Category Archives: Polemical topics in polytheism

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 19): Historical traditions and models

First view: Any historical tradition and model of a particular polytheism is acceptable to follow, including a new modern one

Second view: There is only one historical tradition and model of a particular polytheism, before which things were undeveloped and after which things were in decline

Balanced view: There is a plurality of valid historical traditions and models to follow, but it is also possible to refine our research in order to select the better few.

This is a topic that has long occupied my thinking and seems to grow only more complex with time. Let us consider an example, as in the Hellenic polytheism, since a great deal is known about its various historical traditions; there is the Minoan period, Mycenaean period, the Homeric, the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic, the Greco-Roman, and the Late Antiquity or Medieval period. These all constitute what may be called distinct historical traditions and models of Hellenic polytheism which people nowadays follow with variations. Within those historical periods, there are more sub-variations, as for example, with the philosophical schools or regional practices within Greece. Other polytheisms share this plurality of period, model and region, with more or less complexity. The question is, do we have a best one, better ones or are all of them alike? The balanced path that avoids extremes will acknowledge that there is such a thing as “better” (and conversely “worse”), but at the same time no absolute “best” or “worst”. The reason for this critical approach is that we are aware of certain historical changes and mistakes that had adverse consequences on (to continue the same example) Hellenic polytheism. These were unconscious changes and mistakes that took place with the force of circumstance, but although one cannot remove a certain degree of validity from them, it is possible to compare and analyze distinct periods and models in order to refine our view about Hellenic polytheism in general. Although we should take the Hesiodic principle of decline through time (which seems universal through cultures*) into serious consideration, we must also understand the value of what can be called a tradition’s “maturity”. In my view, Hellenic polytheism matured during the Archaic and Early Classical Period, only to decline not long after during the Late Classical Period without recovery**. Since this double-edged situation is sometimes more or less true for other polytheisms, it is necessary to reconcile the notions of decline and maturity fairly. This can be done by a method which posits a sort of “terminus ante quem” for each particular polytheism, whereby there is a “latest date before which” the validity of a historical model cannot be much questioned, and thus after which it can be. By following this method, which may at first seem arbitrary, it will become possible to select the better (more valid, more correct or more mature) models and distinguish them from the worse (the opposite). The following list is an initial attempt for several polytheisms, based on my previous research:

Celtic- before Roman invasion

Roman- before Middle Republic (thus allowing for Etruscan and others to exist)

Germanic- before Late Antiquity expansions

Egyptian- before Late Middle Kingdom

Semetic- before Hellenistic invasion (with exception to regions not conquered)

Slavic- before Late Antiquity

Chinese- before Qin Empire

Indian- before Mauryan Empire

Thracian and Illyrian- before Roman invasion

American, East Indies, Sub-Saharan and Oceanic – before Western colonialism

Lest this is taken as a hugely and unjustifiably arbitrary attempt, I will explain four points before I conclude. First, as the list seems to exclude important developments in religion, I will certainly concede that there is a great deal of religious and ritual knowledge that are dated after these afore-mentioned periods which we can’t dispense with. In such a case, we should be using what we have, in order to reconstruct a purer model and period without decline. The second point is, these periods are broad estimates that are not true for all regions that fall under a particular polytheism. For example, the Irish were not conquered by the Romans and therefore their period can last later than the rest. This is also true of the Indian and Chinese religious traditions (among others) that were unaffected by imperial influence and the times.  Thirdly, these demarcations on religious tradition, which are meant to balance purity with maturity, do not exclude the arts, literature and so many other historical developments. For example, as a Hellenic polytheist who is seeking to follow a Homeric religious tradition, I value the art of the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods. And lastly, there will always be a considerable distance (in urbanized societies) between the religious tradition of the city and the rural areas, where the latter are always purer and less affected by dangerous innovations.

 

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*The Hindus share this principle, and it seems to be a very common mode of thinking in societies that value ancestral tradition and purity of practice. This stands in direct contrast to the notion of “progress”, which (as far as I can tell) derived originally from the quasi-atheistical Epicurean philosophy which embraced atomic materialism. See Lucretius’s poem.

