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Religion in essence and manifestation

G. van der Leeuw: Poder


quarta-feira 9 de agosto de 2023, por Cardoso de Castro


VAN DER LEEUW  , G. Religion in Essence and Manifestation. Volume   One. Translated by J. E. Turner with Appendices to the Torchbook edition incorporating the additions of the second German edition by Hans H. Fenner. New York: Harper & Row, 1963, p. 683-689


1. An Esthonian peasant remains poor, while his neighbour grows steadily richer  . One night he meets this neighbour’s “luck” engaged in sowing rye in the fields. Thereupon he wakes his own “luck”, who is sleeping beside a large stöne; but it refuses to sow for him, because it is not a farmer’s “luck” at all, but a merchant’s; so he himself becomes a merchant and gains wealth.

In this story Power has become a specific power; and this transition occurs very early. The power, the effects of which can be quite readily substantiated, becomes power in particular instances—royal authority, that of some craft, etc. In India this led to the stratification into ruling castes each of which possesses an appropriate power:—Brahman   pertaining to brahmins, kshatra to kshatriyasr In this way, too, a special magical power occasionally becomes differentiated from others, as in the case of the Egyptian sa, a kind of fluid transmitted by the laying on of hands and other manipulations; while the advance from empirically authenticated and undefined power to theoretically specified potency is also noteworthy in the idea   of Hindu tapas. Similarly in Australia, as elsewhere, “replete with power”, “warm” and “hot” are closely related conceptions. Power develops heat, the primitive mind   believes, with an almost modern scientific accuracy of observation; in Ceram a house afflicted with smallpox (in which power consequently appears) is regarded as a “warm house”. Similarly tapas is heat, that is the heat of the specific energy of chastening, its power.

But there is another aspect of this systematic differentiation of potency; for the problem of the universality of Power becomes expressly postulated and affirmed. A certain Monism already constantly present, but concealed by practically oriented primitive thought, now rises unmistakably into view; and what has hitherto been erroneously maintained about the actual idea of Power becomes quite correct·— namely that “this interesting sketch of a unified apprehension of Nature and of the Universe reminds us, in virtue of its principle of unity, of Monotheism, and in the light   of its realism, of dynamic Monism”:—more indubitably, it is true, of the latter than of the former. For Power is never personal. It becomes a universal   Energy, whether in the psychological sense   and in direct application to humanity, or on the other hand as cosmological. In the first instance Power becomes Soul, but a superpersonal Soul closely akin to Power; in the second it assumes the form of a divine agency immanently activating the Universe. “Pantheists and monists are the heirs of a very ancient tradition  ; they sustain among ourselves a conception whose original founders, primitive or savage peoples, deserve more respect and sympathy than they usually receive.”

2. Such theoretical considerations, generally foreign to the primitive world, attain steadily increasing influence under the conditions of so-called intermediate or partially developed culture. The changes and processes of the Universe are then no longer accidental and arbitrary effects of distinct powers that emerge at each event and disappear again; they are rather the manifestations of a unitary World-order, appearing in conformity to rules, and indeed to laws. Many ancient peoples were familiar with the idea of a World-course, which however is not passively followed but rather itself moves spontaneously, and is no mere abstract conformity to Law such as are our Laws of Nature, but on the contrary a living Power operating within the Universe. Tao   in China, Rta in India, Asha in Iran, Ma’at among the ancient Egyptians, Dike   in Greece:—these are such ordered systems which theoretically, indeed, constitute the all-inclusive calculus of the Universe, but which nevertheless, as living and impersonal powers, possess mana-like character.

Tao, then, is the path which the Universe follows, and in a narrower sense the regularly recurring revolutions of the seasons. The “two shores” of warmth and heat which define this cycle together constitute Tao; there is no place for a God   “applying outward force” (to quote Goethe  ). Creation is the annual renewal of Nature. This regulated cycle, still further, is completely impartial and just; and man should strive to conform to Tao. But in so doing he need not excite himself: Tao demands a calm, indeed an almost quietist mood. To good deeds it is hostile: “Great Tao was deserted; then ‘humanity’ and ‘justice’ came into existence, cleverness and sagacity arose, and hypocrisy flourished.” Man should do right in conformity to Tao, which is “eternal without acting (wu wet), and yet there is nothing that it does not effect”. Thus from this belief in a primal   Power there arises a type of quietist mysticism  . In itself it is self-sufficient, needing neither gods nor men: “the Norm of men is the earth, that of the earth is heaven, of heaven Tao, but the Norm of Tao is . . . its very self”. Again, “Tao generates and nourishes all beings, completes and ripens them, cares for and protects them”. But just as little as mana is it exhaustively manifested in the empirical: the essential nature of Tao is inscrutable. “In so far as it is nameless it is the primal ground of heaven and earth; when it has a name it is the mother of a myriad beings. For lack of a better term, call it ‘the Great’.” Here the old mana significance returns once more; but its content has now been “transposed”, and is no longer empirical but speculatively mystical.

