The Nature of the Gods is a thing of prime importance in my beliefs, and in what distinguishes my beliefs from the majority of general eclectic neo-pagans and Wiccans – and would put me more in line with shamanistic, Druidic and Heathen beliefs. Animism and Symbolism and my belief in the importance and inherent truth of both of these principles place me in, seemingly, rare company – though I believe the company is less rare and just not as out-spoken as some of the other groups. We are the silent minority who believe that the gods are individual and unique beings and should be treated with the respect that they deserve as the embodiments of natural essences and archetypes.
Each living thing is unique, imbued with its own composition of the Universal Essence – its soul-stuff. Just as people are individuals – even those who are similar to each other – so too are the gods. In a culture where the phrase “all gods are one God” is repeated so often, I can’t emphasize this point enough. They are not interchangeable. Whether you believe them to be entities, or archetypes, or symbols – no matter how you perceive of the gods, they can not merely be mixed and matched. Their cultural inheritance – their personalities – make them unique from each other, and you disrespect the god and the culture when you strip them of their uniqueness.
Now, I should probably clarify that I differentiate from working with archetypes and working with individual gods. When you call on an archetype, your mind often focuses on particular aspects of that archetype with which you are most familiar, most comfortable, or which you wish to ‘tap in to’. When you journey with a god, a part of your essence reaches out and connects with the universal equivalent of that essence – that god. Working in vague, archetypal and personal terms and using symbols you are familiar with and comfortable with and which you understand helps your mind find those links. There are pros to working with archetypes, in that you are more open to personal understanding as your subconscious translates patterns into symbols you understand. One of the cons is that it is sometimes too generic and too vague, such as when people call on ‘the Goddess’ and think of that term as being just about everything and anything under the sun – or moon. What, exactly, are you trying to focus on?
Alternately, many people work with particular gods. These god names are imbued with the essence of not only the archetype, but also with the cultural understanding of those archetypes. Arianrhod is not just a Celtic name for a moon goddess, and it’s not the same as calling on Diana. There are particular concepts links with Arianrhod which are unique to the Welsh and Celtic understandings which differ from the Roman conceptualization of Diana. They are not the same and they are not interchangeable.
Consider your own mother – or the most motherly person in your life. Archetypically, she possesses the traits that fit within the category of “motherhood” and “matronly”. However, your mother is not the same as my mother. They are very different people. So, too, are the gods different entities – even if they fit under the same category.
Consider, also, reality based perception. A cultures depiction of a god is going to be based on their perceptions of the essences which they embody. Take the winter, for example. In Nordic cultures they have a dozen or so words for snow, and their winter gods were depicted in a way fitting their own experiences. However, go to a culture where the winter is milder, and you will get a different depiction altogether. Or consider aboriginal Australian cultures which don’t even have a conception of the winter, because they don’t experience winter in any drastic way. The cultural conception of a god is dependant on the experiences of that culture – so calling on a Nordic god is not going to be the same as calling on a Roman god, and so on and so forth.
And then there is that particular thorn in my side – the Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of the Goddess. I have no inherent problem with this belief in a general sense; however, not every goddess fits this motif, and to place them there with no regards to their original status is disgraceful and yet it’s done with blissful abandon, with no thought as to the fact that they – who seek to reclaim the pagan traditions – are doing more damage to the symbols than the Christians ever did.
It is true that many goddesses can be called maidenly, matronly, or crone – however, this is not the sole purpose of their existence… and I have seen more corruption of myths for this purpose than, I think, any other. Especially many of the Celtic goddesses who are triplicities in their own right – their own natural triplicate being ignored in favor of the Maiden, Mother, Crone motif.
One glaring example of Brighid – or the three Brid’s. In the myth they are seen as sisters, all representing different aspects of crafts of fire, for Brighid means “fiery arrow” and she is the patron goddess of the 1) the fire of the hearth 2) the fire of inspiration 3) the fire of the forge. And yet she is often depicted either as Maiden, Mother, Crone instead of three sisters of the same age – or she is taken in singular form and placed in the motif with Danu and sometimes the Morrighan! , and the mish-mash continues with Danu is placed in maiden status and Brighid in mother status. Danu, who is the progenitrex of the Tuatha and earth goddess, is relegated to maiden and Brighid mother? While it is true that Brighid did give birth, it is also true that her temple was attended by virgin priestesses. Now why would a goddess supposedly worshipped in a matronly or fertility role have virgin priestesses?
And the Morrighan is not the gentle Crone of the Triple Goddess – she is a triplicity herself, and the “Phantom Queen”. And while she does have death and rebirth and even fertility aspects, her main epitaph is that of warrior. She is comprised of Macha (Battle), Nemain (Venomous) and Badb (Fury). (The translations of the names differ depending on sources). These three goddesses were also worshipped separately and in their own right, Macha lending her name to Ard Macha – or modern day Armagh.
Know the gods and goddesses for who they were, and who they are. Do not strip them of their identities to favor some watered down stories, or to fit in with some theory that seeks to strip all differences and distinguishing traits from the gods so that they can be interchangeable. You do more damage to the symbols than the Christians – the enemy of all neo-Pagans who are quick to mention “the Burning Times” and “patriarchal oppression” – but fail to see the damage they do to the traditions they say they seek to reclaim.