I had every intention of beginning to post a series of dialogues on the Delphic Maxims 6 months ago (see this post here), but life unfortunately got in the way. In the spirit of “better late than never,” though, here is the first installment of what should be many more to come. The first set of maxims we discussed were:
1. Follow God
4. Worship the gods
I posed the following 4 prompts to get our responses of the ground:
- What does it mean to follow and worship the gods? What does or doesn’t the concept of God(s) mean to you personally?
- What value is their today in studying ancient mythology?
- Give an example of these two maxims at work in your own life.
- What is problematic about these maxims? Would you rephrase them in anyway to make them more relevant?
Below is Drew Lackovic’s initial response:
1. What does it mean to follow and worship the gods? What does or doesn’t the concept of God(s) mean to you personally?
To follow and worship the gods is to aspire to be worthy of their admiration, to aspire to emulate the gods’ qualities. Following and worshipping the gods is a way to both gain favor and “fit in” with aspirant aspects of society. The process provides separation between the “civilized” and the “savage,” as well as markers for the types of acceptable behavior within society. Being that gods are thought of as being greater than man, following the mandate of gods forms a basis for societal control. It also fosters cultural growth – peoples that share religions that grow up around the worship of gods will have similar points of reference.
These maxims, I see as early social control constructs, as tools to get a large, often disparate (thanks to conquests) population all on the same page. I am an atheist, so I don’t believe there’s anything more to any god than in text. I find that I want to believe in gods, though; I write about them in my fiction all the time. In particular there are these two gods, Nigel and Cersee, sometimes called the Shadowman and Lady of Light; they’re both gods of hope. Cersee is the angelic bubbly warm feeling you get when your darkest days are lifted from you and the sun comes out and everything gets better; she even looks like an angel—wings, golden hair, majestic and kind hearted. Nigel is that glimmer deep in your soul that keeps you going even when you’re chained to an electrified box spring hovering over a punji pit in some insane POW camp; Nigel’s the hope that you’ll get out and murder all of your enemies in a perfect wash of revenge. He comes off as an aging cockney thief, with a grizzled scarred face and a dead blue left eye that often glows eerily in the shadows. They act together like a coin of hope; light and dark, complimenting each other, and in my writing, they’re also husband and wife.
These gods are active gods. They don’t even live in the heavens. They live in a tavern called the Phoenix Moon with everyone else, mortals mixing in. They don’t play off at being gods as some sort of special role—in fact, Nigel kind of resents it. But they do what they do because people need them, and they help, actively those in need. They’re altruistic in their roles, and their godliness allows them to be multiple places at once. They’re also more active than the other gods of Ae’rinus. They stay down in the thick of things, while the rest of the pantheon hangs out in the heavens and worries about meddling too much while they rake in tributes and occasionally help out. Other gods in the pantheon, namely the Rainmaker, actively screw with the mortals, looking for power and recognition out of fear, dominance, and control. But ultimate, on Ae’rinus, the world of my fantasy writing, belief is more powerful than truth; belief makes truth. Nigel and Cersee were both mortals and became gods because they helped so many people in their mortal lives that their memory, and their deeds, immortalized them, literally. These are the kind of gods I can believe in.
Modern religion has its facts backwards, I think. The general message is, “god made all of this for you, so spend a bunch of time thanking him, and maybe, if you do well, you get to see more of the cool stuff god made, and if you don’t thank him enough, he’ll burn you for an eternity because he’s also spiteful like that.” The gods of Ae’rinus exist because the people wanted something to believe in. A celestial sympathetic ear to help them with specific tasks. I think the Greek gods worked like this too – you prayed to the god that would help the most with what you needed at the time. Life’s hard. We screw stuff up all the time, and though we don’t like to admit our screw ups, there’s a deep down part that keeps track of all that. The notion of having a god at your back helping to keep you from screwing up is fortifying. A little faith might make the difference of hitting it off like a boss, and second-guess flubbing it. It’s a self-esteem booster. Aries has my back; I’m going to crush in the battle today. Worship the gods; stay your path, and don’t give up.
