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THE MATERIALISM OF ORPHISM

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Εὐριπίδης Ἄλκηστις 962-976 [1], trans. Arthur S. Way, Public Domain. 

I have mused on the words of the wise,
Of the mighty in song; 
I have lifted mine heart to the skies, 
I have searched all truth with mine eyes; 
But naught more strong 
Than Necessity* have I found: there is naught 
In the tablets of Thrace. 
Neither drugs whereof Orpheus taught, 
Nor in all that Apollo brought 
To Asclepius’ race, 
When the herbs of healing he severed, and out of their anguish delivered 
The pain-distraught. 
There is none other Goddess beside 
To the altars of whom 
No man draweth near, nor hath cried 
To her image, nor victim hath died. 
Averting her doom.

* Prof. Way translates this as “Fate” but the word is Ἀνάγκας, “Necessity.”
   
THE KÓZMOS IN ITS PRIMORDIAL STATE

T
he primordial situation of the Kózmos (Cosmos; Gr. Κόσμος) is not able to be defined, as the Neo-Platonic philosopher Damáskios (Damascius; Gr. Δαμάσκιος) states, it is ineffable [2] or what Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς) called Unutterable, concerning which it would seem that Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος), Orphéfs, the Chaldean Oracles, Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων), and Sohkrátis (Socrates; Gr. Σωκράτης) are all in agreement. [3] This Unutterable Principle is the Universe. In Greek the Unutterable Principle is called Árritos Arkhí (ρρητος ρχή), árritos meaning "that which cannot be expressed" + arkhí, "beginning." Another interpretation of the Árritos Arkhí is that it is forbidden to speak of it, as the word árritos can also mean "not to be divulged."


THE ROLE OF ANÁNGI

The force of Anángi (Ἀνάγκη), Necessity, together with Khrónos (Χρόνος), Time, pushed a portion of the primordial mixture into the division of its constituent parts, resulting in the birth of a new condition. The creative force of Anángi is the greatest force in the universe. The primordial Anángi is not dependent on Ǽrohs (Ἔρως), Attraction. Anángi causes the potential of the Unutterable Principle to be expressed. This is true not just once in remote history but at every evolutionary step and is continuous (ἀειγενεσία, perpetual generation). The constituent parts of the primordial mixture which are pushed into division are called ousía (οὐσία), matter, material, or substance. This material is of two kinds.


THE MATERIALISM OF ORPHISMÓS

Orphic Materialism is the view that the Kózmos consists of material substances. This material is primordial and does not arise out of "nothing," as is said in the Dærvǽni (Derveni; Gr. Δερβένι) Papyrus:

"...beings that are now come to be from the already subsistent..." and "...the beings that are now come to be from (or: out of) subsisting things." [4]

Thus, the view of Orphéfs is (in Latin, as is famously expressed in Western philosophy) creatio ex materia ("creation from [pre-existent] matter"), not as the monotheistic religions believe, creatio ex nihilo ("creation from nothing"). "Creation," from this perspective, is not so much a creating but more of a revealing of what already exists. If something exists, it must consist of something, and that something is called material or substance. The monotheistic theologians talk of the spiritual versus the material, and they say that the soul, for instance, is spiritual. But if the soul exists, or anything, really, it must consist of something; if the soul consists of "spiritual" substance, it is still some kind of substance, some kind of material. This is why we avoid the term spiritual and generally equate it with superstition. There is a similar dualism in Platonism, separating mind and matter, which is discussed more thoroughly below.


The view of Orphéfs is a materialistic view, but not in the sense we are accustomed to; this materialism is not somehow "lower" than some unknown something else. Since there is nothing which is immaterial, there is nothing separating us from the divine. And because of this understanding, we are not afraid of the natural world, as if it is somehow "sinful;" quite the contrary, the natural world is sacred. The materialism of Orphéfs is not hedonism. Ordinarily, materialism is thought of as unbridled indulgence in sensual pleasure, the accumulation of "things," and the subordination of everything to one's own comfort and security. Aligning one's life with the world as it truly exists, the Kozmic materialism unveiled by Orphéfs does not support hedonistic pursuits. The profane world of hedonism is the result of a life lived out of harmony with the natural world. 

Now, what 'material' is Orphéfs talking about?