 **Only true for areas affected by Athenian innovations, which by the Hellenistic period was almost every part of Greece (except the rural ones) and even beyond.

Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 18): Proselytism

First view: Proselytism is unfavorable because it is associated with expansive monotheism

Second view: If monotheists converted others, polytheists should be doing the same in similar ways to counter them

Balanced view: Polytheists need to actively promote their religion, convince others that it is real as well as good, and generally increase their influence in society, which in the case of polytheism’s plural traditions does not constitute proselytism.

I need not emphasize the situation of polytheism in comparison with monotheism today, in regard to the number of followers and influence and community organization. It suffices to point out that we have a great deal of work to do, for several generations, before we can approach a state of serious competition. We have reason to be both fearful that we are too slow, but also to be hopeful that the time has never been riper. But while we do need to expand, the notion of proselytism is a misnomer in our case, because “polytheism” is not a monolithic faith, nor is it structured (like monotheism) to save people from damnation and eternal torment in hell. For this reason, proselytism also has (as it were) a sort of evil twin, i.e. apostasy and heresy, which follow the same imperialistic and pathological mode of thinking. And yet, in spite of our necessity and our difference from monotheism, too many among us confuse what may be better called “activism” with proselytism. We think it is rude or intrusive or arrogant to inform and convince others that our faiths and traditions are valid and worthy of following. It is true that part of this reluctance to engage actively with outsiders results from our injuries under the tyranny of monotheism and its derivative systems, but what other choice do we have? Do we sit back and be passive in a world that is very active? And what about the hostility in the world towards our faiths and traditions? Should we merely enjoy the current freedom we have, or lay a foundation for future growth? I have always sincerely believed (and will repeat, ad nauseam if necessary) that communities of faith that resemble those of Hindus or even monotheists are essential for our continuity; this is not a matter of well-being, but of survival. But this matter of fact should not make us pathological in such a way as to hunger after followers, but only aware of the necessity to work hard in order to honor our Gods and ancestors as well as secure our uncertain future. There are monotheists (even atheists) who dedicate many many days, if not their whole lives, to teaching and proselytizing and debating—they have the spirit and confidence that their way is the best and must expand. We know that polytheism, or at least a general plurality of faiths and traditions, is better for the world than merely one or some that pretend to be exclusively correct in spite of all others. If we have the spirit and confidence that our ways (emphasize on plural) are better, why not dedicate something more from our time and efforts to further the paths of polytheism that can ensure cultural self-determination, promote inter-ethnic harmony and defeat all imperialism. We need a larger presence and louder voice, but always a more balanced and reasonable view to prevail. 

Polemical topics for Polytheists (part 17): The Jews and Judaism

First view: The Jews and Judaism are not at all responsible for the later evils of monotheism which were mostly Christian and Islamic

Second view: Since the Jews invented monotheism, they are responsible for all its later legacy and evils

Balanced view: While Judaism can be partly responsible in certain ideas, the Jews are a people who (like many others) may have been misled from their original polytheism, and mainly because of foreigners 

