Archetypes are Idols, not Gods

In Pagan traditions, idols are common. We use symbols, statues, candles, and a multitude of other items as stand-ins for the Gods. There is a difference, however, between using an idol to forge a connection with a deity and viewing that idol as the actual God being represented. Properly used, idols are tools that help strengthen the connection between the human realm and the divine realm. Improperly used, idols become the focus of worship.

Every religion uses idols, even those faiths that forbid idolatry. For Christians, the most common idol used is the figure of Jesus on the cross. Even without Jesus on it, however, the cross is still an idol. Christians may argue this and say that the cross is symbolic, but a symbol is an idol. A symbol is used to forge a connection between the symbol and the meaning it projects.

In Wicca, it is common to use God and Goddess figurines during rituals, or, barring that, candles to represent the God and Goddess. And rituals generally take place within a circle, tools being placed at the correct corner directions – if done correctly, and viewed from the outside, the ritual itself takes on the shape of the pentacle (a pentagram enclosed within a circle). The ritual serves as a conduit from the human realm to the divine realm.

In Heathenry, there are similar practices. Blots are generally opened with the hammer rite,hallowing the ground. The connection between the human realm and the divine realm occurs at the moment a libation is poured onto the ground. First, the ground is hallowed, and then an offering is made, rendering the offering sacred and forging a divine connection.

There are other types of rituals within Pagan practices, each imbued with unique purpose. The end goal, however, is a sacred connection. And that is how idols are meant to be used. To help forge those connections.

For some, visualization techniques don’t work. Some people need the visual aid an idol offers in a ritual in order to create the connection. Once the connection is made, however, the work of the idol is finished. I suppose a good way to look at an idol would be to view it as a bridge constructed over a creek. You can walk over such a bridge and avoid getting your feet wet, or you can slosh through it. Either way, you will reach the other side.

Idols aren’t necessary to form a sacred connection, but they do make the task easier. There is a danger in using idols, however, and that danger is, perhaps, the reason certain faiths condemn the practice (even whilst unknowingly engaging in it).

The danger of using an idol is the danger of coming to see that idol as a sacred being in and of itself. Instead of using the idol as a bridge, there are some who will come to worship the bridge itself. As an example, say you are standing on side of the creek and one of the Gods is standing on the other side. To get to that God, you can use the idol – you can take the bridge. But as you cross over that bridge, you become so fascinated with the architecture that you forget all about the God waiting for you on the other side of it.

That is the danger inherent in using idols. Idols are symbols, and there are some out there who would turn symbols into deities. An example of this would be viewing the archetypes developed by Carl Jung for use in analytical psychology as gods. The archetypes are psychological constructs, fluid and fleeting. There are Gods out there who operate the way that certain archetypes do within the psyche, but, unlike the archetypes, which are fluid and can blend with each other, the Gods don’t blend. Each God is always uniquely Himself or Herself, not a mix between two or more Gods.

That is the problem I have with the concept of Jungian polytheism. The archetypes were never intended to replace the idea of divinity – Jung himself stated that they were to be used solely as a method in analytical psychology. Jung was not a theologian, and he never set out to replace religion. In fact, he said that it would be absurd for someone to only view the divine spark within and deny the divinity without.

I think that the archetypes themselves are fascinating concepts, fascinating constructs that occur within the psyche of every human being. That doesn’t mean the archetypes are gods or should be treated as such. Choosing to worship an archetype is choosing to worship the idol, and doing so will rob a person of their ability to forge a strong connection with the divine realms.

For this reason, I cannot support the idea of a polytheism that centers around Jungian archetypes as Gods. A polytheist who views the archetypes as ways of accessing the Gods of their tradition – that, I can support. That is using idols the way they are meant to be used, as tools to forge a connection. But to worship an idol is to worship a tool, and tools are meant to be used, not prayed to.

The Gods are Amoral

I’ve been watching the anime Noragami Aragoto, and the basic premise of the anime is that there is a god Yato attempting to get his own shrine so he can become more powerful. There was one event that happened where Yato said that it is people that decide what is right and wrong, for gods can do no wrong. And yes, an anime did set me to thinking on philosophical/religious terms. It’s not the first time it’s happened to me, and it probably won’t be the last. I tend to take my inspiration from the world around me, so it isn’t weird to me that something in an anime struck me as interesting.

Anyway, I started thinking about how each of the Gods are different. Odin, Loki, and Tyr all have different personalities, and each of them want different things from the world. But the Gods never question their own morality. In the myths, there is no internal struggle faced by any of the Gods over whether the course of action they are taking is right or wrong. The Gods just act. It could be said that the Gods act in their own self-interest at all times, and I don’t think that statement would be inaccurate.

Before I get further into that, I’d like to clarify what amorality is. Most people are familiar with morality and immorality. Amorality is the lack of a sense of morality altogether. If an action can be considered neither positive nor negative, then that is an amoral action. Essentially, saying that the Gods are amoral is saying that they lack a conscience that tells them wrong from right.

I’m sure that a lot of people will disagree with me, and I imagine one of the criticisms this idea will receive is the question, “If the Gods are amoral, how can they act in loving ways?”

To answer that question, however, I need to explain the difference between amorality and sociopathy. Amorality simply means that you have no sense of right or wrong. There is no distinction. A sociopath has a sense of right and wrong but chooses to disregard it. There’s a very fine line of difference between the two, but understanding the difference is the key to understanding the answer to how Gods can still act lovingly even without possessing a sense of morality.

In my mind, picturing the Gods as amoral helps resolve some difficult contradictions. It explains why the Gods can embrace Loki as one of their own – no matter what he does, he is still a God. It explains why the actions of Odin can seem sometimes noble and sometimes ignoble – he breaks oaths without much thought.

The Gods are complex – much more complex than a human being, and, let’s face it, us humans are pretty complex beings. We project our humanity onto the Gods, forgetting along the way that the Gods aren’t human. They’re Other. We have a spark of divinity inside of us, thanks to Loki, and that spark is what allows us to relate somewhat to the Gods. But I think that we too often forget that the Gods aren’t human.

So we end up painting the Gods with our own sense of morality, then get upset when the actions of the Gods don’t add up to what we have grown to expect. As an example, a large portion of pagans view Loki as evil incarnate, but Loki isn’t inherently evil. In fact, he is morally ambiguous, which is really just another way to say that he is an amoral being. Of all the Gods, it is perhaps Loki and other trickster Gods who demonstrate the truth of the amorality of Gods the most clearly.

I think the most difficult part of this concept to grasp is how the Gods can function without a sense of morality. For us, as human beings, we need a conscience. We need to distinguish between right actions and wrong actions in order to understand our paths through our lives. The idea of a lack of morality, of a lack of a conscience, is immediately alien and difficult to imagine. This is, perhaps, the reason that the Gods defy human understanding.

Life and Death

Considering today is Wednesday, the topic of death seems a fitting one to discuss. Or, rather, the power of life and death. There has been a considerable amount of drama centering around Kim Davis recently and her refusal to issue marriage licenses. Apparently, there is a similar debate occurring about whether doctors in hospitals should be able to deny patients surgeries that violate the religious beliefs of the doctors.

My immediate and gut-wrenching response is to say, “Absolutely not.” Doctors are public servants, and hospitals are secular institutions.

That isn’t strictly accurate, however, as there are hospitals with religious affiliations in the private sector. Generally, those hospitals are affiliated with Catholicism. In a Catholic hospital, I don’t think that doctors should be expected to perform surgeries that violate the tenets of their faith. The hospital is a private religious hospital – it is a holy place. While it may not be a place that I would ever go, I can respect that the people working in that hospital view it as an extension of their church.

There are varied reactions to the idea of a doctor denying a patient a surgery that violates their religious views, but there are two main camps. There’s the “Doctors shouldn’t even be allowed to practice medicine if they aren’t willing to perform procedures that violate their religious beliefs,” side of things, and then there’s the other side, where I stand.

I don’t think it’s right to ask anyone to act in a manner that violates their beliefs – or their code of ethics, for the atheists out there. Once we disrespect a single person in that manner, once we invalidate one person’s set of morality and beliefs, we open ourselves up to the persecution of our own religious paths.

In a secular hospital, doctors can refer patients to other doctors who are willing to perform the procedures they aren’t willing to do themselves. In a non-secular hospital, that isn’t going to happen. When a patient finds themselves in a situation where they need an operation that a non-secular doctor isn’t willing to perform, the burden of responsibility should then transfer to the patient – the responsibility to find someone who is willing to do the procedure without violating their own set of ethics.

However, when I tried to explain this reasoning to someone else earlier today, the response I received was “Only God has the power to decide life and death,” and that set me to thinking. Because I have heard that phrase my entire life, growing up in a Bible Belt and all (I still live in one, frustratingly enough), but I have always dismissed it as ridiculous. To me, it’s equally as ridiculous as saying “God works in mysterious ways.”

I’m aware that both of those phrases refer to the Christian God, but the fact that the person invoked the “power of life and death” really got under my skin. Because that’s one argument I’ve never seen in paganism – whether or not the Gods are the only ones with power over life and death.

Perhaps the reason I’ve never seen that argument is because it’s ridiculous to say it when polytheistic faiths are sacrificial faiths. Yes, we have stopped sacrificing animals (in most parts of the world. I’m aware there are still a few groups who practice animal sacrifice), but the history of the cultures where our traditions originated were rife with sacrifice.

The power of life and death is sacred, yes, but I think it’s ridiculous to say that any God of any faith has complete power over who lives and dies. We sentence people to death every day. Our legal system kills people every day. The fact that there are people out there who have still not acknowledged that about the world we live in irks me.