Monotheisms — namely, the worship of more than one deity

  4. What Halstead writes, "for many Pagans, the hubris of the statement, 'Thou art God/dess,' is an article of, well, faith," is more applicable and accurate to Ceremonial traditions (Hermetic, Luciferian) and Crowlean schools of thought than any Polytheist ones, both Modern and historic. And he doesn't seem to understand the meaning of "heretical." As a Medievalist, I can say with certitude that his use of the word is just . . . wrong, theologically and academically. To be heretical was to refuse and rebel against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. To declare oneself to "be God" in any terms would be itself a declaration of apostasy, not a heresy, and not a statement relaying desire for oneness with God within any school of Christian thought (especially Western Latin Catholic Christian thought). And he doesn't seem to understand the multitude of factors which theologically separate Polytheisms from Abrahamic Monotheisms — namely, the worship of more than one deity; no belief in an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-perfect God (see also the Medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas on the "attributes of God"); failure to abide Commandments or Pillars; and for most of us, no belief in the Divinity of Christ; among countless qualifiers. Halstead's use of the term "orthodox" (uncapitalized) is most vague. In short, his words demonstrate a noticeable lack of knowledge of Theology.

    Indeed, while his words infer that he speaks only of himself, I wager that most Polytheists are not "earth-based, and Self-centered." Even in polytheistic traditions like that of Egypt, the identification of a hekau with a God or Gods is not an act of hubris, but part of the mechanics of certain articulations of heka. Egyptian concepts (and language, for that matter) are alien to Western Polytheist traditions, and hard for Westerners to translate and reconcile. There are still concepts of committing offense toward the Netjeru, but the use of Their names and petitioning Their power in heka are not among them. It is a kind of "magical pantomime," if you will. Heka is about deception in more cases than not, and deception is not considered a "sin," if the 42 Negative Confessions are anything to go by. The most savvy and smooth prevaricator is the one that slips past the guardians and implacable deities of the more treacherous regions of the Duat with one's soul components intact, thus achieving Paradise. But I believe I am digressing.

    Also, while I am digressing, I agree on your stance regarding "faith," and will go further by saying that it has no place in religion, much less Polytheism, whatsoever. "Faith" is a term derived from the Old French terms "feid," and "foi," which are related to feudal bonds of vassalage, social contracts. The Old French terms are in term derived from the Roman Latin term "fides," which has everything to do with political, legal, and social transactions between *people,* an essential element of personal reliability in the character of a man of public affairs, and had/has naught to do with religion or "faith in God."

    I think the overall theme to be observed in all this is that a faulty understanding of terms and their proper contexts and definitions leads to fallacious conclusions. Making those fallacious conclusions sweeping does not exactly help matters.

  5. Can you help educate me a little? Many of the (non-Kemetic) polytheists I have talked have experiences of the gods as distinct, individual personalities that are as separate as you and I are from each other. Many seem to feel that these experiences are inconsistent with a feeling of identity with the gods. What do you think? And do you think your belief is peculiar to Kemeticism? Why or why not?

    • Interesting question, and I haven't seen it come up before. In Kemeticism, there seems to be a spectrum between hard polytheism and soft polytheism. But even some of the soft polytheists I know say "But I treat them all as individuals"! And it's complicated because the gods combine in several distinctly different ways. One mode is almost like a chemical compound- Amun-Re is as different from Amun and Re as H2O is different from hydrogen and oxygen. OTOH, Banebdjedet is the "Ba of Osiris," meaning that he's almost like the active Osiris principle in the world- it's like an office he holds in addition to being a god in his own right.
      So, I'd say that the Egyptian deities are different, and may have what we'd call 'personality' differences. That may be a reason why some people "get" deity A, and others don't really connect with them at all. How 'human' they are is a matter of some debate.

  6. The definition of "hubris" that you quote above is a modern definition, that doesn't have anything to do with the ancient Hellenic sense of the term. In fact, it is heavily infused with Christian ideas. The original Greek sense of "hubris" is simply wanton violence, especially with an element of abuse of power. Here's a link to the full entry from Liddell & Scott's lexicon for hubrizô, the verb form. Just skip over the Greek and read the English and you'll see what I mean: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Pers

    • I saw your mention of it elsewhere too- thanks for linking it here.
      Is there anything like the modern concept of "hubris," under a different name, in ancient Greek religion? Or is all of that a modern concept applied to plays and myths?

      • I really don't find anything answering to the modern concept, which seems to have built into it the Christian valorization of humility for its own sake. The Hellenic concept of virtue, aretê, which is essentially excellence of every kind, was thus considered by Christians to be in itself arrogant and excessively individualistic. Hence the whole Hellenic manner of thinking about virtue fell out of favor during the era of Christian hegemony. The notion that a person would be doing something evil by aiming to be too excellent would be perfectly incomprehensible to a classical Greek. Where a person becomes "hubristic" in Greek thought is in thinking that they are above the law, that no rules apply to them, and that they have no reciprocal obligations to other people. I know of no instance in which this applies specifically to one's relationship to the Gods. I know of no instance in tragedy, for instance, in which someone is punished by the Gods just for thinking too highly of themselves, but only for harm done to another.

      • I'd heard of aretê, but it didn't occur to me that it doesn't fit well with the common notion of the Gods sitting there just waiting to punish someone for reaching too high.

      • Well yeah, I'd say there's ample evidence of the Olympians cheering mortals on, urging them to excel, to push the envelope. I get rather annoyed at people applying the adulterated notion of hubris to the Olympians. It shows their complete lack of understanding of the essence of Hellenic civilization. There's a concept in Greek, megalopsychê, which is literally "having a big soul". It's like having all the virtues at once, excelling at everything, including justice, including generosity. That's the idea, that's Hellenism.

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