Deities - Anthropomorphic Psychological Archetypes or Literal Gods?

Last Updated: 22 October 2013

One could argue that in the above examples that the modern sects that have arisen that claim to worship or venerate these deities have very little to do with the historical and original concepts of these deities, in the ancient Greek, Roman or Eyptian contexts. Some are clearly more guilty of this than others! Does this reduce their credibility? Does this matter? Or is it a refinement? Or merely an appropriation and change in interpretation? Who is to say what is the 'right way' to perceive these deities and their meaning.

Pagan and neo-pagan deities tend to centre around either emotional states or aspects of the planet earth and natural environment. If one looks at the universe as a whole, then this may perhaps put such concepts into perspective and make them seem like crude human interpretations of the immediate physical and emotional environments surrounding them and not really representative of the vast expanse of the cosmos, the nature of matter in different parts of the universe, and perhaps indeed life on other worlds. The pagan or neo-pagan view then seems a little 'small' and earth centric, a product of human perception and one's environment rather than reflecting universal constants, the complexity of the nature of matter and energy, and any spiritual essence that pervades the entire universe. Perhaps some deities are beyond their comprehension because they are by definition not human and do not experience human emotions or states of being, have no fleshy requirements etc. Does it all seem too 'neat and convenient'? Can it all really be literal?

Following on from this argument, if God created the universe and all the life in the universe, then does this mean that any extraterrestrial life that has never known Jesus will not know eternal life? Well, if one follows the Bible literally, then yes. However, one could argue that alien life forms have their own 'Christ Consciousness' in some form or other, perhaps not in name. Or perhaps they are subject to a vastly different array of emotions, but share some aspects of our human 'kinship altruism' which is a basis for social cohesion and faith of some sort. Of course, Christianity is as earth-centric as many forms of paganism, and probably more 'human centric' than most other religions. However, if one simply regards God in the pantheistic or panentheistic sense, that we are small parts of God, as all life is, then there is no need to be anything 'centric'.

One could argue that ascribing fixed personal traits to a particular deity (whether Pan or Jehovah) is not really very realistic. Why should a deity have such a crude and undeveloped personality? And keep this same mode for all eternity, like some kind of circus act, for occult practitioners to use for their own titillation and when they feel like using them for whatever reason or purpose? If humans can develop their personality in many directions to become balanced over time, then surely a deity can manage this, as it will exist throughout all eternity (allegedly) and is not limited by the neuro-associative programming of the physical and electrical brain? However perhaps this is an example of anthropomorphic expectations of what a deity could be. The idea of an anthropomorphic entity that answers all prayers directed to it is a little far fetched in some respects. For Allah/Jehovah this could be billions of prayers every day. God must be in some way at least a panentheistic essence from this perspective. One might even argue that the person praying is merely using visualisation and emotional intensity to create focus, humility and to reach certain parts of their subconscious. The prayer perhaps then is answered by the self.

One could also take the view that if a Left-Hand Path practitioner wishes to ally himself to a deity, why should that deity be interested in him? If one were to anthropomorphise that deity to having a similar LHP philosophy or archetype to the practitioner that the practitioner is seeking to invoke in himself and nurture. If a deity is compelled to interact with a practitioner, then presumably the level of respect or genuine interest will be further reduced!

If one views a deity as an archetype rather than a literal being, then of course it makes more sense, that one can draw on a particular trait or archetype depending on the occasion, as part of an invocation/banishing rite or ritual. From that standpoint one is tapping into that side of one's character or an archetypical quality that one wants to reinforce in one's or manifest in oneself at a given time. Some occultists take the view that an invocation/banishing rite has no effect on a deity whatsoever, but it has an effect on the practitioner. The practitioner taps into certain states of mind through the ceremony of occult ritual, to access that archetype, for personal development or ceremonial or pleasurable reasons, and in a sense it is completely independent of the supposed deity that is being invoked. If occult rites have their desired effect, then it could be considered inconsequential as to whether the actual deities referenced in them exist or not. Others might argue the exact opposite!

The use of archetypes for visualisation purposes is one reason why occultists and neo-pagans and followers of the Left-Hand Path pick mysterious names for themselves, often drawing on daemonology, as their 'handle' or name serves as an archetype that they wish to be associated with or try to embody in themselves, or perhaps symbolic self-deification, as they believe themselves to be like a certain deity or daemon. A little like a NLP practitioner calling himself 'Mr Excellent'!

