A Pagan Apologia for Petrine Primacy

27 08 2009


When I first read this a year ago, I had to chuckle to myself. I was tempted not to write a post about this, but here I present my gracious hommage to Amercian Catholic apologetics culture.

Why should we listen to the Pope? Because the pagans said so.
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New Orleans Voodoo – Two contrasting videos

7 05 2009

One wonders how accurate this video is. I have yet to read a serious biography of Marie Laveau, mainly because I can’t afford it (sigh). Should we believe that the head of the New Orleans clergy and the chief Voudou priestess worked together in many ways? (Congo Square is about six blocks behind St. Louis Cathedral, almost in its shadow.) Perhaps our own ideas of acceptability when it comes to syncretism are different from those of “good Catholics” from back then. One thing is for sure: Marie Laveau was a fixture at the cathedral throughout her life, and no one tried to throw her out.

Of course, I picked this video because there is not a black person in it. I was recently at the St. Jude Shrine in New Orleans, which has a number of African-American parishioners. There was a woman who was doing something very interesting around the statue of St. Jude, probably something she made up, but it would look like “Voodoo” to anyone else looking on. The one thing about syncretic systems is that they are most authentic when people use them in the style of a bricoleur, that is, not self-consciously, systematically separating the “pagan” from the “Christian” elements. Indeed, it is middle class whites who often exploit syncretic systems, Indian shamanism, etc., in their own anti-Christian, neo-pagan quests for “real spirituality”. Marie Laveau or El Niño Fidencio would have never thought themselves anything but good Catholics when executing their “pagan” rituals. When outsiders arrive to take up their mantle, they more often than not miss that very important point.

Don Juan del Dinero: A Folk Saint for Our Times

16 03 2009


Well, not really a folk saint. More like a benevolent spirit in the cult of Maria Lionza in Venezuela. Here is his “prayer”, in case you are remotely interested:

Yo (diga su nombre) invoco a la sublime influencia del Santo Nombre de Dios Todopoderoso y de Don Juan del Dinero para que me brindes protección y ayuda, para que me libres de la pobreza y la estrechez, me proveas de abundancia y felicidad, que brille para mí la estrella de la buena suerte y la fortuna y el éxito me acompañe en todo lo que emprenda, bajo tu amparo me acojo. Don Juan del Dinero, no me dejes en el olvido y siempre estés junto a mí. Amen.

I (name) invoke the sublime influence of the Holy Name of Almighty God and Don Juan del Dinero so that you may offer me protection and help, so that you may free me from poverty and need, that you provide me with abundance and happiness, that the star of good luck shine for me and may fortune and success accompany me in all that I set out to do, under your patronage I place myself. Don Juan del Dinero, do not leave me in forgetfulness and always be by my side. Amen.

Just thought I’d share, in case you want to have a “folk saint” bailout of your own,

The Indefinite Dyad

10 02 2009


According to Pythagorean doctrine, the Essence of Kronos is to Remain (or Abide), but Rhea has the Power to cause Him to Proceed beyond Himself. However, He must eventually Revert to His Essence to preserve His Identity… In this way the determining, form-imparting power of the Monad emanates outward to inform Matter, but it preserves its form by looking back toward its origin. For if this Procession were to continue without Limit, all Form would be lost in the dark abyss of indefinite chaotic Matter.

Kronos’ essence is to remain Himself, but Rhea has the power to create another, and so from Them Zeus is born. Thus the three phases, Remaining, Proceeding, Reverting, create the Tridynamos, the Threefold Power of the Triune Godhead – Kronos, Rhea, and Zeus – and we read in the Chaldean Oracles:

The World, which saw Thee, Threefold Monad, worshipped Thee.
This means that the Monad contains the Triad of Father, Mother, and Son.

-John Opsopaus, from the Summary of Pythagorean Theology

Physics in Images

5 10 2008

These concepts were traditional in Platonism.  It was considered that the mysteries of Eleusis and, more generally, the ceremonies of the cult and the form of the statues, as well as the decorations and symbols on these statues, had been chosen by sages, in the most distant antiquity, with regard to the cosmos.  This Platonic idea first appears in Varro, who affirms that the ancient sages chose the form of the statues of the gods and their attributes so that, when they are contemplated with the eyes of the body, we can see the World Soul and its parts, which are the genuine gods.  Then at a later stage, for instance in Plotinus, we find the idea that the sages of yesteryear, wishing to enjoy the presence of the gods, saw, when they contemplated the nature of the All, that the Soul could be present everywhere, and that it was easy for all things to receive it, as long as they fashioned some object which, by means of sympathy, was capable for receiving a part thereof.  Here again, the paticular gods appear as emanations of the Soul of the All, and statues of the gods ensure the gods’ presence, insofar as something in these statues is in sympathy with the Soul of the All.  In the text by Porphyry, where mention is made of the occultation of nature according to Heraclitus, the gods and the World Soul are just as closely linked, and traditional religion is physics in images. 

-Pierre Hadot, The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature
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Tenebrae Lucem praecedunt et illa est Mater

30 07 2008

Darkness precedes Light and She is Mother

-inscription in the Salerno cathedral at the altar of the Black Madonna

Daughter of great Protogonus, divine, illustrious Rhea, to my pray’r incline,
Who driv’st thy holy car with speed along, drawn by fierce lions, terrible and strong.
Mother of Jove, whose mighty arm can wield th’ avenging bolt, and shake the dreadful shield.
Drum-beating, frantic, of a splendid mien, brass-sounding, honor’d, Saturn’s blessed queen.
Thou joy’st in mountains and tumultuous fight, and mankind’s horrid howlings, thee delight.
War’s parent, mighty, of majestic frame, deceitful saviour, liberating dame.
Mother of Gods and men, from whom the earth and lofty heav’ns derive their glorious birth;
Th’ ætherial gales, the deeply spreading sea goddess ærial form’d, proceed from thee.
Come, pleas’d with wand’rings, blessed and divine, with peace attended on our labours shine;
Bring rich abundance, and wherever found drive dire disease, to earth’s remotest bound.