 A friend of mine referred me once to a few videos by one Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian tribal anarchist who not only is notorious for his dislike of Jews, but who has also carried his foolish theories so far as to condemn all Southern Europeans (whom he believes to be impure racially and therefore subtly inferior) for adopting and spreading Christianity (an un-European, inferior “Jewish” religion according to him) in Europe. Being offended, I tried to counter this absurd notion by raising a simple question in the comment section “You blame the Southern Europeans for adopting Christianity from the East, but not the Northern Europeans for adopting it from the South. How is that logic fair?” As one might expect, he replied by saying that “Christianity was forced on us” and this was the perfect opportunity for me to turn his theory on its head by mentioning that it was the “racially pure” Germanic king Charlemagne who forced it on North Europe, a man who was actually strong enough to march against Rome and destroy Christianity if he had chosen to do so. I concluded also that we shouldn’t attack people but only bad ideas, because by attacking people who adopt certain wrong ideas, we make them only hold more strongly to them. Varg didn’t and couldn’t reply without making a greater fool of himself than he already was, and after some heated altercations with his minions, I was banned. I wish to transfer this aforementioned conclusion to the question of Jews and Judaism, because it is very significant and fair to do so. What I have to say here is threefold. First and foremost, it wasn’t the Jews who invented monotheism, because, if we are to believe scholarly evidence, that was the work of Akhenaten the Egyptian Pharaoh, whose imperialism gave rise to the idea! There is no historical basis for the existence of an Abraham nor even a Moses, and scholars have also pointed out that in both cases, the characters and the events surrounding them fit the Iron Age (beginning from 1000 BCE). Furthermore, there is no evidence for Jewish monotheism as we know it, till about 600 BCE in Jerusalem; this is why we see strangely unbiased references to ancient Canaanite and Semetic Gods in some parts of the Old Testament. The Jews (properly meaning the branch of Canaanites living around the region of Judea and Jerusalem) till that time were henotheists who accepted other Gods, but only worshipped Yahweh out of them. By around 600 BCE or so, a priesthood seems to have arisen from Jerusalem, under the kingship of Josiah, advocating for a reformed theology that rejected images and henotheism. This biased zeal may have been fueled by imperialism in the region, since Judea was in danger of conquest and cultural influences from their Assyrian and Babylonian neighbors, which is actually recorded to have happened in 586 BCE. The mourning priesthood, or perhaps even the captive people (who are said to have been enslaved by the Babylonian), then viewed this as a punishment from Yahweh because of their neglect towards him, and thus a sort of ideology, albeit defensive in its purpose, was born. My second point is that further imperialism in the next centuries was responsible for the exacerbation of the problem; this was carried out by the successors of Alexander’s new Hellenistic Empire. The Maccabean revolt of 167-160 BCE against the Seleucid Empire was as much a noble movement for independence as it was a zealous force that was later to grow into intolerance and systematic conversion. But who do we blame for this? I say the Greeks and their imperialism, who are the causes. We know for certain that it was the Greek sense of cultural superiority and cultural imperialism that angered the conservative Jews and made them revolt afterwards on three occasions against the Roman Empire, but this occurred only after a great deal of Jewish blood was unmercifully spilled in the streets of Alexandria and Antioch during riots there. The monster of monotheism, that was later to become Christianity, was born out of this struggle for cultural supremacy, and because it was advocated by Hellenistic Jews (that is ethnic but not religious Jews), it soon grew into a multicultural movement that by 200 CE distanced itself so far from Jews and Judaism that it professed open hatred towards them! The Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus much more than the occupying Romans or Greeks who had caused the Judean resistance of Jews against foreign imperialism in the first place—Strange irony. This leads me into my last point, which is brief. The Jews are by all accounts a noble set of tribes and peoples whose endurance through so many hardships can be a valuable lesson for us polytheists. Their resistance to Rome above all is to be remembered as entirely worthy of imitation and indeed a most beautiful thing in itself*. Surely they can make excellent polytheists and indeed their anti-monotheistic efforts have already done much to pave the path: We owe a great deal to the likes of (among others) Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Franz Boas, the Kabbalists, Jacques Derrida, and indeed Margot Adler for the gradual revival of polytheism that we have today. Let us unite and join with them in rediscovering our polytheistic origins and ancestors, in order to enjoy a more harmonious existence blessed by the plurality of all our great Gods and peoples.

 

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*I say in itself, to distinguish the heroic acts from the later erratic & pathological product that grew out of their miserable defeat in Jerusalem, i.e. Christianity. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 16): The Celts and Celtic polytheism

First view: The Celts and their traditions are restricted to their current populations and languages in the British Isles, Ireland and France, and has been mostly replaced by Germanics.

Second view: The Celts and their tradition should be restored to its largest historical extent, which covered most of Europe.

