The Gods are Still Here:
A Response to Collin Cleary’s Summoning the Gods
French translation here
“The problem with our modern, Western pagans is that they do not genuinely believe in their gods, they merely believe in believing in them” (Cleary, Summoning the Gods, 21). Collin Cleary is probably right about this. In Summoning the Gods, published by Counter-Currents in 2011, he offers very valuable criticism of neopaganism as essentially modernist because of its “rationalist, reductionist, and man-centered” explanations of the gods (p. 2). In this, I am in agreement. However, Cleary’s argument for the way in which we are “closed” to the gods and how we might go about becoming “open” to them seems to make the problem greater than it really is. How did our ancestors experience the gods? How can we come to experience them once again? To find out, why not turn to the world’s one billion Hindus, the remaining survivors of Indo-European paganism?
“My ancestors believed, but I do not know how they believed. I confess that I do not know what it is like to live in a world in which there are gods” (p. 21). Cleary expresses his own experience of being “closed” to the gods, by which he seems to mean being unable to experience the divine (p. 1) or lacking a sense of awe of natural forces (p. 31). This closedness, he argues, is a fundamental problem for neopagans. In “Knowing the Gods,” he writes, “All of our efforts to explain what the gods ‘really’ are, or what our ancestors ‘really’ experienced, are thoroughly modern. It is part of the modern mindset to insist that everything can be explained, that everything is penetrable and knowable” (emphasis in original, p. 14). This impulse is one of the causes of our being closed. We must, therefore, resist explanation and find ways to open ourselves to the gods in order to reestablish an authentic paganism.
This insight is one of the great strengths of Summoning the Gods. Unless we reject modernism and adopt belief in the gods, neopaganism will remain largely a lifestyle choice, something incapable of transforming the West. While I clearly value Summoning the Gods, Cleary is, I argue, creating a larger problem than necessary. We have no need to speculate about the experiences of our ancestors or, despite any other value it might have, develop a phenomenology of the experience of the divine in order to start a grueling crawl back to “openness.” Hindus can answer these questions for us.
Today, one billion Hindus continue to worship and believe in Indo-European gods. They still turn to bone fide priests to carry out the fire sacrifices. They continue the Indo-European tradition of privileging the oral tradition whenever they sit before bone fide teachers and listen to the chanting of the Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads. Their priests, acharyas, and yogis continue to transmit spiritual authority through the generations. I am certainly aware of how modernity is encroaching upon Hinduism, but, nonetheless, the world’s Hindus provide us with an example of widespread “openness” to the gods. They provide us Westerners with an example of how to believe in the gods and, an issue that Cleary doesn’t deal with in Summoning the Gods, how to worship them.
Cleary is critical and perhaps even dismissive of Hinduism, despite his acceptance of using Hinduism, or at least the Vedas, as a means of illuminating European paganism. But his dismissal is based on a misunderstanding of what he calls the “mysticism” of Hinduism. Cleary defines mysticism as the Will’s attempt to “bridge the gap between human and divine” (p. 16). This results in men seeking union with God, which Cleary argues is a way of men saying they are the same as God and, in so doing, lower God to the level of man.
This is not, however, how Hindus see or experience this union. The drop of water, as one acharya taught me, that falls into the ocean is made of the same stuff as the ocean and unites with it, but the drop is not the same as the ocean. The ocean is far greater. The single drop does not lessen the greatness of the ocean when the drop rejoins it. The same is true of man and God. The “mysticism” of the Upanishads is not a backdoor to “Titanic humanism.” Ironically, Cleary recommends yoga as a means of becoming “open” to the gods. But this is the very method by which one may attain the union with God that Cleary denounces.
I suspect that Cleary’s misunderstanding of Hinduism comes from not contending with the competing conceptions of God as either transcendent or immanent. The transcendent God of the Abrahamic religions is a creator god who is distinct from his creation. The immanent God is not distinct from creation; creation is an expansion of that God. This is the divinity of the Indo-European pagans. The immanent God, called Brahman by Hindus, includes the totality of all things within itself. The planets and all life are crystallizations of a fragment of God. All things are made of God-stuff. Even the gods are crystallizations of the immanent divine.
When you dream, all characters and objects within the dream are projections of yourself. You are not the “you” in the dream. That “you” is a limited fragment of your consciousness by which you can enter into the dream and experience it. And you do the same through the other characters in your dreams as well. They are all projections of “you.” This relationship between your waking self and your dreams is an analogy for the relationship between God and creation.