THE TWO PRIMORDIAL KOZMOGONIC SUBSTANCES

Of the material from which the Universe consists, there are two primordial kozmogonic substances, what Orphéfs calls Earth (Yi or Ge; Gr. Γῆ) and Water (Ýdohr or Hydor; Gr.Ὕδωρ). In various kozmogonies we find more substances: Earth, Water, Fire, and Aithír (Aether or Ether; Gr. Αἰθήρ), the classical elements, but the teaching of Orphéfs is that Water = Fire = Aithír. It is not so much that Water equals Fire equals Aithír, but, as Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) in Tímaios (56d-57a) describes in the section following triangles, these three elements have a quality in common and they can become one another, whereas Earth always remains Earth. So from this perspective there are two: Earth and Water-Fire-Aithír. The concept that the Kózmos consists of two primordial substances, Earth and Water, is called Mystic Dualism.

There is no emptiness: the Water-Fire-Aithír fills all the space. There is no immaterial God. For this reason, we avoid the use of the term "spiritual" (incorporeal or immaterial) in Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός): all the Kózmos is material substance.

Earth is receptive and called "female." Water is active and formative and is called "male." Earth is receptive to the active and formative nature of Water.

Earth is able to be divided and is called in Greek the Mæristí (divisible or particulate) Substance (Meristi Ousia; Gr. Μεριστή Οὐσία). Water is not able to be divided and is called in Greek the Synækhís (continuous) Substance (Synehis Ousia; Συνεχής Οὐσία). [5] Earth represents the infinite number of undivided material atoms, which Pythagóras (Gr. Πυθαγόρας) calls Apeirohn ("endless, formless;" Gr. Ἀπείρων) and the Indefinite Dyás or Dyad (Gr. Δυάς). Out of the Primordial Mixture, Earth was substantiated first, hence, Pythagoras calls Her Tólma (Gr. Τόλμᾰ), "daring." Because of its formative nature, Pythagóras gives Water the name Prohtéfs (Proteus; Gr. Πρωτεύς), as the God Prohtéfs is mutable and capable of assuming many forms. [6]



T
HE SOUL AND THE EGG

When the two Kozmogonic substances attain harmony, they merge together: the Aithír enters the Particulate Substance, the Mæristí Substance: Earth. This unification forms the most elemental cell, what Orphéfs calls an Egg, from which the entire Universe emerged, as described in the Orphic Rhapsodies:

"For Ageless (ἀγήραος) Time (Χρόνος) was moved by Necessity (Ἀνάγκηand gave birth to Aithír (Αἰθήρ) and a limitless chasm (χάσμα) which extended in every direction, and everything was in tumult. In the Aithír, Time formed a silvery egg (ὠεόν or ᾠόν), the offspring of Aithír and Kháos (Χάος). And the egg began to move in an enormous and wondrous circle [71] and from the egg Phánis (Φάνης) emerged, and as he was born, the Aithír and the Chasm were torn apart (ἐρράγη)." [7]

This evolving Egg is called the Soul (Psykhí; Gr. Ψυχή). [8]  The Kózmos itself is a Soul. Likewise, all creatures have souls and are the result of the union of the two Kozmogonic substances. 


THE GODS, THE TWO SUBSTANCES, AND THE NATURE OF ALL SENTIENT BEINGS

According to the mythology, Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) is the king of Gods and the father of Gods and men. Íra (Hera; Gr. Ήρα) is said to be his sister and wife. The meaning of this mythology is that Zefs is the manifestation of the active kozmogonic substance, Water-Fire-Aithír. Íra is the manifestation of the receptive kozmogonic substance: Earth. These kozmogonic substances are primal, from the beginning, and exist together; therefore, poetically, they are siblings, i.e. brother and sister. Without the interaction of Earth and Water, Zefs and Íra  there is no "creation;" therefore, they are, poetically, married.

All the Gods as well as everything expressed in the Kózmos are the manifestation of the interaction of the two kozmogonic substances. Therefore: we are of the substance of Gods. And it is because of this, that we do not prostrate in Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), neither to any man nor even when we pray or enter temples or sanctuaries, to respect the very dignity of our true nature. And, further, because we are of the identical material as the Gods, all sentient beings are basically good, because they share in the same goodness which is the nature of the Gods. This is true of all beings and, indeed, of all the Kózmos. The soteriology (theory of salvation) of Orphismós is to become aware of one's own genuine nature and become completely in harmony with it. This is achieved by means of great personal effort and with the help of Diónysos and the pairs of Olympian Gods.