Balanced view: The Celtic tradition and identity ought to find its historical places beyond current populations, but without repeating unnecessary imperialism. (see illustration of fair extent) 

mapexpansionThe Celtic peoples and traditions once had a plentiful and noble presence mainly in Central and Western Europe, but what remains of it is unfortunately little and often treated with contempt. Having been conquered first by the Romans and then again by Germanic tribes, the identity and culture of these peoples has suffered greatly, sometimes with deliberate persecution. Julius Caesar waged a bloody and unjust war in Gaul for 10 years, in order to increase his dwindling income and expand the territory of Rome for personal ambition. In doing so, he destroyed and colonized the Celtic heartland, which was only to be worsened by his despotic successors’ persecution of the druids. The excuse was ending human sacrifice, a hugely exaggerated practice that the Celts (among others) practiced, but the real purpose was to put an end to their warlike resistance, a noble example of which is well known. Through continuous colonization and attempted assimilation, the Celtic identities, cultures and languages began to wear off, and worse influence came after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. The Celtic reputation for human sacrifice and war was very contrary to Christian (aka. intolerant Roman) “morality” and “civilized ways”, which placed a stigma on the speakers of the language as being uncivilized like the Germans. The Celts were dealt a final blow after the Germanic tribes, which had managed to escape Roman domination, expanded to conquer what remained of their colonized homelands and traditions in Britain, France, North West Spain and Central Europe. The beautiful old Celtic language (lately reconstructed), once spoken in many dialects, now became extinct except for isolated areas which are still shrinking today. It is extremely interesting (and at the same time very unfortunate) to observe that descendants of these marginalized peoples, who long had an inferiority complex about their identity, were (beginning from 1000 years later) mostly responsible for the colonization of the Americas. Settlers from Western Britain, Western France, Portugal, Western Spain, and later South Germany (central Europe) led the effort in obtaining a new future and settling new lands. It was these descendants of oppressed people who then oppressed others in a world that had long been oppressive; just as children who are bullied and humiliated, they grew up to do the same. This is the very sad story of the “white people” in the Americas, most of whom today are unaware of their Celtic identity, after having tragically lost it. It also saddens me to see so many people, whose ancestors were undoubtedly Celtic, choosing rather to follow the Roman and Germanic traditions of their colonizers. “I am an Anglo-Saxon/Heathen/Roman polytheist” a British or American person will tell you, and “I am a Heathen/Roman polytheist” a Gaulish* person will tell you. Then you have many Celtic people also extremely attracted to the Hellenic tradition, for reasons that can be understood but not quite justified. I know that the Celts have little mythology that is left, and I know it is such powerful stories that often bind us to a tradition. Yet ancestry is a much stronger claim that ought to overcome fascination or inclination. An ancestor that brought us life and whose image is stamped on our faces will always have a stronger and more natural claim that a foreign myth, however well written, that has struck our fancy. You noble Celts, do not succumb to the urge of following the Germans, for you are equally warlike; nor the Romans, for you are equally civilized; nor the Greeks, for you are equally wise**. Do not follow “Wicca” in order to make up for losses that are now being rediscovered and reconstructed. This is the perfect time in history, the first time since Late Antiquity, for a Celtic revival. May Ogmios give the druids the wisdom to reconstruct their mythology and their traditions ever more accurately and bind*** all those Celtic peoples unaware of their beautiful identity to their noble ancestors again!

 

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*France, anciently called Gaul, got its name from Germanic invaders called the “Franks”, much like Britain, which was called England after the Angles from South Denmark.

**Actually, I think the druids were far wiser than most Greek philosophers, in spite of appearances.

 ***Ogmios, the Celtic God of speech and eloquence, is depicted with chains, because of his power to bind people through his wisdom. See a list here of other Celtic Gods. 

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 15): Equality & Hierarchy

First view: Polytheists should oppose hierarchy because monotheists are so strongly for it

Second view: Polytheists should embrace hierarchy because it brought civilization which in ancient times were polytheistic

Balanced view: Hierarchy is inherent to any society, even that of the Gods, but it ought to have a limit set by tradition, law and necessity

