Who are the Gods? What are the Gods?

Meeting with and talking with people who think and feel differently, both online and in person, always makes me stop and consider my own perspectives.  Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen in the Other World or in your heart – it also happens in your mind, in dialog, in your relations with others.

I mentioned my friend Katrina the other day in my post about astrology.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had a long conversation with her, but she was always more of a soft polytheist.  She’s a very intelligent individual, and also open-minded and interested in having discussions.  She loves comparative mythology just as I do.  We always have some interesting exchanges.  Being more of a hard polytheist, Katrina helped me see different perspectives in a more positive light.  She is definitely one of my role models and I always think of her when the nature of Gods comes up.  And it often does in such a diverse world!

My feelings grow and evolve according to my experiences, studies, and moods.  For the most part, I have experienced the Gods as separate beings.  Before Druidism, I had a very strong relationship with the Egyptian Goddess Bast.  When our time together ended, she never became Brighid or any other Goddess. Some of my Wiccan friends, who have some Norse leanings, were doing a drawing down with Freya.  Not once during the ritual did I get the impression that Freya and Brighid were the same being.  In fact, experiences during that ritual lead some of us to believe that Brighid definitely did not want me to work with Freya.  I will also add as an aside that, despite Freya’s connection with cats, there was nothing in that experience that connected her in any other way to Bast.

I will not claim to be an expert on the matter.  I will not even claim to be an incredibly practiced spirit worker.  When I have been lucky enough to get into a productive trance state, and when I have been able to meet with my Gods, the question came up once or twice.  The Gods always laugh it away as a silly concern and ask me to focus on the here and now.  It’s become a bit of a mantra to me. When I ground and center, I focus on the here and now, even saying those words to myself as I breathe in and out.  In that moment there is only me, the altar, the nature around me, my ancestors, and my Gods.

And my Gods seem to be individual.  They are part of nature and connected by nature, yes.  Brighid is the fire.  An Dagda is the passion.  The Cailleah is the snow and wind.  Manannan is the sea.  But to me, that isn’t it.  Hestia, a Greek Goddess, is also fire.  Yet she isn’t Brighid.  They are of different lands, cultures, and lore.  To me, they are related through nature but distinct.  They can be described as an archetype but are more than that simplification.  Much as my sister and I are both archetypes of daughters, wives, sisters, women, and even artisans, we are still different people.  We are united by the same forces of nature that unite as all – a web of creation and destruction that, to me, is mindless.  It just is: creating, destroying, and uniting us in those simple truths.

To me, my Gods are intimately tied to a culture.  I don’t see this as a limitation of them. I always say I have an agnostic side to me, and that side argues that, yes, they could be more than that.  But they present themselves to me in that way, using that symbolism.  The symbolism of the Irish culture helps me better access them.  There is power already invested in those symbols and it works for me.  Perhaps Brighid really is the same as Hestia.  Perhaps I am only seeing one head on a hydra of fire.  Perhaps Brighid and Hestia really are the same as Bast and Lugh and Odin, and any other number of deities…    But I haven’t experienced them as that.  I continue to work with the Tuatha de Dannan using the symbolism of the culture associated with them – the culture of some of my ancestors.

I am equally comfortable going outside and honoring the sunthe windwaterlightening as is without cultural symbolism.  When some argue that hard polytheists don’t do that clearly haven’t met many and create a false dichotomy as my friend  Grey Wren would say.  Hard polytheists aren’t all so rigid.  I think the vast majority of us are more fluid and open to the mystery of who the Gods really are. We understand that mythology is symbolic rather than literal. We think and feel the way we do because that is how the spirits present themselves to us.  We do as we do out of integrity to ourselves and the spirits.  It is what makes sense to us.  However, that integrity is no excuse for the haughty, evangelical nature some hard polytheists might present to others.  Thankfully, that sort seems to be the minority.

But don’t feel like you can’t talk to us about your experiences as a soft polytheist.  Most of us are open-minded and understand that no human can truly understand the spirit world completely.  We can still learn from each other.  We can still connect because we are connected.  Exactly how is just a beautiful mystery. 🙂


Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

3 thoughts on “Who are the Gods? What are the Gods?

  1. >>To me, my Gods are intimately tied to a culture.

    This is the way I have always believed, and lately I have taken it a step further. I’ve always been very interested in science, especially astronomy; tied up with that is the inevitable question of whether life exists on other planets.

    I believe it does. The question, then, is what that life is like: is it sentient? Do those life-forms have religion? If so, then their religion (and gods) are surely different from ours. A deity that came from a very specific cultural context on Earth would certainly not be worshipped in a different culture on a different planet.

    (Admission: I have always wondered how Christians and other religions that are monotheist and worship an omnipotent, omnipresent god handle that question. If a person believes their god created everything, and exists everywhere, one has to wonder at the interesting translation problems created by the crucifixion of a Jewish man by Roman soldiers when viewed through the lens of a nonhuman individual on a planet circling a star 300 light-years from Earth. I wouldn’t think any of the contextual touchstones were the same at all.)

    1. Very interesting thought.

      I wish I had saved it, but a long time ago I read an essay by someone who uses reconstructionist methods in her spiritual practice. She argued that using consistent symbols from a culture strengthened one’s beliefs in that it created a very clear mental map to access the divine. I try not to be too judgmental of people who are eclectic, because that approach is valid to them, but when I was more eclectic, it was very hard for me to feel close to the spiritual realm. I felt that my personal understand of and relationship with the Gods was shallow. It was always approached differently and, after reading that essay, I feel my difficulties were because I was not allowing myself to become familiar with and proficient in any particular tradition. Initiation into most spiritual traditions include an education in their symbols and lore. It’s what creates a cohesive, intimate approach to the divine. Again, I’m sure others out there have been able to access the spiritual realm in other ways, but many of us need more of a map.

  2. I think one of the hardest things to accept is that you may NEVER get that audience. It is very vexing at times, even to the point of discontent, but you simply have to except your experiences for what they are and learn from them, divine or not.

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