In a recent discussion with a group of Pagans about the development of an American pantheon for use in ADF ritual, someone said this:
“When we look at historical evidence to find the ancient deities, we look at what was left behind and what survived for long periods of time, such as the stories that remained popular … These and many other things help us to form a picture of the beliefs of an ancient culture. I’m using the same types of techniques to examine our modern culture … Elvis is a good example.”
I don’t want to be mistaken for a god.
What if in some distant future, one populated by a new batch of revisionist or reconstructionist Pagans, there is an idea that the celebrities we follow in the present day, the politicians we support, the cultural figures we align ourselves with, were deities?
What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?
Perhaps you wouldn’t mind. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for some future Pagan (who I’m sure would be called something other than “Pagan”) looked back at the trace evidence of you and decided to make statues of your likeness, chant your name before pouring oil onto a fire, tattoo your mug onto their shoulder to let everyone know just who their god is. Would you be into that? Does that idea sit well with you?
Let me repeat that I do not want to be mistaken for a god.
At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity. I am also someone who has been in close proximity to a great deal of celebrity in his life, and I can guarantee you that celebrities are also rooted in their humanity. I get wigged out when modern celebrities are elevated to near deific status in the eyes of the public, and I’m even more troubled by the thought that they might one day, in that far off future, be completely mistaken for gods.
None of this seems like a problem if we’re willing to conceive of the gods as archetypes or ideas that affirm something about ourselves. The stories about humans can morph into stories about gods, and those gods can inform future humans about their own humanity. Through learning about our true, albeit fictional selves, the future Pagans learn something valuable about their own identities.
I’m down with that.
But hard polytheism makes it tricky.
If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will be cognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request. If the future reconstructionists do their homework, they’ll know that I like tortillas, coffee, hard cider and pineapple cake with cream cheese icing, and they will prepare such offerings when they want me to — what? — help them with a creative project, guide them on their travels, or — me forbid — change the weather. We will fall into their correspondence charts, and people will write songs about how amazing we were. Tuesday might even become Teo’sday…. or they may suggest that it was always Teo’sday.
I joke a little here, but mainly because I feel uncomfortable by the problems this introduces. I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas, and I worry that if they’re allowed to play themselves out all the way they will eventually call into question much of my current conception of deity.
So, I present them to you in the hopes that you might be able to offer up some fresh perspective.
Do you find any of this troubling? Would you mind much if people in the future venerated you as a deity, or does that idea lead you to reexamine the way you conceive of deity?
Right now I’m in a unique position because I’m featured in a documentary about a particular rock star. In that film I recount the link between music and spirituality, and how the sonic vibe of a specific CD of said rock star helped me heal from a traumatic experience. I do not come off as a gushy worshiper of this musician, because I’m not (even though he and I are now friendly). I agreed to do this because I felt there might be something there in my story to help someone else..that’s the good part. The bad part is that now I am a pseudo celebrity in this certain rock star’s fan base…and a rather reluctant one at that. There is nothing special about me, really…I just told a story. But I now have my own piddly following because of the esteem bestowed upon me because of my association with this person (I’m pretty sure YOU get the gist of this,haha). I have now joined the ranks of the nearly famous via several degrees of separation,pseudo-celebrity, and I’m not terribly happy about it.
Ditto about being a god. I am Goddess just because I am and don’t need any other recognition. The possibility makes me shudder to think about it.
That’s an interesting situation you find yourself in, Kate. I guess I can relate. 🙂
I wonder — when you say, “I am Goddess just because,” what does “Goddess” mean to you?
Personally, I think we all have a spark of the Divine, so in that sense, we are Gods and Goddesses. But I guess we need to define who is a God/dess, who is an Ancestor, and so on, in order to truly answer this question. I feel that perhaps, Teo, you still have a bit of the monotheistic definition of God lingering. If a God is supposed to be omnipresent and omnipotent, then yes, having our own personal status being elevated to that of a deity someday is disquieting to say the least. But if we define deities as being as flawed as we are, and moreover on a different plane, then it is a bit easier. For me, I tend to think of the Gods and Goddesses as devices of our own creation in our subconscious, still certainly worthy of attention and devotion, but their main role is to help us discover truths about humanity.
I will just wait for P. Sufenas to chime in on the Antinoan Mysteries!
Read “A Canticle for Liebowitz” by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
It’s on hold at Tattered Cover. Thanks for the recommendation.
