Diffusion, Mental Agalmata, and How People Change

The first time I had a sublime impression of diffusion, as in the intermingling of gas particulates, I was thinking about nascent stars and their effects on the interstellar medium as they excite and diffuse the gas around them from their winds.

Later, in my senior year of undergrad, I had a secondary impression when my Classical Mythology professor said the gods like those who are most like themselves, when I imagined the personalities and distinctness that are a person (e.g., Odysseus) coming into contact and diffusing into and being diffused into by a god (e.g., Athene) or having an ancestral connection to cunning behavior due to having an ancestor who worshipped Hermes. The gods in this sense are like a nascent star, filling a person who worships them. As a person turns towards a god, more and more of lim comes into equilibrium with that god. Humans are so small in comparison to gods that the two-way street is not evident in the contact.

Thereabouts in time, the Standard Lexicon for Hellenismos was released by the YSEE, which contained a definition of the word agalma, plural agalmata. I am going to quote the definition in full because it is important for understanding this blog post:

AGALMA – ΑΓΑΛΜΑ
Pronunciation: Ȧgȧlmȧ
Singular: Agalma (neuter)
Plural: Agalmata (neuter)
Other Forms of the Word:
Agalmaton: (plural) of the Agalmata
Agalmatos: (singular) of the Agalmata
Common English translation: statue

Translated definition of the word:
AGALMA derives from the verb ‘agalo’ meaning to decorate, make decent, to make someone famous, pay homage, to enlarge, gladden as well as the feelings of elation and joy. The word AGALMA therefore means honour, elation, glory, a gift pleasing to the Gods and an image in the honour of a God or Goddess (including any image created by the spoken word or writing). Initially, ALGAMATA were the various gifts to the Gods for the purpose of worship. Copies of these gifts and the original gifts were considered centres of pleasure for the Gods and the most important relics within the temples. The AGALMATA always depict the Gods in contrast to the ANDRIANDA (images that depict mortals).

Porphyry says that an AGALMA is every depiction of a God, Goddess or Divine Power presenting a naturally identifiable picture to the human senses:
“…imprinting the invisible creations into the visible, which, just like an open book, achieve in describing our basic knowledge of the Gods, subject to one’s ability to read them. It is not then questionable that the uneducated consider the AGALMATA to be wood and stone, as the unlettered consider the letters to be only scratches and consider the unmarked columns to be simply stone, wooden notice boards to be just pieces of wood and books just to be bundles of papyrus.”
He further states:
“…because the Divine is light-like and radiates perpetually into the ethereal fire and it is invisible to the senses of those who have their cares exclusively on the things of mortal life, the makers of the AGALMATA used the appropriate materials such as crystal, marble or ivory to refer to the understanding of fire and gold as the properties of the incorruptible as gold is incorruptible. Others wishing to state the invisible essence of the Divine used a black stone. They imprinted a human form on the Gods because the Divine is LOGIKI (logic) and they allocated beauty to them because Divine Beauty is imperishable. They used different forms and ages, seats, poses and coverings; some they depicted as male and some as female, some as young and virginal and others wedded so as to illustrate the relationships between them. So all that is white, they allocated to the Heavenly Gods. The sphere and all that is spherical they allocated to the KOSMOS, the sun and the Moon and everywhere there is luck and hope. The circle and all circular things are allocated to Kronos (Time) and to heavenly movements, to belts and cycles contained in the sky, while the parts of the circle are allocated to the transformations of the moon. Pyramids and obelisks to the essence of fire and thus to the Olympian Gods. To Helios they gave the cone, to Gē (Earth) the cylinder, for the seeding and fertility they instituted the Phallus and for the vagina the triangle.”

This, in conjunction with readings of Iamblikhos and philosophical conversations, led me to a new understanding of precisely what drew me to a concept of diffusion. If devotion and proper acts of piety help people come into contact with gods, and if agalmata include the spoken word and writing, the natural conclusion to me was this: By turning towards a god, by worshipping lim, a devotee is creating a mental agalma of the god through worship: reciting hymns with rapt focus, holding a divine image in one’s mind, and performing cultic acts. This is a space that a god can come into, which is evident in those polytheistic religions that contain possession as part of their devotional practices.

The idea embedded in the gods love those who are like themselves (for me) is that worshipping a god puts a person in contact with that sublime divine core. Like the nascent star, pieces of the god project outward into the mental agalma created by the worshipper, a fit vessel for the god to occupy. That is how diffusion occurs. That is why, when someone worships a god, the person begins to turn even more towards the god — to be even more like that god. It is why a person who worships gods beyond or between genders sometimes evolves on ler own into a new understanding of how le fits with gender. It is why others develop new hobbies and talents in honor of those gods — see the proliferation of Dionysians writing dithyrambic poetry. As a god notices a person, as the person turns towards that god, these things become more noticeable. The favor of a god is also thus based on how close a person is to that god.

It is not as if gods frequently tell people to give up x or y or z. By the the time a god would make such a demand of a devotee, it is likely (and see the italics there; this is a biased statement, and this is obviously a subjective short essay that does not account for all human experience) that it is the only decision to make, or the decision itself is like water conforming to the shape of its jar. Each person contains multitudes of potential expressions of self. It might be scary, but it is a natural process, like aging or human connection or companionship or evolution, and it’s a beautiful thing. It would be against nature and Themis’ domain for the gods to demand something of someone that was not a part (or potential part) of lim. An individual human has limitations based on who they are, admittedly. None of this is to say that the road forward is a meadow. It could be hard, harrowing, and awe-filled, but people who experience those things are prepared for them even if they don’t realize it at the time.

The degree, of course, might vary. As a non-priestess who worships gods related to my profession and my creative opus, the effects of contact with gods are much milder than they would be for someone who was called to an intensive devotional practice. Further, as a professional whose profession logically leads to being a devotee of Hermes and Athene, but also as a creative devotee of Mnemosyne, Apollon, Hermes, and the Mousai, and as a worshipper of the Erinyes, the way those gods move me will be different from the way they move you or that other person over there. One of the strengths of many gods is the inherent diversity of divinity and the pluralism that it engenders among all of us as we come in alignment with contextually appropriate piety and action.

Those are really all of my thoughts on this topic for now. 😊 🐑 ♨️

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