In Our Time had an episode, a couple of weeks ago, about Zarathrustra, the prophet of Zoroastrianism, the first monotheistic religion. About 11 minutes into the discussion, there's a description of these other entities that surround the central god. I've transcribed it:
We've been focussing on Ahura Mazda, but in fact Ahura Mazda is the sort of figurehead, he's the focus of the lord, he's the lord of wisdom. But he's surrounded by a pantheon of six other beings. Now I hesitate to use this word being because they're spirits, and they're wills. They're entities in some sense, but we don't know. They're spiritual beings. And these are aspects, if you like, if you're a monotheist you think of these as aspects of god. But in fact, he, they work with god, they collaborate. One of them, a very important one, is the idea of Khshathra Vairya, which means "good governance," the "best governance," and this is symbolised by the sky. Each of these divine beings has a physical correspondant, so the sky looks after the earth, which is the next amesha spenta, or blessed immortal, and the spenta are mighty, is the earth, and represents "holy piety," translated as "benevolant piety". So we have the sky and the earth and these are the manifestations of these divine beings, and then water is symbolised, is spiritualised in the concept of Haurvatat, which is "perfection" or "wholeness". And then the next divine being is represented in the plant, in plantlife, Ameretat, immortality, immortality. So you can see the connection between purity and wholeness, perfection and water, and immortality and plantlife. And the next very important divine being in this heptad, this group of immortal beings, is the "good mind," Vohu Manah, which is represented by the beneficent animal, which is tended by mankind. And then man himself is the representive of god, Ahura Mazda, the lord wisdom, is also known as the Spenta Mainyu, the most whole spirit, and it is man who is the embodiment of that most holy spirit. And then lastly we have the notion of supreme truth, Asha Vahishta, which is symbolised by, which is embodied in the physical creation of fire, and that's where we come to this very important symbol of the Zaruthrustrianisms.
These six aren't beings, they're not figures: they're wills. It's that pattern again: We're really used to dividing the world up into a pysical, container+conduit-based hierarchy (my keys are in the pocket which is on my coat which is in the closet in the bedroom in the house, street, town, country)--a powerful system of thought needs some way of breaking that down and pointing out that there are behaviours that are shared across objects.
It's hard to talk about, because we're talking about subtle patterns of behaviour. Some things are universal, therefore easy (things fall down), but others are vaguer and more complex: knots tend to get tighter, and you can see knots in rope but also political opinion; gardens tend to disorder, and that's true of plants, or growing children, or tidy legal systems. Becomings, lines of flight--it's very hard to point out the power of analogies and similarities in patterns of behaviour, because they're very hard to point at.
Whereas I'm calling them now "lines of flight" [D&G], it seems that the Zoroastrians called them wills, or spirits. It's a nice abstraction really: You can think of your garden as a mechanical, easy-to-understand system if you always admit that Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, is working alongside you. It's this spirit of greed which makes some plants spread rapidly, battling others and using up their own resources. It's your job to channel other spirits, of balance and governance, to make corrections. What draws me to structures like Zoroastrianism is that the epiphanic understanding its followers must have had of it coupled with its persistence means that it must be robust and close to the "truth": the pantheon of wills must have been a useful framework for life. When we come to analysing the botany of unfoldings we may find that we only need six, or seven too.
There's something appealing - and disarmingly now - about saying that we don't interact directly with the world, we collaborate with wills (or patterns of becoming, or lines of flight), and inflect and combine them (don't cross the streams!) to sculpt the world as we will. And of course, the reflexion, the world we shape creates more places for these spirits to inhabit. It's complexity wrangling, a cybernetics worldview, acting as the helmsman, the kybernetes, in working with the world. And it feels like computers and MMORPGS too, reaching through into a virtual space, unable to have direct manipulation but utterly capable to direct and choreograph the wilful unfoldings.
In the course of this post, I found these pages useful:
Also in the episode, somebody speaks of the omniscient one:
Wisdom is everywhere, if only we could see it, reach for it, use it. Which, to me, sounds like a plea for Heidegger's Revealing, or maybe a realisation of the holographic patterns of being and becoming.