How should deities be interpreted? Are they even real?

“You believe in God without form; that is quite all right. But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form.”
—Sri Ramakrishna

There are so many deities/gods/goddesses in Hinduism, Buddhism, and many other religions. Are these gods and goddesses purely pre-rational mythic level imaginations or are they symbolic of higher spiritual truths or are they actually real?

Ken describes deity mysticism as being one with a deity form. But is this deity form a real deity that exists or is it something as unreal as a figure in a dream?

Ken never goes into detail on deities or deity mysticism which I find far more interesting than the witness and the nondual states. I’m sure he’s had his own deity mysticism experiences. I really wonder how he interprets them.

I liken it to a Rorschach test. There really is a God/Spirt/Oversoul or something, but we all see it differently based on cultural and personal biases. Because cultural biases are shared among large groups, it makes sense that any given group would have a common image for their God and it would be subjectively real.

So something like an elephant-headed God like Ganesha doesn’t exist in the external world and his appearance is purely a creation of people’s UL and LL quadrant biases?

That’s my explanation. Your example is one from a group, so I think it’s only in the LL, but yes.

If I wanna do some research on how humans’ LL created these deities, what are some keywords I can search up on Google? What are some books I can read to learn more about this subject?

As much as I’d like to help, I’m at a bit of a loss. The Roschach analogy is mine. I think I got my understanding of states from the book, When Sex Parts the Veil (the author was interviewed here long ago), and Thresholds of the Mind by Bill Harris (the developer of Holosync). The “parting the veil” book, to me was an explication of how wacky and random state experiences can be. Thresholds of Mind, if I remember it correctly, didn’t succinctly state this, said there is an intelligible sequence of states that Humans have. But also unsaid, is that they have a big random and wacky subjective aspect. I suppose the best perspective on it is “Zones”, a very useful but little talked about part of Wilberian Integral, explicated in the book Integral Spirituality. Those are the three books I suggest. Others are welcome to suggest too. I have an infographic on states and I’ll try to find and post it. Best Wishes.

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"Erich Fromm’s main observation is that man needs illusions in order to make his life bearable. Mankind’s illusions take the form of ideologies that assert the supreme importance of sets of preferred values. Society erects its idols—they may be money, materialism, religious dogma, etc.—and then proceeds to worship them. Members of the society transfer their emotional energy to their idols, quickly forgetting in the process that it is they who empower their gods, and in doing so they willfully lie to themselves. The population of a society comes to invest a huge amount of psychological energy in sustaining and defending its preferred lies. The majority of men and women, Fromm claimed, are inherently stupid and unable to see through the lies in which they are so heavily invested. Wars are fought largely to defend these illusions. Anyone who attempts to see through society’s lies is subject to ostracism and alienation, and so the fear of rejection and isolation discourages individual incentive to penetrate the lies and to discover what is true" From Steven James Bartlett’s book: The Pathology Of Man

As far as I’m concerned from all that I’ve read over the years, the quote above sums up all I need to know about deities: they don’t exist-never did and never will. No matter how many ways you think of deities, it will always remain a thought, an idea, and a very imperfect one. As eminent mythologist Joseph Campbell said “God is beyond all categories of thought” So it’s a waste of time and synaptic energy thinking about things beyond human comprehension. Fromm was harsh when he said that said people who believe in God are stupid. I rather like to think of them as painfully unaware of the manner in which they deceive themselves and the worse thing about it is that they don’t know they’ve been deceived by religious and even political ideologies that keep them at a psychological state of arrested development.
The far right and far left are prime examples of it.

@gnosisman There are several things I find deeply confusing. One is, if deities are not real, why are they taken so seriously? How did, for example, the person who designed the imaginary elephant headed-God Ganesha manage to trick so many people into thinking his/her fictional deity is real? Not only that, the person who created Ganesha also managed to trick so many people into worshiping this fictional character for thousands of years, which is quite an astonishing feat. What’s more incredible is that there were amazing pranksters like this all over the world, they all created their own imaginary Gods and successfully got people to worship these fictional Gods for thousands of years. If I were to go back in time and try to convince people that Sponge Bob is a real deity no one would take me seriously. Let alone convincing them to worship Sponge Bob square pants. Why are some fictional characters taken to be absolutely real and others are considered to purely fictional?

The second thing I find confusing is, when I read Ken’s books, I get the impression that God with form is a mythic/Amber level understanding of God which is as fictional as Santa Claus. But he also says in deity mysticism (which is an experience people at any level can have) you become one with a deity form. Let’s say an atheist guy at Orange experiences deity mysticism as a peak experience. What kind of deity would he even see? Why would he—someone at Orange—see deities if deities are nothing more than Amber level imagination? And why would that person only see fictional beings that people at Amber regard as deities instead of some other fictional beings such as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus?