Cleary is aware of the distinction between the divine transcendence and immanence; he refers to it in his valuable critique of Alain de Benoist’s On Being a Pagan (p. 63). Moreover, Cleary expresses at least a hesitant acceptance of the immanence of God when he describes the phenomenology of the experience of the divine as an awe or awareness of the divine in all objects (pp. 28, 30–31). His misunderstanding of the “mysticism” of Hinduism, however, seems to reflect the assumption of a transcendent God in which an individual man unites with a singular, distinct God, as if it was two drops of water that were uniting, rather than a single drop being absorbed into a great ocean. To gain openness to the gods and to learn to believe in the gods the way our ancestors did, we must reorient our thinking about God away from the transcendent God of the Bible and toward the immanent God of the Indo-Europeans.
I state above that Cleary seems to have a hesitant acceptance of the immanence of God. I suspect that he is either inconsistent in his belief or, as he states in “Summoning the Gods” (p. 21), does not actually believe in God or the gods at all. I say this because it seems that Cleary, despite his criticism of the modernism of neopagans, does not himself escape rationalist explanations of the gods. He attempts to preempt exactly this criticism by saying that he does not explain the gods; he provides only a phenomenology of the experience of the divine (p. 38). I’m not convinced.
He seems to offer an explanation, not necessarily of the gods, but of the origins of our belief in the gods when he relates openness to an awe of natural forces. This explanation does not require that the gods, in any meaningful sense, even exist. I agree with him that he is not reducing the gods, by whatever definition, to subjective experiences (p. 38). Something is there, but the “it” that Cleary identifies seems to be merely natural forces, though that is a vague term and perhaps ultimately meaningless. I fear that what Cleary offers us is not a way to come to believe in the gods, but, instead, just a way of being in awe of nature and calling it God. Perhaps it is a common danger that a belief in an immanent divine can degenerate into mere nature worship.
I agree with Cleary on the need for the revitalization of paganism in the West. I also agree with him that we cannot go back to some pure, original religion of our ancestors, a thing that never existed. We must, instead, move forward into a new paganism. On how to do so, I disagree with Cleary. We need not reinvent paganism, as if to recapitulate the millennial-long process by which the myths and rituals of the Indo-Europeans were created. Getting back to nature and doing drugs or yoga is insufficient. What we require is the transmission of these rituals and even awareness of the gods themselves from those possessing the spiritual authority to provide such transmission. European paganism is dead because the lines of transmission are long lost. Cleary, by his own admission (p. 21), does not possess the necessary spiritual authority. I have not seen any evidence of the reconstitution of this authority among any other neopagans either. But there are pagans to whom we can turn for such authority: the priests and swamis of Hinduism.
Not only does Cleary dismiss Hinduism in general, he specifically denounces the primacy of the priest function. He asserts that the Upanishads represent the “destruction of the religion of the warrior and the exalting of the priest as supreme over even the gods” (pp. 16–17). I have already argued against the last part of this claim, that priests see themselves as even equal to God. As for the first part of his claim, the Rig-Veda itself can be read as establishing the supremacy of the priest function above that of the warrior. In 10.90 of the Rig-Veda, it was the mouth that became the brahmin and the arms that became the warriors. This can be readily seen as the brahmins as the ones who direct the warriors and everyone else as well.
In East and West, René Guénon argues, rightly I believe, for a hierarchy of knowledge in which metaphysics is supreme over logic, which is itself superior to religion and science. And who is it that can show us metaphysics, which includes knowledge of the nature of the gods and man? Those of the priest function, the brahmin. In Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, Guénon points out the necessity of a proper ordering of society. Again, the priest caste must be the directing force in order to provide a society with correct metaphysics as a foundation, otherwise the society, as we have seen so clearly in the modern world, will degenerate into chaos. While today, we are under the governance of the producer caste, it is little better to, as Cleary would have us, exalt the warrior caste. To strive for a new paganism is to assert a return to true metaphysics as a new foundation for the regeneration of the West. We cannot establish that foundation without the influence of true spiritual authority.
Cleary seems in “The Missing Man in Norse Cosmogony” to acknowledge the proper ordering of the three functions. There, he relates three forms of odhr or ecstasy to the three functions as they are present together within Odin (p. 124). Of this he says, “These forms of odhr exist, of course, in a hierarchy, with the highest and purest being religious odhr,” which would indicate an acceptance of the priest function as supreme.
So, if we of the West are to reestablish paganism and a true belief in the gods, then let us turn to those with the spiritual authority to guide us, let us turn to the example of Hinduism. It is among Hindus that we continue to find the openness to the gods that Cleary strives for. They can show us how to believe in Odin once again. Moreover, they can show us how to worship him once again. Neopagan worship consists of non-authoritative and unbelieving attempts at reconstruction on the one hand and a mélange of Masonic and romantic imaginings on the other. But Hindus continue to carry out authoritative sacrifices to the gods. Let us join them or at least learn from them.
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