This question came up among friends recently, and I was surprised at how hard it was for me to answer. For many years, I could come up with a goddess or god, from whatever pantheon that had caught my eye at the time, and rattle-off the many ways that I was “working with” that deity (usually in ritual, and usually for my own purposes).
Now, I worship the eldest tribe: Sun, Moon, Earth, Storm, Sea, the four Winds, Fire, Horn, and Green. They walk their own paths, and to “summon” or “devoke” Them seems odd, to say the least, if not downright delusional. If your patron goddess were Inanna, but she strolled through your town every morning, how would you “work with” her?
We hold sabbat when the Moon is full, we sing the Sun back home at Yule. When worshiping the Eldest gods, you can’t answer questions like “Who are you ‘working with’?” without first answering the questions “Where?” and “When?” Land and season unraveled from my gods would only leave me with personified ideas who could not move beyond the boundaries of my own belief and imagination.
The other question that I must ask is, “Who else?” The Eldest are a tribe; they are related, one to the other. At spring, the Green stretches from his Mother Earth towards the returning Sun. We live in the midst of (and because of!) these interactions. We cannot attribute our lives to just one of Them.
If the forces of nature are your pantheon, and the seasons are your mythology, then a question like “Who’s your patron deity?” becomes a bit more complex.
How would you answer?
15 thoughts on “Who’s your patron deity?”
I have come to see the deities as the embodiment of qualities of humanity and spirit, to learn from and possibly cultivate their wisdom within. When I study or “work with” a deity, it is through companionship rather than worship. I do this with the elements of Gaia as well as the ancients. I have personal deities that ofter longer companionship than a moon or a season, such as Brigid, Isis, and Anubis, but as for my family, we flow with the moons and seasons and not one “blessed he, she or we” has taken a particular presence beyond a short while, other than the whole-being of Gaia.
Blessings to all, Gaia Sophia
Thanks for the response! Lots to think about, which I'll respond to here!
Interestingly, the Egyptian word for “god”, ntr, is thought to mean literally “force of nature”. this is the pantheon I am devoted to, and I am not ashamed to call what I do worship more often than “working with”. I see Sekhmet as my spiritual mother, Mut and Khenty-Amentiu (my other patrons) as aunt and uncle. I don't sumon any of them, I invite them into my shrine, and I see their influence all around me, a soaring vulture, the sun, a graveyard. How can one summon those who are always with her? 😉
Interesting post! 🙂
I'm not really sure what it means to “work with” anymore. I remember saying “I'm working with…” but that was years ago.
These days, if I say anything, I'll say “oh, I've been talking to the River.” or to Sekhmet. Or Isis… Hathor. The Moon. The deer in the back yard. Some days I might even be able to say “Today I'm listening to the Moon” or listening to Sekhmet. Or the deer in the back yard. Or that pissant squirrel that keeps trying to get in our house. They all have lessons to teach right? Even that pissant squirrel.
Most days I'm asking myself what I've learned from the Moon, the River, Sekhmet, the deer.
and that damned squirrel.
This is such a rare thing for me to talk with other pagans about their practice. Keep it coming, and thanks so much to those who've already contributed.
To those pagans who worship/commune with deities from a historical pantheon: How much does knowledge of the originating culture of your patron deity influence your relationship with that deity? How much, if anything, do you need to know about the originating culture, in your opinion?
