File:Vico La scienza nuova.gifTo divine something is to appeal to the gods for their power of knowing. To use that power to foretell the future is called “divination.” In Giambattista Vico’s classic book New Science, he associates the modern sense of God as divine, meaning “blessed” or “holy,” back to the pre-Christian or pagan sense of having supernatural powers of predicting and knowing.

“By contrast, the pagans embraced an imaginary providence, for they fancied the gods as physical bodies which foretold the future by signs apparent to the senses. But whether true or imaginary, this attribute of providence led the entire human race to call God’s nature ‘divinity’. They all derived this name from one and the same notion, which in Latin was called divinari, to foretell the future.”

Vico sees the similarities between pagan practices in the near east as a direct influence on the later worship and practices of the Abrahamic religions. Over time, each of the near eastern pantheons developed a hierarchy among the gods. Perhaps this shift of power accounts for the more recent consolidation of the many gods into one.

I sense too that the shift away from polytheism towards monotheism reflects a shift in consciousness to where our animal senses are no longer a unified experience within a tribe. The loss of the unifying power of a tribal consciousness creates a sense of ownership thereby shifting the source of power onto an individual. You might even say that this shift creates the very distinction between individuals and groups.

Portrayals of a bearded and long-haired Jesus began to emerge in the early 4th century, such as in this work from the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. Inspired by depictions of the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon, the bearded version would become the most commonly recreated adult Jesus. http://ilfattostorico.com/2013/12/25/qual-era-laspetto-di-gesu/

Unlike tribal cultures, city-states are organized through the rites of family and a principle of ownership. Slowly over time, a sense of ownership has permeated every facet of human life, but more importantly, it now shapes our sense of identity. Where in tribal societies the stories came from the gods, our stories now come from a single source, i.e., God, and in the post-Christian west, from each individual subject.

“Long ago, Noah’s three sons renounced their father’s religion, which by its rite of marriage was the only thing that preserved the society of families in that state of nature. There followed a period of brutish wandering or migration, in which first Ham’s tribes, then Japheth’s, and finally Shem’s, were all scattered throughout the earth’s great forest.”

After generations of wandering in the “primeval forest” some of the scattered tribes began to settle and adopt several critical rites which led to the development of what we now call civil laws and civil society.

“These principles are (1) divine providence; (2) solemn matrimony; and (3) the universal belief in the immortality of the soul, which originated with burial rites.”

Vico then states “they were shaken and roused by a terrible fear of Uranus and Jupiter, the gods they had invented and embraced.”

“Through protracted settlement and the burial of their ancestors, they came to found and divide the first dominions of the earth. The lords of these domains were called giants, a Greek word which means ‘sons of the earth’, or descendants of the buried dead.These lords were considered patricians or nobles: for in this first stage of human civilization, nobility was justly ascribed to those who had been humanely engendered in fear of divinity.”

“Engendered in the fear of divinity” or in the gods’ power to know all that humans fervantly wish to know. To be all-knowing is, among other things, a survival skill that moved human civilization from small tribes of hunter-gatherers to agriculturally based nation-states. To cultivate the land requires the knowledge and study of time, including the cycles of weather. The practice of divination is the beginning of what we now call science which continues to influence all aspects of what it means to know something.

To map the heavens, as astrology does, seeks to understand and respect the correlation between the world as it is; time, her seasons and our needs. It’s no wonder that the deities were located in the vastness of the heavens. To look up and outward to a seemingly boundless expanse might itself account for the notion of infinity. To cultivate the people, along with the land, also requires the god’s help:

“These first fathers of the pagan nations possessed all four of the classical virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. They were just in their supposed piety of observing the auspices, which they believed to be Jupiter’s divine commands. (From his Latin name Ious, Jove, derived the ancient word ious, law, which was later contracted to ius, justice. And in every nation, justice is taught together with piety.) They were prudent in making sacrifices in order to ‘procure’ omens, that is, to interpret them properly, and thus to take proper care to act according to Jupiter’s commands. They were temperate by virtue of their marriages. And, as noted here, they also possessed fortitude.”

Vico traces our Judeo-Christian cultural sensibilities directly to pagan antiquity. Although our modern definition of “divine” can mean anything from a brand of chocolate (yum!), to God as the Divine and Holy one, the association of divinity to the primal necessity of knowing, expresses both the value and power that all knowledge has held for us throughout the ages.

