The world is full of isms; sometimes political, sometimes philosophical, often religious and always pompous. These ideological frameworks are so much a part of our vernacular that we blur past much of their meaning. The result of this is that most people don’t even know what an ism is or to which one a person may be referring.
The word ism has its Greek origin in ismos, a word that helped to form finished doctrines or ideas out of abstract nouns. Simply put, ismos, like its linguistic child ism, means a finished and holistic system of ideas.
Arguably the most famous of the religious isms is monotheism, a system of ideas in which one accepts the existence of only one god to the exclusion of all others. Modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the world’s three biggest religions, fall within this system. As such, the adherents of these three religions are instructed from a young age to never even contemplate any other religious framework from which to examine the universe. When confronted with any sort of Paganism, they are taught that this ism’s ideas are evil and to be resisted.
A deeper look into the past and origins of these three great world religions will see that there is a different ism at work. One which helped to define and codify not only the sacred texts of these great faiths but the very idea of a sovereign God-head; without which these religions would not exist. This ism is not only crucial to the origins of these great faiths, but it is also remembered by the great masters of antiquity. This religious framework has been passed down from teacher to student throughout the generations of the Order of the White Road. Without it, the Order could not explain the plethora of religiously valid experiences of many of its members. Armed with it, the Order has avoided the unhealthy dogmatism of the world’s other great faiths. Faiths that shut the minds of their respective faithful and force them, before they are old enough to think for themselves, to form opinions about truth which they can seldom liberate themselves from.
Seen in this light, this ism could be the key to the first gate of the path of the White Road. Mere acceptance of this ideological framework will help to broaden the mind of the thinker and reconcile the great observations of the ancient philosophers and holy men with all the knowledge gained by modern science. This ism has become one of the founding principles of the Order of the White Road and yet is often unknown or misunderstood by many of the Order’s neophytes.
This ism is henotheism, and it is the fount of all the Order’s spiritual principles. This blog is important then, for understanding this one idea is the very beginning of the Road. Henotheism is “the worship of a single god without denying the existence of others.”
When the Order’s teachers first expose their students to this idea, they often mistakenly associate it with one of the myriad of religious compromises coming out of the New Age movement. They do not understand that henotheism is not a compromise between paganism and monotheism, born of the modern world. It is an accepted religious reality of the deeply arcane.
To make this point, we return to the modern world’s three great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Taken together, these faiths are known as Abrahamic religions since they take their origins from the great father Abram or Abraham, first mentioned in the Hebrew tradition in the Torah. The Torah clearly states that Abram was born from a man named Terah, whose family originally lived in the region around the city of Ur (Gen 11:27-28). Ur has been identified by archeologists to be along the Euphrates River and was once part of the Akkadian and Babylonian empires, respectively. While not in the bible directly, the Rabbah (an extra-biblical, rabbinical text meant for instruction) denotes in Chapter 38 that Terah was, in the tradition of his Babylonian homeland, a pagan and an idol worshipper. This is backed up by the text itself, when in Genesis 11:31 it states:
“Now Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and led them out of Ur of the Chaldees, to go to the land of Canaan…”
The land of Canaan was the region which is known now as modern-day Israel/Palestine. It was home to a series of Canaanite kingdoms who believed in and followed paganism that worshipped the greater Canaanite pantheon. Chief among these gods was the god El. In Abrahamic circles, after the covenant of God with Abraham (Gen 15), Abraham’s tribe and the Hebrews after him worshipped the supreme God that they called “El Shaddai.” More interesting than this, while Abraham was in great contact with this God of Creation throughout his narrative in Genesis, his covenant with God to serve only Him took place immediately after the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek. In Gen. 14:18-20, we find:
“Now Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth; and blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hands.’ Then Abram gave him a tithe of all.”
The repeated use of “God Most High” from a king of a Canaanite city and admitted priest of God shows that there are other gods which are not as high as He. It was after this famous and mystical encounter with the priest of God before the establishment of the Jewish priesthood that Abraham found his relationship with this same Most High God solidified. With the words:
“’I am the God who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.’ And he [Abram] said, ‘Master and Lord…’”
To strike a covenant in ancient Middle Eastern tradition means the same thing as it would if we were to sign a contract today. The covenant between Abraham and God was simple: God commanded that Abraham serve only Him and no other god as a kind of chief priest; in exchange, God would offer all the land of Canaan to his descendants. This promise would be brought about through a miracle of children born to his elderly, barren wife. In the above passage, Abraham’s agreement to this new henotheistic form of spirituality is signified by the terms “Master” and “Lord.”
