Seira Org Charts

As a follow-up to my most recent post on the divine series, I would like to share some Google Draw diagrams that I’ve made to use when explaining these things. I’m adding two quotations for reference to this post, but I think it’s a good idea to look at them while reading another thing I’ve posted about divine series, especially the comments about Isidore.

First, this is the basic diagram that describes how we relate to our leader-God. It’s styled similar to an “org chart” — you have the God at the top, followed by the rest of their divine series, progressing to the angels, daimones, and heroes (daimonic orders) and to the partial souls.

I’ve added, below “their partial souls” (us) the symbols, signs, and correspondences in nature. These operate at the behavioral level (cultural) and the material level, so they encompass things like the chants we might give a God, the way our cultures express seasonal connections and divide apart the year, how we culturally interpret reproductive functions and associations, and so on. These things are all highly variable between cultures. Materially, it encompasses things like the places that are sacred to a God at specific times or the trees, stones, &c. that are sacred to some God or other. Essentially, we are composing sympathetic connections with diverse potential and constrained actuality, much like how we compose sentences out of grammatical structures that are constrained by the sounds possible in human mouths, but each language does not use all of the sounds or possible grammatical features.

Who, then, are these people and what is the understanding (gnôsis) that belongs to them? Well, in the first place, they are “offspring of the gods” and “clearly know their own parents.” They are offspring and children of the gods in as much as they conserve the form of the god who presides over them through their current way of life, for Apollonian souls are called “offspring and children of Apollo” when they choose a life that is prophetic or dedicated to mystic rites (telestikos bios). These souls are called “children” of Apollo to the extent that they belong to this god in particular and are adapted to that series down here. By contrast, they are called offspring of Apollo because their present lifestyle displays them as such. All souls are therefore children of god, but not all of them have recognised the gods whose children they are. Those who recognise [their leading gods] and choose a similar life are called “children of gods.” This is why Plato added the words “as they say,” for these souls [sc. those of the people to whose authority Timaeus proposes to defer] reveal the order from which they come — as in the case of the Sibyl who delivered oracles from the moment of her birth or Heracles who appeared at his birth together with Demiurgic symbols. When souls of this sort revert upon their parents, they are filled by them with divinely inspired cognition (entheos noêsis). Their understanding (gnôsis) is a matter of divine possession since they are connected to the god through the divine light and [this sort of understanding] transcends all other [kinds of] understanding — both that achieved through [reasoning through] what is likely (di’ eikotôn), as well as that which is demonstrative (apodeiktikos). The former deals with nature and the universals that are in the particulars, while the latter deals with incorporeal essence (ousia) and things that are objects of knowledge. But divinely inspired understanding alone is connected to the gods themselves.

 Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, trans. Dirk Baltzly, vol. V, VI vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 159.14-160.12.

The image above is a visual representation of what Proclus is saying. We have a bunch of deities who are operating in the background and with whom we interact. (See the quotation from Damascius about Isidore in that other post I linked up top — he has signatures of Athene and Aphrodite within him that are evident to Damascius and that Damascius praises despite Isidore being in the series of Hermes.) Only four other Gods are shown here because the diagram gets too crowded otherwise.

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, ed. Richard Sorabji and Michael Griffin, trans. Michael Griffin, Ancient Commentators on Aristotle (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474220286, Lecture 3, §20

When we live a life that is not aligning with our leader-God, the diagram looks like this:

The reason I liken this to an org chart is to make the following analogy. We all know of someone who has reported to two people — for example, in libraries and archives, it is not uncommon for regional collaborations between the Smithsonian and some Center or other to have the heads report both to the Smithsonian and to the hosting University. This is sometimes okay, but it often results in someone having to juggle two conflicting five-year strategies and cultures, not to mention the personality of two different bosses. Sometimes the situation calls for such divided loyalties, so it must be tolerated, and kudos to anyone who is in a job like that for dealing with a hard situation. Think of the friction in a life unlike your God in that way. In a life that is like your God, whatever happens in it, your God is clearly connected to you. So you might have periods where you’re “sent” to visit other Gods devotionally, and you may be connected to other Gods in various ways because devotional life tends to develop like that, but — to take after Proclus — you know who your parent/boss is, and your soul has that likeness awareness. But being split in two is like being whiplashed. Souls always choose what they believe is most good, though, so if you suspect you are in a life like that, do what you can to contemplate the positives and what the life is teaching you.