But, to lose a cosmology which at one time enabled us to directly experience a correspondence between each other, and the world we inhabit, is to suffer a great alienation and aloneness. We moderns, because our use (and abuse) of power comes through a pronounced sense of individuality, seem to think it’s a matter of our choosing which direction our lives and the future of the planet are headed. I am beginning to question just how true or not that notion is. If predicated on a faulty premise, maybe there’s more to the story. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Our present civilization quite obviously lacks any unifying principle. The degree of unity which the vague term ‘modern civilization’ implies is in many ways a ‘unity of disunity’, the peoples involved being given a superficial coherence by the spread of technology and by common acceptance of certain ways of thought whose very nature is to create further disintegration.”
Alan W. Watts, The Supreme Identity

Except as noted, all quotes from Vico, Giambattista (1999-04-29). New Science (Penguin Classics). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

13 thoughts on “Divine

  1. Hi Debra,

    I’m going to take a shot at your closing question… “We moderns, because our use (and abuse) of power comes through a pronounced sense of individuality, seem to think it’s a matter of our choosing which direction our lives and the future of the planet are headed.”

    I am feeling more and more of late that we face but one choice– to allow ourselves to be opened and influenced by Love’s presence, or not. And the nature of both our personal and collective experience seems to hinge upon this in my opinion. We are not the heroic figures we once aspired to be, perhaps, the controllers of destiny, but are more like flowers in a meadow. We can’t really say we chose the meadow to be where or as it is, but we do have some say about whether we receive the sunlight available to us or not, and in receiving it, there may be some mysterious-magical alchemy that occurs within us… Something we would never have known possible from the near side of our choice to be influenced by the light. We may indeed become birds of flight, or worms traveling through the soil. Who can say what will arise from the opportunity this meadow offers? Who can say they control it or planned it?

    Perhaps none, and yet some simple choice remains…



    1. Hi Michael,

      I agree that with every breath, step, and decision we make, we can keep love in mind, or not. And that it matters. I must admit for myself though, that just maybe I am a more loving creature as age, wounds and awareness have opened me up a bit. But, there was a time when nothing could help me to feel love’s presence, therefore leaving me loveless and unlovable, not because people didn’t love me, or I didn’t know of love’s existence, but more that I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t let love in. I couldn’t let love live in and through me.

      My question remains: how does one find, or be that opening? What happens when someone awakens to love? Is it really will or choosing? I think partly yes, one has to know, understand and be capable of making a choice, yes? But I don’t think people, by virtue of their birth, or their humanity, are necessarily capable. Some wounds are so deep that they keep us far from love’s reach. Or, as I believe, there are influences and powers that we don’t see, and certainly don’t acknowledge, that possess us.

      Although we think of ourselves as individual in nature, I think we absorb emotional currents around us like sponges. Especially you can see this in children. How is a child who is surrounded by adults who are living through their own wounds able to feel love?

      I do agree though that our personal and collective fate hinge on love’s presence and influence. I can’t say one way or the other though as to where we’re headed. Without knowing the end of the story, how can we know what chapter we’re in now?

      Thank you for your note and for sharing your wisdom here. I think you and I may consider ourselves blessed to have felt the power and beauty of love and for knowing we are the meadow!


      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Long ago, Noah’s three sons renounced their father’s religion, which by its rite of marriage was the only thing that preserved the society of families in that state of nature. There followed a period of brutish wandering or migration, in which first Ham’s tribes, then Japheth’s, and finally Shem’s, were all scattered throughout the earth’s great forest.”

    What an analogy! Three representing the symbolic process of coming to consciousness but yet unformed; the earth’s great forest, our wandering — are they not the pursuit of self-knowledge?


    1. Hi Evan,
      Yes, I can see the three wanders in the primal forest as pursuing self-knowledge. I think too that there’s a willingness to live with risk and mystery. When humans settled the land, perhaps the trade off between living in the wild where there is remains something to pursue, with the safety of culture, cultivation, and civil society where one’s sense of self is more readily given through the culture.
      Thank you for that addition!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Debra,
    Forgive my enthusiasm for the ideas you’ve stimulated through your post, but I wanted to leave you with a quote from Jung that seems to apply:

    “The collective representations that connect primitive man with the life of his ancestors… form the bridge to the unconscious for the civilized man also, who, if he is a believer, will see it as the world of divine presences. Today these bridges are in a state of partial collapse, and the doctor is in no position to hold those who are worse hit responsible for the disaster. He knows that it is due far more to a shifting of the whole psychic situation over many centuries, such as happened more than once in human history. In the face of such transformations the individual is powerless. The doctor can only look on and try to understand the attempts at restitution and cure which nature herself is making..” From his Practice of Psychotherapy — thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Evan,
      Wow! I must have been channeling Jung yesterday 🙂
      Although I have read a lot of Jung, it’s been a number of years. The only contact I have with his ideas now are reading an occasional quote.
      Thank you very much for the quote. You really know your Jung Evan. I am most impressed!
      I have been obsessing over the idea of states of consciousness and how they are formed both collectively within cultural paradigms, but are also heavily influenced by currents of cosmology. For example, that photo of earth taken from the 1969 lunar landing. It changed everything, I think, along with all of the other images of galaxies and faraway places. The imagination of the heavens is now filled with these images, depersonified objects.