It is interesting to observe, in the first place, that the term hierarchy was once one related to religion and meant “authority of a high priest”. In the early societies of civilization, a ruler often combined religious and political authority, serving as a priest-king. This position of power, besides fulfilling an important function, served to remind people that the natural order of the world was one where certain ranks existed, and there was always a head to rule and carry the burdens of such authority. Indeed, all societies, even the simplest bands of hunter-gatherers, acknowledged the reality of hierarchy; even the Gods acknowledge that it is needed among themselves. Nobody is truly equal to another in regard to wealth or power, and yet all people are equally important for society, regardless of their rank. Hierarchy brings stability and strength, which in turn ensure the well-being and survival of a society, not only within itself, but also among others. Nevertheless, hierarchy operates best when moderation is applied to it, because it is this moderation or limitation that keeps the structure sustainable and healthy. If hierarchy is too rigidly and unjustly expressed, there is risk for grievance and revolt, which could overturn the whole society. This is why tradition and law are needed regulate hierarchy, which is often difficult nowadays because of the exorbitant size of society and power of the state. A hierarchy becomes too complex and imperfect, therefore unjust, when it is applied to millions of people as we see nowadays. Hence, smaller countries are most often happier than larger ones, which can’t fail to remind us about the harmful effects of imperialism, i.e. expansive power and wealth. Nor does this secular, materialistic world take care to counterbalance law with ritual tradition*; there are no priest-kings today who fear a power above them. Polytheism once again can set the world straight, and we certainly should not imitate the Christian Church or the Roman Empire to do so. We need institutions and communities which can accept and apply a moderate measure of hierarchy, just enough to bring our hopeful movement to stability, strength and renown rather than weakness in the face of so many competitors. And if those who are wise, just and pious lead, we will surely please the Gods, consolidate our own ranks, and attract many numbers of disaffected people from monotheism who are tired of the absolutism in their institutions and indeed in their god.

 

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*The same world which produced capitalism and modern colonialism, the most horrid systems of inequality.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 14): Moral & cultural relativism

First view: Moral and cultural relativism are consistent with polytheism’s diversity and should apply at the level of the individual.

Second view: Moral and cultural relativism are wrong because they divide polytheists and hurt their reputation.

Balanced view: Moral and cultural relativism, much like pluralism, apply far more to the distinct community and tradition than the separate individual, but this occurs mostly with details rather than broad principles.

The variety of traditions in polytheism and the historical distance between them, attended by several differences in customs and morals, lead us to reflect on the topic of moral and cultural relativism. When universalism was discussed previously in part 11, it was shown how promoting one standard for all usually results from imperialism. Here we are brought to the very fundamental question of what is right and what is wrong, a topic that has occupied the minds of many philosophers throughout history. As usual, polytheism can provide us with a rather simple and powerful answer that we can examine further: each tradition has both similar and differing cultural and moral principles, that is to say, its own yardstick to measure right and wrong by. It is not surprising that most philosophers of Western Civilization, drawing from the tradition of Plato (emphasis on the word tradition), always tried to apply moral and cultural universalism, in order to arrive at what is the “best” for all people. This narrow-minded fault and futile attempt (however well-meaning) was attended by another one espoused by a minority of radical philosophers, beginning with Protagoras: that the individual only is the judge of what is right or wrong*. It was only after many centuries following the decline of polytheism and the loss of tradition that a reasonable academic reconciliation was arrived at: the terms “moral relativism” and “cultural relativism” were first used by archaeologists in the early 20th century who sought to explain without bias the differing traditions and beliefs they encountered during their study of various indigenous peoples who had not yet become modern**. The terms have since become well established in archaeology, but are still misunderstood in both philosophy and its other dependents like international law. In the current universal interpretation (which follows Epicureanism and materialism) of what is right and wrong, right is often confused with pleasure and wrong is confused with pain. This is why, for example, some people frown on blood sacrifice and cannot understand (I don’t say approve of) the reason many of our ancestors practiced (though rarely) human sacrifice as part of their rituals. Once again, this attempt at objectivity (another word for universalism) fails in view of the distinct traditions in polytheism, because it is not for outsiders to judge nor can they judge fairly. Indeed, in all cases where outsiders take it upon themselves to correct a perceived “fault” in another tradition, it is a sure sign of imperialism and colonialism. While it is too well-known that this was done and has been done always by monotheists towards polytheists (recently by Indonesian monotheists against indigenous peoples), we must be aware that polytheists did it too. The Romans exaggerated the human sacrifices of the people of Gaul and used it as a pretext to colonize the region, and again afterwards to exterminate the druidic tradition that was promoting resistance to the Romans. Who were the Romans to judge the Gauls? Weren’t there enough Gauls to judge other Gauls? Certainly. But the Romans desired to conquer and used their hypocritical self-righteousness to justify it. The monotheists likewise never ceased to repeat that trick. The conclusion is easy to make from here: Humankind shares a set of broad principles and behaviors we call cultural universals (another archaeological term), but the details are left and must be left to distinct traditions and relativism. This does not divide us, but distinguishes*** us.

