Recently I’ve found the following passage (from The Life of Proclus or Concerning Happiness by Marinus of Samaria) to be extremely interesting and inspiring, especially since it concerns some important insights into the spiritual behavior (and practice) of one of my most beloved heroes:
“Every month he [Proclus] sanctified himself according to the rites devoted to the Mother of the Gods [Cybele] by the Romans, and before them by the Phrygians; he observed the holy days observed among the Egyptians even more strictly than did they themselves; and especially he fasted on certain days, quite openly. During the first day of the lunar month he remained without food, without even having eaten the night before; and he likewise celebrated the New Moon in great solemnity, and with much sanctity. He regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country.
Nor did he, like so many others, make this the pretext of a distraction, or of a debauch of food, but on the contrary they were occasions of prayer meetings that lasted all night, without sleep, with songs, hymns and similar devotions. Of this we see the proof in the composition of his hymns, which contain homage and praises not only of the gods adored among the Greeks, but where you also see worship of the god Marnas of Gaza, Asklepius Leontuchus of Ascalon, Thyandrites who is much worshipped among the Arabs, the Isis who has a temple at Philae, and indeed all other divinities. It was a phrase he much used, and that was very familiar to him, that a philosopher should watch over the salvation of not only a city, nor over the national customs of a few people, but that he should be the hierophant of the whole world in common.”
– Marinus of Samaria, from The Life of Proclus or Concerning Happiness (translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie)
There are three extremely important points here:
- Proclus “regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country.”
- The hymns composed by Proclus praised “not only the gods adored among the Greeks, but . . . all other divinities.”
- Proclus believed that a philosopher “should be the hierophant of the whole world in common.”
In essence, what Marinus is really saying is that Proclus was a true polytheist, who took his polytheism seriously enough to honor the goddesses and gods from many pantheons and traditions. I find this inspiring, and it resonates deeply with my own beliefs and spiritual practices (which I’ve started referring to as “Eclectic Hellenism”). And yet, if Proclus were around today, there would be a vocal segment (I’d like to hope they’re a minority) of the contemporary Hellenic polytheist community who would immediately dismiss (if not outright condemn) one of the most sophisticated Hellenic philosophers and theologians of all time as “just another fluffy eclectic neopagan.” I find this both ironic and rather sad. But after a recent encounter where my own “eclectic” views were completely dismissed (and where I was basically condemned/admonished for “not being a good Hellenist”), at least I can count myself in good company!
I’m fortunate to have mostly surrounded myself with like-minded (or at least equally open-minded) people. I’d wager that every single person in my Grove of family and friends probably has a completely different set of theological/spiritual views and beliefs from everyone else. We honor many different pantheons and many different traditions in many different ways. And we’re okay with that. In my world, diversity is a good thing. Shouldn’t polytheism also promote pluralism, individuality, non-conformity, multiplicity, and an openness to encountering, experiencing, and honoring the divine in many different forms? Is there even a place for such a thing as orthodoxy (or even orthopraxy) in a truly polytheistic worldview?
Anyway, I’d be curious to hear in the comments if others out there have had similar experiences with intolerance in your own dealings with the various sub-groups/traditions that make up contemporary paganism/polytheism . . .