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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Finding Your Gods

Shrine to Artio

   If there's one thing that seems to be a constant in neopaganism and polytheism it is the rush by newcomers to the concept of multiple deities to find "their Gods". I have seen endless iterations of this over the years, of people who have converted from another faith who then immediately feel the need to declare who their Gods are. Immediately. In a way I understand why this happens - it must be unnerving if a person is going from one spirituality to another and suddenly feels adrift. For people coming from atheism or agnosticism I can see how the switch from un-belief or questioning to belief might bring with it a need for certainty about the Gods themselves. And lets not forget that ever present desire to fit in with a new peer group of people who are often vocal to varying degrees about who they worship. Don't get me wrong either, as a polytheist it is important to know who (and why, and when, and so on) you are honoring, and it is certainly a normal part of the process to try to figure out who you, as an individual, should be worshiping especially in our culture where people are not being raised with the Old Gods (or they wouldn't need to convert to begin with). The problem comes in, in my opinion, with the speed at which people feel they need to do this. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen newcomers to Celtic or Norse/Germanic paganism who have been pagan for a matter of days boldly declaring that their God or Gods or pantheon is what-have-you. And then a few days or weeks later they either boldly declare a new set of Gods as theirs or, just as often, disappear from the online community they just joined and show up in another one (what can I say - I get around) declaring with equal fervor their dedication to a wholly different set of Gods. There is, naturally, nothing wrong with starting in one place and ending up in another or feeling pulled by a different God or Gods than the ones you began with, however pantheon-hopping repeatedly as a new pagan - repeatedly and loudly - is not going to get you much respect from more established community members or help you feel more stable in your own faith. So I have a couple suggestions for new pagans just starting out who aren't sure who their Gods are or how to go about finding where they belong.

  1.    Loud proclamations are not your friend - There is no need to declare your pagan allegiance to any particular pantheon or deity as soon as you decide paganism is the spiritual path for you. You do not get bonus pagan points for announcing that you worship Goddess such-and-such or are on a specific path, especially if you aren't sure who that deity is or what that path is. In fact the quickest way to lose respect in any group is to burst in as a beginner and make a big claim while simultaneously showing that you don't know what you are talking about. Even more so if it involves spelling the name of your deity or religious path incorrectly. It is perfectly fine to be a seeker and admit you aren't sure yet what direction you are going in. 
  2.     Ask lots of questions - Questions are your friend. People in groups may not agree with each other on lots of details, but they do, in me experience, like to help new people out whenever they can. Ask questions and you can learn an enormous amount about what other people do and believe and this will help you figure out where you are going. Even disagreeing with other people is helpful in letting us find out what works for us. 
  3.     Read as much as you can - Or if reading isn't your thing find good info in other media, but the point here is be open and study different options. Feel like Irish might be your thing? Read the myths and stories. Think Norse is the way you're leaning? Grab a copy of the Eddas and get a feel for the deities. Have no idea at all where to start? Find a good general world mythology book and read a selection of stories. Many people start with their own ancestral cultures or homeland, but sometimes you might find that nothing seems to be clicking, so keep an open mind and read the mythology. The myths are how we get to know the Gods, the first step in understanding who they are. 
  4.    Experiment - If you feel drawn to a God, Gods or pantheon then start by dipping your toe in the water so to speak. Read as much as you can and find ways that you are comfortable reaching out to form a connection to those Gods. Make offerings, use guided meditations, honor them in an appropriate context at a holiday - whatever works for you on the religious path you're on. But the point is don't rush into declaring a commitment to any deity, rather let yourself get to know them first, and let them get to know you. Sometimes we like a God very much on paper, but find that in practice they don't gel well with us at all, or don't respond, or just don't feel right. 
  5.    Be active in other ways - While you are sorting out which Gods you will worship you can be actively honoring your ancestors and the spirits of the land. You can be finding out which spiritual path works best for you. Whatever Gods you decide on (or who decide on you) your ancestors and land spirits will be the same and are important too - so use the time to focus on those aspects. 
  6.    Most importantly take your time - There is no rush. There is no pressure. You are not more pagan if you are committed to a pantheon or dedicated to a deity, and you aren't less pagan if you are still searching for your place. Don't feel like you have to instantly choose and lock yourself into a specific thing. While it can be frustrating to be a seeker it is also a wonderful opportunity to explore all of your options. Enjoy the experience for what it is rather than rushing to get to the destination. Let the Gods come to you - or find your way to them - slowly over time. Being a polytheist is about having a relationship with the Gods you honor, built on reciprocity, respect, and a sense of connection, and that doesn't happen - usually - overnight. It's a process. 

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