The story of Abraham and the cultural context which surround him is not even the Bible’s most direct example of henotheism. Consider Exodus 12:12, where God brings judgment upon the gods of Egypt; 1 Samuel 4, where the Philistines fear the Israelites because they are bearing the Ark of the Covenant (why would you fear a divine item if you didn’t believe in the divinity fueling it); and Exodus 3:13, where Moses, an Egyptian pagan nearly from birth, asks God to identify himself, presumably to differentiate the God that sends him from any other gods which may have existed in the Hebrew pantheon.
These examples do not even scratch the surface of the extra-biblical, qur’anic, cultural, and archeological evidence of the practice of henotheism among much of the Middle Eastern world. It also helps to explain the second of the ten commandments.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
Using the term “before” is consistent with the henotheistic ideal. Some scholars would rather translate before as besides, but the argument from henotheistic scholars is that this small deviation in translation makes little difference. Moses and the Hebrew people should not equate the God which now addressed them with either the gods of the land from which they came (Egypt) or the land to which God would send them (Canaan). That He differed in degree or nature from these other gods and was superior to them.
The second commandment, taken not as the above excerpt but as its entire text (Exodus 20:3-6), further shows that God demanded no sacrifice or service be made to other gods. What remains to be understood is why. Why would El, a supreme creator god, create an entire pantheon of lesser gods and deities, only to demand that they not be worshipped by humankind?
In the first part of this blog series, we explored the concept of henotheism – what it is, and what some of its Jewish and Canaanite origins are. What remains for us to explore moves out of the realm of history and theology and into the realm of divinity itself. Here in Part Two, we pose “Why?” as our central question. Why would the supreme God create an entire universe with a myriad of gods, goddesses, pantheons, angels, and various hierarchies of spiritual beings, all to deny the worship of these lesser creatures?
A detailed exegesis of these matters would cause the revealing of far too many internal Order secrets. The seeker and the neophyte are invited to continue, but with the caution that there lies at the center of what follows a giant hole. The hole is a question which cannot be answered – “How do you know?”
For the seeker who is not yet a member of the Order, we urge you to pursue our explanation both in source texts and by pursuing a career within the Order of the White Road. For the initiate or neophyte already a member, we encourage you to ask your masters or mentors more on this topic, using this article as an ice-breaker to begin that conversation. In the meantime, we hope that by admitting that we will omit this central question, that the reader will take us in good faith of our detailed hermeneutics and be edified by what follows.
If we begin with a question to God Most High regarding his motives, then we must also begin by understanding the idea of Truth. Truth is defined, but for our purposes, we will use the Correspondence Theory proposed by Thomas Aquinas. Said plainly, this theory says that a thing is true if what is known about it corresponds exactly with how it really is. If I think that the sky is blue, and the sky truly is blue, independent of my knowledge of this, then it is said to be true.
The problem with this theory is self-evident. There are many things that we do not know or know accurately. If I am a colorblind person, I may believe that the sky is green. A regular-sighted person may see blue, but we are both wrong. Upon further research, we find that the sky has no inherent color. The apparent blueness is merely the scattering of light from the atmosphere. We would be quickly forgiven for not knowing this self-evident truth. This “truth” is one that would be argued by most of humankind based on observation. In both cases of the colorblind and non-colorblind person, our senses are not lying to us. This is simply to say that when we report the color we see; we are telling a truth, but this still doesn’t fit within the Correspondence Theory of Truth. While it may be how I see it, it is not the way it truly is and therefore does not “correspond.”
Coming from this position, it can and has often been argued that it is then impossible to know any truth which would actively be the same as if no aim truth existed. The Correspondence Theory of Truth seems to then lead us to relativism. Until we come to understand that the Correspondence Theory does not demand that a true thing be known by any mind but that so long as any mind can make a correspondence with the reality of a thing, it is true. Since we begin with the first principle of God being a mind that knows all things as they truly are, we can say that a thing is true if how it corresponds to what God knows of it. It follows logically that human beings can often come to apparent truths (like with the blue sky) but these truths are often only the best guesses of transient minds dealing with limited perspective. Put another way, humanity can be wrong and often is.
