Are You There Gods? It’s Me, Teo.

Sometimes I think there’s a good reason for blind faith, religious ignorance, unwavering piety. Sometimes those seem like a much easier choices than being inquisitive, being contemplative, being patient with your own uncertainty.

The dialogue around the last post extended deep into the theoretical as well as the practical, even spawning an interesting offshoot post on ecological polytheism, and a resurgence of questions about an American goddess named Columbia.

The explosion of ideas did a number on me. I didn’t realize that it had until I tried to approach my shrine this morning and perform my daily ritual. I couldn’t turn my brain off, and I kept wondering — But who am I making these offerings to, exactly? What is the point of this thing that I’m doing?

This quick-shift back to a state of doubt and questioning might come off to some as a sign of an adolescent faith. But if that’s true, what’s the alternative? A religious practice or paradigm that is no longer close-examined? A fixed piety? If that’s the case, then perhaps the people who are unwilling to engage in a discussion about the nature of the gods (or God, if that be their god), the origin of divinity, or any other such complicated subject simply have it easier. Their religious tradition can grow without the tampering of every little question, every “wait but....”

Clearly, though, I cannot be comfortable with such a religious tradition.

I question. I always have. If there’s anything about me that’s fixed, perhaps it’s that.

Some people suggested that my difficulty in conceiving of how a god might have a human origin is a holdover from some part of my Christianity, and that it may be the lingering perception of God’s infallibility that is making it difficult for me to imagine myself (or anyone I’ve ever known) as being one day thought of as a god. Fallibility or infallibility didn’t even enter into my mind when I wrote that post, though. The question wasn’t whether or not gods are, by nature, infallible, omnipotent, omnipresent, or any of the other descriptives of the Christian god, and the fact that those concepts were thrown into the mix only confused things for me.

If there was any holdover from the Christian tradition of my past, it may have been that they conceived of God as being responsible for, or an undercurrent to all of what exists. Let me repeat that: all of what exists. I’m well aware that this is not how Pagans conceive of gods, but consider for a moment the (perceived) difference in magnitude between a deity which is understood to be the origin of all creation, and a deity that, in the future, will once have been me.

You see what I’m saying? Different scale, right?

On one level this is all theoretical, but on another it is not. This information, these questions, they had an impact on how I approached my shrine today. They affect how I proceed in participating in my religion, and how I prepare myself to be in dialogue with people from other traditions. None of this seems trivial to me.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus asked in the comments:

“Is it that you worry that you’ll be “mistaken” for a god, with the implication that you’re not and likely never could be; or, that you’ll be recognized as a god, and what that could mean about your own potentials now and the responsibilities you might have in the future that you’re not comfortable with? In other words, not that it’s a mistake to recognize you as a god in the future, but instead that it’s a mistake to not recognize your own divinity?

(emphasis added)

These words are messy. The food won’t stay in its own little compartment, and all of a sudden the divine peas are mixing with the divine meatloaf, and I’m not sure what divinity is even supposed to taste like anymore.

Semantics, people say dismissively when I get worked up in one of these states. But these semantics are rearranging my furniture, and I’m not sure where to sit or stand at the moment.


When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?

Should I make offerings to the future me-god for some guidance?


29 responses to “Are You There Gods? It’s Me, Teo.”

  1. Drew Jacob Avatar

    While many Pagans today conceive of their gods as small-scale, fallible, and post-human, that was far from a unanimous theology in ancient paganism, at least not in Classical paganism.

    In many ways I would consider a big chunk of Greek philosophy to be the project of reconciling how these seemingly local, anthropomorphic and capricious beings are in fact part of a greater, unified, unceasingly wise force. I would argue that in Celtic theology this concept of a larger force behind the gods may have been there from the beginning,

    Likewise, Emperor Julian gives an eloquent poly-theology that depicts the Roman gods as (in your words) “an undercurrent to all of what exists.”

    This is not to say that all ancient pagans believed in a unified godhead; they didn’t. But it certainly was one major concept in their theology, sometimes the dominant one. And it is among many polytheists today, too. Indeed, that concept is at the core of Hinduism.

    So don’t think of it as only Christian, and don’t feel the need to give it up unless you want to.

  2. John H Halstead Avatar

    You are privileging mythos over logos. Both are legitimate modes of discourse. We should be able to talk about gods in both ways. As a community, we do mythos well, but not so much logos. We have lots of theo-mythy, but little theo-logy. There are some good examples: Carol Christ’s *She Who Changes*, Melissa Raphael’s *Introducing Thealogy*, Constance Wise’s *Hidden Cirecles in the Web*, and Paul Reid-Bowen’s *Goddess as Nature*. But these are all works of feminist thealogy. Do you know of any theology by polytheists? I appreciate Teo’s asking these hard questions and they should not be dismissed as the wrong kind of question.

