The Concept of Deity

This has been coming up in a few of the groups I’m in, so I figured talking about my perspective on this topic was due. I’ll try to boil this down as best I can, but we shall see how well I do at that! These are all my personal opinions and UPG, so it’s totally fine if you disagree or this doesn’t fit your worldview. I am definitely no authority on what the gods can be!

To start, the human perception of deity is inherently flawed. Our tiny human brains are unable to fathom the complete picture of deity, as they are far too big for our comprehension. What we tend to see is only a small portion of Them, which I tend to think of like the lure of and anglerfish. We see the shiny bit, but connected to it is this huge, terrifying, awesome power that we can’t even begin to see the whole of, and likely never will. I do think it’s possible for the human mind to get close to seeing the larger picture, but you’re more likely to break before you reach that point. A UPG of mine is that the deities we tend to see connected to this plane/world are not the biggest beings out there, either. I don’t recommend seeking out those bigger fish though, unless you want your brain cracked open. Just a word of caution for you on that.

This leads into my next idea – Deity is multi-faceted. Deities, much like people, have many sides and personalities, which we only see one or two of at a time. I think, again, this is due to the limitations of the human brain. Deities are far more than what is attributed to them in terms of domain,  and the bigger the deity, the more influence they have.

Another part of why we can’t comprehend deity completely is that They are not human. I see many people fall into the pit of anthrocentric thinking, trying to squish deity down into a human form. Mind you, some deities very well may have been human at one point, but now they are far too “big” to fit into that form. I find they recognize the limits of the human mind and can condense themselves into a more palatable form for us to understand. In this regard, it’s important to remember that everything in existence is connected and cosmologically significant. No being is considered lesser to the web of existence.

I do believe that a deity’s power and image is influenced by belief, however – I don’t think it matters as much as some seem to think – deities don’t wither away just because humans don’t remember them. There are likely countless deities forgotten by human tongues that are still going about their business. They can re-emerge at their choosing in the thoughts of humanity and demand attention. A fine example of this is a Goddess I worship, Nehalennia – Her shrines were largely forgotten, until they were uncovered in a storm in the 17th Century. Now, several centuries later, I’d say Her worship and cultus is fairly healthy in the human mind. I think the more belief a deity has behind them, the more energy they have to work with, in a sense. A better way to say it may be that they have more influence over human affairs based on how much belief they have behind them. That’s not to say that human belief doesn’t change them either. Magic takes the path of least resistance, after all, and deities will find the easiest way to work into our lives.

I’ll also mention that I do believe deities can be made. I know Terry Pratchett talks about the idea of “Small Gods”, which I understand to mean deities without the power of major belief behind them. They may be like the “God of Arepo”, deities of only small moments, the deities that live in the seemingly insignificant moments that we fail to acknowledge or take advantage of. In recognizing those moments, we can find the divine in them and in turn, begin to believe in them. This may be another reason why deities collect so many domains, as I theorize that deities evolve and sometimes amalgam together, making much greater deities.

I know there’s the idea that deities are archetypes or roles, and going from that there’s also the idea that “all gods are one god”. I don’t believe either of these to be true – again I think this shows the limits of the human mind. Many deities fit themselves into human ideas to make themselves easier for us to understand. I know there is a story regarding Zeus showing a woman His true form and she immediately vaporizes, unable to handle the whole of Him. I believe this is part of why they limit themselves, so as to not damage us while we commune with them. I’m also what is called a “hard polytheist” these days, where I believe each deity is their own separate being, fully autonomous of other deities. Part of why I believe this is that we have very separate, distinct deities all over the world, with their own domains and worshippers, I think due in part to geographic location and human understanding influencing these beings to become what those areas and cultures wanted and needed. People have a habit of syncretizing deities, again I believe this is for better understanding, but I can tell you from personal experience that I experience The Dagda and Odin, or Hermes and Lugh, significantly different. It’s quite possible I’m wrong on this, and these are all facets of the same being, but I feel that’s diminishing of Their power and dismisses Their existence.

