Summoning the Gods

Summoning the Gods

Essays on Paganism in a God-Forsaken World

Review: Gwendolyn Taunton

Summoning the GodsSummoning the Gods presents an intriguing collection of essays, the majority of which relate to North European paganism. The author of the book is described in the Introduction as a Traditionalist, a Tāntrika and a theologian of Nordic neo-paganism. [1] As someone with an interest in Tantra, North European Paganism and philosophy, the description was enough to pique my curiosity. The Introduction also describes the general gist of the work further, adding that Cleary suggests,

What we need is not the Prometheanism of Benoist’s quasi-Nietzschean pagan, but Gelassenheit (“letting being be”) or wu wei (“non-action”). Openness to the Gods requires that we relinquish the modern desire to control and manipulate – including the desire to manipulate ourselves into belief in the Gods – and make a kind of “space” within ourselves, in which the divine might show itself again.[2]

Cleary does indeed begin the book with this premise, saying in the first chapter that most religious radicals “hold that the Gods exist, but that human beings have somehow become “closed” to them”. [3] The explanation Cleary provides for this spiritual aloofness stems from two sources, namely intellectualism and egoism, both of which have become more prominent in the modern era.

Early on in the book, Cleary also describes the inherent differences between monotheism and polytheism, showing that it is not just a question of plurality or personal preference, but rather a matter of perspective which has philosophical implications for our view and understanding of the world around us. Cleary says that,

Monotheism sucks all the mystery out of nature and injects it into God, who is the “explanation” for nature. While polytheism through the worship of many Gods, affirms the life and mystery of the world in all its complexity, monotheism declares the world to be a mere artefact, the product of God’s making, and thus about as living and mysterious as a thumb-tack. [4]

In terms of nature and the environment, humanity places itself as within the environment in polytheist traditions, whilst in monotheist traditions a sense of distance is achieved because nature is filtered into the perception of God – i.e. polytheism has an animistic and pantheist tendency, whereas monotheism places emphasis on man’s relationship with a singular God. Moreover, in polytheism different Gods possess readily identifiable traits and use of symbolism, for example according to Cleary “The symbolism of a God, the God’s sex (male or female), the God’s attributes, and associated myths, all serve to tell us something about the nature of some phenomenon taken in its numinous aspect”. [5] From this perspective Cleary then informs the reader that this symbolism operates on the philosophical level.

My thesis is that Plato is taking up the experience of the divine, and the concept of divinity, and recasting them in a philosophical, even “scientific” form.  Religious or mystical experience becomes philosophical or scientific “insight”, and the Gods become “Forms” or patterns in nature. [6]

Cleary also elaborates on how these forms relate back to the relationship between natural phenomenon and polytheism as described earlier:

I think it clearly shows that they believed all polytheistic religions to be drawing on a mysterious, common source. Different peoples have given different names to their divinities. They have also emphasized certain deities, and certain aspects of deities, over others. But underlying these surface differences is a fundamental identity. When pagans could not find an analogue for a God in their own pantheon, they would simply adopt it (e.g., the Roman worship of Mithras). [7]

This offers the reader an explanation of why some pagan deities are not easily recognizable as manifestations of natural phenomenon or communal experiences. Over the passage of time their original symbolism has altered and they have absorbed into their being other components and/or qualities to become a ‘gestalt’ combination of symbolism that separates these Gods from other manifestations of forces which are prevalent in polytheism.

One of the interesting subjects in the book is that the author connects the Tantric ideas of kuṇḍalinī and the cakra system with Yggdrasill and Níðhöggr, suggesting that they are analogous to the system of Tantric Yoga and the axis mundi, in which the macrocosm is reflected within the microcosm – the structure of the universe, and in particular its esoteric core, is mirrored within man – an argument which in itself is related to teleological theories of the divine.

The book then dwells at length upon the meaning and interpretation of the runes, and offers a unique description of them which draws more from European philosophy than it does from esoteric lore. Instead Cleary looks to Hegel to explain the runes. This philosophical onus is interesting, but offers little in terms of divinatory or occult meaning, opting instead for a stringent philosophical approach. By way of example Dagaz (which is usually interpreted as paradoxical) is described by Cleary here,

It is important that Dagaz does not express the mystic principle that sometimes goes by the name of coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites). The coincidence of opposites asserts that the world of duality we experience is unreal, and that everything is really “one”. […] The third to which Dagaz gives rise is not a transcendent “one” beyond opposites, but a concrete third thing which appears in the world, in some fashion. [8 ]

The book then concludes with two chapters on a very different topic: The Prisoner and Alejandro Jodorwsky. These are both very interesting topics but probably should have been included as an appendix to the volume as they deal with different content to the previous chapters.

Overall Summoning the Gods provides a basic introduction to the nature of paganism and the runes from the perspective of philosophy instead of the esoteric, which marks it as distinct from most works in this genre. People with an interest in a philosophical approach to pagan ideas will find this book interesting.


Summoning the Gods can be ordered here


[1] Cleary, Collin, Summoning the Gods, Counter-Currents Publishing Ltd., 2011, iii.

[2] Ibid., viii

[3] Ibid., 1

[4] Ibid., 12

[5] Ibid., 35

[6] Ibid., 55

[7] Ibid., 73

[8] Ibid., 100

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