Friday, March 17, 2006

Paganism is Real

Today I went to a play that I needed to for a class; the name of the play is "Coyolxauhqui ReMembers," and it is about the disturbing struggles faced by Mexican immigrants to America and a re-interpretation of the Aztec goddess myth, whose name is Coyolxauhqui.

I noticed a few interesting things while I was watching this play. First, I realized that paganism is alive today. However, the play did not prove that to me, I had a real inclination that it was a real force in humanity today for a while now, but this play proved it. I remembered my Jewish archaeologist-in-training friend, Akiva, who goes on digs in northern Arizona and stays with Native Americans, who told me that some "real avodah zarah is going on there." "Avodah zarah" is loosely translated as "idol worship."

The lesson was also enforced that every society or peoples has gods and/or goddesses that are woven into the very fabric of their society and mentality, or should I say, that most societies are relatively inseparable from their conceptualization of the Divine, be it of many or of the One. Monotheists are the only people that have the One G-d woven in their society's fabric. Therefore, for polytheists, their gods and goddesses serve as historical indicators as well; they are not simply matters of theology, but are also matters of history and politics and the events that shape the experiences of those people. For example, if a people faces severe agricultural hardship, they might conceptualize that their nature god or goddess has become ill and is therefore unable to maintain a healthy harvest. Another type of reaction might be that they fear that they the god or goddess has not found them favorable in its eyes, which causes for the drought. The deities also come into play in regards to political and social situations, such as peace, war, victory, defeat, or oppression; a defeated and oppressed society might view thier god as having been subjugated by another of their gods. Interestingly enough, that society does not view that their god has been subjugated by the god of the victor society, for they do not know anything about the neighbors' gods, which leaves the only possibility that their own national gods are at war.

If we understand this to a certain depth, and we observe this by viewing how a society depicts its deities and how they speak about them, their deities sprout from literary extensions of themselves, metaphorical figures that serve as indicators of that specific society's viewpoints, or that of an individual, or a group of them; a god or a goddess is an external manifestation of a human character trait, given a name and a title, deemed a transcendent being. Furthermore, the people who believed in these deities found it necessary to depict them in literal, physical forms, since they represented such abstract idealizations of real things, and this is why polytheism and idol worship are so intimately related, and why true monotheism forbids imagery, for G-d cannot be fathomed in a finite manner. This is also why the stories of the deities also resemble soap operas, tragedies, or plays, and this concept has been passed down into the Greek culture, which terms them "divine comedies," "comedy" meaning "play."

This is also the reason why the deities of a society express human-like qualities, all of which those who believe in them readily admit, and it is why the gods and goddesses fall into some of the most disturbing human qualities; paranoia, depression, ecstasy, and elation, for example. The gods become external manifestations of deep-seated human qualities that every wise society understands is at the core of the human mentality and behavior. This is why we see manifestations of a "devil" in virtually all religious thought systems, as well as some original creator of nature (as limited to the region of residence). In most religious systems, the devil-character reeks havoc on humanity and is an enemy of the creator deity. In others, it is still an enemy of the creator deity, but was formed from the very deity itself; there is some degree of variation among the different philosophical belief systems. In many of them, it is a male. Furthermore, it is not portrayed as a divine being, it is understood to be a god, a "god of evil" in this case. Interestingly enough, there is not understood as being a "god" or "goddess of good," there is simply a creator deity; there is no duality between a god of good and a god of evil - there is nature and there is evil, and evil comes from nature. Nature and evil are represented as understood as being beings as well as manifestations of an internal human dynamic, and therefore we see the connection between the human being and nature in polytheistic systems, and therefore nature and evil are forever locked in a repeating battle, a cycle, which is represented by the image of the circle - a repeating artistic rendition found in the remains of polytheistic societies.

The cosmos are usually also portrayed as semi-divine beings, assistants to the creator god or goddess, and who counsel it. The stars, for example, serve as counsels for that particular head deity, which makes sense considering that virutally all polytheistic peoples looked to the stars for prophecy. The society and the individuals view the goddesses or the gods as being around since the beginning, meaning that the deities created humankind (or a specific race of humans), and not the vice-versa (that they created the gods) because nobody believes in a god or goddess that they themselves created if they concede that they created it.

