One of the most perplexing aspects of Pagan religions for someone who is coming from Christianity is the multiplicity of deities. How can we tell the difference between Odin, Zeus and Jupiter, when all of them do the same thing? How is Hera significantly different from Danu? How is Kali different from The Morrigan? Why should I, as a new Pagan, start worshiping deities that I have been told my whole life are inferior to my God? How do I pick a deity pair that I can feel comfortable with?
All these questions are important, and each will be addressed in this article.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that despite what you may think you have read from James Frazier, Joseph Campbell or Robert Graves, these deities are NOT cardboard cutouts of each other. Just because you like the name Lillith, you cannot substitute Lillith for Tailtu. There is no divine “mosh pit” where all gods and goddesses get mixed up together and you can pull out a thoughtform here, an aspect there, a kami from this section, three from Column A, and five from Column B…. These deities have their own personality, their own life, their own interests and abilities. It may be that each mythology is based on universal concepts, but that is only applying analysis after the fact to something that already was.
Also, pulling deities, no matter how appropriate one may find the connections, from different cultures is generally not a good thing to do. This is due to the fact that in many cases, the deities called upon by THIS culture were probably enemies of THAT culture over there, and it’s possible that calling upon a God of THAT culture will cause more problems than anything than you can imagine.
An example would be calling upon Mars and The Morrigan in the same ritual. Mars is the Roman God of War and Conflict. The Morrigan is the Celtic Goddess of War and Strife. Calling for them to be present in your ritual, without thinking about it other than to look at the aspects of Them that you are calling on, will probably result in Mars and The Morrigan fighting – loudly. Which would result in none of your work getting done or worse, they could turn on you for being stupid enough to call them together in the first place.
(It should be mentioned that the Romans were mostly responsible for destroying Celtic Culture, as we know it. Julius Caesar destroyed the Gallic Celts as a people, and he invaded what would become Great Britain twice. Other Romans finished the job about a hundred years later. They never got into Scotland or Ireland, although Roman trading coins have been found not only in Scotland, but Ireland as well leading to speculation that Rome meant to invade sooner or later.)
Edit: 7-31-05 It has come to my attention that the above about them “getting into” Scotland isn’t accurate. The Romans did, in fact, have a presence in Scotland as evidenced by several walls and forts along the coast. I stipulate to that being the case and will say that I *meant* to say that the Romans never fully conquered the area known as Scotland. They most definately had a presence there, but it was tentative at best. Some sources I have seen point to the Romans being scared of the Scots, as evidenced by Hadrian’s Wall.
Of course, a setup like this COULD result in the two of them hitting it off, soldier-to-soldier and warrior-to-warrior. In which case they may be swapping techniques for combat, and possibly war stories. It would depend entirely on how you approached Them and how you invoked Them, and how strong your willpower was to keep Them from fighting.
Understand something, eighty percent of being a priest/ess and invoking the deities is your willpower and how you approach Them. There are times when the Gods act like children (VERY powerful children) and you have to cajole them, there are times they act like petulant teens and you have to flatter them, and there are times when they act like mature adults and you have to approach them as you would your boss. Each and every encounter with a Deity, either in your meditations or in ritual, will mostly be determined by how you approach them and how They are feeling that day. No two encounters will be alike. The rest of being a priest/ess is the rituals involved and being able to do multiple magickal things at one time.
So, how does one go about selecting a God and Goddess? The very first thing that most of those who have been practicing for a decade or two start with is “God(s) and/or Goddess(s) will best serve the need of this ceremony? Druids will choose from Celtic cultures, Irish, Welsh or Gallic, while Asatru will look to Scandinavia for their ceremony.
Wicca in many ways, is free to choose whatever pantheon they want to, simply because it’s not tied culturally to any one group of peoples. Most Wiccans, however, tend to pick Celtic deities or Greco-Roman deities, simply because of the amount of information available about them.
The next step is going to be “what is the goal for the ritual?” If it’s to bring money into your life then one set of deities from your pantheon will be appropriate, while if it’s to find a true love, then another set will likely be more appropriate. Also understand that if you are picking a Patron/Matron deity that this process is just as subject to this kind of scrutiny. Patron/Matron deities are those that you will be working with over a lifetime, so this choice is important.