"One is the race of men, one is the race of Gods, and from one Mother do we both derive our breath; yet a power that is wholly sundered parteth us, in that the one is naught, while for the other the brazen heaven endureth as an abode unshaken for evermore. Albeit, we mortals have some likeness, either in might of mind or at least in our nature, to the immortals, although we know not by what course, whether by day, nor yet in the night watches, fate hath ordained that we should run." [9]

CONCLUSION 

If the reader considers the ideas presented above, it should be evident that the teachings of Orphéfs do not simply present a fantastic story of the origin of the universe, a simplistic explanation designed to satisfy children's curiosity, but rather, these teachings have a logic connected with the phenomenal world, and, if the reader is familiar with Hellenic philosophía (philosophy; Gr. φιλοσοφία), one can see that the Orphic ideas are at its root, beginning with the natural philosophers who spoke of the primordial elements, as well as in Plátohn and those who follow after him. These principles are the underlying foundation of our understanding of the world; it is not so much that one must accept them as some kind of creed, but the critical point to realize is that Orphismós (Orphism; Gr. Ορφισμός) offers a natural way of viewing the Kózmos, based on Natural Laws and substances. The implications of the Orphic materialism are huge and far-reaching, making genuine interaction with divinity actually possible. Our religion is based on this materialism, which is sensual and erotic, for we interact with the world with our senses which reveal substance of great beauty. Ællinismόs stands in sharp contrast to the monotheistic religions which place deity in an entirely separate realm, a spiritual or supernatural realm which must be accepted on faith, but rather we are inclined to a materialist philosophy that attempts to divorce itself from superstition, superstition being the belief in things which defy the laws of nature. In our religion, the Gods partake of the same laws by which we are governed, for they consist of material also, to such an extent that our very substance is identical to that of the Gods: we are of the substance of Gods and they are intimately available to us; both we and they are part of the natural world. We are enveloped by deity, for the Kózmos is divine.


ÆN AND MATERIALISM IN PLATONISM

The Platonic philosophers very much relate to concepts found in ancient Orphic texts which they frequently quote in their writings; indeed, they generally view themselves as within that lineage (as indeed they are) 
and espouse principles which are fundamental to Orphismós. In Neoplatonism, the concept of Æn (Hen or One; Gr. Ἕν or Τὸ Ἕν, neuter form of εἷς, meaning singular or one), the One, is such a central principle that it seemed necessary to find its place in the Orphic teaching, and as such, it has been equated with the Árritos Arkhí being that the Árritos Arkhí is primary and exists before the two kozmogonic material substances are substantiated (if it makes sense to think of it as linear); but there may be problems with this identification, some of which are discussed on this page: Monotheism in Ællinismόs


The Platonists imply that Mind or Nous (Gr. Νοῦς), the first and most perfect emanation of Æn, is immaterial. The implication is that Æn itself, the absolute primal Idea, is immaterial, although by definition, it's nature cannot be expressed. If Mind is immaterial, what is it? What does it consist of? Even thoughts must consist of something. Mind and thoughts are difficult concepts to grasp because we cannot see them; it is almost as though they are some kind of phantoms; we know they exist, yet they have an aithirial quality. Like air, we do not see them, but like air, they also consist of something, and that something we call materialalthough it may seem foreign to think in this way. Our perspective is very much colored by two millennia of Platonic influence; I would propose that we think more Platonically than we are aware of. 

This being said a statement can be made: if something does not consist of something, it cannot exist. Certainly such logic must have occurred to Plátohn and other Platonic philosophers, but the idea of a gulf between mind and matter was certainly implied in the dialogues (see the quotation below for one example); it has considerable implications as to how we view the phenomenal world and it is a huge contributing factor in the condemnation of the "flesh" by the Christian church. Many of the early church fathers were enamoured of the Platonic ideas and incorporated them into their theology. The Christian terminology simply substitutes "spiritual" for Nous or Mind or Ideas, making a separation between the spiritual and the material. The Neoplatonic philosophers were ascetic, and this asceticism found its way into Christianity and some of this characteristic persists to this day, particularly with issues regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, for, while modern readers pick up on the acceptance in the ancient world of eroticism between males found in Platonic dialogues such as Sympósion (Symposium; Gr. Συμπόσιον), the Christian writers took more notice of passages in Plátohn in which he condemned homosexuality (Νόμοι [Laws] 1.636a-d and again in Πολιτεία [Republic] 3.403a-c). In truth, Plátohn's views concerning homosexuality were complicated, but the later Neoplatonic asceticism was a natural extension of the idea of a gulf between idea and matter, and the implications of such a separation have ramifications in significant areas beyond sexuality. Unfortunately, when these ideas are incorporated into legal and religious systems, there are enormous consequences. The pre-Platonic Orphism, while acknowledging the reality of the profane (as more dense or gross), does not make the separation between nature and the divine at all, for Nature is sacred, an idea which is typical of ancient polytheism in general.

