[This issue, we sit down with author and philosopher, Steven Dillon. Here, he discusses his new book on Platonic polytheism; the works of Proclus; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Steve Dillon: My spiritual practice is honestly just a way of life for me. My whole mentality is that the world is deeply enchanting and full of Gods. They are so … involved in everything, I believe, and so I find myself looking for them under every rock. I love celebrating! Their cycles and seasons, special days and times, even places. My practice has a broad spectrum of formality, and associated activities. But whether I’m praying, casting or dreaming, my north star is communication with them. For me, it’s not so much looking for their current, but realizing I’m always in it. It’s an intuitive and eclectic lifestyle to be sure!
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits do you honor in your tradition?
SD: Asclepius has been the center of my world for a long time now, but I love and fear all the Gods and the retinue of powers and spirits surrounding them. Deities that have had noticeable impact on me include Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes and Athena. But I have had so many experiences of various deities at this point, I try to honor each of them. I know the list makes me sound like my tradition is Greek, but it’s not! I don’t know why this particular pantheon has been so prominent to me, it’s been a surprise every step of the way.
ev0ke: If you could correct one common misconception about polytheism, what would it be?
SD: That’s a big question! Different groups could have their own misconceptions relative to the extent and angle from which they engage polytheism. Here’s one though. I think the world has been so deeply wounded by the mentality behind monotheism that people will struggle to understand polytheism on its own terms. Their expectations of what a religion ought to look like, what it ought to offer people, how people ought to practice and even what a God is supposed to be have all been shaped and defined by the images of our reigning paradigms. So, polytheism will be seen as silly, perhaps immature or even primitive. And it will be conversely seen as respectable the closer it gets to the norm. The mentality behind monotheism is that there is One thing we all ought to orient ourselves toward, so that unity is accomplished through sameness. But what happens when there’s not just One thing to orient ourselves toward? Well, then, it’s not about reducing difference to sameness, but about celebrating uniqueness. So, I think correcting this common misconception about polytheism has to do with adjusting or bracketing our expectations of what a “true” religion should look like.
ev0ke: Your book Pagan Portals: Polytheism: A Platonic Approach was just released by Moon Books. First, congratulations! Second, how did this book come about? Why a book about a platonic understanding of polytheism?
SD: Thank you! You know, one of my passions in life is trying to create this product which neatly and digestibly summarizes my worldview. From the bottom up, or from the top down. What do things look like? What are some reasons for thinking that? This is essentially what brought A Platonic Approach about. In the years since I published The Case for Polytheism, I discovered in Platonism a whole way of looking at the world. Or rather a conceptual toolkit for understanding the world. I just fell in love with that system, and when I felt that I had my most current version of the ‘worldview product’, I thought I’d see if anyone else would find it interesting.
ev0ke: Pagan Portals: Polytheism is organized into four chapters: theism, polytheism, the procession of being, and religion. Why that format? Why those topics as chapter headers?
SD: So this has to do with the ‘product’ I mentioned earlier! I want to describe as best and succinctly as I can what all of reality looks like from my little corner of it. And then, I want to think my way through it. What’s the most fundamental layer of reality? After that? How and why do they relate? And so that’s the organizing principle for the book. My worldview happens to be theistic, so that’s how I start out. Once I’ve got a fair handle of what theism means, I let it unfold on its own and sort of tell me what the world looks like.
Theism unfolds into polytheism, and polytheism unfolds into what I think some might mistake as pantheism. I call it divine constitution (which is where the procession of being comes in). At this point in the book, I’ve concluded that the one thing everything has in common is that it is itself or unique, such that ‘uniqueness’ is what is true of *everything*: it’s the most fundamental way of being. Similar to how matter comes in different forms, everything comes in the form of ‘uniqueness’. I’ve also identified the Gods with this form at this point in the book, so that they’re the things out there which are functioning in this formal capacity. This result gives us the thesis that the Gods constitute everything by being the ‘form’ of one-ness that each ‘one’ comes in. The procession of being then comes into play by looking at the anatomy of the Gods, so to speak, and considering the strata of all things and discerning order in the successive layers of constitution.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Pagan Portals: Polytheism? Big stacks of books? Lengthy discussions with other polytheists? Long walks in the park?
SD: All of the above! I like to think of Platonism as giving us a conceptual toolkit to study and investigate the world with. I’m certainly not trying to reinvent any wheels here, but I think Platonism is a living tradition, and is meant for application. So a lot of this was just really trying to think through these matters, and see whether I was coming to the same conclusions as the ancient Platonists, almost like a dialogue with them. Damascius’ Problems and Solutions Concerning First Principles had a monumental impact on me. I don’t know of any good English translations unfortunately, but even so, his treatment of ‘totalities’ and the paradoxes associated with them is a boon for insight.
ev0ke: You quote Proclus extensively throughout your book. Are there any particular editions of Proclus’ work that you recommend? Any specific translations, or even books examining his work?
SD: Proclus is a tough read, I think. And he was prolific. It doesn’t help that the whole Platonic vocabulary is so foreign. But there are some really great works out there which help. Regarding his views on polytheism specifically, Dr. Edward Butler’s material is essential reading. You can find links to many of his works on his website, Henodology. But I’d recommend Dr. Radek Chlup’s Introduction to Proclus to get a broad summary of Proclus’ worldview. As far as primary sources go, I always recommend going to Proclus’ Elements of Theology (Dodds’ version), and his Platonic Theology (Taylor’s version). These are more systematic and encompassing than what you might find in his Commentaries or Treatises (which are still profound treasures). The Prometheus Trust has some wonderful books on Platonism and fantastic translations of the ancient thinkers.
ev0ke: Which conventions, book fairs, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
SD: Unfortunately, my line of work makes me into quite a rolling stone, and I won’t be settled down anywhere near a bookstore until next summer. But as soon as I am, I hope to catch events like that in and around the Kentucky, Tennessee area!
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SD: I am writing a paper on Pagan ethics and trying to flesh out a Platonic system of morality, as well as a paper on reincarnation arguing in its favor. These two projects have kept me pretty busy, but I think they’ll be interesting and helpful to the community.
I think I must have pre-ordered mine at some point and then forgot. It arrived today and I’m so excited about it! What a delightful gift my bad memory is!