In 1931, librarian Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan proposed a set of five laws of library science that are still in use today. I was reflecting on these earlier today while thinking about the ethical difficulties of reader’s advisory and collection development (when there is a conflict between the materials you wish people were asking for and the ones that they actually are asking for) and in how the ethical imperative of service-oriented neutrality about the materials we collect sometimes comes in conflict with other ethical considerations, and indeed is also undermined by subconscious biases about what is “worth it” to collect in the first place.
Those thoughts are more relevant to the library science literature, but I’d like to share what these five laws are with all of you and take this in a fresh direction by providing an adaptation of them into five points about polytheism — when I looked over these with fresh eyes, possibly because I’ve been eyeball-deep in Proclus’ Elements of Theology again, the weighty questions about library science flew out of my head. Many librarians have engaged with these concepts to apply them to new information, but I started to think about this in terms of the Gods we worship as theists.
Here you go:
- Books are for use.
- Every person his or her book.
- Every book its reader.
- Save the time of the reader.
- A library is a growing organism.
Books are objects, and Gods are divine persons, yes — but having fun with these five rules can playfully give us a set of commonalities to think of among all of us who pray:
- Gods are reachable.
- Every person ler [their] God.
- Every God ler devotees.
- Protect the time of each devotee.
- A set of Gods [pantheon] is a growing organism.
Now, on Point 2: Book is in singular, so I rendered God in singular. Obviously if we think about this in terms of libraries, people don’t just check out one book at a time or only one book ever during their lifetimes.
Point 4 gave me some pause about how to play around with it, but this does make some sense. Too often, I think, people give complicated advice to others, and there is so much noise about how to get started with everything from astrology to magical practices to philosophical study that the Internet tends to drown out what most people need: baseline practices, guidance, and inspirational examples. Just as librarians try to be timely in how we answer reference questions, so too does anyone who gives tips and advice about practice as a devotee need to actually put themselves in the mindset of what will be most time-effective and actionable for the average person to implement. Efficacy-wise, some ritual practices (chants/prayer styles/offerings/&c.) are better at establishing contact with specific Gods than others. When a devotee knows what rituals and practices to focus on for a specific God, and especially the principles behind why those practices work (which helps adaptability of the rites to new places/times), it saves/prioritizes time, as le doesn’t have to work from scratch. This isn’t always possible, but it does help.
(Note: There are occasions when librarians go over time in our reference consultations with people who need our help, and that usually happens when we identify a specific functional area that someone needs help with over the course of assisting them with locating materials. This is less likely to happen over email than it is in a Zoom or in-person encounter.)
Point 5 speaks to something that, I think, many of us in the modern polytheistic movements have been thinking about for a long time, from the discourse about why the term pantheon is an unhelpful term to the one about what is meant when cultures come into contact and do syncretism, interpretatio, and so on to the practical elements of a person or family or small group falling into the routine of which set of Gods they worship. It may even get at what some say about how a person or group’s polytheism might settle in conversation with place. And it definitely gets at what I was talking about in The Soul’s Inner Statues about how our religious practice is a coming-to-be process of listening and iterating in conversation with the Gods based on the various personal heritage, cultural heritage/milieu, and situational/life event contexts we find ourselves in. The fingerprints of our embodied lives are unique, and they are a harmony, a composition like a concerto or sonata. Like someone playing an instrument, we are constantly tuning based on our environment and the way our instrument changes as it warms up and responds to its active use, and we grow through experience, ideally reaching a level of sound maturity. A spiritual practice is like that. We become so we can be. A set of Gods is a changing organism.
I also find it interesting that Point 5 identifies the set as an organism, as a living thing, itself. That’s something that could probably be worked with in a metaphysical sense, the idea of a set as divine in and of itself — although whether it is a God proper or a natural image of a God is up for analysis.
So, in other words, this playful exercise was a bit of fun. I’m going to leave it there rather than working through that last paragraph, as that’s a prompt that would work better as a conversation-starter among theology nerds. Have a good Sunday, everyone.