Every post I’m going to make on this silly blog is probably going to start with a lengthy disclaimer, which is somewhat unfortunate. But with the current social environment, both under the pagan umbrella and larger society, it seems a lot of derailing comes from semantic arguments, a huge hindrance to any depth to discussion. I think frequent clarification is going to be part-and-parcel for polytheist blogging in my case. The disclaimer for this post is two-fold:
- First, these views are my own hypotheses. I am not asserting them as fact. I am not preaching or proselytizing these ideas as “right”. I don’t care a whit if you view the Gods differently – because neither of us has any irrefutable proof of fact on the true Nature of Gods.
- Second, as I recognize and readily admit that I don’t always have all the facts on the known universe, I might change my mind. Gasp. It’s a good and logical thing to update one’s viewpoints when presented with new information, despite the (Christian-based?) American view that changing one’s mind is a signifier of weak-mindedness. Perhaps my future practice will lead me to other conclusions…but this post is what I feel for now.
Usually I’ve found Polytheists to be a-okay with the sort of “fuzziness” I’m talking about here, but, who knows. Am I being grumpy again?
What’s a God? The Nature of Deity
In some ways, this is a “Pagan 101” post, but the Nature of Deity is also central to the theology of any religion. Deity is something no religion agrees on, but it is often the origin-point for choices about mundane social behavior – how do we choose to live, if we know our God is the Only Real One? Or if Deity is inherent in everything? Or if our Gods are omniscient and omnipresent – or not?
I do not believe my Gods (or the polytheistic gods in general) are “Creator-gods” in the Monotheistic sense. I don’t believe in creator-gods at all. There was no supernatural dude, or powers, who consciously created everything with his magicness. Not all polytheists agree with my belief, and many folks in world religions believe all creation stems from the power of the Gods. (And that’s fine. We can get along. No worries.)
Personally, I view the Gods as natural beings like all beings, creations of natural phenomenon. I suspect They are inherently linked to our planet and are not necessarily Universal (though similar beings might be elsewhere). I think the “species” of Gods has something similar in function to us, like all sentient spirit-havers, but I believe our limited perception through our physical senses makes it difficult for us to perceive and interact with Them. They are Spirit Beings, sharing our world, who have been with our ancestors for a very very long time. I also think They are “enlightened” beings, and with Their vast knowledge and compassion They are positively inclined to help Humans develop and advance their Spirit aspects. (Side note: I also view Them as either Dharma Protectors or Bodhisattvas, but that’s another talk.) While They can influence the physical world, I don’t think They have ultimate power over it in ways that conflict with natural law.
I think I’m interacting with a variety of Gods who responded to my call based on ancestral (or similar) link. Which is to say, some distant part of my ancestry “knew” Them, and like meeting the nephew of an old friend, I am already familiar to Them. I don’t mean there needs to be some direct blood-connection at all to some group or pantheon, but simply a network of communication, the same as people and other sentient animals have. I didn’t find Them through living people. When I went looking for Gods, They were already there.
How Poly is Polytheist? Hardness and Syncretism
I typically use the word “pantheon” with a lowercase “p”, for its colloquial sense. (1) Sometimes people misinterpret the word pantheon and read more into it than I’m intending…I have a network of gods that are a clan, or work together, or something. They’re the group I interact with on the regular. While I do believe They form a perfect union, the word “pantheon” sometimes makes people think of…I don’t know, a cast of characters specifically designed for a story. It’s not so structured for me. (Any Gods can, in theory, form a perfect union…because They’re Gods.)
Here’s the last shoe to drop, the One Thing I keep meaning to address on this blog, but I’ve been wishy-washy about: I struggle with the nature of ‘syncretism’ and the ‘solidness’ of my deities. I’m very reluctant to declare my Gods as The God, especially since some of Them have very…unclear identities to me. I feel embarrassed about this. However, from reading tentative talks from other polytheists, I have the feeling it’s not uncommon at all.Once you get to talking to polytheists you see it’s pretty typical that the same Gods appear rather differently to each individual, only linked by a common theme. One person, for example, might receive the Goddess Hera in a Queenly aspect, while another in a Maternal aspect. When we talk to the Gods, we’re only perceiving a sliver of Their personalities, so this makes sense.
Unfortunately I’m also nervous since I am not convinced my Gods are even the same Gods whose names I use. Oops! Yes. My practice has a mostly-Norse “gloss”, which I pursue due to my interest in my ancestral heritage, as well as respect for continuing the traditions of my ancestral cultures. But some of the Deities are noticeably lacking in some areas of lore…or my experiences of Them differs quite a bit from the main story. I tend to believe I’ve got a variety of Gods who’ve teamed up for me (Norse, Baltic, Gaulish, and Celt), or that perhaps all of my Gods were standard Northern European or PIE gods known by many names, some of whom lost favor/info over the centuries, as we know sadly happens. So, I know the “psychic imprint” of the Deities in my pantheon, and I have a general idea of who each of Them are, and They in turn seem okay with using the name and “mask” I put on them. A few of them, though, are still frustratingly unclear.
