When in the early sixteenth century Michelangelo painted one of his greatest masterpieces, The Creation of Adam, the general concept of a man touching the hand of god was seen as a much loftier goal than it was to the pagan Romans of not much more than a thousand years before he was born. As far back as in the city of Eridu in Ancient Mesopotamia, and eventually slowing to a halt starting in Southern Europe, history has recorded the ordinary and the supernatural simultaneously, on the same pages and in the same sort of language. To the historians of yesteryear, and more importantly, to the common person, there was very little separation, if any, between the menial tasks of daily life and the divine interference of the gods, for the gods were present in all things. The loss of that presence is the reason for much of the loneliness experienced by modern polytheists, and it is something I have finally found the words with which to provide the solution.
As Ralph Metzner has stated, the separation of ordinary life from contact with the divine is a “loss [that] resulted from the gradually increasing emphasis, started by the Greeks and continued with Christianity, on abstract conceptions of deity rather than on the direct, sensory perception of and communication with spirits that was the norm in polytheistic animism.” Today, even with the reemergence of ancient polytheistic religions like Hellenic Polytheism, Religio Romana, Kemetism, and Germanic and Norse Heathenry, the West has yet to recover its old comfort with dining at the same table as the gods, among other things, and the religious “reemergences” I just mentioned are, for the most part, vague approximations at best, hampered by a worldview that dulls the senses which reveal the divine to mankind.
If humankind had retained regular contact with the divine and not grown the mental barriers between us and them that it has, we might today find the presence of many gods in the discovery of a parking ticket on the window shield of a car, in the modern understanding of GMOs, or even, as ridiculous as it sounds, in a toilet cleaner bomb. These things are simply the modern descendants of what the old gods once held dominion over. Finding Týr in a parking ticket today is conceptually no different than a person from a distant age finding him at The Thing, an ancient Norse gathering that occurred regularly to discuss the business of laying down and enforcing the law of the land.
At one point or another, we have all watched a movie with someone who afterward said something to the effect of “the book was better.” Like you might infer from this, it is a commonly held opinion, at least in North America where I live, that the original version of a thing is often the best. This is obviously not true in all cases, but I’m of the opinion that it does apply in the case of religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Since the collapse of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, there has never been a more all-encompassing integration of the respective daily happenings of gods and mortals.
Among the Ancient Mesopotamians there was, as far as I can tell, really no aspect of daily life that wasn’t in some way connected with the gods. In its greatest and most omnipresent form, the divine took root in the world through the founding of cities by Enlil and Gibil, and in the will of the king, who spoke in the name of whatever god his city championed. In its most base form, it took root in the sexual and life-giving nourishment of Inanna and Dumuziabzu, respectively. And, in its dullest form, the will of the divine could be found in the bureaucratic humdrum of canal inspection, through Enbililu; the tedium of brick-laying, through Kulla; and the guarding of doorways by La-tarak and Lulal. What this all amounts to is a complete synchronization of the natural and the preternatural. Indeed, as far as I know, among every single one of the many groups of people who lived in Ancient Mesopotamia, there was no word for religion, due to the simple fact that there was no distinction to be made between the laws of the earth and the miracles of the gods.
In my post commenting on Ralph Metzner’s quote (which in turn quoted William Blake), I urged the adoption of a much broader sense of faith among modern Heathens, encouraging identification of the gods with even the most mundane and routine things. This urging was, at the end of the day, out of a desire to enrich my life and the lives of others. If, during the course of our lives, we must spend a certain amount of time waiting at traffic lights on our way to the dentist’s office, is it not better to sense the love and greatness of the gods through those bright and ever-changing colors, rather than finding only annoyance or, even worse, nothing at all?
Over the course of my six years in modern approximations of old religions, I have seen more frequent woes expressed over a feeling of becoming disconnected from the gods than I can count or even remember, and this is a problem that I myself am far from being a stranger to. Given what I know about religion in the ancient world, I am certain that these spiritual dry spells are happening far more often today than they ever did back then, and I am also certain that this must be due to the abstraction of the gods in contemporary thought. Because of the widespread influence of Christianity in the West, it might not even occur to a modern polytheist to try and reconnect by pulling the gods down by the tips of their shoes into the normal, rather than trying to sprout wings and fly into their skies.
If the modern polytheist trying to resurrect any dead religion is going to find success in this task, the means to achieving it must include a reorientation with the worldviews that match their respective old religions. Contemporary monotheistic worldviews will eventually and then quite often, as we can observe through individual disconnects from the divine, reject any form of polytheism. In the immortal words of the old cliché, it is like “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.” If we are, both as individuals and members of a community, ever going to become fully reacquainted with the gods, we must rediscover the round peg that fits into the hole that history has left us to try and fill, and the space between the car and the stoplight is as good a place as any to start.