Edgar Allan Poe: Cosmotheist?
by Kevin Alfred Strom
A READER recently wrote: “I share your enthusiasm for Poe, but I do not understand how he is a Cosmotheist.”
I regard Poe as an instinctive, intuitive Cosmotheist thinker, though he did not construct or expound a religion or philosophy based upon his ideas as did William Pierce and others.
Consider Poe’s words from his ‘prose poem’ Eureka, which he held to be one of his most important works, though it is among his most ignored today. Poe makes many errors in Eureka, but few that cannot be excused by the limited scientific knowledge of his day. He didn’t have the facts available to Pierce, Romer, Dawkins, Cattell, or even Shaw and Nietzsche; but he did see far more deeply than most writers of his time. Some of his intuitive insights are astounding.
One of the central ideas of Cosmotheism is that Man’s consciousness is but part of the emerging self-consciousness of the universe. Poe, who also seems to anticipate the idea of entropy in this passage, said:
‘Now the very definition of Attraction implies particularity — the existence of parts, particles, or atoms; for we define it as the tendency of “each atom &c. to every other atom,” &c. according to a certain law. Of course where there are no parts — where there is absolute Unity — where the tendency to oneness is satisfied — there can be no Attraction: — this has been fully shown, and all Philosophy admits it. When, on fulfilment of its purposes, then, Matter shall have returned into its original condition of One — a condition which presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether, whose province and whose capacity are limited to keeping the atoms apart until that great day when, this ether being no longer needed, the overwhelming pressure of the finally collective Attraction shall at length just sufficiently predominate… and expel it: — when, I say, Matter, finally, expelling the Ether, shall have returned into absolute Unity, — it will then (to speak paradoxically for the moment) be Matter without Attraction and without Repulsion — in other words, Matter without Matter — in other words, again, Matter no more. In sinking into Unity, it will sink at once into that Nothingness which, to all Finite Perception, Unity must be — into that Material Nihility from which alone we can conceive it to have been evoked — to have been created by the Volition of God.
‘I repeat then — Let us endeavor to comprehend that the final globe of globes will instantaneously disappear, and that God will remain all in all.
‘But are we here to pause? Not so. On the Universal agglomeration and dissolution, we can readily conceive that a new and perhaps totally different series of conditions may ensue — another creation and irradiation, returning into itself — another action and reaction of the Divine Will. Guiding our imaginations by that omniprevalent law of laws, the law of periodicity, are we not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief — let us say, rather, in indulging a hope — that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine?
‘And now — this Heart Divine — what is it? It is our own. Let not the merely seeming irreverence of this idea frighten our souls from that cool exercise of consciousness — from that deep tranquillity of self-inspection — through which alone we can hope to attain the presence of this, the most sublime of truths, and look it leisurely in the face.’
Poe explicitly rejects the idea of an anthropomorphic God, and ridicules the idea of a God with a human-like body:
‘The force which carries a stellar body around its primary they assert to have originated in an impulse given immediately by the finger -– this is the childish phraseology employed -– by the finger of Deity itself. In this view, the planets, fully formed, are conceived to have been hurled from the Divine hand, to a position in the vicinity of the suns, with an impetus mathematically adapted to the masses, or attractive capacities, of the suns themselves. An idea so grossly unphilosophical, although so supinely adopted, could have arisen only from the difficulty of otherwise accounting for the absolutely accurate adaptation, each to each, of two forces so seemingly independent, one of the other, as are the gravitating and tangential.’
Poe refers to God repeatedly as the God of Nature — not of scripture — though he differs from Cosmotheists and Pantheists when he suggests that Nature and God are distinct:
For my part, I have no patience with fantasies at once so timorous, so idle, and so awkward. They belong to the veriest cowardice of thought. That Nature and the God of Nature are distinct, no thinking being can long doubt. By the former we imply merely the laws of the latter.’
However, he posits a universe in which God and the divine stand outside of time (an idea that Savitri Devi was to elaborate) and in which all natural laws and all occurrences within time are connected by a chain of what I would call crystalline inevitability and can one and all be subsumed under the word “Law.”
‘But with the very idea of God, omnipotent, omniscient, we entertain, also, the idea of the infallibility of his laws. With Him there being neither Past nor Future -– with Him all being Now –- do we not insult him in supposing his laws so contrived as not to provide for every possible contingency? -– or, rather, what idea can we have of any possible contingency, except that it is at once a result and a manifestation of his laws? He who, divesting himself of prejudice, shall have the rare courage to think absolutely for himself, cannot fail to arrive, in the end, at the condensation of laws into Law -– cannot fail of reaching the conclusion that each law of Nature is dependent at all points upon all other laws, and that all are but consequences of one primary exercise of the Divine Volition. Such is the principle of the Cosmogony which, with all necessary deference, I here venture to suggest and to maintain.
‘In this view, it will be seen that, dismissing as frivolous, and even impious, the fancy of the tangential force having been imparted to the planets immediately by “the finger of God,” I consider this force as originating in the rotation of the stars: -– this rotation as brought about by the in-rushing of the primary atoms, towards their respective centres of aggregation: –- this in-rushing as the consequence of the law of Gravity: –- this law as but the mode in which is necessarily manifested the tendency of the atoms to return into imparticularity: -– this tendency to return as but the inevitable rëaction of the first and most sublime of Acts -– that act by which a God, selfexisting and alone existing, became all things at once, through dint of his volition, while all things were thus constituted a portion of God.’
And that I would call an early and distinct intimation of Cosmotheism.