I deal with this by referring to my Personal Deities as epithets/titles. When I worship, I call my Gods by Their titles, not names. This is important to me, partly for psychological reasons: my brain doesn’t need to go in useless circles trying to explain the nature of the Gods pointlessly, since both They and I know who I’m referring to. However it’s worth noting that a huge number of PIE-descended Gods have “names” that originally seemed to be titles anyway. I feel it’s historically justified.(2) My Personal Deities are not the same as the more general/universal deity, but rather the Aspects/masks/rays/parts of the Deity I deal with directly. Does that make sense? If I was invited, for example, to a ritual for the God Odin, I would treat that separately than I would a personal appeal to my God the All-Seer, even though I think They are one and the same. In some ways this is a matter of “spiritual politeness”.
It also keeps me sane so I don’t fall down the “comparative research” hole, which is bottomless. I’m the type of person who wants to Categorize Everything in that Crowleyan 777 way. You don’t get to know a person by reading their Facebook profile any more than you can know a God from Wikipedia, or even the Eddas. The tales we have show an aspect of the Deity’s personality, so we can get a sense of Them, so we can understand something about Their nature – but They are not Their stories just as the land is not the map. My answers aren’t to be found in the intellect alone, unfortunately.
Some pagans/heathens/polytheists are sneering towards syncretism, but I feel it is also historically justified. In polytheistic Europe the reality of gods was just taken for granted; but that doesn’t mean our ancestors all had the same views of Their nature. We know the Romans believed that all Gods were aspects of their own, who appeared a bit different to other cultures. We know the Greeks had “new” Gods join them after being carried to their city-states by believers. It is thought that Baltic peoples believed that the Gods were all emanations of a central Deity (or did they?). The Egyptians regularly syncretized their own Gods, those Deities combining by Their Power and Will into new necessary Gods. And so on.
So you, dear Reader, might recognize some of my Gods, and perhaps are dealing with the same ones. Or we’re dealing with different aspects, or perhaps syncretisms. Or maybe you think I’m full of shit and only you’ve got the Real Thor or whatever. Have at it. I kind of go back-and-forth with what I believe and the “hardness” of my polytheism, or who They even are, but having talked to a handful of much more experienced polytheists they have all agreed that my approach (home: my mess, outside: individuals) is right and respectful. It’s what I would suggest to others were they similarly confused.
Who Are the Gods? My Pantheon
Finally at the heart of the matter! Who cares about all that boring philosophical schlock? What Gods do I actually worship?
Oh dear, I don’t really want to answer this question. I feel it’s invasive. It also feels false to me to make a tidy list out of these great Beings. I’m literally wringing my hands and getting up for more coffee so I can think about it before typing. I’m going to be talking about the gods anyway, so why not just say so?
I’m going to go half-way and share with you those Gods that are the main Gods of my heart. This is not a complete list. There are Others I honor regularly, with dedicated space on my shrines. But these are perhaps the ones deal with most directly, and will likely be mentioned frequently here.
- The Dark Mother is the most amorphous and is missing from Norse lore, but She has been with me for decades. I call her Ragana. She is a Witch-Queen and the Goddess of Toads, the healer-poisoner mystic.
- The Bear Mistress has been with me just as long. She may be an aspect of Skaði, but perhaps Artio and/or Mielikki. She has not deigned to tell me. She is the Huntress through wild moonlit forests, who destroys weakness.
- The Gold Lady and the Good King are Iðunn and Bragi. She is the Rosy Dawn and the Renewal of Spring and the Gods’ End. (She is fantastic!) He is, of course, the most honest of Speakers and and Protector of Wyrd.
Gosh, that list seems so short! But these three Goddesses (plus Consort!) are Those who receive my primary attention and after whom I model my spiritual journey. I am devoted to Them, though not in a sworn-capital-D way. I will definitely be exploring Them, along with the rest of Their cohort, as this blog plods on.
I also keep an ancestor shrine with photos and heirlooms, and one to the Vaettir, animal, and plant spirits.
(1) Somewhat recently PSVL talked about this on Pantheons as the Battleground of Syncretism, and goes into some other related polytheistic experiences.
(2) After writing this page, I saw that Marc on Lārhūs Fyrnsida talks about this in Prayer in a Heathen Context. Happy to see I was already incorporating some of these elements!
Phew! I am so glad that’s over with! Now I can get on with actually talking about what I do with these Spirit-Folks. My next post is going to go a little bit into the orthopraxy-orthodoxy framework, and how I think it can be applied practically.
Small note: I finished this post on 2/2, but tried to set it to post 2/8, to spread it out from my brief Imbolc post. It didn’t post because I fail at WordPress, oops – but it’s okay because I got to revise it a little. From now on, I am going to try to work on this blog/the shrines on Thursdays (my day of rest) with the goal that I’ll at least get one post per month.