By now we’ve looked inward to find our Centers, down to connect with the Land, and out to embrace our Ancestors. Now it’s time to look up and begin knowing the Gods.
Who – or what – are the Gods?
Isn’t that a question? *laugh* I don’t think there’s a right answer here. I’ll provide what answers I’ve come to, but YMMV – go with whatever works for you.
In the third part of this series I defined gods as “entities that nurture and are sustained by cultural groups”. These are the entities that led and were honored, on a relatively wide-scale basis, by different cultures throughout our history. We typically find Them in family-linked groups called “pantheons” – the Greek pantheon, the Celtic pantheon, the Chinese pantheon, the Egyptian pantheon, the Mayan pantheon, etc.
Land Spirits are limited by being bound to specific places, and Ancestors are limited in many ways by the humanity They retain after death. Gods, however, are bound by more ephemeral things – alliances with other Gods, loyalty to Their people, the general laws of the universe. And just as a Land Spirit is sustained by the land and Ancestors are sustained by Their line, so too are Gods sustained by Their followers.
I think that’s why we’re seeing polytheism as a whole grow like it has been. Before the modern Pagan and later polytheist movement sparked things many of the Gods followed today had vanished into obscurity. As we’ve struggled to relearn and restore a balanced relationship with the Powers the Gods have responded to our call. It’s like They’ve been sleeping, waiting for us to again welcome Them to our homes and our hearths. The more we honor Them, the more influence They have in the world. We’re at the beginning of a polytheistic renaissance, and it’s because we are regaining the relationships with Them that we should always have had.
There are thousands of Gods out there. How do I figure out which One(s) I want to work with, or which One(s) want to work with me?
There are lots of ways to approach this. I’ll list a few here, but to be honest it’s kinda academic for me. My Lady came to me before I even knew to look, and every God I’ve worked with since has been at Her direction. Before you start looking, maybe see if Anyone is already knocking at your inner doors.
Sometimes this is easy to figure out. My Lady hit me in the head with a clue-bat on more than one occasion as I groped my way over to Her. Other Gods use other methods. I’ve heard stories of people having recurring dreams about a God, suddenly feeling a sense of homecoming when first seeing Their image or reading Their name, and strange happenstances that could only be laid at the feet of a God trying to get our attention. Some Gods speak to us more subtly, in our heads and hearts, with words or pictures or maybe just feelings we have to trace. If we quiet ourselves through meditation and awareness we can sometimes hear those quiet voices inside, and then we know.
If no God seems to be trying to get your attention yet, that’s fine. Relationships can begin on either side, and sometimes all you have to do is make your interest known. Here are a few approaches you might try.
1) Ask. Sometimes it really is that easy. Enter a meditative space, clear your mind, and clearly state that you’re looking to grow and learn through a connection with a god, and does Anyone out there want to maybe see if They want to work with you? Think of it as sending out resumes to companies who haven’t posted an opening, or cold-calling possible customers. Just because They’ve not indicated interest before doesn’t mean They won’t take advantage of it once it’s offered.
2) Gods and cultures are linked together, so if you can’t find one look for the other. Do you identify with a particular culture? If not, is there one you’re drawn to? What exactly draws you could be anything: history, music, art, language, region, food, literature, dance, etc. Look at the Gods associated with that culture, and specifically with what draws you, to see if there’s a deeper reason than “that’s cool!” behind your interest. (And, as always, beware of cultural appropriation!)
3) Consider your Center, and what you’ve found there. Do any Gods seem to exemplify who you are at your core, or who you’d like to become? Make a list of qualities and research Gods who seem to exemplify them. That could lead you in some interesting directions!
4) What do you feel most passionate about? Saving kittens? Skiing? Travel? Maintaining a house and home? Check for Gods associated with those things and see if any bells ring.
5) What scares you? Things that scare us often indicate deep feelings we’re still examining. Look for a God associated with the scary thing, either as a representative of it or as Someone who fights it. Perhaps you’ll get some insight there.
I’m just scratching the surface here. Look around, look within, and do your research. Eventually Someone will indicate a willingness to get to know you better!
Also, realize that the first (or second, or tenth) God you work with is not necessarily “the one and only” God with Whom you’ll spend the rest of your life, if there’s ever a relationship like that for you at all. You don’t marry the first person you date, right? Take the time to really get to know the God in question. Relationships take all kinds of different forms, and trying to control where the relationship goes limits it before you even get started. Open yourself to possibilities for the best experience.
So what does a relationship with a God look like?
Relationships with Gods are as varied as the Gods themselves. Just as my relationship can be different with every person I know, so too can gods have different relationships. That’s one of most interesting things resulting from Gods being distinct individuals who are independent of our own psyches. My relationship with my Lady is more feudal than anything else, although there are of course variances. I’ve met those who have master/servant relationships with their Gods, familial relationships, spousal relationships, friendships, master/apprentice setups, and anything else you can dream up. It depends on the I/individuals involved.
No matter the setup, however, one of the key things to note is that all of these relationships are reciprocal. And, as usual, these reciprocal relationships begin and are strengthened by Hospitality.
Reaching Up to the Gods
At this stage the points of the Hospitality process should be old hat, but here are some specific ways to apply them to Gods.
1) Be Ready to Entertain
Like the Ancestors, the Gods often appreciate a shrine in Their honor. This is usually a fantastic place to start.
Luckily, Gods tend to have so many things associated with Them (colors, plants, animals, etc) that figuring out what to put on a shrine is usually fairly easy. Draw inspiration from both the God and the culture They’re associated with. I’ve found that once I have a centralized starting point shrines tend to come together quickly.
