On being in a God’s series

I have written at length about seira, both on this blog and in The Soul’s Inner Statues. One thing I’ve reflected on over the past few days — seeded by interactions in a variety of places since July or so — is just how grounded and level-headed the conversation about individual people being in a God’s series is outside of the wilds of the Internet and public social media. The concept of being in a divine series is absolutely normal. Where things can get dicey, however, and where I think I have the most anxiety about these conversations (primed by years of using social media, unfortunately), is when people try to use their connection to a God as a way to corral and exert power over others in an inappropriate way, or when our individual interpretation of our sensory experience — which is all tinged with the gates of ivory and horn — misapprehends fantasy as divine reality.

Damascius’ Life of Isidore brings the concept of the divine series home through a few anecdotes, and since I’ve been looking at this over the past few days in preparation of something, I’d like to present these passages.

Iacobus the doctor. He originated from Damascus and was perfect in his science, having reached the very peak of precision not just in the diagnosis of diseases but also in healing them, as with diligence and skill he drew on both theoretical knowledge and experience; so that he carried off the first prize in medical eminence among contemporary doctors and was already compared with the Ancients, most of whom he was deemed to surpass. Indeed he was loved and worshipped by those in need of help as if he had divine power. And he had such confidence in himself and in his own methods of cure that if, upon visiting a patient and diagnosing the disease from its symptoms he declared that the man would live, everybody was filled with the hope that recovery would follow, but if not, they expected death. And nobody’s expectations were ever belied. He used to say that the perfect doctor must either give up hope of curing the disease or, having taken on the patient, improve his condition forthwith and leave him only once he is in a more tolerable state; otherwise he should not abandon him. Indeed he freed almost everybody immediately or in a short time from whatever affliction troubled them, and for this reason people called Iacobus the saviour, just as they had Asclepius in the past. However doctors never stopped discrediting and abusing him for being not a doctor but a holy man and a favourite of the gods. And what they said was true, for the man was pious and truly graced by God. And if I were to report what the philosopher (Isidore) said, he thought that the soul of Iacobus was Asclepeian, endowed by nature with healing powers. Moreover he had that passionate attachment to his calling which is particularly apt to draw the craftsman nearer to the patron god of his art, creating a true intimacy between the two. It was thus that Pheidias, inspired by the god, produced his works of art and that Zeuxis endowed his statues with form.

§84E, Damascius’ Life of Isidore

Noteworthy in this passage is first that Iacobus isn’t a spiritual teacher. He is someone who has reached the pinnacle of excellence within the medical profession as it existed at the time, and that expression of his leader-God (Asklepios) was so intense that people treated him with admiration. We all know (or have heard of) people in a profession who are extremely good at what they do — the mechanic who always knows what to do with one’s car, the electrician who can problem-solve any house, the personal trainer and dietician who have an uncanny ability to motivate and help even their most reluctant charges. Becoming as Godlike as possible has many different meanings, and it is accessible to everyone — we each express that relationship to our leader-God every lifetime.

The mention of other doctors being irritated about this is a bit funny. It reminds me of the stories of how, after the Christianization of Scandinavia, farmers who were very productive on their land were accused by neighbors of having reverted back to revering the land spirits and taking the easy way out, betraying Christian sensibilities. It just goes to show that Giants lurk everywhere.

Along the lines of that bit about being in/outside of one’s intrinsic scope, here’s Olympiodorus:

Now [to live] “according to essence” is to choose the life that befits the chain from which one is suspended: for example, [to live] the military life, if [one is suspended] from the [chain] of Ares; or the life of words and ideas (logikos), if from that of Hermes; or the healing or prophetic life, if from that of Apollo; or quite simply, as was said earlier, to live just as one was born to live.

But if someone sets before himself a life that is not according to his essence, but some other life that differs from this, and focuses in his undertakings on someone else’s work – they say that the intellective (noêros) [daimon] is allotted to this person, and for this reason, because he is doing someone else’s work, he fails to hit the mark in some [instances].

