The Pantheon of the Soul

John Bessis

Dear Editor,

One of the clichés that passes for wisdom in our culture is to “Be yourself!” However, I find this euphemism spoken from the lips of our generation to be shallow. It is just so because so often we skip an essential, prerequisite step in our moral development. That is the problem with being born in a modern age. We read the answers, but we don’t understand how they were arrived at. We have memorized the answer to the math formula but when asked, we cannot demonstrate the steps in the equation to arrive at that answer. Consequently, we do not actually know the answer because we do not really know the question. We are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. Before we can begin talk of being ourselves, first we must do the inner work. What work do I speak of?

Written on the ancient wall of the Oracle at Delphi is the inscription, “To know thyself is the first rule of life.” Therefore, the first and greatest question is, “Who am I? What am I?”

There are various and sundry energies in the id of the individual and, therefore, in the collective unconsciousness of humanity. The ancients gave expression to these inner powers by projecting them into their mythologies. Each god personified an aspect of man. Ares is malice. Dionysius is madness. Athena is wisdom. Zeus is power.

Homer said that we are the “playthings of the gods.” Our fates as mortals are largely out of our conscious power to control. Modern science may have demythologized mother nature but indeed these gods still exist as universal, psychological facts about human nature. Wherever there are people coming together in the cover of night, listening to rhythmic music and drinking wine, Dionysius will show up.

The truth is we are still the “playthings of the gods.” Our unconsciousness, our id, is full of gods that constantly vie for control of our behavior. If we were truly the rational beings as we like to think ourselves to be then why do we procrastinate? Why do fail to do our homework? Why do we constantly do stupid things? Why do we lash out against the ones we love?

You have heard it said, “Be yourself!”

But I say, “Which one? I look in the mirror and I see 19 different people staring back at me.”

Within each of us there is a pantheon of gods that are factional, divided and warring for control. That is the nature of polytheism—unmitigated chaos. That is why, in the history of religion, polytheistic mythologies often eventually evolved towards monotheism (in religion) and monarchy (in politics). The only alternative to unmitigated chaos is to choose one god amidst the pantheon to become king of the gods.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Babylon, 1000 years before the Jewish scriptures were written, early civilization was working itself out through its mythology. Abzu, the father god of fresh-water, mates with the goddess Tiamat, who represents the primordial chaos before creation. Together they birth countless gods. However, the gods are jealous of Abzu and collude to kill him. They succeed. Soon after a civil war breaks out among the gods. Tiamat, the god of the original chaos, swears that she will destroy all of her children. Chaos, then, is literally coming to eat her children in the form of a water-dragon. The gods call for a cease-fire. They convene and decide that they should elect one from among them to become their king. The gods end up choosing Marduk, the storm god, as their King and he leads them against Tiamat and slays her.

Why did the gods choose Marduk as their King?

The attributes of the king god were that he could speak fire and his head had many eyes. This symbolized the power of a King to speak to people and the necessity of paying attention and learning. Each Babylonian King wore the robe of Marduk and each year he would be disrobed, chastised and confess to the priests how he had not been a good Markuk that year.

Take a lesson from the Babylonians. Choose the part of yourself that sees with a thousand eyes in every direction and so, cannot be deceived. For self-deception makes it impossible to courageously confront the chaos within, and without. Pick the one that speaks words of fire which is the truth, honestly from the core, for that is power. Crown the one King who confronts the unknown and speaks truth. Let the Marduk in you bring order out of your inner chaos.

John Bessis

General Studies

Floyd Campus