Could it be possible within the grand spiritual design of the multiverse that a god or goddess exists for other than to merely be worshipped by one small race, inhabiting one small rock, in one small corner of that vast existence?
I would posit that it is not only possible but likely.
The Order has a doctrine known as the Balance. We will not cover this principle, but neophytes and initiates will know what is meant here by the term. With that audience primarily in mind, we ask you to understand that many gods and goddesses throughout history come into existence inheriting some small aspect of creation. In this sense, we see that the gods, goddesses, fae, and elementals act in some utilitarian capacity to govern some small part of the universe’s proper working order. These beings are governors within the Balance. Charged by the divine Creator to be a kind of celestial middle-management, holding in check the universe’s various laws and forces. In this sense, the gods and various spirits could be equated with these forces. Paganism (not to be confused with paganistic pantheism), monotheism, and henotheism forbid the specific worshipping of these forces as opposed (with paganism) to the divinities that govern them.
For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature;
and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists,
nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works;
but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air,
or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water,
or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.
If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods,
let them know how much better than these is their Lord,
for the author of beauty created them.
And if people were amazed at their power and working,
let them perceive from them
how much more powerful is the one who formed them.
For from the greatness and beauty of created things
comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.
Yet these people are little to be blamed,
for perhaps they go astray
while seeking God and desiring to find him.
For while they live among his works, they keep searching,
and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.
Yet again, not even they are to be excused;
for if they had the power to know so much
that they could investigate the world,
how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?
Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-9
Many readers who are coming from a New Age paganistic world view may be resistant to this idea, believing that the universe began not with one but with two – feminine and masculine – aspects of creation. Others may observe that if God needed intermediaries in the universe’s governance, then He may not be all-powerful.
For the former issue, the neophyte/initiate is invited to consider that all art bears the signature of the artist. The universe must function in whole or in part as its Creator does. While a progeny after its kind is indeed perpetrated by the masculine and feminine aspects of a species, this is not how any species has its origin. Consider that the Big Bang erupted from the singularity, spawning from its one infinitely small point all that we see. Consider also that a star is born from a single speck of dust; that a cell divides out of itself only once a single cell has been created; that all aspects of a thing are themselves just subdivisions of a whole – usually this thing’s progenitor. This is such that a human may be male, female, or somewhere in between, but all are homo-sapiens.
If the reader is of the belief that the universe had to start in duality, I would urge you to consider why nothing thereafter followed suit. The universe is itself prefixed by the Greek word uni, meaning one or whole. As for the latter problem, one can only speculate into the minds and methods of the divine so far. All sources (paganistic and Judaistic) agree that the Creator is indeed all-powerful (a point which pure logic would demand), all equally agree that the gods or the divine Godhead Himself formed a government to govern the celestial and earthly realms under His supreme rule.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
As with all governments organized under a monarch, the sovereign Godhead formed a bureaucracy of spiritual beings to manage and micromanage the primeval forces of the universe. However, in doing this, it could not be the intention of the Godhead to take from his own sovereignty. For being a metaphysically necessary being, He was indivisible and the only creature that could hold itself in existence without a cause. Even in looking in the ancient mythologies of other paganistic cultures, we find that the gods themselves are caused to be (brought forth out of a creator god or borne of another god/goddess/force) and thus, not only their origin but also their continued being, is contingent rather than primary.
With this in mind, except for the supreme non-contingent God, all other so-called divinities, no matter their power, wisdom, or magnificence, are much like human beings in that they are contingent. Simply, we are all the children of the same divine parent, whether deity or man. Therefore, by what right do these lesser gods demand worship from us if we accept worship to be an acknowledgment of pure sovereignty over the inferior?
Again, we return to sympathy with those students coming from neo-pagan backgrounds who may raise concerns that this article is forcing them to give up belief in and devotion to their gods entirely. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither the Order nor any of its individual masters make such demands of their students. The Order acknowledges and honors the contributions of the great pagan masters as they have aided the magi of all generations in the discoveries of metaphysical truth. The way we would reconcile the commandments of the ancient magi to honor the gods with the logical imperative and necessity of the existence of a supreme, sovereign God was articulated best by that giant among ancient masters, St. Thomas Aquinas.