Once these “filters” are put on, it tends to screen out the hundreds of deities you could choose from into only a handful, most often one or two. At that point, it’s pretty easy to decide based on personal preference and appropriateness. Remember, for a ritual that is for money, it’s better to have a deity that is an exact fit, like Pluto, than it is to have a deity that almost fits, like Nike.
Also be aware of another factor in these decisions, it’s MUCH easier to get cooperation out of a deity that you have worked with all the time, continuously or consistently, than it is to call upon a deity only once and abandon them. Calling on Pluto is fine, but for the best results, keep working with Him, get to know Him, talk to Him. Don’t just call Him up when you want money, or you run the major risk of Him going “You want money? Okay….” and surprise, there’s an extra five dollars. If you only need five dollars, great! Otherwise, remember, these are powerful beings, not your servants or slaves.
One thing that must be understood is that the cultural spin on the deities is critical. Even though Odin, Zeus and Jupiter are all “King” gods, rulers of the rest of the pantheon, there is a major difference between each simply due to the cultural spin.
From my understanding, Odin is “first among equals”, meaning that he is only the chief because people (and the other Gods) say he is chief, but that all are equal to each other. He rules because someone has to, not because he particularly wants to. Anyone, Tyr, Thor or any of the other gods can replace him at any time. So he is less autocratic, less dictatorial and more cooperative or sly at getting his way.
Zeus is the Greek God, and he is the thunderer rather than one of his subordinate deities. The way that Greek culture evolved, he is a lot more autocratic. He is the strongest of the Gods, therefore until a stronger god comes along, he’s the chief. Strength and ability in combat were the primary considerations, rather than someone who could get a gaggle of gods to cooperate. So, Zeus is more random in his actions, more “I want to do this, and I will do it” and a lot more randy. After all, one way that a strong ruler hangs onto power is to have children with everyone that he is able to seduce/rape. Please notice that Hera didn’t try to kill her husband, just the women he slept with and their offspring.
Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of Zeus, but his original attributes were almost totally overwritten by the Greeks. The little remaining information not tainted by Greek accretions indicates that he was a primitive sky/thunder God charged with both sunlight and moonlight. As Rome grew in sophistication, so did Jupiter’s role. For a partial list of his many identities, please see this article. Jupiter’s many faces make him suitable for many ceremonies. However matching him up as Ieus or Dieus Pater (Father God) with Freya as mother Goddess is probably not wise.
Even though each of these deities has the responsibility of the same areas of life, their cultural context makes them very different people. One is autocratic and obsessed with strength, one is more law-abiding and more a creature of the laws that govern all, and one is more dedicated to keeping everyone working together as a unit, while still allowing for individual achievement. Taking any of these gods out of their cultural context and putting them into another will mess up the entire way they operate and how they behave.
Imagine Zeus trying to get the Gods of Asgard to work together toward the common good. More likely the Asgardians would simply ignore him, resulting in his increasing anger until he starts destroying things. He’s also likely to have his reproductive organs cut off by the first goddess he tries to have his way with, rather than Her submitting to Him. By the same token, if Odin tried to control the Olympian deities through persuasion and common goals, I think that creation would cease in a very short time. The Sun wouldn’t move in the sky, the Titans would escape, Hades would see this as a perfect opportunity to attempt to take over and so on. In short, it would be chaos.
But this is what Robert Graves would have you believe that you can do with the deities, that all of them are interchangeable with each other, even up to replacing Hemidal (the guard of the Rainbow Bridge in Norse Mythology) with say, Osiris from Egyptian Mythology. I hope that I have shown the fallacy and danger of doing this.
In general, when working with a deity, any deity, one must remain respectful and courteous. ALL deities enjoy being flattered and buttered up, and the more you work with them, the more they will come to know you and what you want and need. If I, as a devote’ of The Dagda, had porridge for him each time He came to bless me with His presence, and I was respectful of Him in general, then He would be much more likely to cooperate with me when it was an emergency and I didn’t have time to go to all the extraordinary lengths I normally go to.
