This post has come about from a couple of starting points. One is in a comment to a friend’s post regarding godspouses, and then again in conversation tonight when speaking of the nature of the gods as it pertains to how we worship and establish relationships with them. The gist was an idea established earlier by Plutarch that when we interact with the gods we are in actuality perhaps interacting with a spirit that a god sends to interact with us on their behalf. And while this may very occasionally be the case in perhaps the most informal of communication, such as perhaps when a person who has an undeveloped relationship with a god is giving up an offering to the god and asking the blessings of a god among other gods invited to the banquet or occasion, I overall disagree that this is a common case. Rather I have my own perceptions on the matter.
When it comes down to it, the gods as far as I can tell are beyond what our limited perceptions have the ability to cope with, see or even understand. They are huge and immeasurable, and have an entirely different state of existence than us. I would liken this to, say, something vibrating at a higher level, moving faster than we can grasp. The word theoi (for the gods), is directly related to the concept of running. This is a great metaphor I think for how the gods are ever moving, ever running, and ungraspable by us as being who can neither move as fast nor to such heights. But as they are so much bigger and fast than us, that we are incapable of true perception of them, the gods themselves can become multiple as they would desire. A god is one, but at will can divide himself into particulars. We find this particular in the Hellenic religion where we focus at a given time on different perspectives of the god rather than the whole of the god. Any body of art is presented at a given time to a certain form, or in poetic form may deal with specific mythic subjects one at a time. While some scholars say that when a god possesses this many names that it may point to a god absorbing different gods that they come into contact with, it seems more likely to me that these are just refractions of the same being.
The god in this case is as a crystal. Perfect and unblemished, but refracting at so many angles and directions that every time he moves you see something different in each refraction of light being emitted. And then another refraction again where that is too reflected. This can happen in a larger sense as we find with epithets, and in many more tiny precise moments as we find with individual relationships with the gods. A Greek poet Yannis Ritsou wrote of this a bit in his poem Marpessa’s Choice.
“It wasn’t by chance that Marpessa preferred Idas over Apollo,
despite her passion for the god, despite his incomparable beauty —
the kind that made myrtle tremble into blossom as he went by. She
never dared raise her eyes above his knees.
Between his toenails and his knees, what an inexhaustible world,
what exquisite journeys and discoveries between his toenails and his knees.”
It speaks of the full presence and beauty of just the smallest glimpse and smallest portion of the god that an inexhaustible world could dwell between his toenails and knees. And this would be so even with the god not coming in his full glory, for we know that this does not happen. Greek myth when dealing with Semele tells us that the Greeks did not think that ever did the gods come in their true forms to the women that they love, but rather in a smaller proximity form of themselves. Like a shard of light from the massive crystal that is the entirety of their being. A refraction of a refraction of light coming to us, giving us a beautiful image of the god, that is full of the innumerable parts of the god, in touch with each of those portions through the refractions of their own light, but by the choice of the god, presented to us in a smaller way that we may personally communicate with us. It is still our god that we are speaking to and giving worship to, yet never while being the same of the whole, never appearing the same way or having the exact same kind of relationship develop in each way he manifests to each of his devotees.
At the same time his crystal catches the light of other gods nearest to him, and that too can draw our awareness of other closely related gods. I who so love Apollon may catch a reflection of Dionysos in a particular angle of the refraction Apollon shows to me, and through my love of Apollon may show adoration and appreciation more for Dionysos, and perhaps that light of Dionysos too had the reflection carried within it of Aphrodite, and so mingling her essence in my worship to bring her necessity into my life and bind her to how I understand the god I serve. I understand and appreciate the other gods through my devotion to my god, and all of this through the smallest portion, a sliver of his being, that he presents to me.
There is no way, even as immense as the gods appear to us in their fractional selves that they present to us, that we really know how immense the gods are. There is a Hindu image I particularly love of Krishna and how he presents himself to Arjuna that I am attaching to the end of this post in which the god presents his innumerable multi form. For we cannot ever know or comprehend how vast and in how many forms the god has within in his entirety. How many refractions for his divine crystal. And even if we can see numerous face at a given time….we can never see the entire scope of the god and he manifests to each worshiper and devotee. The gods are that limitless and multiformed in their singularity.
Or so I believe it to be.
I would like to note that the concept of the gods as refracting light in crystal is highly influenced by the philosophical-religious concept of Indra’s net in which the gods are like drew drops reflecting light on a net, and each dew drop carries within it the reflection of all those near it from whatever angle you look at it. I took this and isolated it and asked myself what I would see of the dew drop of itself suspended in space refracting light in numerous hues and expressions. So while these are ideas are not completely related it was a significant groundwork for this understanding I developed in my own experience.