The Vedic Rta, again, is the Law of the Universe, identical with moral law; it is regarded as the Law of certain gods, Varuna   and Mitra, and the World-Process is merely the apparent form behind which the actual Rta is concealed: “The gods are thus addressed: Your Rta (Law), which is hidden behind the Rta (the course of the Universe), stands eternally constant, there, where the sun  ’s chargers are unharnessed.” Thus it becomes the ultimate court of appeal, the ground of the Universe, its concealed and motivating Power. Just as with Asha in the religion of Zarathustra  , Rta is good disposition, correct belief, the Law of the gods and World-Power simultaneously. The dominating faith is that the ground of the world may be trusted, and thus the chaotic empiricism of primitive conditions has been superseded by a firm conviction of Order.

3. When gods exist they become either elevated above the World-Order, or subjected thereto. Both the Israelites and the Greeks were conscious of the flaming power of divine energy, of the orge   which strikes with demonic force—for there can be no question of punishment here; but in contrast to the Israelites, the Greeks were unable to bring this demonic power into relation with the gods. They were intensely aware of the antithesis   between the arbitrary rule of potencies in this world and the idea of a just order of the Universe: Moira   or Aisa, originally the lot apportioned to each man by the gods—it is hioOev, “sent from Zeus  ”—-becomes in the brooding mind of an Aeschylus a Power more than divine which, if so it must be, against even the gods guarantees a morally satisfactory control of the world. From the incalculable dominance of gods, whom the poets had transformed into persons, man sought escape in Destiny, as a universal ground and territory over which the gods enjoyed only limited freedom of action.

In the course of natural   processes, then, man discovered a secure and, if not sympathetic, at least an impartial foundation even for human life. If for many peoples, even the most primitive, the course of the sun served as the rule of their own lives, still religious theory perceived no inexorable Fate in this necessity of Nature, but rather a guarantee of World-Order. This attitude therefore is not fatalism because the living Power, despite all theorizing, perpetually maintains its central position. Conformity to Law implies no blind Necessity, but a vital Energy realizing a purpose. It was called Dike, as in India Rta, but its path is the cycle of natural process: “the sun will not exceed his measures”, said Heracleitus; “if he does, the Erinyes, the avenging handmaids of Justice, will find him out”. To Law, similarly, Sophocles dedicates pious resignation:

My lot be still to lead
The life of innocence and fly Irreverence in word or deed,
To follow still those laws ordained on high Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky.
No mortal   birth they own,
Olympus their progenitor alone:
Ne’er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,
The god in them is strong and grows not old.

And the late-born of the tragedians, Euripides, the advocate of every doubt and the friend of all unrest, places in the mouth   of his Hecuba this marvellously calm and heartfelt prayer:

Thou deep Base of the World, and thou high Throne Above the World, whoe’er thou art, unknown And hard of surmise, Chain of Things that be,
Or Reason of our Reason; God, to thee I lift my praise, seeing the silent road That bringeth justice ere the end be trod To all that breathes and dies  .

Thus early Greek speculation, which set out to discover an arche  , a primal unity and primal Power in one, ultimately discerned an impersonal, divinely living, cosmic Law; the divine, το Θειον, more and more superseded the gods. The Stoics then drew the final conclusion: Heimarmene, that is what is allotted, or Destiny, is the Logos  , the Reason of the cosmos, in accord with which all proceeds; Cleanthes prays to Pepromene, the predestined. But even this view of the idea of Fate was just as little an abstraction as was the Necessity of the tragedians and the pre-Socratics  . Still the essence of the Universe is always Power, but now an immanent Power, a World-Soul: or better, a “Fluid” dwelling within the Universe, “the personality and the nature of the divinities pervading the substance of the several elements”. To the contemporary of Julian the Apostate, finally, divine Power and the creative Necessity of Nature were absolutely one: “To say that God turns away from the evil is like saying that the sun hides himself from the blind.”

4. The theoretic treatment of Power thus far presented bears a prominently cosmological character; but it may also possess psychological significance. The power that operates within man then becomes regarded not as his “soul”, in the sense familiar to ourselves, but as a particular power subsisting in a peculiar relation to its possessor. It is his own power, though nevertheless it is superior to him.

Before Moira became the Power of Destiny it was already the personal lot of man, and this it still remains even to-day among modern Greeks as Mira. The Germanic hamingja, again, was not the soul  , but the power ruling in and over a man. Soul is in no way a primitive concept, and even when primitive mentality began to theorize it had generally not grasped the idea of Soul. We ourselves speak of our psychical qualities, and can “verify” these whenever we wish to do so.