Ken also said in Tibetan Buddhism there’s a practice where you visualize yourself as the deity (link: It doesn’t sound like he regards this practice as some kind of Amber pre-rational superstition, he most likely practiced this visualization technique himself. The question is, why would he—someone who’s way above Amber—take such a technique seriously if deities are fake and pre-rational?

As I understand deities they are archetypes or an amalgam of archetypes. You can imagine them and ask them questions, and if you do they can answer. The benefit of imagining another entity is that you get your ego out of the way so that “your” brains thinking becomes unobscured by the egos agendas and closedmindedness. This way you gain access to a higher wisdom.
And they really do exist, in the real world, as neurons, hidden in your brain. Could they be more real and alive then that?!
God should not be thought of as a deitie. Any (deitie)form is a part of God, not God itself.

Tantra is quite focused on deity union.

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@Digital_Love I can’t say I’m satisfied with that answer, I’m still very confused. Let me ask more specifically and directly. Why does Ganesha have an elephant head? Is it because there’s actually a God with an elephant head or is it because someone specifically designed this fictional God and his appearance this way? If this elephant headed God was designed by someone just as Sponge Bob square pants was created by someone using his imagination, then why do some people think Ganesha is real and worship him while no one thinks Sponge Bob is real?

The point of deity union is to take on the wisdom and virtues of a deity. Deities are created to represent those virtues. Elephants are thought of as wise creatures so they used elephant to represent wisdom.
In greek mythology the goddess of wisdom, athena is accompanied by an owl, which represented wisdom to people in ancient greek.
The virtue of wisdom is the same but the representing form is based on culture and life experience.
Pre-rational people thinks these are real and out there in the world hiding somewhere like Santa Claus. It’s not necessary to have such childish believes to engage in deity union.

If spongebob were created in ancient india and taught as religion, people would have believed it too. But since spongebob doesn’t represent any profound virtues, it would not make an impact on people and they would soon people forget about it.
Joseph Campbell has written about this dynamic in mythology.

If you imagine an entity that is maximally loving and wise you will be able to tap into a love, power and wisdom that is inaccessible to your ego. In deity yoga a deity is used to represent these virtues.
Then you surrender yourself to this being and let its love and wisdom flow through you. It’s a very powerful technique that I recommend.


Deities are created to represent those virtues.

So someone created an elephant-headed being to represent certain virtues. And people around this person mistakenly thought this being was a God and started worshiping it while the creator of this elephant being was fully aware of the fact that this being didn’t really exist and he/she also didn’t bother telling people Ganesha was just a representation, not a real God? and not only that, the creator of the elephant being also created a bunch of other fictional beings/deities and even made up stories about them. It sounds to me that the creator of these deities really enjoyed pranking people. And what’s even more bizarre is that there were very creative pranksters like this all over the world, they all used their imagination to design all sorts of Gods/Goddesses/deities and made up stories for them. And they all successfully tricked people into believing that these fictional beings are real Gods that must be worshiped. Don’t you think it’s a bit unlikely that this is the case?

btw pls don’t get the impression that I’m being sarcastic or snarky in this comment, I read my comment and I found that it comes across as a bit sarcastic and rude but I swear that’s not my intention :slight_smile:

I should be more specific. Myths evolve to represent archetypes and virtues. Deities and other mythic characters has always been taught in the context of a story. I don’t know where myths start but my best guess is that they start as a bedtime story in a magic/mythic culture. It starts of in a very simple and crude form. Then the child grows up and still believes it. He then gets 4 children and tells them the story. But when he retells it from memory the less meaningful details gets forgotten and the parts of the myth that are archetypaly significant gets elaborated on.
The same process happens with the 4 children so the myth now has 4 mutations and the best mutation spreads the fastest as it’s more captivating and interesting. And the other 3 mutations become slowly forgotten. This way a myth evolves to more and more perfectly represent an archetype. It’s the exact same mechanisms of evolution that makes organic life evolve.
An example of an archetype is the earth father. It represents a nourishing masculine energy. An archetype can represent virtue. Good deities evolve to represent virtues archetypes.
Jordan Peterson has talked a bit about the evolution of myth you might find him interesting.

@Digital_Love Your explanation does explain how the original stories get distorted and passed down overtime. But the biggest mystery to me is the origin of myths and deities. If all the myths and deities were made up by adults to entertain their children, then it doesn’t explain why they never told their kids that these are just fictional stories and characters.

It sounds highly unlikely that thousands of religions were formed all around the world simply because a bunch of parents forgot to tell their kids that the bedtime stories that they made up were not real.