When most of us think of “shrines” we tend to think of lavishly decorated areas awash in gilt and silk and expensive perfumes. And if you can do that go for it. However, the bare minimum you need is something to represent the God (and yes, that can be as simple as a picture you print off the internet and put in a dollar store frame) and things to put offerings on (a plate, a cup, and perhaps an incense burner). To assist with meditation many people include a candle on their shrines too. It doesn’t have to be any more complex than that. Can’t find a picture you like? The center piece can be a vase full of flowers associated with Them, a statuette of an animal linked to Them, a book containing stories about Them, a candle you’ve carved in Their honor, etc. When in doubt, ask Them if They like something – They’ll eventually let you know.
2) Offer Food and Drink
Again, Gods having so many associations tends to make this easy to figure out. If They are associated with a specific food, go with that. For instance, eggs, rabbits, and chocolate bunnies are associated with the German goddess Eostre. That’s always useful to know.
If They don’t seem to have a food associated with Them consider Their culture. Working with a God from the Greek or Roman pantheon? I tend to offer things like foccacia bread, olive oil, and wine until I’m told differently. A Meso-American God? I go straight to some high quality chocolate and tequila. Check out cookbooks, ethnic restaurants, and tourism sites for ideas.
If all else fails go with seasonal foods, heavy on the fresh fruits and berries, perhaps worked into baked muffins or something. And as always, if in doubt ask Them. Wander through the grocery store in a more meditative state (when you’re not hungry) and see what catches your attention.
Yes, these offerings will likely require some research. And no, there’s really no other option. The internet is your friend.
Once you’ve decided on what to offer, offer it. Arrange a dish of whatever on the shrine and fill the cup. (I typically don’t share what I’ve made for a God with Them at the shrine. If I get any at all it’s usually after I’ve made the offering, and I enjoy it in another location. YMMV, of course, so go with what They say.)
Then take a moment to find your Center. Anchor yourself in the here-and-now by connecting your Center to the land (saying “hi” to any Land Spirits you might “feel” along the way but not focusing on Them). Once you feel stable, visualize a transparent sphere expanding from your Center to surround you and the shrine you’ve made, giving you the support of the Ancestors and connecting you to a time when all people honored the Gods. If any Ancestors ping your awareness, greet Them but don’t focus on Them. When that’s all steady, cast your awareness up. I usually visualize this as a spiral of energy going from the top my head into the sky, and I don’t anchor it in anything – it’s like the first half of a handshake. I then say the God’s name like a mantra, repeating it over and over, while waiting for my energy handshake to be “grasped”. Once that happens I welcome the God to the shrine I’ve made and invite Them to enjoy the food and drink I’ve prepared while W/we get to know each other.
If the handshake is not accepted don’t be discouraged! Sometimes They want to see you make a real effort before They’ll visit. That’s ok. Simply keep trying. If multiple attempts are made with no response, meditate on it and see if this is a God you need to be contacting after all.
3) Show Respect
Share your offering with them in a meditative silence, listening for Them. Feel free to share some information about yourself, like why you picked Them to talk to out of all the other Gods and what you hope to offer/gain in a relationship with Them. Just make sure you leave Them time to communicate with you too.
If this is the first time you’ve sought Them out, don’t presume on the association. You’re there to meet Someone new, not add a quarter to a Cosmic Gumball Machine and get stuff. Don’t be that guy, ok? The Gods get that all the time, and it’s insulting. Get to know Them because They’re awesome to know, not because you have a laundry list of favors you just know They’re dying to do for you.
When the visit is over, sincerely thank Them for sharing with you, and leave it open for a repeat later. If They prompt you with “I’m done” go ahead and dispose of the food and drink outside. If not, leave out on the shrine overnight, and dispose of the food and drink outside the next morning.
Continuing the Association
So you’ve had your first “date”. Sure you can continue to meet at the shrine for food and drink, but there are tons of ways to bring your relationship out into the rest of your life. Here are a few ideas.
1) Do They have a dedicated feast day? Many do. Others are associated with various celestial phenomena like eclipses, solstices, or the rise of Venus over the horizon. Whichever it is, host an event in Their honor. It can be a formal sit-down meal, a potluck, a ritual, whatever. Honor the God at Their traditional time of honoring.
2) Do They have a sacred activity or skill? Artemis is known for Her archery, for instance, and Apollo for playing the lyre. Engage in Their sacred activity, and do it in Their name. It’s another way to grow closer.
3) All cultures have specific types of dress. Create an outfit as close as possible to what Their followers would have worn and use it as ritual dress.
4) Start learning Their language. Fluency is a great goal, but so is being able to do basic greetings and farewells. Any effort you make in this direction is likely to be appreciated.
5) Are you craftsy or creative? Make Them something. Sculpt something, draw something, write epic poetry or a song. Do whatever you do, but do it for Them.
There are a ton of other options here, so open yourself to possibility and see what presents itself!
Add working with the gods to the routine established with finding your Center, connecting with the Land, and embracing the Ancestors. If you start feeling overwhelmed, go back to your Center and make sure that’s steady, then add back in your work with the Land Spirits. When you’re totally stable with those add working with the Ancestors back into your practice. Once you’ve got all three of those elements balanced add the Gods back in. I find that once I’ve got all of these elements balanced out that they tend to help balance each other, so it becomes much easier when all are working together. Hopefully it works the same for you.
The next post – the final in this series – will provide tips and tricks for tying all of this together into a coherent practice as we return to the Center.