Think of a friend you have. Back when you first got to know this person, they didn’t know you from Adam, so you had to spend time and energy learning about them, just as they learned about you. But in every relationship, there comes a time when the formalities can be dispensed with and you can just be buddies. This is the kind of relationship you are trying to build with the Deities. It may even help to think of this as you becoming friends with an Elder, meaning someone significantly older and wiser than you are, and the level of respect you wish to show this person. They have many things they can teach you, much advice to give, and you can return to them your enthusiasm and energy and your love for life. The true Elders love hearing about your life, and they sometimes live vicariously through you.
This should be your attitude with the Deities you are “courting” to be your Patron and Matron, or any Deity you are trying to work with over an extended period of time. You should show them respectful kindness, bringing news and gossip, and sometimes gifts. You are inviting Them into your life, into your home, to become part of your family; you should strive to always treat Them as you would an honored elder guest.
Should I mention that demanding and ordering them to be present should not be done under any circumstances? Ordering someone to be present is disrespectful and implies that you think of them as no better than a dog that you order out of your bed. Or that they are a child and you must order them to take a bath when they don’t want to. Both of these states of mind and thought are contrary to fostering a good working relationship with the Gods of your choice.
Yes, there are times when in the Circle, you may be called on as the arbitrator and the referee between deities. They have emotions and desires as well as you do, and it’s understandable that one God who sees an enemy God (i.e., Loki and Hemidal) will try to attack that god and drive them forth. This is normal and natural. You should expect this and be ready to handle it, especially since you started the fight by invoking them together in the first place.
This does not mean that you must talk down to a deity, but think of what you would do if your best friend and his worst enemy were to be at the same gathering, what would you do? Talk to your friend, try to stay between them, run interference or would you just ignore it? These kinds of things are what you should be ready to do if antagonistic deities are invoked together. Of course, a wise priest/ess would think about this ahead of time and not invoke them in the first place.
As far as choosing a Patron/Matron deity, I would suggest that you look for qualities in a deity that are compatible with your own personality. Imagine for a moment that you had the chance to pick your parents, your perfect parents, what would you want in them? These are the same qualities that you should be looking for in a Patron/Matron. (A Patron is a male who helps and takes care of you, a father figure. A Matron is the Mother figure.) It should be noted that a Patron and Matron DO NOT have to be one of the fertility or parental deities. I know many people who have warriors or tricksters as their Patron/Matron. It makes for a very interesting life for them.
One person I know who has the Morrigan as his Matron says that he is Her lover. I find the sentiment very apt since in one way, it is like being married to a deity as well as being child, friend and more. Ideally this deity should exert the same amount of influence in your life that a spouse or parent would.
So, how can you develop a personal and intense relationship with a God? Ideally, start with the source materials about the Gods, mythology. Learning about different facets of Them from available mythos should be one of the first things you do. Pick a deity you are interested in, and read all the stories that you can find on Them. If you don’t know which deity you will be interested in, start with a pantheon or culture, and do some brief study of that pantheon. For example, if one were interested in the Greek deities, picking up a copy of Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” would be a good first step. In there are common stories, major deities and basic information on those Gods. From there, more in depth study can be done on those Gods that you are interested in including learning Greek to understand how translation can change stories, sometimes radically.
Once you know what has been written in the past about the God of your choice (and please understand that I say God in the most general of terms) the next step, meditation, needs to be taken. If you know how to meditate, you can simply start meditating on the Gods at that point, especially the one you are interested in. Invite that deity into your meditations, talk to Them, be respectful and, above all else, listen to Their response. I think you would be truly shocked a the number of people who talk to the Gods but never stop talking long enough to listen to Their response. To me, that is just as disrespectful as ordering them to be present.
At first, Their voice will not be a big booming thing, it will not manifest as a burning bush, but most often it will simply be a feeling in your heart. You may hear one of those thousand voices in your head telling you what you need to know. Most often, this is the voice of your God talking to you. Don’t immediately dismiss this voice as a manifestation of your unconscious mind. You will KNOW when your own mind is supplying the words you are hearing, and so long as you are not hearing exactly what you want to hear, then it’s likely that you are hearing the God you have chosen. This is the same technique you can use, incidentally, to talk to your guardian angel or Guide and Teachers.
