A Passage in Proclus About Tracking Down Gods

I encountered a passage in Proclus’ Timaeus commentary that really struck me this evening, specifically the final sentence in the quotation below. It is uncommon nowadays to see anyone express the concept of lack with respect to Gods who are not yet worshipped, as if the wide universe is just waiting for people to stumble across (or track down, to reflect the translation’s choice of words) Gods and create rites and sanctuaries for them. Usually, it’s treated with some bewilderment that people will “create” yet another God.

It is also necessary not merely to consider all these matters superficially, but to worship as divine the invisible and unmoved things that are prior to the moving objects that are obvious to everyone. This is a view for which Plato too evidence since in the Laws (899b) there is a discussion of these gods, as I said earlier [36.22]. Furthermore, the Greeks have provided us with the rites of the Month, for the Month is celebrated by the Phrygians in Sabazion hymns in the midst of the rites of Sabazios. The reason is that whatever people first apprehended as able to provide a metric for eternal rotation, they assumed to be a god and honored it through sacred rites and worship, as they did with the Seasons (Horai). They were able to know these things [sc. the months and the seasons] on the basis of the results brought about by them, even if they could not similarly know the year. The Theosophers, however, were able to celebrate the year as a god, though it was not easy for everyone to know this God and worship it due to the difficulty of comprehending the period that was measured by it. There were parallel difficulties in the case of universal time, due to ignorance of the single period [of the heavenly bodies], so it would have been difficult for just anyone to track down the fact that it exists and is a god.

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, Book 4: Proclus on Time and the Stars, Series Volume V, trans. Baltzly, 41.5-24

It is very grounding because this is exactly how polytheism operates, a dance that is always in the process of being uncovered through ritual acts and through new knowledge.

This, in light of the discussions about time and e/Eternity in Book 4, has me wondering about the ways we conceive of time untethered to geocentricity or heliocentricity, with the same dance done on the breathtaking depth of stars known and unknown to us, and with the temporal effects of observers moving at different speeds who view events happening at different times — a harmonization of pasts, Nows, and future possibilities as numerous as dandelion seeds on a nearly-infinite meadow. Does this lead to a new way of understanding familiar Gods (e.g., Apollon; many of my poems for him have begun to get very time-y, very light-y), or does it lead to new Gods who must be acknowledged and hymned? Some combination?

The infinite hotel is full, and yet there is always room for more.


2 thoughts on “A Passage in Proclus About Tracking Down Gods

  1. oh, this is so fantastic! and it’s really nice to have some theological grounding for thanking “the spirits that i do not know, and those that i cannot know” when i do land acknowledgements in my somatic practice. which i think i should just start doing at the beginning of my religious rituals, as well!

    Liked by 1 person

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