[NB] Time, Angels, Daimons, Heroes, and Gods

I often find it easier to think about time in terms of space, in terms of the way we can abstract and spatialize time for a number of broadly mathematical operations. I think that’s pretty common, because we are better suited to conceiving of space than we are to conceiving of time. We can use our better grasp of space to ‘sneak up’ on time.

If time is primary, though, there are some inherent limitations in that approach. If time is the substance of the divine word as the Sefer Yetzirah leads me toward thinking, then I need to develop something of an apophatic approach to spatialization. I need to be able to say “not this” in order to get at other ways that time manifests. I need to come at it from more than one angle, find the other things that are derived from it and use those to inform my thinking about it.

Thinking about this article which Cole Tucker pointed out, gets at precisely one of those other elements, namely subjectivity. (I know, this is clearly why I can’t have nice things. A few steps into a twitter exchange and then days and days pass before I’m launching into a lengthy post.)

“What I do in my films is very distinctive. They are the films of a woman and I think that they’re characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think the strength of men is in their great sense of immediacy. They are a ‘now’ creature. A woman has strength to wait because she has had to wait. Time is built into her body in the sense of becomingness. She sees everything in terms of the stage of becoming.”—Maya Deren

Raising the question of subjectivity necessarily raise the question of objectivity, which provides a good frame for talking about the entanglement of time, space, and subjectivity. In favoring time as more primary, I am trading on a few intuitions about time, space, and experience.

As regards space, it can be derived from time by way of distance. Extension in the abstract is fairly meaningless until we take into account speed, which is a product of time, a function of the relationship of extended bodies through time. Bodies themselves are relations of other bodies in time, of elements in proximity to each other, which come together and come apart through time. Those relations, in turn, define interrelated sequences of events.

The sequence of events defined by speed foreshadows subjectivity and provides subjectivity with anchorage. As regards subjectivity, I tend to think of it as derived from time by experience, which necessarily emerges in a horizon of time-consciousness, an implicit process according to which things manifest through memory, expectation, and presence.

I’ve talked a little like this before, and I owe an intellectual debt to Spinoza on these points. In case you aren’t looking at those links, let me underline that while I do think there are elements of space and experience that run in parallel, I tend to follow more recent phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty in affirming that their is an asymmetrical relationship between these two expressions of time, such that zigzag relationships emerge between them.

My thinking around this has been hampered by my tendency to overemphasize the role of time in subjective experience while overlooking it in objective extension. It is especially easy, following pop physics, to spatialize time in reference to extension, to reduce sequence to the same sort of dimensionality as space. There is a spatiality to time in extension, but I don’t want to reduce all forms of time in extension to strictly spatial sequencing.

When I toy with the difference between intelligence and consciousness, part of what I am exploring is the boundary zone this asymmetry produces. Intelligence and consciousness each seem to define one side of a common asymmetry, such that intelligence tilts toward spatial extension and consciousness toward experience. It is around the theme of intelligence that I think we can tease out some sense of time in extension that exceeds (or is simply incompatible with a full reduction to) spatial rendering.

What makes human being exceptional is not so much that they are conscious, intelligent, or both conscious and intelligent, but that we are capable of intensifying and modulating our consciousness more than other beings with which we share this capacity and that our consciousness is more ‘contagious’ than most other forms, able to excite intelligences into consciousness (my fondness for the Popol Vuh‘s ‘giving of praise,’ as well as my reading of human beings as made in the image of God after Ibn’Arabi).

(The proximity of spirit manifestation and geometry, whether in visionary experience, strangely precise bodily movement as if the body is drawing itself toward the rigid geometrical comprehension of intelligence, or the drawing of geometrical figures. Also, the Yeatsian material derived from spiritualist contact provides a useful parallel in distributing its four faculties and in the affirmation of spirits’ geometric character.)

This is where I would like to start talking about this blog post of Edward Butler that Cole also pointed out, where Butler talks about the distinction between angels, daimons, and heroes:

“For Proclus, angels, daimons and heroes operate three powers of time, powers *we* experience as past, present, and future. The three powers of “past”, “present” and “future” each operate through the whole of time for him. This part is still confusing to me, but it seems that the past, present and future are ordered by their degree of inclusion. The “future”, therefore, is effectively defined as the power of time with the minimum extension. (This has the advantage, presumably, of being a non-circular definition of the parts of time.)

