Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.
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If a particular relationship is made up of the relationship between two objects, then it is possible for that relationship to also be in relationship with a third object. (Notes on Relationships; David Douglas Thompson)
This formula has some interesting implications for pagan theology. A relationship between two zed objects can also be treated as a zed object. In Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets have a vendetta with the Montagues. A vendetta is a type of relationship, but the existence of the vendetta has a tremendous impact on every member of both families. Romeo is a member of the Capulet family, so whether he likes it or not he has to deal with the vendetta. Therefore, the existence of the vendetta between Capulet and Montague implies that there is also a zed between Romeo and the vendetta.
If the vendetta can function as a zed object in its own right, then so can other relationships. The simplest way to think of this is to imagine a ghost. You can think of a ghost as the relationship between a living person and a dead person, between a place and some traumatic event that occurred in that place, or between a person and a place perceived as haunted. In each of these cases, the haunted or numinous relationship is in itself the ghost. A zed can be a zed object, so a relationship can be an entity.
Here’s another example. At some unimaginably ancient point in the distant past, a human being first saw a waterfall or stood in a grove of trees or on top of a hill and felt a numinous presence, a “weird awe and shuddering dread before the mysteries of the transcendent” as described by Rudolf Otto.
The relationship between this person and that place was numinous, haunted, spiritual – and the numen or spirit was that relationship. Over countless centuries, the behavior of human beings in relationship with the numinous power in the landscape became a body of lore and behavior – in other words, religion.
Because “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion,” no distinction is drawn between different types of entity. Information space includes everything, both mind and matter. The relationship between a person and an idea is not fundamentally different than the relationship between two physical objects. Both interactions are simply A Ƶ B, “an interaction between A and B.”
Imagine an ancient Gaul by the name of Brennos. Brennos, as an individual human being, is a zed object. Thunder is also a zed object. Brennos hears a crash of thunder nearby and touches his hand to the wagon-wheel amulet he wears around his neck, reciting a prayer to the Gaulish thunder god Taranis.
The Gauls (a set of zed objects of which Brennos is a part) have a particular relationship with thunder. In Gaulish mythology, thunder is the sound of Taranis rolling his thunder wheel across the heavens. Thunder is obviously a natural phenomenon, but a Roman would relate to it as a manifestation of Jupiter while a Gaul would relate to it as a manifestation of Taranis. You could say that Taranis is the relationship the Gauls have with thunder.
Now, if the Gauls as a whole have a relationship with thunder and that relationship can be spoken of as Taranis, then Taranis can also be in relationship with any specific Gaul. So Brennos, as an individual Gaul, can be in relationship with Taranis.
This relationship is not strictly identical to the relationship between Brennos and thunder considered purely as a natural phenomenon. As a natural phenomenon, thunder indicates the presence of lightning and possibly of rain, both of which can have various practical implications for Brennos such as healthy crops, the risk of fire and so on. However, when Brennos touches the wagon-wheel amulet and recites his prayer, he isn’t just thinking about rain and fire. He’s acknowledging the divine presence of the numen and holding it in religious regard. The numen, in other words, is a particular way of relating to the natural phenomenon – yet the numen itself is also a real entity. Why? Because it is something that Brennos interacts with, and “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.”
Now, if the relationship between thunder and the Gauls is itself a zed object, then the relationship between Brennos and that zed object must also be a zed object. Therefore, the relationship between Brennos and Taranis is a zed object in its own right. Therefore, there is a version of Taranis that is unique to Brennos, and it is a really existing entity while also remaining a part of the larger information set that is Taranis as a whole.
If Brennos has a dream vision in which Taranis tells him certain things, while his neighbor has a dream vision in which Taranis tells him other things, neither is wrong and both are right. They are each relating to a different entity, yet also to the same entity from another perspective. The Taranis of any one worshiper is more specific and more individual yet very much smaller, less complex and less powerful than the full information set of Taranis. This further implies that Taranis as a whole is part of a larger yet still real zed object – the information set containing all thunder gods, which is less individualized and specific yet larger and more complex than Taranis.
Thus, every deity is all of the following things simultaneously:
1- a zed (the relationship between a people and some phenomenon or set of phenomena).
2- a zed object (that relationship considered as an entity in its own right).
3- a member of an information set (a larger and less specific deity).
4- an information set containing many zed objects (all of the zeds between the deity and specific individuals, recognized aspects of the deity, specific local manifestations of the deity and so on).