I have always loved listening to this old Sufi poet as read and translated in a version by Coleman Barks.linkto:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZqAnIp5dMQ
For years and years I bounced from one church to another, from one religion to another trying to find one that fit. In high school, I'd had a dream of turning into a sparrow for safety and flying out of reach. I'd sit and stare out my window at the birds on the wire. I'd play in the cornfields. I'd watch the sunrise. I went to college. During a Shakespeare class a friend introduced me to Wicca. (We were studying A Midsummer's Night Dream) I was fascinated. It seemed closer than anything I'd found so far. A few years went by but I was still climbing trees, still whispering to the wind. I realized I wasn't Wiccan but I also wasn't Christian. hmmmm Maybe Buddhist? I discovered Quan Yin and her compassion made me cry. I loved (love) her with an open heart. But it still wasn't right. Then I found out that my great-grandmother was Ojibwe and I started researching everything I could on it. My eyes opened, my heart soared, this heritage, this belief system fit like nothing had before. I understood why I walk in dreams; why nature has always spoken to me, why when I see a possum or deer or squirrel and it looks at me I look for the meaning. When we went to PSG in Missouri, I'd greet the morning at the river. It was natural. It fit. Now when I think of the West, for example, I think of Ae-pungishimook and his stories. Abi-boon-aubae presides over winter, snow, hardship, and sickness, and generates winds, storms, cold, and blizzards. Waubun is the dawn. Pharmaceutical companies are Weendigos to me–Giant Cannibals that are never satisfied. I've never been asked what my patron deity is and I suppose to answer it I'd have to explain that I don't have a particular one. I'm walking the red path filled with manitous. The animals are sacred, the sky is sacred, the earth is sacred. I don't need to ask them to be with me, they already are. The seasons cycle inside of me. I'm not separated from my path. It's always been there I just needed to recognize it.
If there is a She, Sparrow is that for me…
You guys ask how much knowledge of originating culture influences or is necessary…
For me, I do not consider myself “orthodox” in any way, shape or form, so I'm not a big fan of “necessary” or “you have to”. 🙂 I don't know if the knowledge I have of the ancient culture of egypt influences my relationship/choice/attraction to egyptian dieties as Diety… I suppose so? 🙂 I was 6 when I got my hands on my first book of ancient egyptian images and history and no other culture has attracted me as much so I guess it seems natural that I gravitated that direction when my spiritual path took a pagan turn. But deeper down than the egyptian names I sometimes speak is the connection to Diety more where *I* am than where another culture is. I am not in egypt so more often than not I am connecting/communing with the Moon, the River, and the life around me. The few times I've put a “face” on the River when I speak to Her, it's been an egyptian-ish/native-ish face. Weird, but whatever, it's what comes through after going through the filters in my head.
I think if I were to go to egypt though, it would make all the difference in the world. If my head didn't pop off from the sheer joy of being there, I would probably be a-worshipping away at every temple my lily-white legs could get me to. 🙂 And I would have culture-studied my little heart out to prepare myself for the trip.
sorry for the ramble. 😛
Many fascinating thoughts on worship and nature and deities, enough to inspire a day of discussion with myself, thanks!
The sacred book of nature is my holy book.
“To those pagans who worship/commune with deities from a historical pantheon: How much does knowledge of the originating culture of your patron deity influence your relationship with that deity? How much, if anything, do you need to know about the originating culture, in your opinion?”
Well, I love learning all I can about history and archaeology (And that I think is the Jackal deity influence on me; digging up and preserving/restoring old things sounds like awesome fun to me!)
But for the general pagan I think it's good to learn about an ancient deity, should you feel called to him/her/it/them, because it helps one to understand the deity more. Ancient people understood their gods in a certain cultural context, and when the context is understood it makes the deity more “real”. At least in my experience.
For example, when I was about 15 or so, I was riding my bike in the country in the evening, and came to the top of a hill. In the sky, I saw the sun and moon at the same time. I remembered from the book about ancient Egypt I was reading that the sun and moon are the right and left eyes of Horus the Elder, and I got such a sense of this huge celestial falcon watching me that it actually gave me chills. It also made me realize that unlike what I had been taught in Church, ancient pagans didn't think the gods were helpless wooden statues, they were real forces of nature. Horus the Elder wasn't just pictures of man-made things in a dusty book, He was staring down on me as I rode my bike, and He was VAST.
I guess the point of all this rambling is that if one takes the meaning of how a deity chose to reveal itself to people long ago, one can build on that and adapt it to modern practice while keeping the foundation of the original deity. I in no way advocate making religion a sort of Bronze age museum exhibit or re-enactor group.
There's a book about worshiping the Greek gods called “Old Stones, New Temples” which I think is an apt description of what I do. Take the old, the accounts of people who spent lifetimes worshiping the gods, as your foundation, and build your own relationship with the gods from there.
…If this makes any sense to y'all.