But to the primitive mind, on the other hand, what we regard as purely personal and pertaining to the “soul” appears as actually inherent in man but still superior to him, and in any case as distinguished from him. The Red Indian, according to his own and our ideas, may be very brave; but that avails him nought if he has no war-medicine, that is, no accumulated power for the purpose of war. Power can be bound up with all sorts of material or corporeal objects; it is this state of affairs that has led to the designation of “soul-stuff”. From the soul as such, however, all these ideas were distinguished by the power being impersonal, while one might have a greater or smaller quantity of it, and could either lose it or acquire it; in other terms, it was independent of man and superior to him.

In the Greek-Christian world we find the ideas of Power transformed, theoretically, into that of the single Power by means of the concept of pneuma  . The Stoics had already placed the individual soul, the hegemonikon  , which from the heart as centre governs the whole body, in the same category as the World-Soul, the pneuma, which, as Power, overflows into all things: the human pneuma is of the same type as the pneuma of the Universe. Thus the primitive idea of Power, together with the equally primitive concept of soul-breath, or rather of the breath-stuff of the soul, were united in a single theory.

In Gnosticism, and also for St. Paul, the pneuma is the life principle of man together with the psyche and divine Power, which penetrates man from without and transforms him into a “pneumatized” or “spiritual” man. By St. Paul himself, however, the idea of the impersonal divine “fluid” becomes slightly changed and circumscribed through the union with Christ: “the Lord is that Spirit”. On the other hand, for Philo   the pneuma emanating from the Godhead remains impersonal, though for him as for the late Stoics the pneuma, when contrasted with the psyche and the flesh  , is a power superior to man.

But in spite of the identification of the spiritual and the immaterial, originating in Plato’s philosophy, in the eyes of the heathen the pneuma was just as little purely spiritual—in our own sense—as in those of Christians. Its designation as soul-stuff was always much more than a mere name. In the New Testament, for example, the pneuma becomes transmitted like some sort of fluid, as are the other psychological powers charis  , dynamis   and doxa  , They flow from God to man, and the divine charis is imparted by formulas of benediction. We translate this as the Grace of God, although it should not be understood as friendly disposition or mercy, hut as Power that is poured out and absorbed. It enables man to perform miracles: Stephen, full of charis and dynamis, “of faith and power, did great wonders among the people”. Charts effects charismata, Gifts of Grace; these however are no gifts of divine generosity, as we might rationalistically interpret them, but the consequences of divine Power. Ancient Christian terminology perpetuates these ideas: in the Eucharist Christ appears with His powers, His pneuma, His doxa or dynamis, The “glorification” in St. John’s Gospel   again, is a transformation of man which takes place through the infusion of divine Power; and as Wetter affirms quite correctly: “when classical writers refer e.g. to religious gnosis  , charis or doxa, who does not feel that these primitive tones (of the idea of Power) frequently re-echo   from them?”

Not merely the “psychic” powers but also the deeds, thoughts and principles of men frequently become represented as a store of power, largely independent of the bearer. I refer here to the idea of thesaurus, in consequence of which cumulative deeds constitute a potency that is effective in favour of the doer, but eventually of another person also; thus the treasury of grace, accumulated through the merit of Christ and the saints, is a living power “operating” in favour of the church. Certainly the connection between Power and the historic Christ has long become illusory here; it has been forgotten that the Lord is the Spirit, and the Power of Christ dispensed among believers.

In India the thesaurus concept is absolutely impersonal; karma   is Power, Law and thesaurus simultaneously: “not in the heavens nor in the midst of the sea, not if he hides in the clefts of the mountains, will man escape the power of karma”. Thus action has become an impersonal mechanism; and human worth is then appraised as a sum of favourable or unfavourable karma, a sort of financial value, that can be transferred to others.

5. In India, then, there has been completed the great equalization that is the final word in the theory of Power, the unification of human and cosmic Power, the identification of psychology and cosmology. The substance of the self and the substance of the All are one and the same, their separation being merely provisional and, ultimately, no more than misunderstanding. The atman  , originally as soul-breath the most primitive soul-stuff, became in the theory of the Upanishads   a silently operating and immanent Power conforming to Law: “If the slayer thinks he slays and the slain that he is slain, they both fail to understand; the one slays not and the other is not slain. The atman reposes, subtler than the subtle and greater than the great, in the hearts of creatures. He who is free from desires and without care sees the greatness of the atman by the grace of the creator. Seated, he wanders far away; reclining, he travels everywhere; apart from me, who can recognize this god who is in a state of changing ecstasy?” On the other hand Brahman, originally the power of the word, as it reveals itself to the brahmins in the sacrificial utterances and their reciters, became the designation of cosmic Power. Atman and Brahman, however, in the last resort are one: here is there, there is here; he who understands tat tvam asi, “that art thou”, knows of only one all comprehending Power. And thus the primitive and intensely empirical idea of Power developed into religious Monism.

Ver online : Gerardus van der Leeuw