 

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*Protagoras is known to have said “Man is the measure of all things”, a statement that carries several meanings, but falls largely within the interpretation above, as Plato understood it. It was certainly a radical thing to preach (because it challenged customs, traditions, and even the Gods themselves) and therefore it afterwards caused, among other untraditional beliefs he held, his banishment from Athens.

**An obvious synonym for “modern” is “western”.

***Pun intended.

Polemical topics for polytheists (part 13): What do the Gods desire most from us?

First view: The Gods mostly desire offerings, prayer, and devotion correctly and sincerely performed

Second view: The Gods mostly desire appreciation through intellectual reflection and spiritual understanding, whereas ritual and other formalities are less necessary in the modern world

Balanced view: The Gods desire all personal efforts to gain their favor (both intellectual or ritual), but mostly as *a means* to a *greater end*, i.e. their glory and restoration through the growth of communities that invoke their patronage, honor ancestral traditions and provide for many future generations to do the same.

 In a recent discussion that followed a post about the problems of an impious community, there was some debate concerning the necessity of a community and how to attain it. But a point arose then which wasn’t directly discussed, i.e. the most important desires and expectations that the Gods have of us. This is a very fundamental concern for polytheism and all the traditions under it not only because it relates to the Gods intimately, but also because our success or failure depends very much on it. Pleasing a God is always a blessing and the opposite may lead to disaster; as self-evident as this observation may be, it is important to reflect a little more on its implications regarding our way of life and our aspirations in their service. Our movement is quite hopeful, but it is more accurate to say that polytheism will probably rise now or never. In spite of competition from atheism, the conditions are absolutely ripe for a huge revival in most parts of the world that are actively escaping from monotheism. A further concern is there are two possibilities for polytheism rising: it may rise strong or it may rise crooked. The Gods will bless us in the first case, but may very well curse us in the second, if we abuse our opportunity and do not follow what they most desire. So, the question is, what do the Gods most desire? Some believe it is piety and devotion, whereas others choose a more intellectual and less ritual path. As shown throughout the series, neither side is entirely right or wrong, but they both are incomplete and invite adjustment or balance. In this case, the two sides shown above lack a greater purpose beyond the satisfaction of the self and a small group. That is to say, they begin well at the task of pleasing the Gods, but do not actively look forward and prepare for the kind of communal and expansive growth that would please the Gods *most* and secure our future power *most*. I am ashamed of this comparison but wouldn’t a chairman of a commercial business always seek to improve and expand the company’s reputation, employees, factories, partnerships, etc. and therefore reward those who contribute to that effort and *punish or remove* those who do otherwise? I couldn’t help but notice the similarity (I don’t say uniformity) of the competition between one business against another and that of polytheism against monotheism or atheism. Now, although it should really be unnecessary to prove how essential community is for our rebirth and the pleasure of the Gods (one need only look at what the monotheists and indeed Hindus do), I find it quite unfortunate and disheartening that many (and well-meaning people) are choosing solitary paths, as if there is no better choice or greater ambition. This resignation (I cannot call it by any other name) is not only insufficient for our true rebirth and successful competition, but also dangerous because it sometimes causes despair and thus reverses piety. I know several people on Facebook who have considered leaving polytheism precisely because they are alone (hence spiritually weak) and don’t have a real community on the ground to support them. When will all this end? To speak for myself, I will certainly not use my website except as a means towards a greater end, even (hypothetically) if it becomes the best website for polytheism with the most subscribers…Our movement may have been fueled by individualism, but it will never last with it alone; this realization must make us reconsider our current practices and prepare for greater (synonymous with holier) undertakings for the sake of our Gods and ancestors. The mere sight or knowledge of the communities of Hindus and even Wiccans (to mention nothing of monotheists) should make us polytheists far more active and hopeful than we now are in pursuing and expanding the collective interests of our movement and indeed the collective desires of our Gods.