I also think pigeonholing some gods into “god of war” or “goddess of love” is limiting in understanding of Them, and doesn't help people “get” why they really are. Wepwawet is a Jackal god, related to Anubis. His name means Opener of Ways” He's not god of this or that one or two things, he…opens the way. To the afterlife, to a destination, in magical practice. He historically was carried on a standard to clear the way in processions or in battle. My personal experience with Him is that he is an overcomer of obstacles, and I know people who put a jackal on their dashboard to “open the way.” I have a tiny Jackal shrine on my entertainment center, facing the door, to honor Wepwawet/Khenty-Amentiu, and in his paws, he holds a key. I've recently become interested in Hoodoo, an African-American folk magic system, and guess what the one god is who has survived (as a the “Devil”) in that tradition is? Legba, a crossroads god and “opener of ways”. I can't help but think this is a nudging from my own Wepwawet, especially since I learned about Hoodoo in greater depth at a festival with a theme of “The Crossroads.”
Deep & wide questions, Chris, and the comments that followed — I had to ponder. Thus far, the below…
“Patron deity”: I prefer “Heart Deity”, as a friend suggested. I like “heart” because a) no gender, b) the poetic, alive, connecting sense it has, and c) the temple/playgroud/workshop/tools/body I live in (e.g. heartmath.org).
Do I have Heart Deity(ies)? The most profound and grounding for me are Sun, Moon, Earth, Storm, etc. I seek to have similar with, e.g., Fire, even Gravity, but those aren't as easy to personify. And what is personify-able is easiest to apprehend and focus on.
The Elders are profound and grounding for me because a) they've been around longer than various human conceptions/apprehensions/namings and b) I can experience them directly. I don’t have a human-faced creator deity that precedes those Elders. The direct experience suggests aspects. And aspects that I sense can be, in some senses, verified with the experience. E.g. it’s easy for me to associate some creativities with Moon and some rejuvenations/refreshings with Sun.
Still Elder but Younger are Green (plants) and Red (animals).
Younger still are plant-human (e.g. Green Man) and animal-human depictions (e.g. various Horned Ones). And even Younger are quite human-form, -faced, etc. In some cultural mythologies quite human traits, even glorified dysfunctions, are associated with the human-embodied Younger. However, I steer away from glorifying dysfunctions in my observances.
With each step from eldest to youngest there are opposite trends. On the one hand I most am in awe of for All That Is with the Eldest. On the other hand I find it most easy and feel some kind of back-and-forth and/or sharing with the Youngest.
I thank and praise them all.
It seems to me that my (our?) Role, my (our?) Place in Nature/It All is Appreciator, which includes Thinker, Identifier of Patterns, Apprehender, Praiser, and Thanker.
Elder are massive Forces that might pay no attention to me but I thank and praise them as it seems is my glad duty. Younger might notice me, in a darshan fashion, yet I feel I can channel a bit of their aspects, do their work, feel their aspects in my very human life. Right now Storm in my part of the world is showing us “who is the boss” for now. “You are great, Storm. Have mercy.” Whereas Ganesha inspires me to remove obstacles and I thank Ganesha for removing obstacles and in a sense we team (“working with”?) — humble, little, short-lived me with the Great Master for millennia of Removing Obstacles.
For me, the life I lead, the aspects I focus on, there is a Trio of Youngers I focus on: Ganesha, Avalokitishvara (and Quanyin), and Hotei (and Buddai).
Another thing I like about focusing on Elders is that they are cross-cultural and beyond-cultural.
I like art, myth, and ritual for the powerful and moving interface they are between What Is Outside and What Is Inside. I respect that there are those 3 things culturally associated with named deities and I honor them by learning and repeating them, both the seeming original versions and the many changes that various peoples made over time. And yet, just as the younger trend is towards more and more human form and traits, I feel its more personal and I can have my own interpretation with them. E.g. there are aspects of the Trio that I just don’t think about, enact, have art, myth, and ritual about.
So, since I can pick up aspects from direct experience of the Elders and I give myself some leeway with the Youngers’ aspects, I am not strictly inside particular traditions, probably not even “correct” in some peoples’ eyes about the Deities I focus on in my Life.
My verbosity is a reflection of how profound I think your questions are, Chris, and how profound the thoughts of other commenters have been. Thanks to you all.