      Anyway, I am rambling. Thank you for the notes here. I really appreciate the Jung quotes.


  4. Debra,
    Very nice post. An interesting side note on the beginnings of cultivation and divine guidance was recounted by Jung in his Symbols of Transformation:
    The Wachandi tribe of Australia performed a ritual every spring in which the warriors of the tribe gathered around a deep pit they’d dug in the ground for the ritual. They threw spears into the it (no women were allowed, they would be killed on sight) while shouting that it was not a pit but a ****…” — a vagina. Jung explained it as the means by which sexual energy was channeled into an analogue in the interest of culture. Your post describes some of the historical material that led to his theory of psychic energy, which he saw as future oriented: divine or prescient, as you explain. Great ideas, thanks.


  5. CosmicDrBii

    You wrote:

    “I sense too that the shift away from polytheism towards monotheism reflects a shift in consciousness to where our animal senses are no longer a unified experience within a tribe. The loss of the unifying power of a tribal consciousness creates a sense of ownership thereby shifting the source of power onto an individual. You might even say that this shift creates the very distinction between individuals and groups.”

    There is a lot condensed in that paragraph! Many strong insights!

    I can see that with the Shipibo – who are the indigenous people that I know best and work with in the Peruvian Amazon – the loss of what you call a tribal consciousness and the growth of their own form of individuality is related to: evangelic missionary activity (promoting the one God); increased other forms of contact with Western culture (especially now mass media); migration to the city from rural jungle communities; and the loss of their natural resources. All of these combine to take them further away from their more intuitive animal senses and their animistic cosmovision.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Paul for the note! It must be bittersweet to see all that you see in the Peruvian Amazon. Perhaps someday there will be a bit of an integration between the two distinct ways of being.


  6. Individuality seems very first world to me, stemming from the explorers like Columbus, Vespucci, and beyond. Remembered studying manifest destiny in high school and the desire to travel, seek , and perhaps master or conquer? I am aware that the seizing of civilizations does not stop in the West, but when I think of the East, I imagine the power of the tribe or collective. The way of the indigenous, rather then the individual.

    PS, I do believe chocolate is worthy of worship and the Aztecs would agree 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Linda,
      Thank you for your note!
      We westerners are a different breed, yes? It’s hard to say where we’re headed, but we sure do live in interesting times. I would say too, that once the cat is out of the bag, there’s no going back. As CosmicDrBii says about the Shipibo peoples, once they are urbanized and westernized, they too lose the tribal animistic sense. I like to think that somewhere down the road these two distinct ways of being will influence and balance each other, but who knows?
      Oh yeah, chocolate is the food of the gods!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I was listening to Gabor Mate the other day and he was positing that this dis-integration of the self from the community goes back to when we started to settle into different city states. I am not sure if I agree.
    I would argue that it has been clearly exemplified from the time of the Protestant Reformation. Max Weber’s book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” is a book that I read that formed the basis for the above thought. I am not saying there was a time specifically that this dissociation from the herd to the individual came about, but think there is something to the theory.
    Great post. Wonderful to see your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jim,
      Thank you for the note! I am not familiar with Gabor Mate, but I do agree with you that the Protestant reformation brought us further down the road of a literal understanding of God, Christianity and what the Bible is and means. I am guessing that any changes in consciousness are very slow and hard to pin down as to a particular moment when we lost the sense of tribal communion.

      In some ways, we probably still participate tribally – Jung may have called this the collective unconscious. The disjointedness is perhaps from our inability to recognize, feel and sense the connections between us. Another issue that goes along with the loss of an immediate connection that people in groups easily have is that of authority. We no longer have an authority that we all agree upon. When the gods disappear, and we no longer sense their presence, we turn to a human heirarchy, waiting for a Messiah, a political figure, or someone whose opinion we can trust and rely on. I think this leads us moderns to endless searching and an inability to trust in ourselves. When there is a god we can trust, that trust enables us to trust ourselves. We want an expert to tell us something we can believe in, but do we ever really believe in anything, or anyone? Speaking for myself, I don’t, and less and less do I feel the need to believe. People and life’s experience is more comfortable for me without placing the burden of expectations on others, or even myself.

      Perhaps we need to fall apart in order to trust that we can survive such an upheaval. If the gods are dead, taken away from us for our lack of belief, what we experience comes from some unknown place. The mystery of life can and will show us the way, even if it’s not one we expected. If we live in the absence of gods and authorities to mirror our experience, we may make a place for them to once again enter in to our experience. Does this make any sense? I think I am still trying to formulate something not quite within reach.

      Liked by 1 person

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