So the heroes, in operating “futurity”, are not “in the future”, but rather are the factical dimension of the divine as such. The heroes are those divinities most fixed in time and place, making them a kind of zero point of iterability.” (bold emphasis is my own)

I always hesitate terms like angels, daimons, and heroes because they are so polysemous that discussions using them can collapse easily into mutual misunderstanding. As defined here, though, they have a technical meaning which (I hope) can provide a stable foundation upon which some comparisons can be made between my present thinking and the thinking represented in this post.

To rephrase what I see as Butler’s take on Proclus and Butler’s reasons for endorsing it: the gods as such are potencies that lie beyond our ability to experience them. To the extent that we are able to experience them, we do so under the auspices of time. There are three modalities of time and a spiritual presence of the divine that belongs properly to it (Angels, Daimons, Heroes—I’ll shorten to ADH here). The different modalities are distinguished according to their degree of contraction, their localization within place and time. Angels are the least localized and so experienced as ‘past’ while heroes are the most contracted and local expressions (‘zero point of iterability’) and so experienced as ‘future.’

I want to suggest a slightly different framework for the ADH that brings them into focus alongside the asymmetrical monism I have talked about. I want to think of them as demarcating a trajectory of the divine as it manifests along, across, and through the line of intelligence-consciousness. In so doing, I also want to project the ADH framework outward to better encompass their relationship to the ethical dimensions of religious experience. Weroes, for example, as just “zero points of iterability” and “factical” expression of the divine.

Under their angelic manifestation, the gods manifest as having been involved in the present moment we are experiencing, as having organized a past that makes the present possible. They are arguably the least ethical of the ADH framework. They are deeply embedded in their function as an intelligence rather than a consciousness, and manifest in the present as that which announces what has been, either sealing it with the divine approval or sealing with the divine rejection.

Under the daemonic expression, they manifest in the present moment as presently involved in our life with all its ambiguities. Assertion and contradiction replace annunciation and denunciation, bringing with them an atmosphere of contest. The daimonic assertion can be challenged and its contradictions answered. Daimonic intelligence is also entangled with our consciousness, more responsive to our inclination and desire. They answer our will but also our desires.

Under the heroic aspect, the divine manifest in the present as directing agency. The gray amorality of the daemonic becomes a more sharply limned network of moral injunctions, of oughts and ought nots. The heroic aspect greets our consciousness with its own consciousness and rallies daemonic forces to itself. These forces can support or oppose us according to how we relate to the organizing heroic fore. Its heroic character derives less from its representation of a specific person who is the zero point of iterability (which seems a problematic assertion given the way heroic personae multiply in legend and myth), but from its character of having consciousness in a manner akin to a person.

Or, less abstractly, angels stand for what we can’t change (fate), daimons stand for mutability itself, and heroes stand for a goal to which we can rally, oppose, or flee (destiny).

Following Butler’s discussion of the daemonic through another post, this has some consequences for ritual action:

“In the case of daimons eponymous with a God, I think that they are generated by the repetition of ritual in time. The elements that hold together a ritual practice in time, that lend it identity, give flesh, as it were, to the corresponding daimon….these daimons are like statues of the Gods. We craft them with the correct attributes so that the God is identifiable to us. With the recognition of the God in the statue, s/he begins to live there, acquiring a place in time and space. This localization is empowering in certain respects, a loss of power in others. What was everywhere and nowhere is now here.”

While I think this is true enough, it focuses overmuch on the daimonic dimensions of ritual and overlooks the heroic dimensions of it. What lends the ritual its coherence under the auspices of a divinity is not the eponymous daimonic elements, but the heteronymous heroic elements, the orchestrating and directive conscious intelligences that take an interest in our consciousness and its relationship to the divine.

Heroes relate to forms of action, forms of life, traditions, in ways that angels and daimons do not, because they relate more directly through consciousness. It also encourages us to consider the ways in which some eponymous daimons have an indirect relationship to the divine by way of the heroes that gave them ritual form, and it is under the heroes’ banner that religions are differentiated into their respective covenants, even when the same hero stand over disparate covenants. Daimons may become localized, but heroes provide the impetus for social differentiation and individuation.

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