The Assembly of the Gods: A Reflection

I have been thinking lately about the assembly of the gods. Every major religion has a version of it. The Greek gods meet on Mt. Olympus, the Norse in Valhalla, and the Gaelic Tuatha De in the Sìdhean. Even in traditional Chinese religion the gods meet under the auspices of the Yellow Emperor, and Christianity has all good things meeting in the divine otherworld of Heaven. There is always a kind of divine president, and it is impossible not to see in this a basic pattern for human organization. Of course, modern science would have us understand this parallel between the divine assembly and human society as evidence of the psychological nature of the gods; human society according to popular scientific reasoning formed out of pressures originating in the need for survival and the desire for personal power and freedom, but this relegates the gods to mere projections of idealized society. Something far more important is going on here.

This so-important ‘something’ is tied intrinsically to the relationship between the nature of divinity and nature itself. By ‘nature’ I don’t mean Mother Nature or ‘the natural world’ as most people consider it. I mean the very fabric of reality itself in all its myriad strangeness. Simply put, divinity is the pattern that forms, informs and defines reality, which is to say ‘nature.’ To conceive of the gods as merely a psychological reflection of fundamentally physical processes whereby humanity evolved a way of working together is to limit oneself to a deeply homocentric world-view. Dyaus (the etymological brother of Zeus) is the soul of the sky even as Pṛthvī (the Vedic analogue to Gaia) is the soul of the Earth. As such, neither can be separated from their bodies — the sky and Earth of our immediate awareness — even as we think of ourselves as both body and soul together. Even thinking of the gods as archetypes is slightly misleading, although the idea of the archetypes is one definition of how divinity interacts with our conscious awareness.

The assembly of the gods is thus not just a pattern for human society but a pattern of all the natural world as well. Because each god and goddess manifests a divine purview, they each govern some facet of reality. The Shining, All-Seeing Sky-Father and the Dark, All-Embracing Earth-Mother govern the fertility of the land and the procreation of all life. Similarly, abstract ideas and areas of life have their own governing deities: the home, justice, travel and commercial enterprise all have individual gods who govern and manifest the principles pertinent to each. The assembly of the gods is where each of these individual governances come together and form the basis for the totality of real life.

It is important to understand, however, that this assembly does not operate as human assemblies do. Human activity operates within time, so assemblies occur at some kind of regular intervals. At one time, political, legal and administrative assemblies were accompanied with often elaborate, sometimes exuberant, but always important religious observances. Now they are perfunctory and even useless; think of all the business meetings, the committee meetings and the social gatherings where it seems like nothing is accomplished. This is because the divinity has been taken out of the affair — but this is a digression. The point is that human assemblies operating within time cannot always be occurring, but the divine assembly, being outside of time, is always gathered. To us, it seems as if the god or goddess in question can be in more than one place at any point in time. (This is also related to the difficulty tied to how many gods there are, but such is a matter for another entry.) The interconnectedness of all reality is simply a direct manifestation of the divine assembly.

We can talk about the gods as elements of our psychological landscape in that our constant attention and admiration makes them so, but as individual entities they are sovereign and independent. The divine assembly is for us a model and a basis for how all discrete things interact and interconnect. That one god should preside over the assembly is a direct manifestation of the idea that there is always a governing principle or at least a dominant power at play. In our biology, it is the brain. In the U.S. political system, it is the president. In any given country’s landscape, it is the capital city. Even in decentralized systems which have no definite dominant power there is still a presiding figure. Gaelic Ireland had the High King, for example. When we look at the world around us, whether in the human sphere or the wild array of ecosystems, the assembly of the gods will always render what we see more intelligible. It may even help us interact and partake in it.

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