What is this tattered cover? Do I smell an ebook lending service? *hopeful*
Nope. It’s a large bookstore in Denver.
Are ancestors so different from gods? I can hold onto my medium-to-hard polytheism while still believing that a divine current runs through the gods, the ancestors, and us. In many cultures ancestors have been treated as gods. Aren’t the Tuatha De Danann as much ancestors of the Irish as gods? Which is not to attempt to answer your question, but to think aloud. The divine current is a mystery, for me. I speak in metaphors of polytheism, and the gods laugh fondly.
Some would say that yes, the ancestors and the gods are different in nature. Certainly the cosmology of ADF would affirm that as true. But if it’s a question of essence, I’m not sure that this idea is true.
You speak in metaphors of polytheism, which I can relate to, but I don’t see most hard polytheists doing that. The gods have distinct consciousnesses, HP affirms, and in the case of my imagined narrative we may run into a problem should those consciousness originate in a human… unless we don’t.
As you said on Twitter, I make you think too hard. I make ME think too hard, too!
I like this thinking aloud, though. I’m curious to see what other ideas this inspires.
My polytheism is less compartmentalized than this, which is why mine is not exactly hard polytheism. As with the literalist Christianity I grew up with, I get nervous anytime we try to put deity in too rigid a box. I believe gods have distinct consciousnesses, but on a level that’s far more complex than anything I can relate to.
There’s also the fact that my (mainly revival) Druidry affirms the interconnectedness of all things. I am one – distinct – but I am also deeply, mystically connected to you, and the girl next door, and the man who drives the ice-cream truck, and my cats, and the land. If I believe that about us, I can’t help but believe it about deity and ancestors. I think they are distinct, but in ways I can’t claim to be able to understand. Hence metaphors of polytheism – which I mean not in the sense of ‘all gods are one god’ illusions, but more in the sense that we can only speak about the gods in poetry, or the words slip away.
American Paganism is so new, I don’t think there’s a fixed way it works yet. I suppose it might work a bit like Catholic sainthood:
Teo Bishop is a such an inspiring presence, people continue to work with him after his passing, and they seem to get something back from the contact, the way people do when they contact a god or an ancestor or a tutelary spirit, and the legend spreads, and after a while a bunch of people have “Teo’s trees” planted in their backyards, or represented on their altars, to allow them to invoke his helpful presence, and there you go.
Now, how you get from being a Mighty Ancestor/Sage/Culture Hero to be a full-fledged member of the pantheon, I don’t know. I recommend marrying up. 🙂
I am a hard polytheist, and I don’t see any difference between ancestor worship & divine worship, except as matter of degrees of influence (High gods have more power than local gods, local gods have more power than ancestors, ancestors have more power than us).
Thank you for the comment, Eran.
Let’s imagine that we become ancestors (which we will), and then the ancestors become known by their heirs as local gods, and then, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years later, the local gods become known as High gods. The origin of this High god was you, but due to the shifting of perspective and the passing of them, you became something much greater in the eyes of future generations.
Can you imagine this happening?
Sure – as Star says above, our Founding Fathers already hold hero-cult status (which I would call ‘local gods’); the Statue of Liberty is the iconic symbol of our nation’s devotion to Libertas/Columbia (another local god). Indeed, I would not be surprised in the least to find that most gods at some point were mortals.
Yes, they had real failings, but in the end it doesn’t matter – the mythos, the stories, the patterning of their tales are far more important than their actual lives.
And that last part — the part about the mythos, the stories, the patterning of their tales being more important than their lives — that makes perfect sense to me.
I find the discussion about Columbia to be challenging. I’ve always understood the Statue of Liberty to be an iconic symbol that represents the *concept* of liberty. It was fashioned by human hands, and designed to make a physical representation of an idea. To conceive of liberty as a god, or Libertas/Columbia, one with a distinct consciousness, brings up a whole host of questions for me.
I’m also still unclear on how to reconcile the evolution from singular, human consciousness to High god status. That still confuses me.
Columbia predates the Statue of Liberty and has been represented in American art since the early colonies. I think she existed before then, and also inspired the Iroquois Confederacy. I have a copy of the statue of her from the US Capitol building.
@gleamchaser:disqus : That’s so interesting to me.
I wonder about her existence, really; about the origin of a modern goddess. At some point, I wonder, was there a person who conceived of her, developed stories of her, personified an idea through her? And, after that, did she take on meaning for people?
Is this how a god is born, I wonder?
About Columbia, yes, there was a specific person who first referred to her as a goddess: a black female slave named Phyllis Wheatley, who deified Columbia in a poem in 1176, imitating the style of the Romantics who often invoked old Greek deities in their work. It’s interesting to note that, as a Christian, it’s almost definite that Phyllis Wheatley did not see Columbia as a literal goddess. It’s also interesting to note that she died in poverty at age 31, her calls to Columbia for liberty and equality falling on apparently deaf ears.
As did Isaac Bonewits, so I guess the practice of Druidry is futile as well. I think I missed the part where Paganism makes you rich.
To echo Star (and to harp again on one of my favorite phrases): God isn’t a name, its a job description. My personal distinctions are thus: A high god personifies an ideal, element, idea, concept, etc. A local god protects/personifies a place or region. A little god is a nature spirit (the spirit of a tree or pond, for example).
As things grow, they change and evolve – I see no reason the gods would not as well. An ancestor who watches over a family sees that family grow and grow, until all of the people of a region are their descendants – perhaps the combination of the residual consciousnesses of all those ancestors become the animus for the egregore that is the local god.
George Washington and other Founding Fathers already have a hero cultus some Pagans pay tribute to.
I think you could easily make a case that JFK has effectively been deified.
I can see that. And I think this notion that a human becomes deified based on someone else’s worship is troubling to me.
I can see ancestor veneration, wherein you accept the humanity of one’s forebears. But deification of a human denies their humanity somehow, I think. Does it look that way to you, Star?
I think the legend is just as important as the person in many cases.
Do you think it’s a stretch to call our Founding Fathers gods? I write that sentence, and it seems obvious that they were not.
Can you conceive of some kind of American God? (Neil Gaiman’s work duly noted)
God is a term that lacks nuance, but yes. Or at least they are the Agathos Daimones of the nation. And there are many American gods. Columbia is the most obvious, but the land itself has regional gods. There is a lot about American gods on the ‘net.
“The hero of Canton, the man they call Jaayynnee!” Sorry, this topic just reminds me of that episode…
Ha! Good example!
This makes me want to compile a list of the Founding Fathers and ascribe them to various Roles (Ben Franklin as the Wise Fool, Washington as the Gentle Warrior, Jefferson as the Skeptical Mystic, etc.)
I think culturally we’re seeing the deification of Marylin Monroe as well right now with all the art that’s being produced and created about her. I keep finding altars to her set up in people’s homes.
Funny, I have joked for many years that future archaeologists would think that we worshipped Elvis and Michael Jackson, among other celebraties. And that if there are actually any bodies buried by accident in various modern structures (dams, bridges etc), that these would be viewed as sacrifices to the gods of some sort. This is why I question so much of what modern archaeologists determine about current findings – are bog bodies really human sacrifices or are they victims of an ancient mugging or some prehistoric Hannibal Lecter? Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the sciences – I just think that sometimes even scientific people lean towards sensationalism. As for wanting to be considered a diety of some sort? No thanks, way too much responsibility!
You’re speaking to my point, Ywen. Many modern Pagans rely on these same sciences to help them build an understanding of their ancestors, and about the gods they seek to honor. If we can see how future science might mistake our modernity for something much more mythic, how are we to look at the modern scientific understanding of the ancient Paleo-pagans?
I would say with a very big helping of salt! I am very interested in our paleo past – but I question much of what I see/read about it, and find I often have to rely on intuition. This is not to say I have it right, mind you!
At least in ADF, the gods and ancestors may be seen as rather different
or very similar, but their relationship with us in ritual are exactly
the same. I already do make offerings and petitions and prayers to
people I know were human in life — I surely hope I’m significant enough
to someone that they’ll do the same for me once I’m gone! Is it just
the word “god” that freaks people out? That seems like splitting hairs
to me. Our Mighty Dead are powers who deserve reverence and exert
influence in our lives; ditto our goddesses and gods. I hope when I’m
gone I’ll have better things to worry about than the exact terminology
used by people who want to close the gap between worlds by maintaining a
relationship with me.
I appreciate the comment, Ywen, and your insights. I will say, though, that for me this feels less like splitting hairs than it does a search to understand the true nature of the beings we venerate. It doesn’t feel trivial to me; in fact, the quest for a deeper understanding of the meaning beneath our words feels like a very important part of my religious journey. I hope you can respect that.
I’m confused Teo, were you replying to me or to Hth? (Based on the reply, I think Hth, but just checking).
Sorry, Ywen — for some reason your name showed up when I first responded. I was confused why you posted twice! I’ll make an edit to my comment.
Pomba Gira already has this status – it has been said she has always lived on earth, was a woman who eventualy came back and became a spirit, someone who can guide us and who we can confide in. personally, I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. Ancestors are called upon often to guide us, and impart their wisdom – a good portion of why that works is BECAUSE they lived on earth and know what it’s like for people here, and can impart their wisdom.
I often think of this sort of thing (forgive me) as Western Pagan problems – it’s not really something I’ve seen other cultures agonise about, especially those which already do ancestral worship anyway. It’s just seen as the way it is, and by the time we’ve shuffled the mortal coil, it’s possible our rather human need to self-effacement and over-modesty won’t be needed.
So, bring me some cheesecake, chilluns, and I’ll tell you how you should roll.
I’ll make a note of your tastes, Skye. 🙂
I appreciate the lightheartedness you speak of, and I recognize (no offense taken) that this may be a problem that originates from my own cultural and religious conditioning. That is in part why I’m seeking to unpack this further. I’m looking for the mechanism for how this all works — for how a person might become a god — and I’m asking whether when we look at that from our living, human vantage point, if we feel ok with that process. Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter how we feel about it; it will be what it will be. But, the idea evoked a strong reaction in me, and I’m trying to figure out why.
Permit me to further push the idea then it may be culture – and let us balance this with the premise that to the Christian faith, the idea of “God” is a deity who can do no wrong, who has now flaws, no even remotely human traits. Hence the term “become a God” could induce a panic.
However, Pagan gods are delightfully human and flawed – I note “flawed” comes up in the discussion of the founding fathers of the US, and it is a point which cannot be stressed enough. Pagan gods have flaws; Sehkmet had to be made drunk before she destroyed the world. Shango is trapped in a love triangle, and Maman Brigitte swears like a sailor and doesn’t even apologise for it. Thor was originally considered such an amicable god it was said merely calling his name would bring him down to you. The whole appeal for me when I first went down this path was gods I could talk to – I honour them, I work with them and for them, but at least for me, my Powers That Be are accessible.
Perhaps therein is your answer – the word “God” is the issue here. But there are Gods, and gods, spirits and Spirits, and all have their place. As we all eventually will when the times come.
“If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will becognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request.”
I’m not entirely sure how this differs from people requesting things of me now (except the “worship” part.) It took some maturing for me to be able to tell the difference between being taken advantage of, and realizing that part of my purpose here is to be a servant. (That word, being tossed about like a weapon or a punishment by some religions, is not at all what I mean when I use it.) I am quite happy to grant requests and help where I can. Would I be miffed to do this after loosing from my human form? Probably not. For some chocolate and a mojito – I’d be more inclined.
Do I *want* to be a god? No. But will it bother me one way or another after moving on from this body? I believe I won’t. And does it change my relationship with Anubis if I find out he was just the popular, hot guy that guarded the temple and not really an underworld god? It really doesn’t. If I’ve become a better person, explored my strengths, grown my heart, gained insight, and been pushed past my comfort zones, does it matter if the spirit/deity/ancestor helping with that was just a regular person once, or an actual beyond-human force?
So many questions you leave us with Teo!
Pass the mojitos.
Mojitos all around!!
I like the spirit with which you write this comment, and I hear it from other people, too. Perhaps I’m searching for something too essencial, or I think that the gods — the “Old Gods” — could not have been human, because I don’t experience them as having been human. Perhaps I’m wrong though, and my experience is clouded by my preconceptions.
And by the way…. I like thinking of Anubis as the popular, hot guy that guarded the temple. I’m sure there’s a fan-fiction-style pic floating around facebook that could corroborate that statement. 🙂
I don’t think you are wrong. I do feel that the oldest gods (the creation-stories gods) are beyond human – like you, that is how I experience them. I appreciate what Skye has noted though about gods/spirits who were considered human once like Pomba Gira (I am reminded of Kuan Yin as well.) It simply wouldn’t bother me to grant a favour or two after death – and I’d be more than happy to point people to the ‘bigger guns’ like Hecate when necessary. 😉
“I’d be more than happy to point people to the ‘bigger guns’ like Hecate when necessary.” That’s something I hadn’t considered. I like the sound of “point[ing] people to the ‘bigger guns'”.
I knew I shouldn’t have thrown out my Nsync shrine!
It seems like ot would be easier for someone from say, 1,000 years from now, to make the mistake of deifying Joe Schmo or someone more famous. All one needs to do is Google a celebrity’s name and up comes details of their life even they don’t know! I’m imagining someone from the year 3012 stumbling upon a teenagers bedroom and suddenly Justin Beiber is the God of something! (oy…:)
(If ‘N Sync were gods, and Teo used to be on a TV show with two of them, does that make Teo a demigod? >8)
How would that be different than ancestor worship?
I prefer to look at it like this: some day we will become ancestors. Maybe some day we will become gods. Our challenge, here and now, is to live so that we will be worthy of respect and veneration.
The question of apotheosis has always intrigued me. What exactly is it that separates the Ancestors from the Shining Ones?
I offer oil to the Gods at my shrine and they bless me in return. I offer beer or ale to the Ancestors and they too bless me.
The same actions beget the same reactions, but if the Ancestors are distinct from the Gods shouldn’t their be a… a chasm in power between the two?
It’s probably due to being raised catholic, but I always want to attribute a lot more power to the idea of godhood than is probably healthy. Because of that, when I see the Ancestors and Gods doing similar things, the lines between the two camps begin to blur.
Maybe the Gods and Goddesses that we call out to in our ritual were human like us. If so I like to think that they were humans that we as a species have remembered the best parts of and deified as guides to ourselves.
Then again I’m a hard-polytheist and I’ve spent most of my life assuming that the Gods just were. So I’m going to take a nap and let my brain recover from trying to contemplate this.
While ADF does present deities and ancestors as being different, and I know that ancient Hellenic practices drew a very sharp distinction between them, other cultures had a much blurrier line between the two. The Roman Lares were considered gods who used to be ancestors, if I remember rightly, and my Heathen friends tell me that it wasn’t uncommon for an ancestor to end up beng treated like a god.
Myself, I’m not worried about which of those two terms future generations end up using for me, If they remember me at all, then I must have done something right.
(Or very, very wrong. >8)
Aside: I don’t consider the Lares “gods” but spirits, and I have seen some very compelling arguments that they have little or nothing to do with ancestors.
In any case, the very idea of humans-becoming-gods was a much disputed and debated topic in Rome — at least until it was politically inexpedient to question it in public.
Personally, I think of deities as another sort of entity altogether than anything else. In very, very rare occasions, humans like Hercules may be elevated to Olympus (so to speak), but I would assert that sort of elevation comes from other deities, not humans or our puny perceptions.
I admit that the idea of me (specifically) being worshiped one day screws with my mind a bit, but the idea overall doesn’t. I’m a hard polytheist and I do believe that spirits and gods can change. The forces that they command are unchangeable, but the personality that guides that force can transform over time. History proves it.
Because of this, I do believe that once a spirit moves beyond an ancestor in terms of its influence (and the worship that it receives) then that spirit will necessarily begin to transform. I have no trouble with the idea that some of the gods I worship now were once human mortals. I listen to my teachers whether they’re human or divine, and a human origin doesn’t negate divine reality.
You say “At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity.” That’s very true, but I don’t think you’ll be the same person in a thousand years that you are now. I think that we all change as human experience of us changes.
I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to find a uniquely American
pantheon is not the key to finding a uniquely American Paganism. I’m not
saying there aren’t uniquely American gods, I’m suggesting that one’s
gods aren’t the only defining feature of one’s religion.
For me it’s my
values that inform my religion and not the other way around, that’s why
I’m a Pagan in the first place. Asking the question “what values are
uniquely American?” is much more productive to achieving the goal of an
American Paganism than asking “what gods are uniquely American?”.
fully appreciate that there are multiple value systems at play in
America that define how people here live their lives. I also respect
that for many people, Pagans included, their values are informed by
their religion. Perhaps a more nuanced discussion of religion and values
is to ask which takes precedence if either?
I think these are
interesting questions to ask and I don’t pretend to have answers that
will satisfy everyone, or perhaps even anyone but myself. I nonetheless
think there’s value in asking “what does it mean to be American?” and
“what values does an American possess?” if one is going to craft a
genuinely and uniquely American Paganism.
As for the cognitive dissonance involved in humans being worshiped I
think that has to do with preconceptions of what it means to worship. If
you start with the assumption that worship means having blind faith and
devotion in something then I can see how it would be uncomfortable to
worship something as inherently capable of fallibility as a human.
the other hand if you start with the assumption that worship means to
give honor and respect without necessarily ascribing perfection to the
object of reverence than maybe we have something. Perhaps it is a
conscious or unconscious assumption of what it means to worship that
makes humans uncomfortable recipients of worship in some peoples’ eyes.
Of course the ancient pagans did not necessarily ascribe absolute
infallibility to their gods, if nothing else the practice of fasting
against a god speaks to this. That and the voluminous mythological
accounts which depict the gods in a decidedly human light.
But hey no
one’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean respect isn’t due to the people who
deserve it. That can mean worshiping a human. Just because they weren’t
perfect doesn’t mean they weren’t morally excellent. Just because they
weren’t perfect doesn’t mean they don’t deserve honor, respect, and yes
A few disparate thoughts.
My first experience of “drawing down” — as a querant, not a priest — was as profound as it was because I had been raised in the Christian tradition of approaching God with “fear and trembling,” but understood that the Pagan gods were to be approached as equals — that is, the Goddess doesn’t want me to lower myself to approach her, but rather to rise up and find the god within myself. It’s a completely different stretching of the spirit to do that. So the idea of stretching to become a god is not terribly foreign to the way I think about such things.
Any god that demands cringing is one I walk away from. I had more than enough of that in my youth.
This has its parallels in earthly life, as well. I was once a child, then became a teen-ager, then became an adult and a father. I remember clearly the first time anyone called me “Mister” — during Spring Break my junior year in college, doing a little sub-teaching in the local schools. I still thought of myself as a kid, but the kids in the classroom saw me as a grown-up, and they called me “Mister.” The shift to father is a big one, because to children, you are a god. Now, I’m a grandfather, and moving into an entirely different social role.
So becoming a god — over the course of centuries — isn’t that strange an idea to me. Though I’m not sure I’d care for it.
I remember reading Evangeline Walton’s retelling of the Mabinogion — the Welsh mythic cycle — and I was captivated by the way the heros of the oldest stories became the gods of the later stories. You might want to read those. In fact, I think I want to re-read them.
There is another book, The Druidic Order of the Pendragon, by Colin Robertson, that you might find interesting. If taken at face value, it contains the teachings and rituals of a secret order of Druids that was active until WWII, but died out in the decades after their Pendragon was killed in an air raid; which has roots stretching back at least to the 1700’s, and which purports to go all the way back to the British Druids who faced the Romans. Regardless of its bona fides, the rituals and teachings are fascinating. They view the gods as created by worshippers, and when people stop worshipping them, they pass into a kind of pleasant (but unchanging) realm where they can still be contacted if you go looking. The book comments that there are more forgotten gods by far than those who are remembered, and the forgotten gods are all hungry for attention and worship.
I think people tend to worship deities as archetypes, not personalities. So I’m not sure there’s a difference between worshiping, for example, The Muses as deities of creativity or worshiping Frida Kahlo as a goddess of creativity. It’s all the same energy and it’s all part of the Goddess. Marylin Monroe is equal to Aphrodite is equal to Oshun is equal to my beautiful grandmother.
Frida Kahlo is a great example!
Thank you for the comment, Randi. I’m glad you’re a part of the dialogue.
“It’s all part of the Goddess” seems like a statement of belief, and I’m not sure that everyone conceives of “the Goddess” in that way. There are some who see each of these deities — Aphrodite, Oshun — as distinct beings. If they are not distinct beings, but rather all reflections of a single being, than perhaps there isn’t so much of a problem here. We’re all just holograms, essentially; reflections or fractals of a greater, all encompassing God or Goddess (depending on your tradition).
But some reject the idea that the deities are archetypes. I think that’s partially what I’m trying to reconcile here.
But we all WILL eventually become gods and maybe even a few of us Gods. I’m not even being snarky at all here. Look at how we and our ancestors were–we use terms like ‘ the Mighty Dead ‘, ‘ the Honored Dead ‘, ‘ Kini ʻAkua ‘ or ‘ ʻAumakua ‘ (sorry for the spaces I didn’t want the Hawaiian glottal stop to be confused for an apostrophe).
Teo you may very well become a family deity, household god, or a patron lesser-god of the humble musician. If someone in their physical life has done so much to affect others, whatever the way they’ve affected others, then once they shirk their mortal coil it may very well be their prerogative or the prerogative of those they leave behind to raise their memory up, or both.
Who knows, maybe the reason the Holy Mother Church raised humans to Saints is becomes it come from the Roman practice of raising humans to demi-god or Godly status like Antinous. I mean it doesn’t happen with everyone, but if you make such a ripple in the physical world why wouldn’t you make a splash in the spiritual world?
I love these ideas, @facebook-649965363:disqus, and I respect the strength of belief behind your words. I feel like you’re laying out a blueprint for an evolution of consciousness that I’m unfamiliar with — this progression from human to family deity, to household god, or to a patron. Perhaps thinking through this is more common in other traditions, but until writing this post I hadn’t given much thought to the possibility of me being conceived of in this way.
And I guess there’s a strong element of faith in all of this. I don’t *know* what kind of consciousness I might have post-mordem, and what that experience might be like. Perhaps there is no way to know.
How did you come to develop this understanding, Lamyka?
I have to admit this idea gives me pause. There are various theories of where the gods come from that involve them having been ordinary people at first. I do not what this to be true — I want the gods to be real gods — but sometimes I read stories, such as how Aengus Og tricked The Dagda into giving him a house, and I wonder, because they seem like very human stories (especially the idea of gods having land and needing houses) with some fantastical elements added in.
Because if “the gods” are nothing more than mythologized memories of distant ancestors, what’s the point of what we pagans do?
These are very good questions, Michael; ones worth exploring a little further. First, I’d like to say that regardless of the answers we reach in this conversation there is certainly a point to what we do. You needn’t have a particular, fixed understanding of what the gods are in order to develop a sustaining, enriching spiritual practice. This dialogue is simply intended to enrich that practice.
I wonder if you could expand a little on what you conceive of as “real gods”?
Real gods would exist independently and objectively. Ideally, they’ve always been gods — spiritual beings of great power and wisdom. Barring that, they were humans who became such beings.
But the fear is that the gods are only mythologized distant memories of people, beings who do not actually exist in any real way. For example, if he Tuatha De Dannan were actually just people who came to Ireland and conquered the Formorians, then, died or were killed and later remembered as gods.
no I don’t think it troubling at all for me. It’s part of a natural evolution, a natural progression summed up in a simple aphorism. “a rock becomes a plant; a plant, an animal; an animal, a human; a human, a god.”
Thanks for the comment, Henry. I’d never heard that aphorism before. Is it a part of a particular tradition, or simply something that explains your perspective on how this all works?
it appeared in Blavatsky’s “Isis Unveiled”, though the exact wording was “a stone” rather than rock. It’s an expression of the thread which runs through alot of traditions which expound on transmigration/reincarnation. It’s similarly expressed in Amergin’s and Taliesin’s poems with the litany of I am… and I was… There was also a being in Irish mythos, ‘the oldest person’ who in the story existed as a hawk but the name escapes me presently.
The idea is more fully addressed in the various puranas of india as well, especially the vishnu purana, which gives a run down of personages who take the roles of creator and various devas for each manvantara.
Considering the devotion to Marie Laveau, Though she’s not really called a goddess by most, people pray to her, go on vigils to her grave and leave her offerings.
And I might think of that as ancestor worship. I have context for that.
I wonder if if there’s something — some sort of esoteric tipping point — that will allow someone like her to be conceived of or function as an “American deity.”
The thought keeps rolling over in my head: Is there a difference in the *essence* of a deity from that of an ancestor, a nature spirit, me?
I sincerely hope that I do not become a future deity and I’m trying to remain an obscure individual in order to prevent that from happening. I would also hope that pop culture icons do not become deified……please, no future Elvis-God or, Michael Jackson-God…….although there are some individuals I might be willing to worship, such as William Morris.
The idea of Elvis as a god moves me a little farther toward hard polytheism. LOL! Actually, I do find it thought provoking. The nature of “gods” is something I frequently ponder. Having been come out of the Christian tradition, I tend to prefer my gods a bit more transcendent, and yet I view them as archetypes, and both psychological construct and objective reality. The thought that I might be mistaken for a goddess someday doesn’t necessarily bother me, but if they make that assumption based on my personality, I’m quite sure I will be seen more as Hekate or the Cailleach than Bridget. THAT definitely gives me pause for thought.
This post immediately brought to mind the science fiction novel “An Accidental Goddess” by Linnea Sinclair. Essentially, the protagonist of the title saves the world and awakens three hundred years later to discover that she has been deified.
This sounds like I should read it.
Interesting post, Teo! Inspired one of my own in response, over on NUP: http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/?p=2154 Thanks for the delicious food for thought!
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Dear gods i’m just as simple Sinnsraithe/Druid trying to keep me head above water and live by my beliefs . i would not be comfortable being diefied , someone’s future ancestor , that i can deal with . Kilm
My college newspaper had an April Fools Day article about a time traveling archaeologist who theorized that there was an extensive cult of Justin Beeber Worship in our culture.
To answer your question: no, it wouldn’t bother me at all.
But then again, I deal with several deities and heroes who were once (definitely) mortal, without euhemeristic interpretations of mythology coming into it: Antinous, Polydeukion, Divus Hadrianus, Diva Sabina, etc.
I would like to think that the polytheist peoples of the future would have the discernment to know the difference between a real human full of divinity and, say, Justin Bieber. (Not that it is inconceiveable that he could have divinity in him and could come to full realization of it…but, given the present circumstances, that’s a long way off for him, most likely.)
So, here’s another way to think of it: 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? Hmm…
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I have been told that there are many stories in many traditions of mythology where mere humans in all their humanity become deified. Kwan Yin comes to mind. Also, in one of my Traditions rooted in Africa, there is a legend about the Gods having first come from the heavens to create and empower the human race. In teaching them the sciences and mathematics and other teachings of life, the Gods chose humans as their own children. Don’t know how this became a spiritual thing, but now non-initiates will go through a divination reading to find out who their Mother or Father God is, the Deity who chose to “rule their head” at the time of birth. It’s also a practice that we humans throw celebrations for the Gods, where they will come down and “mount”, or possess their initiated children. My little brother’s “Mother”, came down, possessing an initiate. After awhile, she came by my little brother, both of them laughing at this point, and said, “Ha! That is my child!” Perceive first, then believe all you want here. And so the legend goes that after our souls have evolved enough through time, we, as their children, as their lineage through divine spark become their divine children. Thus, we become Gods. Doesn’t that seem like what the Gods themselves are, highly evolved beings? Imagine if us humans became that evolved. Wouldn’t we be worshiped as Gods the way our deities are? Maybe the Gods are highly evolved beings of their race, raised to the status of “Ultimate Being”, and so deified in all their glory. Humans may go through the same thing, so to speak. Even being rooted within our own humanity, all spiritual Traditions and religions experience phases in which we connect with the Divine in such an intimate manner, and we begin learning that we, too, are Divine. Even as Humans, it’s been my experience so far that we can be as Gods on Earth. Just look at our technology being used in our societies. We are so full of intellect and wisdom, like the race of Gods. They weren’t mere images or archetypes for our ancestors, no matter what Tradition you belong to! They were beings in the flesh that would touch us with their bare hands, walk amongst us down here upon Earth, beings that humans saw in their flying vehicles, so amazed that they drop to their knees in veneration! So far, I have read accounts, both from more recent humans and mythology, both stating that humans evolve, and souls evolve through human experience. To further this, it is my theory that humans being the children of Gods, that after supreme evolution of the human soul, after becoming ultimate Gods on Earth rooted within our own humanity, we further evolve to become Gods amongst Gods. Who knows, maybe even the Gods have Gods beyond them!
Also, about the Ancestor worship. It may be of interest, as it was and still is to me, that in that African Tradition, Ancestor worship always *always* ALWAYS comes before any worship or working with the Gods. You would think the Gods were somehow more highly revered, eh?
I’m working on catching up with various blogs and commenting, so I am avoiding comments. But look at it this way, at some point you may be venerated as a beloved ancestor, for a variety of reasons. I put ancestors in a different category, but they are certainly important. Perhaps even moreso than gods. As one of my teachers is fond of pointing out, people who have been alive before actually UNDERSTAND the minutiae of life. So who better to turn to when needing help with an exam, or money to pay the bills, or a sympathetic ear when emotions are hurt?
I don’t plan to become an ancestor for a good long time, but believe me, I am looking forward to fielding the questions and pestering my assorted descendents.