Peoples can use their gods and goddess as psychological outlets for suffering, and have, which is the essential theme of the play that I saw today. The play basically plays along the feminist viewpoint of Latina women who find a real struggle both within their own societies and within their place in America. They re-interpret the Aztec myth of the moon goddess, whose name is "Coyolxauqui," who was believed to be a traitor after killing her mother, who was nature. According to the myth, the nature mother goddess felt that her daughter was having "out of this world premonitions" of some sort of impending doom, and therefore killed her mother in order to prevent it. However, her mother was unkillable, which the daughter did not know, and therefore she created an evil god (her son) in order to terrorize the world. In the end, the evil god slices Coyolxauhqi's throat in the same manner that she sliced her mothers, and the nature goddess mother, along with the stars, weep loudly. In their interpretation, the acting group re-depicted Coyolxauhqi as being misunderstood, which has feminist undertones aimed at weakening the inequalities that Mexican women face in their trials.

After the play, the women actors spoke about the meanings behind the play and their lives. One of the women, to my amazement, since it is a topic that I have written about, made the blatant relationship between polytheism and the human sacrifices that the Aztecs practiced, a theological tragedy. The word "Aztec" signifies a general area, not a specific peoples, and the specific people that we call "Aztecs" were actually from "Mexchic," which is the origin of the word "Mexico," which means that many Mexicans are of Aztec origin. They went on to speak about the power of the Aztec empire and how it imposed heavy taxes on its neighboring societies, and became a hated peoples, and tied this into America's role in the world. Furthermore, also to my sheer amazement since it is another topic that I wrote about, was the connection that one of the women made about the willingness of a person to be a human sacrifice and its similarity with suicide bombing. It is clear that in Islam, the world's third monotheistic religion, exists a very powerful polytheistic element - the exuberant desire to kill one's self. Remember that G-d abolished human sacrifices with Abraham, and here we see the descendants of Abraham's second son killing the descendants of the first (and now themselves) by that very method. The rest of the human sacrifices were usually warriors captured in war, an offering to the gods, which is one reason one of the women gave for the defeat of the Aztec empire; their conquerers had scores of living prisoners of war to fight for them.

Lastly, the word appearing in the title, "ReMembers," can also refer to the dismemberment of Mexican women victims while on their way to low-paying jobs in cities throughout Mexico. They were dismembered, so by remembering, they were able to re-member themselves, to put themselves back together. The clay depiction of the Aztec moon goddess shows her in a circle with her arms and legs cut off. It is horrible nightmare, the things that happened (and are happening) to these women, but it is an indication that polytheism is alive in peoples' minds. Monotheism has its work cut out for it yet.

At a point somewhere during the middle of the play, I realized that I was witnessing a polytheistic ceremony of sorts taking place, and I had the strong desire to leave. Thousands of years ago, not even, I might have had the pleasure to see a living human being set ablaze in the service of one of these non-existent gods or goddess. Regardless that I empathize with the plight of the women, I see no real or necessary connection between this plight and the belief in these deities. However, I understand that, even though G-d is the only true G-d, that societies and people have to come to Him on their own, because we have numerous historical examples of what happens when people force their views on to others, even if they are true. People have to adopt G-d, that's the only way it will work. In the end, there is no difference between the Aztec moon goddess, Coyolxauhqi, the Canaanite moon goddess, Asherah, or her Greek counterpart, Astarte; how could a peoples believe a god or a goddess to be real when a different society believes in a similar yet different god or goddess of the same type? Can they not see that their concepts of those deities are almost entirely subjective? Does it not make sense that there is an objective Deity, G-d, the "G-d of the Hebrews?"


Antonio said...

Wow... that was really interesting. Did you know that the majority of polytheists view their own gods as subjective?

jjew said...

Yah, I've read a bit about that. Many times polytheistic groups would adopt and adapt the gods and goddesses of other peoples. On the other hand, they did believe that their deiteis were trascendent beings. Anyway, that's part of the problem with believing in those gods; if they aren't universal then why do they command belief? Peace, Yaniv...