-Orphic Hymn to Rhea, translated by Thomas Taylor

The second deity is actually a Mother… She functions “according to life… proceeding and vivifying all things”. She represents the prolific diversity about to be unleashed in the creation of the world, the power which imparts movement to the world through the soul, the principle of motion most proximate to the body. Proclus identifies this powerful causal entity, who is superior to the Creator himself, with the female principle of the universe. She is the Mother of the Creator, out of whose womb were born both he and the world. She is the goddess Rhea as “flux”.

-Lucas Siorvanes, Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science

The dyad is clearly formless, because the infinite sequence of polygons arise in actuality from triagularity and the triad, while as a result of the monad everything is together in potential, and no rectilinear figure consists of two straight lines or two angles. So what is indefinite and formless falls under the dyad alone.

[The Pythagoreans name the dyad] “Rhea”, after its flux and extension, which are the properties both of the dyad and of Nature, which is in all respects coming into being.

-from The Theology of Arithmetic attributed to Iamblichus of Chalcis


There is no dyad then in the Trinitarian true God. God is One and Three, but He is not two. Therefore, He is not feminine. But still notice how the feminine is the thought that comes immediately after God, as the Ecclesia that is the oldest of all creatures, as the Shepherd of Hermas indicates. Could not the Virgin Mary, as icon of the Ecclesia, the first thought that comes after God, and the reason that all things come into being, be the mystical dyad for us? Are these not the waters over which the Spirit of God hovered?

On the Animation of Idols

25 07 2008

Above: the golden idol solo from the ballet, La Bayadère

Plotinus uses almost the same examples in that place where, paraphrasing Hermes Trismegistus, he says that the ancient priests or Magi used to capture in statues and material sacrifices something divine and wonderful. He holds, moreover, with Hermes Trismegistus that through these materials they did not, properly speaking, capture divinities wholly separate from matter but deities who are merely cosmic… Hermes himself put together statues from herbs, trees, stones, and spices, which had within themselves, as he says, a natural force of divinity. He added songs resembling the heavenly bodies; he says the divinities take delight in such songs and so stay a longer time in the statues and help people or harm them.

-Marsilio Ficino, De vita coelitus comparanda

Apollo – Part I

6 06 2008

Above: Peter Martins in the Balanchine ballet, Apollo

How to read this book:

But meanwhile, most careful reader, be indulgent to me -just be mindful of the Apollonian and as it were poetic licence before the Sun, while not disallowing me a more serious and (as the Greeks say) dogmatic content. I have promised an allegorical and, to that extent, a mystical exercise of the wits, in the name of Phoebus the oath-orderer, whose gifts these are. The Muses never argue with Apollo, they sing. And indeed even Mercury himself, the first artisan of argument, although he may discuss weighty matters with Saturn or Jupiter, yet with Apollo he plays, their jests not only fitting but divine. May our play also not be unfitting! But now, having completed this our prelude on light, let us move forth into the light with the fortunate inspiration of goodness itself, that is God on high.

-Marsilio Ficino, The Book of the Sun


Don Marsilio el Curandero

19 05 2008

Or… The Fifteenth Century Translator of Plato Confronts Modernity with Christianized Shamanism

From Leonard George:

Dawn light spills into a large room decorated lavishly in early Italian Renaissance style. Through a window we glimpse the silhouette of Brunelleschi’s famous dome. We are in Florence, in 1464. In the room, a sumptuous four-poster bed frames a dying old man – Cosimo de Medici, Prince of Florence. Huddled nearby, worried courtiers and relatives. When will the Doctor come? Is it already too late? A page enters, followed by a striking gentleman, early thirties, in a white gown. He carries a lyre. “Hail, Doctor Ficino. The Prince is waning fast.” “We haven’t much time. I will need some instruments of medical practice.” “Sir, what do you require? We will fetch it immediately!” Ficino peers intently at Cosimo’s grey face. “Bring me – a statue of Apollo. A gold mirror. Sunflowers in a vase. And a live cockerel. Quickly!” Off scurry the courtiers as the Doctor intones, “Hear me, great Prince! You suffer from a deficiency of solar spirits. A transfusion is needed to save your life. Visualize the sun. I have ordered symbols of solar power with which to surround you; imagine golden spirits flowing into your body with each breath.” Strumming his lyre, Ficino begins to sing the ancient Orphic Hymn to the Sun God. This was holistic healing, Renaissance style

Hear golden Titan, whose eternal eye
With broad survey, illumines all the sky.
Self-born, unwearied in diffusing light,
And to all eyes the mirrour of delight:
Lord of the seasons, with thy fiery car
And leaping coursers, beaming light from far…

-from the Orphic Hymn to the Sun as translated by Thomas Taylor
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New Link

19 04 2008

The featured link of this week is Biblioteca Arcana: a one-stop site for all of your inquiries into late pagan Roman and Greek theology and philosophy, as run by John Opsopaus. I especially recommend his extended essay, A Summary of Pythagorean Theology. Good stuff. The artwork shown above and below is also by the author, found on his site.