Olympiodorus, Olympiodorus : Life of Plato and On Plato First Alcibiades 1-9, Lecture 3, §20, all brackets &c. from the translator, Griffin

A pitfall is thinking that the theurgic and Platonic ascent are limited to people who “followed Zeus” (see the passage in the Phaedrus — I mean, technically we’re all following Zeus there because our Gods are following Zeus’ lead) or Hermes or Apollon or another God who is closely related to such things, but every God has an authentic mode or type of life regardless of what the external is. Thus someone connected to Athene could be a good doctor, but in an Athenaic way, and another person could excel in theological interpretation or the theurgic ascent or what have you in a Heraic way. It’s only when we approach a life that is in discord with that intrinsic way of being for each of us that things are harder than they should be.

Damascius also discusses Isidore and (likely) Proclus’ series, that of Hermes, while saying the following about Isidore.

Isidore’s appearance was that of a sensible, elderly man, dignified and resolute. His face was almost square, his divine model being that of Logios Hermes. As for his eyes, how can I describe the true charm of Aphrodite herself that resided in them, how can I express the very wisdom of Athena that was contained in them? I would never stop saying that they were an unimaginably harmonious combination of opposites, standing still and, at the same moment, moving animatedly. How can I describe how they moved ceaselessly both in and around the same point, conveying at once dignity and charm, profound and straightforward at will. To put it simply, those eyes were the true images of his soul, and not of the soul alone, but of the divine emanation dwelling in it.

§13, Damascius’ Life of Isidore

What is fascinating here is the way that Damascius weaves in physical traits, assigning specific attributes of Isidore’s appearance and body language to Gods. Even being in the series of Hermes, he has the signatures of other Gods within — Athene who is the guardian of the Platonic tradition and Aphrodite who, in her Ouranic capacity, guides the soul up to contemplate Beauty.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past year to be part of conversations where people take that everyone is in some God’s series as a matter of course, and it has been a refreshing change from more public parts of the Internet, where discussing theological matters like these is dicey given the baggage within the Neopagan and polytheistic communities as a whole over “chosenness” — which is often used as spiritual bypassing, and which is informed by less-than-useful ideas from pop culture fantasy and Christian Great Awakenings. One of my favorite social comments on this is a microfiction story that I saw on Twitter in 2020, which I will put here in screenshot form because that platform’s days could be very, very numbered:

Twitter post. Text reads as follows: You are our God's Chosen One, the robed figures said.
— Er... Which god?
The robed figures shuffled their feet and looked around.
— Our God is a minor water deity. Of the pond in the park.
— Oh. And the chosen one would?
— Lead the Cleansing.
— Eh?
— Of rubbish. From the pond.

What the microfiction story seems to be commenting on is that fantasy trope of being “chosen” to save “everything” (or at least a very large kingdom with a large amount of gold in the treasury). When we align with our leader-God, we haven’t been chosen to do anything, but we suddenly have intrinsic motivation to do specific types of activities because, once the soul identifies what is most good, it does that thing, and there isn’t a choice because why would you do that? I mean, you could shrink away, possibly, but that’s picking division of oneself over unity? And so the hypothesis breaks apart because you must be identifying whatever you’re aiming for in not doing the thing as the actual good to aim for? Also important to note here is that alignment with one’s leader-God is not going to bring about a collective utopia due to the inherent friction involved in the “condensation” of what is beyond spacetime into a spatial and temporal extent. It bruises and it cuts and it rends apart. It’s jarring for me to see Apollon devotees who’ve gone in weird directions, and I’m sure the impressions would be mutual if I actually interacted with them. It’s one thing to have a sense of that deep unity to and connection with a God and quite another to recognize that everyone has this with some God, whether they are aware of it or not, even people you oppose or don’t hold in esteem. This is part of being here, as painful as it is, which is why the Platonic commentators make an analogy between the world of generation and a battlefield or a war zone. And we are the type of soul that is adapted to this environment like a fish to water.

