“Do you believe in God?”
You wouldn’t think that’d be a hard question to answer, but it always stumps me. Even leaving aside the meaning of the word “believe” there (Have faith in? Assert the existence of?), what does it mean to say “God?”
I usually say, “Yes, but probably not in the way you mean.”
Part of the problem is that we mix up a lot of different concepts in that little word, and when we do, we create logical inconsistencies that are nearly impossible to reconcile. And part of my personal problem is that, as a magician, I think of gods a bit differently.
A god, for me, is a person who embodies as part of its identity a cosmic force. To be divine is to embody a cosmic force, so you could just say that a god is a divine person. Helios, for example, embodies the divine forces we see in the physical world as the sun, and all of its metaphorical extensions: light, heat, life, and so on. Sam, down the street, doesn’t embody anything much in regards to cosmic forces, although she might be quite a pleasant person otherwise.
But that definition doesn’t get to the crux of the problem, completely. Some gods are more cosmic than others. What about gods like Aeon, who embody such abstract forces that they couldn’t even said to be “persons” at all?
The Neoplatonists had a hierarchy of gods. Some gods were Cosmic Gods, perfect and unchanging and ideal. Praying to them did nothing to them. They didn’t change their mind, move to change the world, or anything like that. Praying to them was done for your own sake, not theirs. Same with libations, offerings, and so on. But each of those Cosmic Gods had manifestations in the world that weren’t quite so cosmic, sometimes called daemones (not to be confused with the evil spirits in some monotheistic religions). These daemones could affect the world, because they were closer to it, more human.
This solution is elegant if you believe in a hierarchy of existence, where some things are more spiritual than others. Or, if you don’t believe in it, if you accept it as a useful model, as I do, without committing to it as absolute truth. But it does have some implications.
Let’s say we have a Cosmic deity, a perfect god, Apollo, who represents all the cosmic laws of harmony. Now you have his daemon, embodying those laws as they apply to music. I pray to that daemon, which also might be and probably is called Apollo, for help playing a song. He inspires me with some of that divine essence, reflected from the unchanging monad, and I play the song.
In that moment, though, now I am acting to create harmony, to uphold the laws of harmony. I’m becoming, just for a second, a daemon. In other words, while I’m not a god, in that moment I become divine. Humans are godlike, at least in potential, when we act in accordance with and inspired by these divine forces.
Magicians have techniques for bringing that divine essence more fully into their worlds, and that’s where the practice of theurgy comes in.Now, humans aren’t gods in the absolute sense, and it’s dangerous to think so. In fact, it’s hubris, that ancient Greek sin of overweening pride. But we are divine in some sense, in our immortal part, which can embody—maybe not, as the gods do, as an identity but as a persona—a fundamental idea of reality.
Our thanks to Patrick for his guest post! For more from Patrick Dunn, read his article “Theurgic Meditation.”