In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The Accusation of Idolatry

On Sabbath nights – when it’s time to conduct a religious ritual for Seth-Typhon – I pull out a big statue of the Red Lord that a friend of mine once gave to me. I light a red candle before the statue, turn off the lights and recite a invocation to the God. As I say my prayers throughout the evening, I address them to the statue – treating it as if it were actually a living, breathing entity. Sometimes I’ll even kiss the statue or give it some of my hard-earned food and drink in a bowl. While doing so, I thank Seth for seeing me through yet another week of stress and hard work. Such practices are actually quite common among most (but not all) polytheists. Hindus call it puja (“reverence”), which is their way of inviting a Deity into their home as a distinguished house guest. Monotheists, on the other hand, call it idolatry (“worship of idols”) and condemn it as the vain and stupid “sin” of worshiping man-made objects rather than a living God.

The accusation of idolatry is one of the things monotheists throw around that angers me the most. It angers me because it’s the result of a misunderstanding that goes all the way back to the biblical prophet Abraham (back when he was still called “Abram”). For example, here’s one of the “cuter” stories from Jewish folklore:

Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship. One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”

– From Judaism 101

Personally, I hope Abraham’s father replied, “I don’t worship the statues, you little jerk; I worship the Gods!” (And then I hope he tanned Abraham’s backside within an inch of his life. That little stunt probably cost their entire family several meals!)

For some reason, monotheists have always thought that we polytheists just randomly make statues, convince ourselves that they’re Gods are start worshiping them like confused primates. Yet there’s absolutely no evidence to support this incredibly ethnocentric bias. Polytheistic cultures have always distinguished between their Gods – who are spiritual beings that animate the entire cosmos – and the graven images they create for those Gods. These images are never mistaken by polytheists for being the Gods Themselves; they’re merely receptacles for the invisible presence of Gods.

Gods are powerful invisible beings that we’ve never been able to completely understand. We can see Them working through natural phenomena, but we can’t actually see Them. It’s like when a person touches a piece of paper. If the two-dimensional figures on that piece of paper were alive, they wouldn’t be able to see the person; they wouldn’t even know that the things touching their world are fingers. They’d only see these five gigantic circles moving around all crazy-like. It’s the same thing with Gods and humans, but the ancients found a great way to get around this problem. They learned that if they created certain images and invited certain Gods to “enter” those images, they could interact with these cosmic beings in an anthropomorphic way. They could demonstrate love and respect for the Gods, kissing Them and making offerings to Them through Their images. The “idols” that monotheists criticize were never considered to be Deities; they’re merely an ancient technology that allowed people to “Skype” with the Gods, so to speak.

I know good and well that Seth-Typhon isn’t really a humanoid being with the head of a canid and rectangular ears. I know He doesn’t literally fight a gigantic snake and that He wasn’t actually castrated. These are merely symbolic images that He uses to express Himself so we can understand Him. The real Seth-Typhon is something no one here on Earth can comprehend or even remotely imagine. I also know that my statue of Seth is not Seth Himself, but a proxy. The way I treat the statue during my religious rituals is merely an anthropomorphic demonstration of my love for the Red Lord. Kissing the statue is the closest I can get to actually kissing Typhon Himself. If someone were to break into my house and smash the statue, I’d be seriously offended; but I wouldn’t feel that the person hurt Seth in any way. Tearing up someone’s photograph isn’t the same thing as tearing up the person him or herself, and the same logic applies here to religious iconography.

This is really no different from how Roman Catholics treat their statues of Jesus. They light candles in front of these statues and talk to them while they pray, but none of them are daft enough to think the statues are actually Jesus Himself. (And even though they make this distinction, they still consider stepping on crucifixes or smashing images of Jesus to be “blasphemous.”) And what about Communion? Catholics believe their bread and wine are actually transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ during Mass. Not symbolically and not mystically, but literally. This is pretty much the same thing as what the Egyptians called “the Opening of the Mouth,” a ceremony in which lifeless statues were magically transformed into living conduits for the Gods. The only substantial difference here (no pun intended) is that Catholics eat the physical manifestation of their God while the Egyptians ate with the physical manifestations of theirs.

Some monotheists also ridicule us for making offerings of food and drink to statues of our Gods. They call it “feeding the Gods,” as if we seriously believed that we have to feed our Deities to prevent Them from dying. Trust me, the Gods and Goddesses are powerful enough to take care of Themselves; They don’t need us to take care of Them. And that’s exactly the point of offering Them food. In ancient times, having enough to eat and drink was a constant struggle. To share some of your food with someone else, then, was the ultimate act of kindness and a sign of honor and respect. To this very day, people still invite or treat each other to breakfast, lunch and dinner as an important communal activity. For the ancients, doing the same thing with the Gods was the single most beautiful form of worship. To return part of what you need to survive and what you work so hard to earn is an extremely powerful way of saying, “Thanks.” It’s also a way of bonding with the Gods in the same way that you bond with your family and friends.

I’ve never expected everyone in the world to agree with my religious beliefs, but disagreeing with people is one thing; propagating misconceptions about them is quite another. Naturally, most of the people who equate polytheism with “idolatry” simply don’t know any better. They, their parents and their grandparents were all raised to make this mistake. Nevertheless, the mistake is every bit as misleading and harmful as the misconceptions that are often circulated about monotheistic faiths. I’m not going to hold my breath, but it’d be nice if more people disagreed with polytheism for what it actually is (and not for what they think it is). I can respect someone who believes differently than I do, but I can’t respect anyone who objects to my beliefs without understanding them.

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3 responses to “The Accusation of Idolatry

  1. nikkie July 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you for saying this! I completely agree. I’ve always got miffed when people chuckle and wax idiotic about polytheism. Its as though they take any knowledge they have about it, directly from Hollywood horror films.

    Like

  2. G. B. Marian June 25, 2015 at 6:27 am

    Reblogged this on In The Desert Of Seth and commented:

    This is another old post of mine that I’m recirculating.

    Like

  3. Rev. Dragon's Eye June 26, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you for bringing this one back up for some more air.

    I think where we need to place the object of argument:

    The statue, talisman, or whatever have you, is a “tool”. Like you said within this article, “a recepticle”. We, as very image-oriented creatures, with an image-oriented Mind, work best with an object, portrait, or something similar, in which we can focus our intentions and energies towards, purely in a symbolic fashion. This is one of things I really appreciate about the “Opening of the Mouth ritual”, in that we create a psychic “pathway”, in which the statue being “opened” becomes as a gateway to the spirit essence of the deity we seek a relationship with. It is often easier for us to concentrate upon something physical and in front of us, that represents who we are addressing, rather than just relying upon purely mental images. There are some who will only work using mental imagery, but not all of us seem to be quite as effective without something physically present, to represent that symbolic, spiritual gateway.

    Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

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