It gets still more complicated. The ancient Carthaginians worshiped a goddess known as Tanit, Tanit, like most deities, is not just one specific thing. While the name “Taranis” actually means “Thunder” in the Gaulish language, Tanit seems like a more complex entity and cannot be reduced down to one phenomenon such as the sky – although she was definitely a sky goddess. There is a large and complex information set of associations important to the Carthaginians, of which the sky and celestial objects such as the sun and moon are only a part. Tanit is the relationship between the Carthaginians and this entire set.
When the Romans conquered Carthage, they encouraged the people of the area to continue to worship Tanit as the Roman goddess Juno. The synthesis of Juno and Tanit was called Caelestis. Caelestis is the relationship between Juno and Tanit, and like any other relationship Caelestis is also a zed object. Thus, Caelestis is a goddess in her own right – separate from both Juno and Tanit yet not distinct from them.
The cult of Caelestis spread to Roman Britain, where it merged with the worship of the local Celtic goddess Brigantia. The goddess Caelestis Brigantia is the relationship between Caelestis and Brigantia, yet is also a unique and really-existing zed object – a separate goddess, simultaneously Celtic, Roman and Carthaginian.
Based on this analysis, the hardest of hard polytheisms is accurate from one perspective – and the softest of soft polytheisms from another perspective. This would definitely be an occasion for “ringing the changes.”
In polytheist religion, we normally seek to interact with more specific and localized forms of deity. What if we tried to relate to the entire universe as a single information set? Now we’re talking about monotheism, because the religious relationship between a single worshiper and the entire universe is a zed object too, and this zed object could be described as “God.” As a religious category, monotheism is that branch of religion that favors relationship with the whole, and devalues relationships with parts of the whole. Yet there is more than one monotheism, because the relationship between a Christian and the whole is different from the relationship between a Muslim and the whole.
What if we do not acknowledge or experience any spiritual relationship with any entity? Now we’re talking about atheism. The relationship between a person and the whole is valid for some people and the relationship between a person and some part of the whole is valid for other people, yet there will always be some people who experience no such relationship. Thus, Relationship Theory is in some sense naturally polytheistic (because it predicts the existence of an infinite number of relationships and treats them all as entities) yet it also accounts for the existence of monotheism (the preference for relating spiritually to all of reality as a single set) and atheism (the experience of reality without numinous relationships).
If Relationship Theory treats a spirit as a pattern in information space, does it therefore deny the agency of the gods? No, not at all. In Relationship Theory, the direct perception of any zed object is sufficient proof of its existence, since “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” Some patterns in information space display the signs of agency – through mystical visions and natural processes, through the actions of human beings in relationship with them, through our dreams and our deeds. Since they display the signs of agency, they do have agency as far as Relationship Theory is concerned.
“Information space” refers to all contexts in which information can operate, and therefore includes everything from the physical universe to the unconscious to subtle levels of reality currently unknown to science (assuming such levels exist). A pattern in information space may play out across any or all of these.
Thus, ghosts are patterns in information space initiated by people who were once alive, demons are patterns with malicious intent, gods are especially powerful patterns, and archons are patterns of information that distort our perception of reality and function in such a way as to prevent humanity from fulfilling its potential.
A single entity can fall into more than one of these categories at the same time. For instance, the information pattern of a freshwater spring could be a nature spirit, nymph or fairy – but if that pattern began as a person who drowned in that spot, it is also a ghost. A posthumously deified hero is both a ghost and a god. A dead spirit possessing a human being for harmful purposes is both a ghost and a demon. A powerful spirit seeking to manipulate and control humanity could be seen as both a god and an archon at the same time.
This brings us back to the strangest passage in Thompson’s notebook:
“We are not, as some think, the pawns in some cosmic war but the battleground itself.”
Our minds and our bodies are part of information space, and the patterns in information space interact within us. We are their battleground, and the prize in this war is control of reality.
My father drew no distinction between the archons and the gods. I don’t agree with this view, because I see no reason to assume that every numinous presence or power would want to control or abuse human beings. Some of them, however, certainly do. By introducing new information energy into looped patterns we can break the cycle, freeing people from possession by the archons – the information patterns that hold us back from our potential as a species.
From this perspective, Relationship Theory is a philosophy of revolutionary exorcism.
Image by Henry Fuseli