Now, after prioritizing different types of conversations in my online life, the environment is different, and I like it. It’s a relief for the idea of having a leader-God to be a simple point, followed by a shift into the practical and theological implications, instead of something that requires hedge after hedge so people don’t get the wrong idea. It’s one thing to know that you’re in the series of a God, either the God themself or proximate/in the ballpark and still figuring out the details, and quite another thing to explore its implications. It was jarring to hear in one place that someone attributes themselves to x God and then to have them talk about their spiritual practice instead of trying to pivot towards something that was clearly an Influencer brand move meant to justify their authority and increase follows/likes/subscribers. And then to have the same thing happen again in another setting … was just delightful.

The authority people have is based on their knowledge, both theoretical and applied. It has less to do with one’s leader-God and more to do with whether or not they’re showing applied prudence, courage, and temperance, crowned by justice. It has more to do with seeing someone’s effort and skills in action, like with the doctor in that fragment of Damascius. Keeping this in mind, and resisting the kind of language that makes it sound like all of our authority comes from something that is a trait we all hold in common, is a great way to steer our online theological conversations away from cultish risks (and the creep of New Age) and towards a healthy and mutually respectful environment.

Finally, I want to leave you with this passage because it’s hilarious. Just imagine being in a serious ritual with your fellow serious people and someone just starts squawking:

Proclus was bemused by Isidore’s imitation of the cries and other noises produced by birds. Sometimes during the Chaldaean rituals he gave a display of his imitation of sparrows and hens and other birds fluttering their wings as they rouse themselves for flight.

§59F, Damascius’ Life of Isidore

and he isn’t even dressed properly!

Proclus ordered Isidore to change his appearance for the purposes of the better life and to put on a coarse cloak. But Isidore could not bring himself to do it, even though he revered Proclus as much as a god.

§59B, Damascius’ Life of Isidore

This is very authentic to Hermes, and honestly, Damascius could’ve just led with this intense Homeric Hymn 4 vibe instead of the physical trait catalog.

3 thoughts on “On being in a God’s series

  1. Reblogged this on Cıbear-ḟoraoıs Sneaċta and commented:

    Great post on Divine series and the significance of that.
    “I’ve had the opportunity over the past year to be part of conversations where people take that everyone is in some God’s series as a matter of course, and it has been a refreshing change from more public parts of the Internet, where discussing theological matters like these is dicey given the baggage within the Neopagan and polytheistic communities as a whole over “chosenness” — which is often used as spiritual bypassing, and which is informed by less-than-useful ideas from pop culture fantasy and Christian Great Awakenings. […]
    When we align with our leader-God, we haven’t been chosen to do anything, but we suddenly have intrinsic motivation to do specific types of activities because, once the soul identifies what is most good, it does that thing, and there isn’t a choice because why would you do that? I mean, you could shrink away, possibly, but that’s picking division of oneself over unity? And so the hypothesis breaks apart because you must be identifying whatever you’re aiming for in not doing the thing as the actual good to aim for? Also important to note here is that alignment with one’s leader-God is not going to bring about a collective utopia due to the inherent friction involved in the “condensation” of what is beyond spacetime into a spatial and temporal extent.”
    I appreciate Kaye’s ability to discuss Platonic ideas and concepts in a manner that makes them tangible, real and practical without being patronising in the process, all whilst giving the references and original Greek terms where necessary in the process.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw a Christian recently claim that the reason Neopagans worship Gods based on things that they like is because really we’re all just trying to worship ourselves. While I definitely agree that is probably the case for too many people who haven’t been taught how to go about engaging with these impulses and how to properly contextualize them, it’s good to see that the wisest of our ancestors told us there was a precedent for this phenomenon so we can better instruct people and ourselves to think philosophically about our connection to the Gods. As in, we should focus less on “I connect with this God because I like” and more so “I connect with this God because this is the role I play in the world”.

    Liked by 1 person

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