    1. Lyradora Avatar

      Theological works by modern polytheists: Edward Butler’s “Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion” and John Michael Greer’s “A World Full of Gods” and “Isiacism” by Brandon Williams and every book published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

      1. Faoladh Avatar

        Also The Deities Are Many by Jordan Paper, for modern polytheist theologians. There are a number of Greek works that would fit the bill, such as the Theogony. I’d also recommend a number of books by Hindu and Shinto theologians, but those may be outside the remit of the question. Still, at the very least Essentials of Shinto by Stuart D.B. Picken and Shinto: The Kami Way by Sokyo Ono should be read by every polytheist.

  3. Heather J Avatar

    Questioning who and what the gods are just help me recognize the divine part of my own nature and in others. It’s all a journey, right?

  4. B. T. Newberg Avatar

    >When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?

    In those times, I am mindful of uncertainty. And I ask what in the world ever made me feel certain in the first place. 🙂

  5. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Avatar
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?

    If it’s a question of semantics, then dive right into it (with the help of Hermes, Lug, and whomever else you associate with these things!) and get out the graph paper, the dictionaries, and the pens and pencils and write your way through it. There’s an ancient Egyptian text called (by its modern editors) The Book of Thoth, and it pretty much gives a writing-based hermeneutic: when you get lost on the seas of words and meaning, there’s nothing to do but swim for the shore of reeds (i.e. the things out of which pens are made to write and thus to tame the rough seas of words and meaning with the gentle breakwaters from the marsh).

    Sit down with intention, and say “I will not rise from my seat nor set down my pen until I have the answers I seek,” and then write until your pen runs out if you have to (and then get another one!). If you end up redefining your entire theological language in the process, then that is a good result! But, if you just figure out how to get some better answers than what you had when you started, no matter how un-profound they may seem, that’s also entirely good for a result!

    In other words, make entering into these questions your ritual, and the results will come–they may need processing in themselves (but all good ritual tends to!), but at least it may give you some directions on where to go and what would be the best thing for you to do next in your own process.

  6. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Avatar
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    The gods…are themselves metaphors…

    Actually, that statement is a metaphor; the gods are still something else altogether, and just like everything metaphorical, they’re far more than metaphors.

  7. Gavin Andrew Avatar

    Starting to over-think things is easy. Stopping is more difficult (for me, anyway.)

    What helps me is to recall that my spirituality is something I do and experience with my body primarily, rather than believe in with my mind. Are my gods real? Yes, no, maybe. But my devotion is real, and that devotion helps to purify my heart.

    Part of being a pagan, for me, is recognizing that the Sacred is not veiled in Mystery. It is naked and radiant in the sky, the sea and this good earth. The Veil of Mystery does not clothe it – it only covers my own perception, and always did.

    So, there is nothing quite like coming down out of my head and being in my body, in nature.

  8. Indigo Celeste Avatar

    Some of my deities *did* start out as human, so the idea that I might one day experience apotheosis is not impossible. I don’t assume that I will, because to me that’s a little hubristic (which just means going outside one’s natural state in life; a 6 foot carrot has hubris because carrots aren’t supposed to be 6 feet long), and non-pretty things follow hubris. Right now, I’m a human, so I try to live the best human life I can.

    When there are too many questions about how to do that, I step back, take a deep breath or several, and try to figure out how I’m going to figure out how to live that best life (that was not a typo, that sentence was doubled on purpose). I go back to the last point before I got lost, and take tiny steps to plot a new course. Sometimes that first step is just deciding what I’m going to eat for dinner, or what book I want to read. I know that if I can start small and make successful decisions & plans, I can eventually work my way up to the bigger questions. All I have to do is retrace my steps to the last place I know I was for certain (I suffer from massive indecision, so taking the small steps is the best way for me).

    It’s a good thing you have questions, IMO. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

  9. Themon the Bard Avatar

    I’d say, focus on what you know, not on what you think about what you know.

    What do you know about your practice? It centers you. You have theories about why it centers you, but those are theories. What you know is that it centers you.

    Focus on what you know.

  10. Kilmrnock Avatar

    Sounds a bit like most of you are solitaries , i felt alot of the same things myself when i was a solitary and searching for my way .The other thing is now i follow a particular pantheon , Celtic …..The Tuatha de Dannon. In individual practice , also in times of great need my gods have came to me . Have also felt a gods presence in group[ADF grove] ritual. Group ritual as most of us know can be quite powerful .I don’t always feel my gods , don’t most of the time actualy, but from previous experience i know they are there , and also they know i’m here . My matron/patron god is also from the TdD , Bridhid She speaks to me from time to time , gently and reassuringly that is most effective for me , but she will also give me a loving nudge when i need one. From my experience our gods know us and will deal with in the best way for each of us , individualy.I personaly need a gentle , loving aproach , the gods know this . Others may need a swift kick on the arse . I have been fortunate enough to have occasional personal contact with my Gods and Ancestors . Kilm

  11. Mark Horr Avatar
    Mark Horr

    First I want to say that doubt isn’t uncommon or wrong. It happens so often that Christians even have a name for it. The dark night of the soul, based on a poem by John of the Cross. I think, as self-reflective beings, that at some point we all encounter doubt or a crisis of faith. We just react to it differently.

    When I left Catholicism I was bereft. The loss of belief was immensely painful. I couldn’t stop thinking that I’d wasted years of my life. When I looked back I was unable to see the happiness and joy that I’d had. I could only see an empty shell of practice. I was unable to remember what good I’d had. That was how profound the disconnect was.

    When I found Paganism I was overjoyed. Here was a religion that overcame the problems that I had with Christianity. That accepted human nature and our flaws rather than labeling them ungodly.

    That’s not to say I haven’t doubted in the years since. There have been times I’ve wondered if the Gods I pay homage to were just mis-remembered stories of ancient priestesses or clan leaders. What I try to do is judge by the fruits of my practice. Am I happy? Am I doing good things for myself and others. Am I better with it than I would be without it?

    I can’t speak to the metaphysical or theo/thealogical aspects of questioning. I don’t have the training to do so. All I can do is encourage anyone doubting any religion to look at how it improves their lives. If it doesn’t enrich your life you may have some hard questions to answer.

    1. Kilmrnock Avatar

      Your responce sounds a bit like when a loved one dies . At first you feel nothing but pain and profound loss . eventualy though the feelings of pain and loss are replaced by fond memories and your ever lasting love for that person or even a close pet , that may have been a familiar, or a close friend

      1. Mark Horr Avatar
        Mark Horr

        That is exactly what it felt like. The loss of surety and the struggle to believe when having a crisis of faith feels much like the stages of grief, at least it does in my case.

    2. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus Avatar
      P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      While I don’t at all disagree that doubt is not uncommon, is most definitely not “wrong” or a bad thing to have, and in fact can be profoundly productive in one’s spiritual development, I have to completely disagree that the “dark night” is just an experience of doubt. (There’s a lot of confusion around this: the “dark night” isn’t just what happens when people have suffering or difficulties or come up against questions of theodicy.)

      It’s far more than that–it’s not an experience of doubt (that’s what ends up happening if one fails to recognize what the dark night is), but instead an experience of emptiness, “spiritual aridity,” dryness, and a lack of results in one’s practices–the gods don’t show up like they used to. Yes, that can cause doubt, but that’s not the same thing; it’s like mistaking coughing (a possible symptom) for asthma (an underlying cause). When one realizes what the dark night is–a stage in a process–then one can cling to what is most important in one’s practices, for that is all one can do, and persist in love and devotion, even if one doesn’t know how to define those things.

      And, eventually, the dark night is over.

      1. Mark Horr Avatar
        Mark Horr

        Thank you. The reference to “the dark night” was dredged out of my memory of a priest attempting to stop me when I left the church. Time, and the fact that I likely wasn’t inclined to listen to him, have dulled the memory in the meantime.

        So thank you for the correction, and the next few hours I’ll spend happily reading and attempting to expand my knowledge.

  12. Fae EdwardsMiller Avatar

    I wonder if this is sort of a ‘centipede’s dilemma’ – the hypothetical situation where a centipede can only walk because no one has ever asked it how it manages to coordinate all those legs. If it thought too hard about it, it would never move again.

    My only suggestion is to go back to what’s instinctual. What feels right on a gut level. What’s so simple that it defies over-thinking. Then build from there. Good luck!!

  13. Philip the Feri Preacherman Avatar
    Philip the Feri Preacherman

    I sit and listen. Being Feri, I find that when I hit the questioning everything I have ever known that it’s time to sit. I don’t make offerings, I don’t say prayers beyond the most basic. I simply sit and listen. Maybe light my God Herself candle. But I just sit and listen to all the stuff that is going on in my head and let the Talker have it’s time. It calms down soon enough and then I listen to what my GodSelf has to say if anything. I think we learn the most when we just pay attention. Sometimes, this takes on daily practice sometimes it takes longer but I believe it is all natural.

  14. MortalCrow Avatar

    Thank you for exploring this topic on your blog. It is something that I occasionally struggle with too. I came from an Atheist background and so question everything when it comes to religion. I am a pagan now for 13 years and every so often I start thinking about the nature of divinity. I usually see “god” as the divine energy inside us all. In this case, I suppose it is easier for me to rever/honor ancestors and the gods (as personifications rather than actual beings) and I can easily see that perhaps our gods were at some point human. My ancestry has the leader of the Wild Hunt (Hun myth) as Csaba (Cha -ba), who was a human but rose into the sky with his army (the Heavenly Host) to come back in times of need to protect his decendants. Of course, sometimes my experiences do not quite fit my perfect mold and it is those times I wonder if real deities exist (hardcore polyheism). I think perhaps the real question here is what do you beleive the gods are? Are they Entities or are they Archetypes of our psyches? For me during my times that I question these things, I find peace knowing that it doesn’t truly matter whether they exist or not as long as I am getting out of it what I need for my soul to continue it’s struggle. Whether I am giving offering or dedication to a real Goddess or to the Goddess within, is not the end result the same?

  15. Teo Bishop Avatar

    Thank you for your comment, Brian. I’m glad you’re a part of this dialogue.

    These two sentences seem at odds with each other:

    “To be overly concerned with what precisely the gods are and whether or not they “really exist” is to approach them inappropriately through the lens of logos. The gods are images in our minds and feelings in our hearts; they point to an underlying reality but are themselves metaphors, and metaphor is the stuff of mythos, not logos.”

    Is the second sentence, your affirmation of the gods being images in our minds and feelings in our hearts, not a statement of logos? It seems that you’ve said that the gods can’t be truly understood, and yet you offer a clear understanding for them. Am I reading you correctly?

    Or, are you saying that the only way to understand the gods is through mythos? Are they, in this way, the archetypes that many hard-polytheists reject?

  16. Alison Leigh Lilly Avatar
    Alison Leigh Lilly

    When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?
    Should I make offerings to the future me-god for some guidance?

    You might be joking, but my husband regularly asks his “best future self” for advice about how to get through tough or tricky times. It might be worth a shot. I’m less inclined to do that, because all I can think is what if teenage-Ali asked present-day-Ali for advice, and what a mess I’d make of it. 🙂
    I’d also suggest taking a page from the apophatic playbook, and spend some time dwelling in silence and stillness. Perhaps spend some time in prayer or meditation naming what divinity is not (I quickly find myself falling silent when I try to do that). I think you know Carl McColman — he teaches that showing up to our own messiness and confusion is sometimes the best spiritual practice.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Seems perfectly appropriate that Carl would show up in this conversation. 🙂

      Thank you for directing my attention to the silence and stillness, Alison. And thank you for elaborating on your ideas of ecological polytheism. Again, I’ll be returning to that post a few times more before it’s all said and done.

  17. La'Trice Lott Avatar

    This my seems strange, but at times when I have too many questions running around in my head, I’ve found that doing simple, repetative task can bring clarity and focus. Weeding the garden, knitting, etc. There’s a meditative quality that lets my mind quiet and the answers flow.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Seems like a sound practice, La’Trice. Thank you for sharing it with me. I have a knitting project that’s been sitting in a bag for well over a week. Perhaps I should bring it out today and see if working with the yarn doesn’t still my mind a bit.

  18. Brendan Rowe Avatar

    I am a man of many questions as you are Teo. This is especially true when it comes to spirituality. When people ask me to label myself I tell them that I am Pagan and follow a nature based spirituality. When the questions in my head become overwhelming or doubts begin to gnaw at the edges of my soul, I have found the greatest respite in returning to nature. I turn off my cell phone, put down my Kindle, and wander off onto the trails along the river near my home. I find a quiet spot in the shade of a tree near the flowing water, close my eyes, and breathe. It sounds simple, but the peace that comes over me trumps all the questions my mind can throw at me and I know that as long as I strive to achieve a true connection with the world around me that I am on the right path…

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Yes. That speaks to me. Perhaps before the midday sun has turned the landscape into an oven, I might steal away and look for a still, quiet spot beneath a tree.

  19. John Beckett Avatar

    “Should I make offerings to the future me-god for some guidance?”

    Actually, that’s not a bad idea, and is a logical extension of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ suggestion to recognize your own divinity. If you think you are divine, you’re far more likely to act divinely. And if you act divinely, you’re far more likely to become a god at some point, whether anyone decides to worship you or not. As above, so below; as within, so without.

    The root questions you’re asking are not easy. Theologians and philosophers have been struggling with them since theology and philosophy began millennia ago. That’s why I like to define “faith” as “being faithful” rather than believing something without enough evidence. Be faithful to your practice and keep struggling with these big questions.

    They’re worth the effort.