And so we come, at last, to theology.
We have seen that humanity seems to have an instinctive reverence for “important” natural systems. If highly complex natural systems can attain consciousness, can become, in fact, persons, then it seems reasonable that this reverence – evidenced even in a cultural context without overt polytheistic influences, such as early modern America – would transform easily enough to worship when confronted with evidence (whether objective or personal) that the object of veneration is alive.
It is a commonplace in the study of Hellenic religion that the Gods were understood differently in different places and times; the Demeter honored in Sparta is not the same as the Demeter of Corinth, to paraphrase an old saying, nor is the Athena of the founding of Athens necessarily identical to the Athena worshipped there at the coming of Christianity. It is also true that even the Gods most often identified by their “civil” attributes – Athena, Zeus, Apollo, and others – have strong earthly, nature-centered attributes as well.
Both of these facts make sense from the perspective of natural systems theology. “Agriculture” can be seen as a very highly complex system, including both the natural systems upon which plant growth depends, and the human culture that organizes and facilitates that growth, turning “plants growing” into “agriculture” in the process. If “Demeter” is the name given by the Greeks to the manifested spirit of the agricultural system, then it makes sense that She would not be same from place to place – even setting aside differences in climate, soil and plants available for growing, the human communities are different in each place, and this affects the whole system. Likewise, if “Athena” in Athens is the manifested spirit of the polis, then She would necessarily change over time, as Her body (the city) and soul (the people) change.
However, let me be clear that I am NOT suggesting the Gods are “just” the manifestation of natural systems, any more than “I” – whatever that “I” may actually be – am “just” the manifestation of my body system. I believe that I have/am a spirit that has an existence beyond the life of this body; but I am reasonably certain that during this lifetime my spirit is inextricably bound up with the life of this body – and that I can learn from my body certain truths about my spiritual dimension (which is part of what my Aikido practice is about).
Just so, remembering that the Gods did not create the universe, but are part of it, I suspect that while transcending the physical world They are also inextricably bound to it – and that we can learn essential truths about Them through study of and relationship with the natural world. Zeus is the father of laws, but He is also the storm-bringer; Persephone is the Queen of the Underworld, but as the Kore she is the Spring. What lessons do They have to teach? [Corrected to read: What lessons does this have to teach about Them?]
It is my sincere hope that others will find these ideas worthwhile enough to at least think about. It is my dream that some may find in them some nugget of truth, and perhaps be moved to expand upon it, to deepen our theological discourse and contribute to the growth of our faith with their own particular wisdom.
So may it be.