I don’t think that deities are omniscient, omnipotent, etc. I believe they see far more of the picture than we do, but they can be misled, they can be short-sighted, and that they have their own agendas that can limit what they know. I wouldn’t recommend trying to trick a deity though, most of the time that ends quite poorly. Unlike what is taught in certain religions, I don’t believe that deities are perfect. They are far more perfect than we, but they are still flawed and make mistakes. A term I was recently introduced to for this concept is that “The Gods are imminent” and that fits pretty well with my experience of them.

Deities, like everything else, are all connected to everything else in existence. I tend to think of these connections as a tapestry or a web, and we are all knots in that tapestry weaving. The connections we have are the strings. I see deities as both knots and weavers in regard to this tapestry. This is an analogy, of course, and my own personal belief, so take that as you will.

I’ve also found that when working with a deity, they -generally- have our wellbeing in mind. Most deities won’t pick you up only to light you on fire and laugh as your world burns. I don’t know that deities need us here in this world to do their work, however I think it’s much easier for them to get folks that live here to get what they need done than trying to influence things without a conduit. Logically in that case, it would make sense for the deity to make Their charge’s life as comfortable as they can so that they are capable of continuing Their work. Mind you, if you’re out there deliberately going against your deity’s wishes, don’t be surprised if They make it so that the only thing you can do is the work.

Something else I’d like to touch on as well is starting relationships with deities. I know there’s a belief out there that deities have to choose you for the relationship to be legit or something, and that folks that pursue relationships with deities are just desperate. This in my mind is absolutely untrue. My advice, if you want to start working with a certain deity, is to start by researching the deity in question with sources from their main culture, if possible. Obviously discernment is a key factor here as well, so make sure you’ve got your spiritual accounting system in place. (There will be a post on spiritual accounting published soon, I will link it here when it’s finished. If you want more info, check out Jim TwoSnakes stuff here )

With that, I think I’ve covered everything I can think of when it comes to deities for me. If there’s anything you can think of that you’d like to hear my opinion on, let me know! Thanks for indulging me!

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

Out of the Box Sacrifice

Something that came to mind for me today was the idea of sacrifice and how for some, it seems, it has to be a grandiose gesture or act that you perform in devotion to the spirits you worship. Offerings can take many forms, and can be many, many things.

Sacrifice is about making an object or an act sacred, in some way. It comes from Latin ‘sacrificium’, literally meaning ‘to make holy’, so it’s worth keeping that in mind when you are looking into making sacrifices. The idea that I had in regards to sacrifice involved the idea of blood sacrifice and the forms that could take. (I’m sure most folks, when I say blood sacrifice, think of the slicing your palm open and bleeding all over the place. Please don’t do that, it will hurt unnecessarily and you will get an infection.) My particular thought involved someone who regularly needs to check their blood sugar offering that blood as a sacrifice to their spirits. This then lead down a hole to thoughts of various self care acts as devotional, sacred acts we can do for our spirits.

Something as simple as drinking water, taking medicine, writing in a journal – those all could be used as devotional, sacrificial acts. Taking care of yourself in honor of your spirits and yourself is a powerful act. You are showing that you are taking your Work seriously, that you want to be the best you can be so you can be your best for Them.

I’d like you to take a few moments to think about self-care acts your can dedicate as a sacrifice. Things you can do to better yourself, strengthen yourself, give yourself strong foundations, and think about how that can be a devotional act. Maybe even something as simple as reading a blog post like this could be a sacrificial act – I personally think any god of knowledge or writing could agree to that.

This all being said, make sure you confer -with- your spirits and find out if its agreeable to Them, too. Sacrifice doesn’t need to involve pain, death, or suffering on anyone’s part. Sometimes a sacrifice is doing something to make you, yourself, that little bit more sacred.