The best way to figure this stuff out is, incidentally, devotionally — which is why a regular prayer practice is so important. You cannot always guarantee that your professional life or interests are going to point to your actual leader-God. I am interested in conlanging and languages and am a librarian, which might make people assume (as I once did) that I am more akin to Hermes or Athene. There are a lot of things about my life that are congruent with those Gods, and I find Athene very relatable. (This, to clarify, is more about vibeing/”dancing” in rhythm with the Gods than about specific activities, even though the specifics are also part of this vibe, which I realized right after pressing “publish” that I have to add as a caveat because our culture tends to box Gods into correspondence lists.) I have also written poetry since a young age, and when I was a late teen, I started getting really into a Goddess I called the “Muse” — a sort of encore to my early-childhood fascination with Ourania and the other Muses and their Mother — and ultimately to Apollon. I remember listening to Vivaldi during the winter at home when the light through the windows was cutting and watching the light-patterns the music made in my head as a teen and feeling that perfect connection, and then forgetting it, and then remembering it again, because being a teen and then a young adult is an Experience. But it’s through prayer that such connections are most evident, and you have to follow your intuition to the steadfast, still heart beyond opinion and what is changeable. This is exoteric because it’s available to anyone, and it’s esoteric because the process of coming to know the self is always hidden within one’s subjective experience of the world, veiled to others, and often to the day-to-day self.

It’s also a huge trust fall.

Happy Tuesday, everyone, and as the alphabet oracle says, “Completing many contests, you will seize the crown.”

11 thoughts on “Seira Org Charts

  1. Thank you for putting this together! Even though I’m not a (Neo-)Platonist, I do find the material really interesting, and your explanations are the easiest to follow that I’ve come across.

    I had nearly the same list of questions that PSVL posted, so since you’ve addressed those, here’s another: how do multiple “pantheons” come into play here? Does every human have a leader-god in the Hellenic pantheon? Or does everyone have a leader-god of some kind, regardless of which cultural group the deity is most historically associated with? (I ask because I don’t feel any strong connections to the gods of ancient Greece, but I do for Egyptian deities for example.) Or is it a case of “this framework primarily only applies to individuals who worship Hellenic deities”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is not limited to only Hellenic deities. It’s just that the Platonic texts are primarily working from that cultural framework, including in the mythic register that Plato uses in texts like the Phaedrus. Additionally, beyond Platonism, one can see an eerily similar leader-God idea (although I don’t know the theological specifics) in religions like Lucumí.

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      1. I was just thinking that about Lucumi! I hope someone corrects me if I’m mistaken, but I’ve heard that even though every human has an Orisha presiding over their “head,” many people are expected to never know about them or even directly interact with them in this particular lifetime, which is a bit of a different position than the Platonic one.

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      2. An argument like that could be made in the Platonic context, as most people are preoccupied with embodiment and probably won’t engage with spirituality in a deep way beyond common cultural conventions, routine household/community observances, and holidays. Generally speaking, from the Platonic standpoint, this awareness is part of “know thyself” and is thus important to cultivate, so if someone has an opportunity to start down that path of self-discovery, figuring this out is encouraged.

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    2. That is an excellent question…does one potentially have a Leader Deity in every pantheon, or only one?

      (This entire discussion is also interesting, in my own case, because of my own particular–and highly peculiar, granted!–experiences. My main Deity is Antinous, obviously, but I don’t know if He is my Leader God, but I haven’t asked Him because I haven’t had this vocabulary. I have a divine marriage with Thetis, and that’s a whole other thing…and I have a divine parentage relationship with Qadesh, which is something else again. I have inquired multiple times on the question of: if I have a Divine Mother Goddess [and I may even have more-than-one…!?!], do I have a Divine Father God as well? The last time I asked, I got an outright and very straight-forward “No.” Parthenogenesis is fine, but Qadesh is not known for Her virginal ways…except in the sense of “independent from males,” but anyway…So, what exactly to call my relationship with Antinous has always been tough. He isn’t my “Patron,” as some prefer the terminology, and has said as much; but, what, then? Someone who had very strong psychic senses [and was no new age kook!] said to me that Antinous sits with me in a very different way than any other person’s divine devotional relationship he’d ever seen, and that has certainly been my experience. I am usually content to say, “I know You’re super-important for me, and I can’t imagine doing any of this without You…but, what do We call that?” I’ve never had a good answer. Maybe this is the answer…but if it isn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised, necessarily!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s just one leader-God. Otherwise one introduces too much splintering/division in the soul because it wouldn’t be a unity at its summit, which is unworkable even though our souls are characterized by difference. But technically we’re under a daimon of our God and are co-ruled by that daimon alongside a small number of other souls — partial souls are more numerous than the classes that precede us. (And this isn’t even getting into the daimon of a particular life allotment.) Heroes are also in the divine series of our Gods, so there can also be interesting synergies there, as heroes can technically descend into human embodiment.

