Worshiping “Unknown” Gods

A friend of mine recently asked what it’s like worshipping a deity that doesn’t have much in the way of lore or information in general on them, in this case referring to my relationship with Nehalennia. I thought this would be an interesting topic to cover, as I know there are many folks out there that work with deities like this, and how you can still worship them even if you don’t know much about them.

I got my start with Nehalennia around 2015 when I was gifted a pendant that was designed with Her in mind. There was a small blurb about Her, which made me curious. I did what most folk would do and dived down the internet rabbit hole in search of information. What I found was fairly sparse, though it was still enough to get me started. Of course there was a Wikipedia page which gave m a little info and some links to get started. There were a few other blog posts I found, as well as the Temple of Nehalennia that was reconstructed in 2005. All of them said roughly the same thing: Some votive (offering) stones were found in the 17th century that depicted a goddess, sometimes with a dog at her feet, sometimes with other various symbols like a basket of apples or a ship’s prow. Some of them had inscriptions stating who they were for, which is how we got the name Nehalennia. It’s believed She was worshiped around the 1st century BCE, though there have been other stones (and temple remains) found dating later than that. It’s thought She was a goddess of trade, merchants, travelers, and possibly fertility. That was, at the time, most of the info that was out there.

Since then, things have obviously developed further and there is a healthy cultus devoted to Her in Her native Zeeland, in the Netherlands. The Temple regularly holds rites dedicated to Her as well, and another person developed and oracle deck to Her. I don’t believe much more info has been discovered, but I have noticed more and more people gravitating to Her. Some folks treat Her like one of the Germanic Matres deities, or equate Her with Frau Holle or the Cailleach. I personally don’t try to syncretize deities, but to each their own I suppose.

Eventually, when the lore and facts dry up, you have to reach out and try to connect with these deities if you want to develop a relationship with them. I always try to get some lore and information from living traditions under my belt before I start developing significant relationships with deities – it’s like asking what their favorite foods are or when their birthday is, if we were equating it to a human friendship developing. Once I feel like I’ve gotten enough information, I start getting into the nitty-gritty with the deity, which is where Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) comes in.

My personal practice is informed by both lore and UPG, but if there is a conflict, I default to lore. This of course is an issue when you don’t have much in the way of lore to compare to. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut until something more concrete comes along. Its very possible that your UPG will be wrong eventually, and that is OK. Spirituality, like anything else, is a process where you learn and grow as you go along.

Depending on your practice, there are probably things you find important – things like feast days or holidays, offerings, symbols, etc. We are lucky enough with Nehalennia to have some idea of what was given as offerings, things like bread, apples, and (obviously) votive stones carved in Her image. We don’t have a solid day of celebration for Her, though some folks celebrate Her on January 5th or 6th, which was the day in 1645 some of Her votive stones were found. Others have other days that they celebrate, some (like me) tend to give Her regular offerings and check in when it seems right. In this case, I don’t think any of these options are wrong, though I do recommend looking at what the folks at the Nehalennia Foundation are doing if you’re looking for somewhere to get started.

So, for anyone looking at deities that don’t have much out there in the way of information, these are my suggestions.

1) Look for information, as much as you can find, with a discerning eye.
2) See if you can find a native, living practice for the deity, and engage with that community as you can.
3) Divination and discernment on any UPG you get. This can be as simple as a yes/no blind divination if you like.
4) Keep working on your practice. It will grow and change as time goes on.
5) Don’t be afraid to change your practice based on new information. We are always uncovering new things, and you might be pleasantly surprised when it lines up with your UPG.

I hope this is helpful for anyone developing a practice with a new deity, even if they aren’t well documented. Good luck out there!

Here are some links to various resources I mentioned in this post:

The pendant I mentioned above Nehalennia’s Wikipedia Page The Temple of Nehalennia at Colijnsplaat Bela Síol’s Nehalennia Oracle Deck A recipe for a traditional Dutch sacrificial bread, Duivekater