We are making generalizations concerning the views of Platonists, Neoplatonists, and other Platonists, but it must be understood that there are many variations of thought in these schools, including an understanding of a material nature to the universe. Nonetheless, these generalizations hold for most who belong to the various schools in the tradition of Plátohn.



"We have all one mother---the Earth." (Victor Hugo Les Misérables. This said in response to the death of Fantine, Fantine Book Eighth, near the conclusion of Chapter V, trans. by Charles E. Wilbour,1862.)
DEEPLY RELATED: Experiencing Gods.

SEE ALSO:  Orphic Kozmogony.


The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.



NOTES:

[1] Original ancient Greek:

ἐγὼ καὶ διὰ μούσας 
καὶ μετάρσιος ᾖξα, καὶ
πλείστων ἁψάμενος λόγων
κρεῖσσον οὐδὲν Ἀνάγκας
ηὗρον οὐδέ τι φάρμακον
Θρῄσσαις ἐν σανίσιν, τὰς
Ὀρφεία κατέγραψεν
γῆρυς, οὐδ᾽ ὅσα Φοῖβος Ἀ-
σκληπιάδαις ἔδωκε
φάρμακα πολυπόνοις
ἀντιτεμὼν βροτοῖσιν.

[2] Damáskios, presenting the view of Ἱερώνυμος or Ἑλλάνικος (he was uncertain if these may even have been the same person)Princ. 123c bis {i. 317-19 R.}; = Orphic fragment 54. 

[3] "That Orpheus greatly availed himself of the licence of fables, and manifests every thing prior to Heaven by names, as far as to the first cause.  He also denominates the ineffable, who transcends the intelligible unities, Time; whether because Time pre-subsists as the cause of all generation, or because, as  delivering the generation of true beings, he thus denominates the ineffable, that he may indicate the order of true beings, and the transcendency of the more total to the more partial; that a subsistence according to Time may be the same with a subsistence according to cause; in the same manner as generation with an arranged progression.  But Hesiod venerates many of the divine natures in silence, and does not in short name the first.  For that what is posterior to the first proceeds from something else, is evident from the verse,

'Chaos of all things was the first produced.'

For it is perfectly impossible that it could be produced without a cause; but he does not say what that is which gave subsistence to Chaos.  He is silent indeed with respect to both the fathers of intelligibles, the exempt, and the co-ordinate; for they are perfectly ineffable.  And with respect to the two co-ordinations, the natures which are co-ordinate with the one, he passes by in silence, but those alone which are co-ordinate with the indefinite duad, he unfolds through genealogy.  And of this account Plato now thinks Hesiod deserves to be mentioned, for passing by the natures prior to Heaven, as being ineffable.  For this also is indicated concerning them by the (ed. Chaldean) Oracles, which likewise add "they possess mystic silence," σῖγ᾽ ἔχε μύστα.  And Socrates himself in the Phædrus, calls the intellectual perception of them μύησις and ἐποπτείαin which nearly the whole business is ineffable and unknown." 

(Extract from the Commentary by Πρόκλος on the Κρατύλος of Πλάτων, found in The Theology of Plato/Proclus, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1816.)

Editor: Kháos (Χάος) is not "nothing" as some readers think. Isíodos (Hesiod; Gr. Ἡσίοδος) says that Kháos was produced first. He does not say that Kháos existed before everything. The ancient Greek kháos is not the same as the modern English word chaos, but is more of a great chasm or, more likely in this case, unformed matter.

[4] Δερβένι βύβλος Col. 16.

[5] "For the female is the cause of progression and separation, but the male of union and stable permanency." (Extract from the Commentary by Πρόκλος on the Κρατύλος of Πλάτων, found in The Theology of Plato/Proclus, trans. Thomas Taylor, 1816.)

[6] Ὅμηρος Ὀδύσσεια IV.408-641. In this passage, Mænǽlaos (Μενέλαος) wrestles Prohtéfs (Πρωτεύς) to obtain knowledge. As he struggles with the God, Prohtéfs, the "Old Man of the Sea," assumes many disguises: a great lion, a serpent, a panther, a wild boar, a torrent of water, a massive tree. But Mænǽlaos would not give up and he finally is given the answers he has come for.
 
[7] Composed by the author based on Orphic fragments: 54, 66, 70, 71, 72, and 79.

[8] "For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet." (Πλάτων Τίμαιος 34a; trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.)

[9] Πίνδαρος Νεμεόνικαι 6.1-11, trans. Sir John Sandys, 1915.




The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).




PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.


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