What Is a Suitable Spiritual Figurehead or Divinity?
by Gordon Wayne
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Humans have envisioned their spiritual figurehead as everything under, beyond, and including the sun. Some cultures looked upward and saw their spiritual figurehead in the stars, planets, or sun while others looked laterally and saw their spiritual icon in plants and animals. Other cultures envisioned their supernatural leader as an anthropomorphic entity while others argue the premise of a supernatural spiritual figurehead is a figment of human imagination.
Ancient cultures, specifically nomadic hunter/gatherer societies, frequently envisioned their spiritual paragon as a zoomorphic spirit. This zoomorphic divinity could be anything from buffalo spirits to sacred eagles, from oceanic deities to mountain gods, from divine crocodiles to sacred serpents. Nomadic hunter/gatherer cultures typically choose zoomorphic divinities because their lives and lifestyles revolved around the indigenous flora and fauna. Due to the intimate connection between people and their environment, these societies usually choose a critical environmental element that personified their spiritual ideals.
When humans began cultivating crops and domesticating animals, they settled into agrarian communities and their spiritual paragons transfigured into astronomical entities. Solar and lunar divinities became part of agrarian spiritual traditions, primarily because the sun and moon were the best indicators of seasonal rhythms, which influenced harvests. Since solar and lunar cycles influenced harvests, the planets and stars could presumably influence other earthly events so people searched for those associations. Thus, agrarian societies abandoned environmental spirits in favor of astronomical deities, searching the heavens for the mysterious forces influencing their agrarian lifestyles and spirituality.
Agrarian cultures eventually evolved into urban centers, which began as independent city/states that became empires by conquering other cities. Within these urban centers, people organized every aspect of human life into cultural institutions that influencing everything from trade to politics, education to marriage, vocations to spirituality. With the growing influence of cultural institutions, empires evolved into nations, distinct societies defined by geographic boundaries and cultural characteristics.
Within this context, the institution of religion assumed control of human spirituality, the institution’s hierarchal elite governing rituals, beliefs, morals, and ideology from central temples. These institutions also assumed control of people’s spiritual icons, which evolved from astronomical deities into anthropomorphic entities bearing the unmistakable countenance of the mortal form. In addition, these anthropomorphic deities mirrored the hierarchal power of centralized governments, and centralized religious institutions, effectively legitimizing the centralization of hierarchal authority inside cultural institutions.
We will not argue that one spiritual icon is the true divinity while others are false deities but that all interpretations of the divine are valid interpretations. After all, if successive generations of people can find moral and ideological integrity from a spiritual figurehead, then that divinity is beneficial to humanity. If a spiritual icon can help multiple generations of humans understand their world and their place within that world, then that divinity is a valuable spiritual figurehead. Some people may believe that their deity is the only true divinity and other deities are false entities, but this is an illogical belief.
After all, a truly omniscient divinity will understand why humans worship a particular spiritual icon, and a truly omnipresent divinity will automatically exist within anything that humans worship. Therefore, any human that argues that their deity is the only true divinity is advancing a purely egotistical argument to bolster their own convictions. Interestingly, an omniscient, omnipresent deity will understand why narcissistic people need to argue that their spiritual figurehead is the only true icon. Human hubris aside, people can worship any divinity that they believe best symbolizes their spirituality, and their only obstacle is other humans, intolerant, unforgiving, narcissistic humans.
People can venerate any image that evokes a sense of sacredness, any countenance that symbolizes their ideals, any effigy that evokes moral rectitude, any icon that advocates spiritual enlightenment. Thus, farmers can worship rain clouds or the spring and fall solstices; artists can deify a creative process like evolution; romantics can adulate Cupid; skeptics can revere the cosmic cynic; judges, lawyers, and police can honor the scales of justice; doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, and other health care professionals can sanctify the caduceus. Small children can embrace the cosmic teddy bear; older children can glorify Santa or the Easter Bunny; teens can worship the incubus or succubus, or both; parents can worship the embryonic acorn that grows into a majestic oak tree; grandparents can venerate the cosmic librarian, the curator of knowledge, skill, and experience.
People can venerate any icon that embodies or symbolizes their spiritual ideals, expectations and requirements. Whether a particular divinity is real or not is unimportant because the important issue is that people have something that represents their spirituality.