“According to what has been stated above, where there are different aspects of that which is due, there must be different virtues to render those dues. Now servitude is due to God and to man under different aspects: even as lordship is competent to God and to man under different aspects. For God has absolute and paramount lordship over the creature wholly and singly, which is entirely subject to His power: whereas man partakes of a certain likeness to the divine lordship, forasmuch as he exercises a particular power over some man or creature. Wherefore dulia, which pays due service to a human lord, is a distinct virtue from latria, which pays due service to the lordship of God. It is, moreover, a species of observance, because by observance we honor all those who excel in dignity, while dulia properly speaking is the reverence of servants for their master, dulia being the Greek for servitude.”
Suma Theologica: Second Part, 2, Q103, Article 3, Section 5
Here, the great teacher instructs us in two forms of adoration: one higher (latria) and one lower (dulia). In other parts of the Suma, Aquinas also alluded to an intermediary form of devotion which he termed hyperdulia (greater veneration). Within the context of the theosophic views of the Order of the White Road, that being which is closer in kind to the Creator is logical because of veneration which is closer to that which we owe the Creator Himself.
Since the gods are like men but are greater in degree, they are due veneration, we shall call dulia. Here, this means that we owe them a certain level of respect and service. Through the concept of dulia, we can acknowledge a divinity’s superiority to our human nature and enter (cautiously and with great discernment) transactional relationships with them. This is much the same relationship that the ancients would have with the lesser gods (i.e., provide a boon to the god, and the god shall help or guide you).
Moving up the celestial hierarchy, we find Saints, which can be defined as ascended human masters who by sheer force of effort have found a new nature other than their fallen mortality. We owe to these beings and to the angels respectively adoration we shall call hyperdulia. In this form of adoration, we respect the saint more than the god because they have attained their measure of divinity by force of pursuit, will, or good living rather than being born into that nature innate to themselves.
We owe the angels the same form of veneration, for, as the study of the Sephirot would reveal, they have been created closer in nature to the Creator and unlike the gods are His direct servants who may at times intercede on our behalf to the very throne of Heaven.
Finally, we come to latria, which is a form of loving total devotion. Not only are we called within latria to serve absolutely to that object of our veneration, but to do so willingly, lovingly, blindly, and totally. Seen in this light, we begin to understand the difference in the degree between dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. This exposes a keen distinction which, upon the first inspection, is difficult for the initiate or neophyte to understand, but which a deeper investigation clarifies: the difference between worship and dialogue.
It is not forbidden within the Order to enter into dialogue with any force or creature (except for dark or evil forces). When we enter into such dialogue, we do so with a keen eye on the fact that these lesser spirits may be greater than us but could never be as great as the Most High, given their contingent nature. In that sense, they are like us. Like elder siblings, they deserve our respect, but not our worship. We approach the supreme Godhead otherwise with recognition of total inferiority, powerlessness, and subservience. Because the supreme Creator God is that non-contingent being from which all other beings derive their existence, then we accept that the difference in kind between us and the divinity which we approach is not one of degree, but of absolutism.
We exist by the grace of this divinity, which had no need of us before our birth, and gains no benefit after our birth. No sacrifice could sate it, for in giving a sacrifice over to it, you would merely return the substance of a creature brought forth from it and held in being by it. The substance of this creature, therefore, belonged in its entirety not even to itself, but to its Creator alone.
The lesser gods, too, owe their being and continual existence to this same creative force and there are but two creatures: The Creator, and the Created. Before the Creator, we are all equal in that we are infinitely less than Himself.
To understand this principle is not a denial of advancement, but rather a humble acknowledgment of each of our limits. We start down the White Road with our first principles properly observed and our egos checked in the world we left behind. “There will always be something bigger than me” is an important mantra of which to remind oneself. Even if I am the greatest fish in the ocean, there is still the ocean. Seeing this as true before we even take one step down the Path preserves in each of our adherents a sense of humility, no matter how far we may rise. It also ensures that even an ascended master of the highest caliber will always have someone to worship and something for which to feel awe.
Acknowledging that there is a “Most High” does not force man to be the lowest but ensures that we always have someone to look up to. This is why henotheism is the key to the First Gate. The first principle from which one can begin to see the truth and imagine the universe is far removed from those characteristics we human beings assume to ascribe to it.
So, having outlined as best I can the case for henotheism, I leave you with the bigger test, to grapple with its truth.
Blessing upon the path.