Divinity Is Not A Democracy

When I was younger, I thought this was pretty profound, and more than that – not entirely far removed from How It All Works:

“The idea of Gods empowered (and possibly created) by worship naturally has a strong attraction for modern fantasy fans: It takes the prevailing social order of democracy and projects it into the plane of divine metaphysics. Instead of Homeric warrior-aristocrats, Middle Eastern despots or Chinese courtier-bureaucrats, Gods become politicians in the sky, dependent on their base, hustling for support. This premise is appropriate and meaningful for modern fantasy.” – Dean Shomshak

Now that I am older, and have crafted better understanding of … several things immediately relevant to the above, I see it somewhat differently.

There is, unquestionably, an important principle which the above almost adjacently gets right. Namely, that there is an ’empowering’ relationship between the proper worshipful conduct of human (and, for that matter, non-human) devotees – and The Gods. We have pretty direct scriptural support for this concept, to be found at its clearest both within the RigVeda as well as, in the ‘inverse’ [as in, what happens when we don’t] subsequent materials such as Devi Bhagavatam. That is the incident featuring Durgamasur that I seem to be referencing on a daily basis these days.

Yet this does not make it a situation of Divine Democracy, where power and apotheosis is a matter merely of popular acclaim and general good-feeling by an appropriately numerous proportion of one’s people [although funnily enough .. that can help in some related areas – long .. set of stories].

A man does not become a God simply because he has the ‘votes’ of other men. Nor does a God (generally speaking) cease being a God, only because He (more rarely, She) may have fallen below a certain threshold of popular support out there in the body-politic of ordinary persons.

The idea that Gods being empowered, augmented, supported, and indeed fought-alongside, by less divine specimines than They … that this somehow leads axiomatically toward “Democracy” and away from “warrior-aristocrats”, is a fundamental misunderstanding not only of theology, but of historic sociology.

A Lord may be a Lord by virtue of birth, and often also via recognition as such by other Lords [which can therefore allow the elevation from slightly humbler origins of a lower-ranked nobleman to such an august position – which … does not always go particularly well either in history, or in at least one of the Indo-European mythological instances which I can think of offhand]. And while he does not stop being a noble in principle and in essence purely through being in command of a fiefdom that, through degradation and ruin, now comprises one member only… a Lord is going to be able to do a lot more, and especially a lot more indirectly [rather than having to personally go around and bash heads in or help out with the local bread distribution [this is actually a thing in Germanic society, the baking I mean – it’s an analogous concept, perhaps unsurprisingly, to part of how “Bhaga” works in Sanskrit] ] should He have the support of those below.

We can see this also with various (semi-)mythic bronze age heroes – they may be of lordly rank and standing within their locally relevant society … but what distinguishes them from those who are lords in terms of role and function, is that the latter aren’t restricted through lack of manpower and other resources to being wandering trouble-shooters [as in, find trouble, shoot it] who may over the course of things develop sufficient renown and debts of honour and fealty that they effectively wind up with a lordly role having grown up around them in consequence.

The esssential predicate of a properly functioning Feudal model for society is that there is a chain of responsibility, provision, and support – going both ways, up and down, as it happens (albeit in rather different substantive character dependent upon direction, due to competencies, position, and functional role).

The general Indo-European approach to Divinity is quite closer to this than to anything which we might term the image of “democracy”, and most especially what is prominently bound up with such a conception in terms of the essential form of ‘support’ and ’empowerment’ offered being a comparatively infrequent nominal gesture – the vote – rather than this ongoing and integral relationship. [There’s also the point that, with the exception of some of the more … small-scale polities, one doesn’t tend to have virtually everybody involved having a ‘kinship’ relationship to the august figure in charge]

Also, with some notable exceptions, we don’t tend to empower politicians with votes [or otherwise] specifically because they are going to personally go off and kill (demon-)dragons on our behalf, make the crops grow on time, and intervene via both causality and ‘conspiracy’ to deflect arrows and other lethality arrayed against us at the battle against the tribe a few valleys over tomorrow.

Your local experience of politics may, as ever, vary.

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