humbled by people’s experiences with Pagan deities

Pagan deities
darksouls1 / Pixabay

11.720 Westlight 83 EE (Earth Epic Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Omnia, “Freedom Song”

Earlier this year, on the day that I realized once again that I was a Pagan, I was determined to make my spiritual practice a deity-free practice. This was because when I left the Pagan community in my local area years ago, it was because I simply didn’t feel I could connect with Pagan deities or the notion of deities.

Pagan religion 1.0

My intention in joining the Chicago Pagan community was to restore a spiritual connection I’d had with the Earth during the Global Walk. On the Walk,I lived mostly outdoors and traveled across the U.S. But I simply couldn’t find a connection between the Mother Earth experience I’d lived and the pantheons of gods people around me were worshiping. I felt disappointed in what I saw to be an often divided Pagan community. The closest thing to a moral code was a tentative nod to “An it harm none, do as thou wilt.” Some people, actually, were delving into dark places I had no desire to go to. With no Internet Pagan community at that point connecting with like-minded Pagans, I began to sour on polytheism. I figured that “as above, so below.” If there was disunity and strife above among the gods, so would there be below.

Retreat to monotheism

As such, I began to move back in the direction of the monotheism. Before becoming fully monotheistic I joined a spiritual organization that believed that monotheism, polytheism, and animism were all legitimate views of the same Universe. But for all practical purposes, they were monotheists. Looking back, I see that they were essentially Pagan, but they would have shuddered at such a label. Ultimately I left them because of discomfort with the organization. I felt that the spiritual organization I’d joined afterwards was too rigid. They gave little validation to spiritual experiences outside of what fit comfortably within their narrow beliefs. Then I ended up in the Baha’i Faith–a monotheistic Abrahamic religion–for a few years. They weren’t as rigid as the previous spiritual organization I left. Still, it was clear to me that dissenting opinions really weren’t tolerated.

I declared myself “spiritual but not religious” for a few years. My discomfort with polytheism persisted, but I was also increasingly uncomfortable with the G-word. It felt more natural to address the Divine as God/The Universe, or simply The Universe. I was beginning to consider myself a pantheist–the belief that the Universe and the Divine are essentially one and the same.

Between pantheism and polytheism

As I restarted my practice as a solitary Pagan earlier this year, I was determined to engage in a deity-free practice. Very quickly, however, I began to realize the problems with trying to pray towards an entity like the Universe. I realized that it was the same problems I had with praying to God. God/The Universe was essentially unknowable to me, and how I could I make a personal connection to that? I remembered a Pagan lecture from years back in which I was told that Pagan deities existed in part to help us connect to an otherwise unknowable higher entity. On the night before my first Pagn ritual in years, I offered a prayer to God/The Universe asking if it was okay for me to pray to the God and Goddess. I woke up the next morning with the feeling that the answer was a definite “yes.”

That in and of itself was a powerful realization. I felt a new sense of freedom open up before me. I began praying to the God and Goddess during my rituals. On my second or third ritual, I suddenly got the feeling that the Goddess and God wanted me to address them as Mother Earth and Father Sky. After the ritual, I did a little research on the names of these deities. I found that the Greek and Maori pantheons of gods, many Native American pantheons, and the Egyptian pantheon (albeit reversed) had similar notions of Mother Earth and Father Sky.

I think there were two things that kept me from accepting polytheism for many years. The Bible’s Ten Commandments said “Thou shalt not worship other gods before me.” Second was that I heard about and believe many stories about people whose lives had been transformed by God or Jesus Christ. I understood that Christianity didn’t have a monopoly on the ability to transform people’s lives. But I’d never heard of such experiences with polytheism.

Holy sh*t, there are miracles here

Then, later on, I began to read such stories on the Pagans & Witches Amino. The Amino app is mobile phone app that lets people create fandom communities around any interest. The Pagans & Witches Amino is extremely well-moderated, and just recently achieved the milestone of 300,000 members. People from all sorts of different Pagan traditions share their experience and knowledge. They are also very respectful of people with different backgrounds. LGBTQ+ and people of color are welcomed and also protected from harassment. The moderators take a firm stance against cultural appropriation of indigenous traditions such as those of Native Americans or African cultures. People understand that what Pagans of European background might call “Pagan” might not necessarily be a label that non-Europeans want applied to their religion. Christo-Pagans—people who mix their Christianity with various Pagan or witchcraft practices–are also welcomed.

The personal accounts of people’s experience with Pagan deities intervening when they were going through horrible times were moving. Hekate, in particular seemed to be involved a lot but other deities were, too. I read how such deities gave support and encouragement to people who had hit rock bottom with addictions, poverty, or abusive relationships. I found these accounts to be every bit as believable as the stories I’d heard from followers of Abrahamic religions

This, to me, constitutes proof in the legitimacy and power of the gods found in polytheism. My current view is still mostly pantheistic. But now I see Pagan deities as—at the very least—efforts by the Universe and human beings to reach each other.. We connect through the ways we know how and what feels comfortable to us. As long as our intentions our good, this is fine. Indeed it is a good thing. The Universe is so big and so multi-faceted that it can reach us where we are. Once that connection has been made, people could change in a myriad of unpredictable ways.

Debate over monotheism and polytheism

In recent months, I’ve thought about the the commandment in the Bible that Israelites should not worship other gods before Yahweh. In thinking about it, this commandment was part of a covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites based on Yahweh’s assistance in delivering the Israelites out of Egypt after a long period of slavery. I am not a Jew, so to what extent does this really apply to me. This opposition to polytheism carried on in Christianity with the apostle Paul speaking out against the use of religious idols in Greece. The continued elevated importance of the Ten Commandments has had many people even in our time thinking that polytheism is inherently corrupt, and an act of idol fancy.

The argument in favor of monotheism is that by worshiping one god, one is worshiping the entirety of Divinity, instead of just one part of it. But look at the history of monotheism, and it’s fair to ask if this is always true. Consider the people who insist that God anointed Donald Trump to serve two presidential terms. I have no quarrel with monotheists. But it appears to me that for some, the notion of one god becomes a blank slate upon which people can project their own desires and prejudices, unhindered by imagery and myths that might suggest otherwise. The belief of multiple gods, while not immune to human corruption, can help people see the Divine in many aspects of Creation—the Earth, the Sky, the Sun, the Moon, the forests, the oceans, agriculture, communication, organization, and many other aspects of the Divine.

My new relationship with deities

I still believe people need to be careful about selecting Pagan deities. Such people should have a strong sense of self and a clear sense of their own Will. I’ve found there are plenty of charlatans and false unicorns on the other side of the curtain willing to take advantage of people looking for any sort of “guidance” from the unseen world. It is critical to choose wisely and carefully.

But people on the Pagans & Witches Amino who have testified about their experiences have opened me up to new ways of looking at the Divine. Stories of gods transforming their lives have helped teach me that the Divine will reach us where we are at. It is a sign of the loving generosity of the Universe that the Divine can be found in so many places.

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