They weren’t distorted by mutating, they were created, from a kind of collective creative process. These myths started of as folklore. It’s hard for us modern people to understand how one could believe in such silly things. Folklore existed everywhere, with varying levels of sophistication. This is nothing out of the ordinary. The people who created these myths were magenta/red. Things being verifiably true weren’t as important as feeling true. If people can believe in fundamentalist christianity today dispite having been educated, you could imagine how less critical people was back then. You and I can barely wrap our minds around how unrational people can be.
Deities are a real part of our subconscious brain. They don’t have to be in some magic realm to be significant. And if they were that really wouldn’t change anything about the practice of deity yoga. There is a simple explanation for both myth and for deity yoga. No need to complicate it.

I recommend Ken Wilber’s book ‘Up from Eden’ - I think this process is very well explained there.

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Most people who have taken psychedelics can easily understand how Deities came into being.
Your brain under the influence of psychedelics often forms “entities” that are essentially formed by your subconscious. Today a lot of people hallucinate aliens or jokers or Lovecraftean monsters. There is a kind of commonality in modern entities because our modern society has certain distinct shared subconscious concepts.
While there is no direct smoking gun evidence, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that hallucinations were prevalent in many ancient religions.
From there it’s easy to understand that ancient humans would have a shared subconscious construct and when people did whatever they did to induce hallucinogenic states, they would have similar hallucinations, or at least similar archetypes - and call them Deities.
Today after we take hallucinogens, we cognitively understand that those entities don’t really exist (or we get admitted to psychiatric institutions). Despite those hallucinations seeming very real and the entities seeming to actually exist in some kind of alternate dimension or whatever - cognitively modern humans tend to believe be able to find a rational way to explain why the tentacled one-eyed ink Goddess in the underworld is not actually “real Goddess”, lol.

I had always assumed that the gods were what most of you are describing: projections of the collective unconscious and so on. The most typical ‘benevolent’ approach to the gods in the mid 20th century held by, for example, Joseph Campbell and Jung (for most of his writings), was very much in line with an essentially materialistic view of reality (their views were benevolent as opposed to the outright negation of the gods). Recognizing gods as qualities of the human psyche projected upwards made sense, and appeared to offer a way to salvage some value of religion for modern people.

Therefore, I was surprised when, without any apparent diminution of my rational faculties or becoming swept up in a belief system, somewhere in my fifth decade I began to see that the gods were real.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that they are real in the sense that they place somewhere in material reality (i.e., ‘up in heaven’), and I am not failing to recognize that any image of any god is largely the result of personal and cultural projections, and of course absolutist statements about gods are mistaken. But is there something more or less like an independent consciousness of the gods? That’s the real question, isn’t it? My answer is yes.

Western thinking for centuries now has posited a directional trajectory for reality that goes something like: matter + energy > life > consciousness. If that’s the case, then the gods are hooey. It would take a book-length explanation to deal with that, and fortunately there are plenty of books already out there on the subject. For a quick reference, I would cite Neoplatonism, Kabbalah, the mind-only school of Mahayana Buddhism (Yogachara), and to the best of my understanding the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism as well.

Schmooshing the many differences and subtleties of these and other approaches into an oversimplified paragraph, the idea is that consciousness is not a late-comer to existence, but is present from the very start, either co-existent with matter and energy or, more likely, exists prior to any manifest reality. There are multiple levels of reality, from pure undifferentiated consciousness through various levels of differentiation down, to material reality, which is perhaps only consciousness or mind slowed down to a manageable level for us slow kids on the cosmic spectrum who need three stable dimensions of space, unidirectional time, etc…

There are not only many levels of reality, but considerable variations and ‘localities’ on each level. These are the imaginal (not ‘imaginary’) realms, the astral planes, and so on. There are many interesting ideas about these levels and places, but given their nature (free of the constraints of things like unidirectional time), it’s hard to say much that satisfies those of us who are used to more fixed coordinates.

It’s in those realms that we find the gods, along with all sorts of other beings. Of course, we can only experience them in ways that make sense to those of us on this plane, which helps explain why there’s so much variation and a lack of consistency. We are indeed projecting our reality onto theirs, but it’s not just a projection. In ultimate terms of mind-only, emptiness, ein sof, etc, the gods don’t really exist - but then again, neither do you. It’s all Maya, on this or any other level, but that doesn’t negate that there are other levels, however it looks from here.

It’s a long answer, late to the discussion, and way short of convincing, I’m sure. But the thing is, you don’t understand the existence of the gods through a logical argument, but through experience, and that isn’t happening in a post of any size.

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Check out the article “Our Wild Cosmos” by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens at:
“…the boundaries between real/unreal are fuzzier and more fluid than we are used to or scientifically comfortable with.” (pg. 25) Some great scholarship here, incorporating integral theory, and pertinent to much more than ufos. Thought-provoking.

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