        Having a leader-God doesn’t preclude relational experiences with other cultures’ Gods. I’ve had some intense experiences while praying to or meditating on Belisama and Eir, for example, neither of whom fall into the Hellenic pantheon.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is interesting, and I was highly intrigued the other day when you wrote about being in the “series” of a particular Deity, and am thus grateful for the elaboration upon what exactly that means, as it is a construction I had not previously encountered under that specific term. So, thanks very much for this!

    Unfortunately, I see a bit of a potential pitfall in this (perhaps because of the main Deity to Whom I am devoted…whether or not I am in His series as a result or not, which is a different discussion!). Your various diagrams, and the latter quotations from the philosophers in particular emphasize to a large degree what I was talking about in my recent D&D and polytheism blog post: namely, it lends a monotheizing interpretation a great deal of weight. This is the problem with monotheism in general, certainly, but the particular idea that “no one is truly polytheistic” is a common one I’ve even heard amongst certain polytheists, and the idea that when one is worshipping a particular Deity (whether or not said Deity is that person’s Leader-Deity or not), they are “monotheistic” with that particular Deity at that particular time, kind of dices up the soul and spirit and fullest devotional vista of people in ways that I don’t think are necessarily conducive to a polytheistic outlook. This construction lends a further deterministic spin to it: if one is “meant to be” the sort of person who does X, Y, or Z, then the Deity/ies of those matters are always going to be the Ones for Whom that person will be best suited to lead a life of such matters…which then means that for all intents and purposes, said devotee is fated to be a devotee of that Deity primarily, and all others are secondary at best, and soul-confusing at worst to Whom to devote oneself.

    Do you have a response to this, apart from, “Well, you don’t have to see it that way”? On the one hand, no, maybe one doesn’t; but if the logic and the language add up to “Try to run, try to hide, but X Deity will be the only one for you at the end of the day if you want to live an authentic life” is, kind of, a version of monotheism, even if there are more options for what X might be from the start than the religions which we understand to be monotheism.

    And do understand: I’m not attempting to just start an argument or being contrarian here at all, and I fully respect your ability (and everyone’s!) to come to their own understandings and constructions, even when I might not share them. But, this is a point that I think your org charts in particular end up emphasizing that worries me in terms of how this construction might be viewed by particular people, and can be used “against us” by those minded to do so. (Perhaps that’s why many of these conversations took place away from the public internet before now, for all I know, and I apologize if I am now contributing to why that has been the case!)

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    1. I don’t mind clarifying at all. As you definitely hinted at in your third paragraph, there is a reason why this is not the case, and I’ll do my best to explain it (although it’s honestly best to figure this out experientially through contemplating the Gods and actively praying, which is why you and I both know that the “no one is truly polytheistic” mindset is very wrong even though you and I have different understandings of the Gods — we both pray). I read your post on D&D when it came out, and what struck me there was the emphasis on jealousy and division as the baseline for why different people are devoted to a single, separate God. This is not the way polytheism works at all.

      So, the all-in-each stuff happening way, way up in the unfurling of all that is from the One is part of the reason why this reduction doesn’t work. They are supremely “There” (but are above Being, Life, and Intellect, hence the caveat around there) and all intermingle with one another in radical identity and unity. Furthermore, the One neither is, nor is One — it is that underlying stability that presents everything, especially the Henads/Gods who are so proximate to it, their unity and individuality. Proclus works through this in the Elements of Theology in a robust, albeit minimal way, and Edward Butler is a good polytheist to talk about this in a technical sense given that his dissertation and subsequent work have revolved around this. I think this is the piece to read, as it requires the least amount of technical background.

      The other thing I want to mention is the divine banquet, which is a communion of all of the Gods. We are part of that communion. The artistic motifs of the Gods giving libations to one another, and worshipping one another, can be read on the register of partial souls as the God giving us to other Gods in libation, and of that celebration as it exists at the extremity of what is with us incarnating here. (Note: There are other registers of reading that motif.) So it is possible to at once belong to a God and to also be in communion with other Gods. There is no jealousy amongst the Gods (Phaedrus, 247a). So I can know which God I am connected to and yet still be able to have beautiful moments praying to other Gods, and indeed still be able to participate in other Gods’ activity, due to that overflowing unity and that communion of the Gods. That’s what I was getting at by talking about Athene. So the D&D thing is really a perversion of that, and the ideas it presents are harmful to actual devotion.

