The filters and hats theory of gods

Presented not as an explanation of how the world works, but rather as a way of stimulating thought.

It generally isn't that far in one's magickal or spiritual life that one learns to take the idea of gods seriously. It isn't too difficult to discover the reality of them – you pretty much just have to listen, or call, and see what happens. Working with godforms has a long history, and many people have achieved great success through doing so. But when you first come across the idea you might well find yourself asking the question 'So… what are they? Where do they come from? What reality do they have?'

A common response to working with gods, or the desire to work with gods, is to try to get to know them 'for real'. It quickly emerges that the general facts and impressions we know about gods are not the whole story. We start reading their legends, look into the history of their worship, find out their stories… But then we discover a disconcerting thing. The details of their symbols, associations, meaning, even their names, changes through history. Worse yet, their stories change, and even contain contradictions.

If you were researching a historical figure that was important to you, and you began to discover that the stories about this person varied, their name varied, the way they were supposed to look varied, where they came from and where they went all varied (cf. King Arthur)… you might not be blamed if you began to come to the conclusion that perhaps this wasn't a historical figure after all. Perhaps there are just a bunch of stories. Perhaps this figure didn't actually exist.

Thus one may enter a crisis in your relationship with gods – so just who, really, were Thoth, Odin and Artemis? If no one is sure of their details, if their worship varied and their responsibilities changed… could they be really treated as…. real?

At one level I would simply say there is a real richness to be gained from dealing with an entity who is full of story, contradiction, movement and change. It would be crazy to expect gods to live by the same rules and reality of your mate Bob down the road.

But if it helps, here's the "Filters and hats theory" as a way of dealing with the complexities and contradictions of gods.

The Universe is big, rich, complex, wonderful and has a personal relationship with you. Magick is based on this fact. However, conceptualising and dealing with The Universe can be a bit overwhelming. It's so vast, so varied, so… well, everything. So calling on, speaking with, the Universe can seem a bit much. How should one interact with it, what should one offer, what can one request? It's easier, therefore, to deal with just a bit of the Universe at a time.

Say, for instance, you've got a problem to do with communication – perhaps you need to strengthen your own communication skills, or ensure a particular attempt at communication is done accurately, clearly and artfully. Perhaps, then, rather trying to understand the Universe, you instead try to deal with 'just the bit of the Universe that deals with communication'. Rather than trying to stretch your understanding and conceptualisation around the whole Universe, you instead just filter out all of the details and just conjure with the communication part of the Universe.

But that's pretty abstract. Working with 'the energy of communication' could be effective, but it's hard to think about – what would it look like? What would feel like? What would it sound like? How would you know when you were dealing with it effectively? Fortunately, humans are really good at personification and anthropomorphism – we can take a concept, put a hat on it, and call it a person.

We want to summon up great power of communication, we filter out all that is not communication, we put a hat on it, and we give it a name. Hermes, say. But, once you've got a filter, a hat and a name, you might well want to get to understand it better, or you might want to tell other people about it. Fortunately, humans are also great at telling stories. So we tell stories about this particular part of the Universe, explaining it's deeds. We might well find that this particular character we've created seems to naturally have other characteristics too – we find the filter doesn't just allow through communication, but also energies of magick, commerce, travel. This more complex filter makes the character feel more 'real', more vivid, easier to relate to.

Of course, with time the filter might change further. The hat might change. The name might change. The god may vary and evolve, taking on different forms in different places, to different cultures. Romans find ancient British gods and integrate them into their local practice, or even integrate them with gods they were already familiar with. Did they think they were the same god, just with a different name and form? Or did they have a richer understanding of the nature of a god?

Hybrid gods are not much discussed, but can be very useful and interesting – take Hermanubis, conveniently bringing together the functions of Hermes and Anubis. What an ideal god for talking to the dead. But if Hermes and Anubis are both real how can we have a god who is… both of them? Because, perhaps, gods don't have the same kind of reality that people have. That isn't to say they don't have intelligence, volition, reality, vitality… just that it operates differently.

Why do pop culture gods 'work'? Chaos magick is famous for working with entirely fictional gods… and getting results. You can invoke yourself a Superman, you can use John Lennon as a god of Psychedelia, you can certainly, if you're feeling adventurous, work with the Cthuhlu Mythos and get results… not necessarily useful ones, but results. Gods come if they are called.

Perhaps what we are seeing is the ability to create a new filter – a pop-culture filter. An idea or archetype that is familiar to a magician that can act as a filter on the fundamentally living, vital, intelligent nature of the Universe and… allow something through. Something more understandable, more manageable, perhaps even more appealing with that vastness of The One.

But, from personal experience, and from discussions from others, there's something about those ancient filters, those ancient gods. The reality of idea that have existed for millennia; the stories that have been told, and heard, by millions; the personalities that have been spoken of, discussed, illustrated, worshipped, bargained with, feared, for countless generations. Somehow, they are so much more… real.

But if you get hung up about which is the real story, the right attribution, the correct name, the oldest, and therefore best, way of worship… You may be missing the point about the reality of gods. They are. They are complex. They are contradictory. They do not operate like Bob down the road. They have a reality that requires you to stretch your mind away from everyday concepts.

They may, in some sense, be a filter, a hat, and a collection of stories – but they are all the more potent for that.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge