My review of All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology, by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.
All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology introduces a tetrad of new divinities and their myths of origin. It is not presented as a revealed, prophetic text after the fashion of the Qur’an or the Liber AL vel Legis, but rather as a non-canonical literary work treating a novel mythos. This raises the question of how new mythology is to be received. I am not of the opinion that any threshold or criterion is required for accepting new myths or Gods, because any such criterion would establish itself thereby as a prior constraint upon theology, a confusion of intellectual registers. No justification is required for positive theophany or for the inclusion of any particular material in anybody’s cultic practice, nor is any explanation required for not worshiping any particular deity or omitting any myth from one’s belief system. These are matters that rest between persons divine and persons mortal.
But this ought not mean there is no way to critically assess new theologies. The Platonist Syrianus (d. 437 CE) explains, concerning the number of ta theia, ‘things divine’—thus including not only the Gods themselves, but their direct participants as well—that the number must logically be finite, but that the ‘partial soul’ cannot put a number upon them, save that there must be, at a minimum, some divinity corresponding to each class (taxis) of beings (Syrianus, In Metaph. 914b 3-6, p. 145 Kroll). While Syrianus puts no ceiling on the number of Gods except actual infinity, then, he does place a floor on the number, and understanding this floor can help us to grasp how it is that there come to be ‘new’ Gods for us. (I say ‘for us’ because I see a contradiction involved in Gods coming to be in time, as opposed to the ideal or static genesis enacted in mythic narrative. Naturally, this doesn’t apply to deities who were once embodied mortals, at least considered in their historical being.) Syrianus specifies a situation in which there are, within some determinate field, not enough Gods. It’s the converse of Ockham’s Razor. If Ockham’s concern is a conceptual field with terms that aren’t doing any work, Syrianus is concerned about one falling short of the necessary degree of articulation, of internal play. This can, in fact, result in the erroneous judgment that certain terms are without genuine meaning, and hence to the mistaken application of Ockham’s razor, compounding the original problem. A process of conceptual clear-cutting ensues, the likely outcome of which is skepticism.
There is thus good reason to be attentive to the emergence of new Gods, even if one is not going to worship them oneself; and there are appropriate questions to ask regarding them, not in order to legislate upon their existence, for this is impossible, but rather to try to grasp what it would mean to have such a God. The course of 20th century philosophical and psychological reflection has indicated, I think, that gender was for a long time an insufficiently articulated concept. We should not be surprised, then, if the effort that has been applied over this last century to understanding gender and sexuality better should be rewarded at some time or other with a fresh participation in the divine, such that new aspects of certain existing deities would be uncovered, or even deities previously unknown make themselves known. Such is the context within which we may approach Sufenas’s ‘TransMythology’ with its new divine Tetrad.
It should be noted that gender was already conceived in an ontologically fluid fashion by the ancient Platonists. Gender is certainly one of the most universal traits of deities, but it is not treated by the Platonists as a primary divine attribute. Gender among the divine is no more primitive for them than certain attributes that we tend to think of as being dependent upon gender, such as Fatherhood. Hence Rhea, for example, is treated by Proclus as belonging to a divine order of ‘Fathers’, despite being female. Proclus explains that ‘Animal Itself’—the intelligible intellect and paradigm of the cosmos, also known to the Platonists, indeed, as ‘the Tetrad’, on which more below—must be regarded as father and mother alike, since the causes of both masculinity and femininity must preexist in the form of Animality; and that on the intelligible plane “the maternal cause is in a paternal mode”, while on the intelligible-intellective plane “the paternal cause is in a maternal mode” (Plat. Theol. IV 28 81f). And so forth. As such, it is quite understandable, from a Platonic viewpoint, that the nature of gender would be generally more complicated, rather than less, and hence that gender issues would be articulated through divine activity particularly involving ‘younger’ generations of deities, who are inherently involved in more complicated interactions with one another than the ‘prior’ generations of Gods. (I place all of these temporal determinations in scare-quotes because as a Platonist one regards narrative temporality as a further complex attribute of the divine individuals, rather than something that determines them from a more primordial position.)
The point here is not that gender is something merely corporeal, but that it is not elemental, and can hence only be understood within a complex field, with many actors and many forces taken into account. Gender is something that emerges in the full complexity of animal being. It feels quite appropriate, therefore, from an unabashedly Platonic perspective, that the central figures in Sufenas’s work form a Tetrad, for in Plato’s Timaeus, the paradigm of the cosmos and the most beautiful of intelligible objects, Animal Itself, the template for all divine and mortal animals, also encompasses a tetrad. This tetrad forms the basis for the four fields of animal life, the ‘celestial’, the ‘aerial’, the ‘aquatic’ and the ‘terrestrial’, all of which are highly compact symbols with manifold possible explications. Insofar as Animal Itself (identified by later Platonists with the Orphic Phanes, who features in Sufenas’s TransMythology as well) is the paradigm for the cosmos precisely in being the paradigm of each individual animal (as we see from the term paradeigmata being used as well in the Republic’s Myth of Er to refer to the life-patterns chosen by creatures prior to each incarnation), it is most appropriate that a tetrad of divinities should form coordinates, so to speak, for the psychical and corporeal genesis of those particular animals.
As a Platonist, I also couldn’t help but relate the use of the word pan (all) in the names of the Tetrad—who are Panpsyche, ‘All-Soul’, Panhyle, ‘All-Body’ (lit. ‘All-Matter’), Paneros, ‘All-Love’, and Pancrates, ‘All-Power’ (in the sense of sovereignty, mastery, not ‘possibility’, which is dunamis)—once again to the intelligible intellect, because this latter is the locus of ‘totality’ as such. There is an interesting logic of ‘whole’ (holos) and ‘all’ (pan) in Platonic thought. What is whole is an integral unity, the togetherness of its parts, while totality is in some sense exhaustive—but the order of procession is such that the whole, with its inherent relativity, is nevertheless prior to the all. The term pan suggests form’s expression to the point of some actual, even external, limits—whether in the sense of a quality that utterly suffuses a substance, or of a manifestation of maximum possible intensity, or of a quantitative completion.
With this in mind, we can grasp the difference between, e.g., the Tetrad’s Panpsyche and the hypostasis of Psyche, or Soul Itself: Panpsyche embodies the ultimate expression of Psyche, in which its inherent contradictions come most painfully to birth. From this underlying logic it is not difficult to see, beyond the pathos inherent in the narrative of the Tetrad’s struggles, why their stories are so riven with conflict. It is not sufficient to explain this conflict from the problematic nature of gender for us, lest we read Sufenas’s work as a mere allegory, rather than a myth. Myth, for those of us who take it seriously, never reflects, but rather institutes. Instead of expressing gender as it is for us, the Tetrad myth must be understood to produce gender as it is for us, and as it can be. The phenomenon of gendering, as produced by the Tetrad, is complex in its origins and simple only in its most superficial manifestations, in direct opposition to ideologies for which simple essences of masculinity and femininity become complicated for us and in us, as though through weakness in reception or mutual contamination. The deep metaphysics of this text, in other words, though it speaks throughout—and graphically—of gender and sexuality, really concerns hylomorphism, the opposition, for the best metaphysicians always only local and apparent, of form and matter. This is the relationship which is ultimately being complicated and ‘engendered’ in the TransMythology. Now, this is in a certain respect obvious from the presence of Panhyle as one of the Tetrad, but not necessarily so, given the special connotations that we tend to attach to ‘body’ when matters of sexuality are at stake.
This brings me to my final point. Reactions to Sufenas’s text are bound to be dominated by issues of sexuality and gender, as is natural; and others are better suited to discuss the text on this basis. An issue, however, that I would wish to highlight, particularly inasmuch as it will receive less attention from the typical reader, is the transpantheonic status of the Tetrad. The 78 ‘parents’ of Panpsyche and Panhyle are from several different pantheons, as well as lying at several different points along the continuum from timeless immortals to deified mortals. This is no accidental eclecticism. Sufenas is one of the most sensitive thinkers on the matter of syncretism to be found in the modern polytheist movement, and this aspect of the project is clearly as important as that of gender. Indeed, I would argue that the genesis of individual animals becomes more complicated as a result of metaphysically prior moves that render individuals as such radically unique and prior to speciation. To grasp the Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates of the myth, therefore, we must add another pan-, namely the structure of pantheons, each of which is an intellective totality, but none of which possess closure relative to the supra-essential individuals who act in and through them. Operations which take place between pantheons do not presuppose a single grand pantheon of all the Gods, because there could be no such structured totality. The subsistence of all the Gods only lies authentically in each God. This ultimacy of each deity permits transpantheonic operations of any sort in principle, while in no way devaluing the pantheons themselves as fields of originary cosmogonic activity on the part of the Gods who emerge through them, not as dependent parts of these wholes, but as cooperating agents in these totalities.
On September 9th, 2012 01:44 am (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Excellent review; a pleasure to read in itself and an intriguing pitch for the book. Not having read the book itself, I couldn't tell if your were reflecting on a metaphysical/ontological structure already explicit in it, or were drawing that out in order to account for what is a more narrative endeavor there.
Your notion of the reversed Ockhamian razor provides a powerful image of the ontology of expression that you argue is at work in the constitutive action of myth.
As for your assertions about the appropriate place of justification and the priority of the theological--we've argued about this before and I know we will again---I remain unconvinced. The thinker (or recipient of theological doctrine, revelation, or mythical narrative) remains just as constrained by her cognitive faculties as she does by her body. There's no jumping out of the conditions of human thought or perception, least of all to assert that one can or must or has already so-jumped. The best we can do (always a second best or second sailing) is, like Socrates, to orient ourselves with an image. This is the status of myth: thoroughly, hopefully, painfully and beautifully human. Of course, this doesn't mean (as you rightly say) that there should or can be any regulation of individual religious practice or worship, but it does speak directly to any theological or ontological claims one can make about the structure or intentions of Being.
Thanks for posting.