From there dreaming about Them, studying Them, inviting Them into your rituals and rites, calling upon Them to help you in your times of trial, and doing things for Them is no huge step. If things are done properly, you will want to write poetry to for and about Them, share with the world all the things you discovered about the Deity of your choice. And that is a means of worship too.
Mercedes Lackey wrote in one of her books about the mythology of the Gods, and I will paraphrase it here.
The main character was thinking about how a deity has a reputation for having a short temper, and a wise helper of that deity points out this story:
Once upon a time there was a warrior. He had made his fortune and retired to a village. Because he had made his fortune and he was happy, he wanted to share his bounty with those around him. So, he started donating some of his money to various beggars and charities around the town he was living in. But because he didn’t want to be seen as trying to buy his way into the town, he did this in secret through the medium of his servants. He sent them out in the middle of the night to take his money to the places where it would do the most good.
This went on for several years, and no one was the wiser for his charity. But one night, he came out of his home to go someplace, and he saw an attack being carried out on a young lady. He had no clue who this lady was, but the attack was wrong and so he attacked and killed the person who was attacking the lady. It turned out that the attacker was his worst enemy from when he was still a traveling warrior.
So, now he has a reputation for being vindictive and hot headed in the town, since this incident was well witnessed. None of the acts of charity were known in the town and it would look like he was trying to buy a good reputation if they were to “suddenly” become known. So he suffers with a bad reputation, with children being afraid of him, even though he had one act of violence in years of living there with kindness.
The point of this story is to show you the fallacy of ONLY listening to the stories and believing them. Hopefully understanding this you will realize that the myths of the Gods are only often repeated stories, nothing more.
Also understand this; The Gods are reflections of us. They are human in every way that matters. If it helps, think of Them as incredibly old, incredibly wise ghosts that you can interact with. Don’t be scared of Them, don’t grovel to Them, treat Them with respect and courtesy, and most times you will be acting correctly.
Now, what about those who will say that their God is stronger than your God, and that the Gods of myth are weaker and less real than the Christian God, that they are in fact, false Gods, really demons sent to lure you away from the truth? What do you do then?
My favorite technique is to point out that simply by giving a deity a name, any name, you are creating limits. Thus you are not longer worshiping the Ultimate Consciousness of Creation, The Beautiful Radiant Is, the All, you are now worshiping a part of that. You have sectioned out a piece of it, given it qualities that you understand, and you are now worshiping something that is on the same level as the deity you are running down.
Yes, in my estimation there is a consciousness that is a compilation of everything that is, a sexless being of energy that knows only Itself. Worshiping It would be like the microbes in my digestive tract worshiping me. All they can do is give me qualities that they know and worship those in me, but that’s not even a tiny fraction of myself. Therefore saying that I worship the Is is impossible since I cannot relate to It at all.
I also believe that there is a Male Ultimate and a Female Ultimate, but like Yin and Yang, there is so much to Them that I cannot relate to them either. These deities are simply It broken into male and female. They are still so much more than I am that I cannot relate to them at all. So, of necessity, the Gods we have now are created to give us something to relate to, something that can be understood by our consciousness.
Ultimately, God, Heavenly Father, YHVH or whatever you want to call the Deity of the Bible, is nothing more than one deity among many, the only thing that He has going for Him is that He has a larger body of worshipers currently than any other single deity.
If you want to see this graphically, here you go:
One last comment; time does not pass for the Gods the same way it does for you and I. If you get busy with your life and can’t interact with the Gods as much as you would like, don’t worry that They are going to be offended. For them, the time is less than a heartbeat, and They won’t be offended by you not being with Them. In some cases, They may not even notice. But it doesn’t hurt to make sure.
I hope that this article has helped you to come closer to your Gods. The main thing to remember is that if you have a question that your Deity can answer, and only They can answer, it’s best for you to ask Them. They won’t be offended by the question.