If this is what 'atheists' are doing when engaging in occult ritual, e.g. LaVey Satanists of the Church of Satan, then on some level, are they able to achieve the same end by stripping out all the 'metaphor' from their magical rites, to remove all references to historical pagan deities and Cthulu, and the antithetical knee-jerk psychodrama (the 'deprogramming), and just leave in all the literal psychological parts, the actual connection to the subconscious using visualisation of an archetypical quality, calling it by its psychological name 'joy', 'malice' or whatever, with no 'deity references'? Would it still work? What would be left? NLP? Would Satanists be prepared to do this? Probably not, as there is clearly some titillation or pleasure gained from something 'naughty' or 'dark' or 'occult' for many that are attracted to Satanism for this reason. Some occult practitioners, in particular Chaos Magicians, may choose to strip out what they consider excessive ceremony from their rituals to condense them down to the bare minimum to achieve the desired effect. Those of this philosophy believe that much of esotericism has in built 'vagueness' in it to create the ambience of sanctity, mystery and power, but in the process perhaps introducing to much subjectivity in its meaning and reducing the overall effectiveness of the core goal of the rite in question.

Many occultists argue that a ritual is a necessity, as it focuses the mind on a specific subject, in a similar manner to meditation, visualisation or mantra, but most probably different subject matter. Ritual is therefore considered a useful means to an end for those that are not able to concentrate their 'Will' without any preparation. Some individuals may be able to concentrate their will 'at will', and Grigori Rasputin, the controversial Christian healer, mystic and adviser to the Russian royal family (who believed one should repeatedly sin in order to be redeemed, reflected in his heavy drinking and womanising, and perhaps gross manipulation of the Russian royalty) is reputed to have had this ability. Perhaps many monotheists and healers have this ability also, as they are in contact with their sense of Will or divinity, without the practice of ritual. Some occultists compare the need for ritual with the need for fasting, cleansing and ceremony in other religions to focus the mind.

One could also argue that NLP was created out of a study of the mechanisms of the occult, and Hermeticism in particular, and indeed many occultists regard the Law of Attraction (visualisation) as a form of magic. These techniques were perhaps in a sense 'de-occultised' and the psychological tools were genericised for use by the general population, irrespective of religious belief - whereby one could use these techniques within the context of one's own religion or to 'insert' the appropriate God in oneself, to suit. The founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, co-authored the 1975 books The Structure of Magic and The Structure of Magic II, which defined the fundamentals of NLP.

One could view the perception by practitioners of occult ritual, both theist and atheis, that rites work and are an effective tool in personal development, concentration and changing one's state of mind, that either they indeed have nothing to do with the deities referenced in them, and they are merely working with the subconscious and visualisations and representations of an archetype, or that they are dependent on the literal existence of the deity, and that they are communicating with a daemon or deity, whether they acknowledge it or not. Perhaps it is a little of both.

However, if a deity was a literal entity then surely a deity would evolve over time and grow up and become more rounded, having become 'bored' of always being a certain way. Perhaps 'boredom' then is ironically a modern human trait that is not present in deities. Surely representing a certain human emotion or quality from the limited human experience is too 'human-centric' and Gods by definition would of course have a much higher level of consciousness? Is expecting a personality or character trait not very anthropomorphic? Surely we have absolutely no idea of what a deity really is and what it is to be a deity? That is presumably why a deity is a deity? The concepts or archetypes behind deities have evolved throughout history, often when they are transplanted from one culture to another (when the donor culture changes or dies out) and take on new cultural meanings. This can be seen in Roman mythology drawing on Greek deities. It can also be seen in neo-pagan religions and reconstructionist neo-pagans. Occult authors such as Eliphas Levi have also served to change perceptions of certain deities, e.g. Baphomet.

Some pagan religions and philosophies (and philosophers and occults) adopt the view that a deity can appear in human form, or that certain people one meets are in fact deities, or house a deity. They regard the concept of a deity being so remote, unattainable or intangible as unappealing as it divorces the individual too much from the deity itself. This is perhaps in keeping with the Greco-Roman view of deities, that adopt human form to interact with mortals (or perhaps a form of metaphor within agnostic atheist occultism); and also with the Left-Hand Path view that all people are Gods or have the potential to become Gods (i.e. self-deification); and also with the monotheistic Christian view of Jesus, a deity in human form, and also the polytheistic religion Hinduism. Other monotheistic religions however reject the idea that the divine can manifest itself literally in human form, for example Judaism and Islam.

One could use the same argument for the idea of a single, universal God (with a rounded and highly evolved nature). This is one argument for panentheism (or indeed atheism). However, monotheistic concepts of God, although usually representing 'good', belie a much wider set of characteristics and sense of wisdom. God in that sense really is God, as he has had eternity to become wise. If one reaches such a high level of consciousness, one could argue that returning to low levels for his own titillation would not be something that he would do. One could argue that being spirit only, there is no requirement for such earthy and fleshy emotions and pursuits. Man was indeed supposed to be made in God's image, with the potential for higher consciousness, and the free will whether to chose this or not.

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