2. What value is their today in studying ancient mythology?
Studying ancient mythologies, and by extension, these maxims provides us with an alternative to modern religiosity. Ancient religions strike me as being more authentic than the modern incarnations of the Abrahamic religions. Perhaps this is a Hindsight is 20-20 incarnation, but I see the Greek gods as phenotypes for behavior; none of them are perfect, and so their failings also bring lessons to the people. The gods quibble just as people do, and yet they also represent the pinnacle of their respective guises. But still, even the gods of Ancient Greece could be challenged—usually this worked out poorly for the mortals, but it could happen, and it sometimes worked.
3. Give an example of these maxims at work in your own life. It can be positive or negative, your own experience or secondhand.
Raised Catholic, and forced to church for the first eleven years or so of my life, I’ve had a lot of guilt-driven doctrine regarding worshiping god. To my dad’s side of the family, being a good Christian meant things like “don’t swear or you’ll go to hell,” or “Your mom doesn’t go to church, so she’ll burn in hell.” In short, I didn’t learn anything about Christianity, I just learned how horrible people like to use religion to cast the ultimate blanket guilt trip on others. Following god, Worshiping the gods, in my experience is a form of kisassery when you’re dealing with god. It’s bargaining. “Hey I did my part, now when I’m dead, you got me covered, right brah?” But it’s bargaining blind; you’re gambling on an afterlife being a certain way, when, nothing really points to such a thing even existing. All the religions are conflicted with afterlives too – is it reincarnation, is it a harem full of virgins, clouds, angels, and halos? There’s no consistency, and tracking back to my childhood there was never any talk of religious tolerance – it was Catholic or hellfire.
I can understand how other people might still apply the maxims to their modern religion; but, I think, for that to work the experience needs to be different. The focus needs to come off the church, interpretation rights taken from the priests and, instead put upon the individual. To make it in modern times with these maxims, you’d really have to read the texts yourself and make that journey a personal thing. Going to church each week is an overly passive way to obtain religion; kind of worship through osmosis; you might get something out of it there, but chances are you’ll pick up more on the judgementalism and hellfire threats before you get any deeper meaning out of it.
4. What is problematic about these maxims? Would you re-phrase them in any way to make them more relevant?
I think a lot of folks from Gen X and going forward into the Millennials are having similar crises of faith; The church remains stuck, clinging to old ideas, afraid to embrace simple things like homosexuality. There are more and more people that my wife likes to call “cafeteria Catholics” – maybe attend a mass here or there, but most of the faith comes at home, and not from a priest in a church –believing in the basic tenets but not much further.
Worship is shifting as well in America. The general consensus I see about is that religious people that go to church more than once a week are “fanatics.” You think of Mormons, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witness, the Amish, Mennonites, and Scientologists for being “nuts” because they devote more than a casual amount of time worshipping their god of choice. Same too goes for the hardcore followers of Islam; we fear them largely because they’re willing to stake everything on their faith and blow themselves up for their cause.
Going a step further, and borrowing slightly from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there are many new gods to follow these days – technology, sports, movies, politics, social media, celebrity, reality TV. Granted, most of these things are relatively bad influences on the collective consciousness, but with the emptiness of church ritual, these modern obsessions take on many of the characteristics that have traditionally been applied to the notions of worship. Worshiping other things, to me, isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but it does present something to consider: object worship, especially in conjunction with anything produced by the mass-medias is ultimately little more than obsession over consumption. Creators worshiping the words of others, the curve of new technology, of thought can prosper more in this new canon of worship—they ultimately shape what others will follow. Is it better than religion? Than believing in gods? One advantage, I see is that It does help shift focus away from the afterlife and towards the present. It also changes and moves with the times. Christianity, in particular, has issues with being overly static in its stances and beliefs. The cost of entry into modern worship is also lower, and has instant feedback – you can tweet an author you admire and kickstart a rockstar’s album now. People can worship their “gods” and become part of the conversation at the same time.
If anything though, the maxims, if you’re going to apply them to modern worship should be modified to also include “Become a god.” I don’t see a lot of relevance in the life of a person that spends all of it in consumption. Consume, become inspired, and do something of your own. Plenty of people are—and crowdfunding platforms, YouTube, self-publishing tools, etc. are all helping mortals climb the ladder to godhood without some divine hand from the upper echelons pointing and saying, “Your band is fantastic; that’s really what I think; oh and by the way, which one’s Pink?”