      Finally, I want to draw attention to the word “fated” when you were talking about how people will come to a specific God eventually. Fate operates at a lower level than divine providence, and in fact we open ourselves up to fate when we incarnate in a way that we do not when we are actually “above” and participating directly in whichever God we are following. The confusion isn’t about whether we do a libation to a God who we don’t belong to, but about the embodied state in general, and about being dragged around by Fate and not having our bearings as souls and about making choices that are not in our best interest due to being so disoriented. The idea of fearing doing something wrong while praying or deciding to whom one prays is baggage from (usually) Christianity. If people get out of their own way and pray to the Gods they’re drawn to pray to and work on the virtues (temperance, courage, prudence, justice), they’ll have a good chance of figuring things out. They can also do divination and consult with experienced religious specialists if they want some direction. Granted, for those who will experience it, or who have, coming into conscious contact with one’s leader-God in prayer once one has really nailed it is an awe-filled experience (and this can happen the first time one prays to them, or the thirty-fifth, or the ninetieth, or what have you), and there’s really no going back after one has. But the same can be said of praying to any God once one is ready. I wasn’t ready to pray to Dionysos adequately until I was in my early 30s, and I didn’t have the vibe right for praying to Aphrodite with contact (as opposed to just offering her incense) until this very October.

      One thing I am really trying to contribute to is the issue surrounding vocabulary like “chosenness” and “what Deity is trying to work with you?” and “what Deity is trying to reach out to you?”, as I think the framing is theologically dicey and can lead to an inaccurate and irreligious view of how we relate to the Gods because occulture has a tendency to drag the Gods down to be apps or tools. There are other questions, like “which God(s) is/are important for you to connect with right now?” and (if we want to use slang) “with which God am I vibeing so I can be conscious of that existing relationship through prayer and meditation?” that are more accurate and important. Hopefully talking about seirai in and of themselves can shift some of that marketing language as people get exposed to a more precise and accurate way of talking about the Gods — I don’t think most people are doing this consciously or have even thought deeply about the language they’re using because I have faith in human goodness. Re: monotheists, I’m not at all worried about divine series being used against us because step one of it being used against us would be to acknowledge that there are other Gods, honestly. I’m also honestly done with being concerned about them and only really care insofar as I need to be mindful of how ex-Christian polytheists might misinterpret something due to trauma or prior priming. So your comment is helpful because it enables providing clarification to them.

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      1. This is a superlatively helpful response–thanks very much indeed for it! I am absolutely satisfied, and all hesitations are now gone for me! 🙂

        (I still have some questions for particular Deities, and for some things which have happened in my relationships with Them over the years…but that will ever be the case, on this and so much else besides!) 😉

        Certainly, Dr. Butler’s works have been crucial for me to give philosophical (and particularly Platonic) teeth to what some of my experiences have been for a long time, and what some of my practices have looked like that have even outraged particular polytheists (e.g. the shrine to all of the Deities at the first MGW that I curated, with the help of specific Deities–you know who, I’m sure!–that have made it Their goal to provide such spaces of divine comingling…and how some people who weren’t there and even some who were said “I don’t know if these Gods get along and appreciate being invoked together and sharing a shrine with each other,” as if the Deities Themselves wouldn’t let us know if that was the case, firstly, and secondly, reading human jealousy and prejudice into the Gods on cultural levels and so forth is just so ridiculous!), and the specific reference to the Deities not being jealous is also very appreciated!

        I am reminded of what is said of Proclus, which I share in common with him: namely, that he was what I’ve called an “omnitheist,” i.e. he strove to honor all of the Deities he came across. The way I say it is, I acknowledge the existence of all Deities (unless given some reason not to, which is usually “that’s not a Deity, but instead more of an egregore/powerful Genii Loci/deified abstraction/Hero/ine, etc.”). The nature of the Deities with Whom I am closest, I think, somewhat demands it, even though there are some people out there who treat said Deities as, in essence, objects of monotheist devotion in a “lowest common denominator through syncretism” lens (which is to say: if X Deity is syncretized to A, B, C. D, and E Deities, then why worship all of them if I can just do one-stop shopping?), which gets into a whole other set of things…but anyway…!?!

        A very interesting discussion! Again, many thanks for it! 🙂

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      2. There’s a lot of spillover backlash against New Age woo creep into polytheism, which is something I understand because I grew up in Neopaganism and have had a strong anti-woo gut reaction for a while. (The things I have seen.) It made getting into mysticism a bit harder, although that’s been calmed a lot by exposure to Platonism and by thinking about the gates of ivory and horn as applying to everything we sense, waking or dreaming. But the instinct to not put Gods together at a common shrine is coming out of that same anti-woo backlash. There’s a certain elegance to evoking a mythic register in a ritual or shrine setting, definitely, but it’s important to avoid reducing deities to that register as if they’re limited by the stories we tell about them. I’m now worshipping Gods from at least four cultural contexts all at the same shrine as part of my routine practice, and the only regret I have is that I didn’t start doing this sooner.

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