Gods and Worship

Downright theism, or something more subtle? That is the question for November’s moot.

For many Pagans, personal connection to the deity that has always called to them is the very reason they practise, the reason they may have rejected traditions or background that sought to tell them such Gods were just myths, just out of date stories long since replaced by something else. Yet for others theism holds no answers, that swapping one God for another, no matter how old or how new, does not help them understand the world whereas seeing divinity in an entirely different way opens all the doors to knowledge that they have always been seeking.

So what are our options?

Monotheism: belief in one deity. Not really all the rage among Pagans, although some identify with or work with simply ‘Spirit’, the fifth point of the pentacle, the missing element which is not material.

Duotheism: belief in two deities. Many branches of modern Paganism give a lot of attention to characterising the polarity and balance found in the natural world (day and night, sun and moon, summer and winter, the + and – of the earth’s magnetic field) with two complementing deities, often characterised as a God and Goddess, a male and female principle.

Polytheism: Like the classical Greeks or the Romans or the ancient Egyptians, a polytheist’s world is rich in deities with their own names, personalities, interactions, stories and family trees. Many eclectic Pagans don’t even restrict themselves to the Gods of one region, maybe worshipping Isis and Thor in the same week. Others might be Hellenic polytheists and just stick with the deities of the Greeks, for example. But to the polytheist, these Gods are distinct, individual and very real.

Pantheism: the belief that divinity is nature and nature is the divine, plain and simple. Someone once asked the author known as Starhawk if she believed in the Goddess, to which she shrugged, pointed and said, “Do you believe in that rock?” Pantheists worship nature itself, as directly as possible, without the need to name and anthropomorphise the landscape any further than perhaps ‘mother earth’. For pantheists, the divine doesn’t need arms or legs or speech or gender to be the subject of celebration and honouring.

Panentheism (consulting the almighty wikipedia for help with this one): “(from Greek πᾶν (pân) “all”; ἐν (en) “in”; and θεός (theós) “God”; “all-in-God”) A belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.”

  • Gender was one of our key issues when talking about deity. Flowers have male and female parts and we think of them as neither, so why not divinity?
  • Humans are social creatures and our minds and emotions geared towards interacting with each other, over and above our relations with anything else. When trying to develop an emotional and personal connection with divinity is it any wonder that we tend towards making people of our Gods?
  • With so many enjoying their expression of one gender, whether biological or adopted, and so few perceived as androgynous, it is hard for us to imagine something at once genderless and anthropomorphic, our brains are not well-practised at imagining or seeing such a thing, it is not as easily imagined as ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ or ‘a mother’ or even the animals or part animals that Gods are often depicted as. Bizarre as it may seem there appear to be more depictions of creatures that are half horse and half man in our combined history and culture than truly androgynous people!
  • Archetypes – an unavoidable topic. People like to identify with ideas, with identities, with imagery that inspires them. Archetypes (the warrior, the teachers, the lover, the mother, the father, the magician) – they evolve, they represent different practical experiences, but the imagery doesn’t change and the deities continue.
  • Identity – in a time when everyone’s identity is so complex, archetypes are concepts we reach for reset, to get back to a basic, to focus something within ourselves – with this we can explain why we call upon a Goddess of hunting when we don’t hunt, a God of war when we are not soldiers and the Gods of nature when we live in cities.

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