30 Days of Paganism, 3 – Beliefs: Deities

Ah, a nice non-controversial one!

I’ve talked about deities before, in many places on my blog. I’ve talked about my view of the gods as literal spirits whom I believe were worshiped by my ancestors. There’s no real need for me to outline my beliefs on this in detail again. But I wanted to reflect a bit more on what this means for me on a practical level – and what it doesn’t mean.

It means I don’t object to the concept of ‘worship’. I know that a lot of Pagans do object to the word. I believe that many (not all) of the Irish gods are worthy of my honour and, yes, worship. There are a lot of them, and I’m under no obligation to worship them all. Those who have called me – principally Bhéarra, Manannán mac Lir, and some others who are becoming my ‘household gods’ – are those I’ve made specific agreements with (mainly temporary ones at the moment – and that’s something I should revisit soon). I honour them daily, with offerings, from bread and whiskey to poetry and song. This is in fulfillment of an ancient contract between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the people. No, I don’t think that literally happened. But I do think the mythic truth is meaningful to me and my gods.

It means I take my gods seriously. My life has changed since I started honouring my gods (though I can’t really explain how – not in the limits of a blog post). I don’t spend lots of time with them every day — I probably I do more work with my ancestors — but I do spend some time at my shrine every day. I find the gods to be more distant than my ancestors, at least that’s the only way I can put it into words. I suspect this means I’m not destined to be a great mystic, and that’s OK with me. Mine is a hearth religion, and a religion of connection with land, sea and sky. I’m an aspiring mystic, of sorts, but I’m not sure I’m cut out to go too deep!

It doesn’t mean that worshiping my gods is the only thing I’m allowed to do. I’m dual tradition (maybe triple tradition), and I’ve been thinking about what that means for me, recently. Gaelic polytheism and modern druidry do not conflict, in my opinion. Neither does being a Gaelic polytheist mean I can’t do hoodoo or the other forms of folk magic that I’m interested in, nor that I can’t honour the Gaelic (and other) saints that I work with. I come from a culture that is famous for maintaining probably pre-Christian folk practices alongside Christian worship. Before that, we know that Gaelic and Germanic tribes cross-pollinated a lot, and no doubt I have ancestors who worshipped Thor alongside Manannán mac Lir – as odd as that may seem to us today. As long as I am respectful of where these traditions come from (which is about being an hospitable guest), and keep my practices separate and don’t mix them in an eclectic way, I’m happy to work respectfully in other traditions. This probably puts me at odds with some Gaelic polytheists. But it is based on my ethical approach, not theirs — and everyone is different.

It also doesn’t mean I can impose my views about the gods on others. I am not a proselytizer — my gods don’t need me to be. My approach to the gods is based on a position of faith. I am never likely to have concrete, undeniable evidence for the existence of the gods, nor for their nature as literal spirits. And so, I have respect for those of other faiths. I have respect for those who see the gods as archetypes, or even as entirely fictional constructs that we use to understand the world around us. It’s not my way, but I don’t think it’s horribly disrespectful, either. I wasn’t fond of the very heated debate that happened this summer, on various internet locations, which set polytheism against pantheism/humanism/other approaches to the gods, as though there is only one ‘right’ way of relating to the great Powers That Be. Drew Jacob posted a wonderful set of ‘Principles of Good Religion’ on his blog recently – and while I don’t agree with everything he says there, I think it’s a great piece nonetheless. He talks about ‘love of diversity’ as a principle. He seems mainly to be talking about diversity in terms of gender, sexuality, race, etc. – but I think that diversity in all its forms needs to be respected by all of us who claim to be spiritual or religious people. That doesn’t mean we need to worship with people whose religious ways we don’t agree with. It does mean we need to respect the views of good people, even if we disagree with them. I don’t see enough of that in reconstructionist and polytheist communities – in my opinion, of course – and that makes me sad, because I think we can do better. As a reconstructionism-influenced Gaelic polytheist, my highest values are honour, integrity and hospitality. How people act is far, far more important to me than exactly what and how they believe. Orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. You have a place around my fire if you are an honourable person. And I can name dozens of those, who I’m honoured to call friends, who are pantheists, humanists, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and dedicants of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m sure that’s a view that will make me unpopular with some polytheists, but such is life. I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to make a difference.

I had a debate with someone recently about the term ‘tolerate’. I do not tolerate, I said, and I don’t want to be tolerated. Tolerance is an idea whose time is well past, in my (very humble) opinion. If the best I can do for my honourable friend is to ‘tolerate’ their religious beliefs, and if the best they can do for me is to ‘tolerate’ my same-sex marriage, how is either of us honouring the other? I accept people, in their entirety, or, if they are not worthy of that acceptance, I do not. Simple, really. And why? Because I think my gods demand more of me than toleration. My ethics are there to encourage me to honour my gods better, in everything I do. And that’s all I’m aiming for.

The River Trent - Roman name Trisantona. I have no idea if she was ever worshipped as a goddess under that name - but that's what I call her, and I honour her as a local land goddess.

The River Trent – Roman name Trisantona. I have no idea if she was ever worshiped as a goddess under that name – but I honour her as a local land goddess nonetheless.

Hail, Lugh, warrior-king of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Hail, Bhéarra of the ever-changing mountain land of my ancestors, preparing for the great coming of winter! Hail Macha, queen of the sovereignty of the beautiful land of Ulster! Hail, Morrígan, terrible, terrifying battle-crow! Hail, sun-faced Ogma, protector, warrior and creator of the written word! And hail Brighid of the hearth, entitled to the first of my offerings, the first of my honour, the first of my worship, the first of my light.

3 thoughts on “30 Days of Paganism, 3 – Beliefs: Deities

  1. Well said – I particularly agree with your take on the word “tolerate”. Generally speaking, I tolerate things that in actuality I don’t like. When it comes to diversity and other people’s religious and spiritual beliefs, I would hope that I do a lot more than tolerate.

  2. Pingback: Are We There Yet? Assessing the Road Ahead | Léithin Cluan

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