One issue that a lot of new Witches and pagans become very caught up in is which deity, or pantheon, they will align with. Whilst many will simply make a choice and run with it others spend a long time seeking inspiration or connection which does not always seem immediately apparent. Some feel this as a keen sense of ‘loss’, perhaps viewing this kind of association with deity as a necessity to a Pagan path, whilst others experience doubt at their choice to learn more about paganism.
Let me put your mind at rest.
Deity worship is not a requirement of Witchcraft.
Witchcraft is a practice, not a religion, and not ‘feeling the call’ of one deity or a group of them does not need to inhibit the exploration of a Pagan path because there are many ways through which to develop and experience the practice of Witchcraft.
Equally, making a choice based on personal preferences neither devalues the connections you build and explore nor means that you are irrevocably tied to something should your path evolve.Let’s explore some possible options
This position may not immediately fit for someone looking for a religious dimension to their craft work but it is an interesting point at which to begin this conversation.
This may come as a surprise to some but there are actually a large number of atheist witches out there is the big wide world. The ability to use magic does not require the involvement of any deity or spiritual mindset at all. Although the basic foundations of the practice cross over with some spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, they can exist separate and distinct to them. Seasons can be interpreted as seasons, goals can be achieved through the manipulation of forces alone and deity can be ignored entirely.
Simply put, you don’t have to give up on the idea of practising either Witchcraft because you don’t feel you have a ‘calling from’ deity and in some ways this can be beneficial because the lines between Witchcraft and Religion stay well defined.
Other options include working with spirits and entities which are not deities per say but represent powerful sources of inspiration and involvement. Ancestor Worship features in many pre-Christian cultures as a known or suspected element of their spiritual culture in one form or another. Whether that is in the expression devotion towards a known and name member of the Beloved Dead or the veneration of the unknowable Mighty Dead, many modern Witchcraft streams honour the dead within their tradition. Another form of spirit that Witches also often honour in their work, particularly where there is a strong focus on the natural world, are the Genius Loci.
Genius Loci are the spirits of the land and place we encounter is places of power which are honoured as being sentient and present. The honouring of these spirits takes place out in Nature although people are increasingly recognising that such spirits populated urban areas as well.
A common practice within Paganism is to work with the Gods as personifications. This may be personifications of nature and the heavenly bodies, life stages or even particular animals and plants which have layered meaning. This practice operates on the theory of soft polytheism, that is to say all God’s are aspects of a single divine godhead which exists within the universe. Sometimes this singular divine is presented in the aspects of male and female, or One God and One Goddess, which is also referred to as Duotheism.
Some of the possible representations include
God as the;
- Holly / Oak King
- Lord / Horned God
- Warrior / Father / Sage
Or Goddess as the;
- Mother Earth
- Lady / Horned Goddess
- Maiden / Mother / Crone
Particularly common is the outer court understanding of the Wiccan God and Goddess as the Lord and Lady. In these personifications the cycle of seasonal change is represented in the evolution of each personification throughout the year. Another set of seasonal personifications which are popular are the Holy King and Oak King, which represent the contest between two Kings to rule the Land, which is the personification of the Goddess herself, for a portion of each year.
On occasion celestial personifications are names in a more explicit manner, however this in not necessarily an expression of devotion to a specific deity. For example, the Sun and Moon are often named as Sol and Luna, which are the Latin nouns for the celestial bodies. Usually this is sufficient for broad personification however on occasion they are further named Hellios and Selene (the Greek personifications of the Sun and Moon from the race of Titans) or Apollo and Artemis (the Olympian equivalents given rulership over these heavenly objects).
There are any number of mythologies through which to drill into these personifications, which are not limited to the Sun and the Moon alone. Use of these personifications in a soft polytheistic way do not immediately declare an allegiance to a particular God or Goddess, nor necessarily a preference for a particular mythology. The Greco-Roman mythologies are seeming the most popular simply because of the breath of influence these cultures have continued to have throughout modern culture.
You Can Choose…
Sometimes we over think things and it can be as straight forward and as simple as choosing a particular Deity or Pantheon to work. There are not ups nor downs to taking this route and many find it rewarding in the long run as it can be a useful route to identifying their personal connections.
I do have a couple of hints and tips regarding that method.
- Pick a set of mythology and deities that resonate with you. There is no point trying to develop a relationship with a set of Gods that you really have no interest it just because they feel appropriately pagan. Look for things that inspire you and capture your imagination.
- Don’t settle for just the information that appears in your modern new age books. Unfortunately new age author’s aren’t always the best of scholars and can both misinterpret (or regurgitate misinterpreted) information or even twist it to fit their own agendas. I would urge you to explore the history of the culture that these deities emerge from and the wider mythologies in orher sources. A good starting point is always a big table book of mythology, as are the Oxford series “A Very Short Introduction To….”, particularly if you feel daunted by more academic works. In the case of the Oxford books they are written by people familiar with the given subject beige discussed and it is presented in in a bite sized and approachable way. There is also academia.edu, a brilliant community based website where academics and scholars post articles of a vast array of subjects. Again, they are generally short texts which are largely accessible, just don’t feel guilty for passing up the more technical pieces (I don’t). The aim is to gain a wider grounding in the origins of the context of the chosen deity or pantheon and this should always be tempered by experiential practice.
- Don’t even limit yourself to just exploring information on just one pantheon or culture. As said above, new age pagan books sometimes present a very distorted view of ancient deities, Hekate being a prime example. Reading around can lead you to discover things about deities you may not have fully appreciated when reading your Witchcraft 101 book.
- Finally, don’t feel locked into a particular Deity or panrhaeon just because it is where you started. Your journey will evolve and if something doesn’t fit don’t hold on to it as it will hinder your growth. Some people find the right fit straight away, others don’t. One good thing about option three is that you become familiar with deity energies and this may help you realise your perfect fit.
… Or You Can Be Chosen
Sometimes, you will just know. A deity will reach out and place a hand on your shoulder and, like a Pokemon Trainer, proclaim “Hey there human, I choose you”. Sometimes it can be the beginning of a life long association, in other cases it may be a brief connection to facilitate a goal of you, or their, design.
Such things should not be ignored. By all means be cautious, and it is not an offensive to seek confirmation and clarification from the beings you encounter. Spirits can be mischievous little buggers, and not above posing as Gods to get their kicks. I see it as a necessary course of action at times, especially in the early stages, and I’ve never felt that the being I was dealing with felt slighted in any way. I employ the Rule of Three, that is required it to speak it’s name three times, provide three forms of collaboration etc. As you build a relationship with a given deity the need to do this lessens, though I do feel that it is always useful in confirming that I have understood a direction correctly.
If you have been working with a particular pantheon or deity in the lead up to this check in with all concerned if they want you to break from working with them to work with the deity that has called you. It is not always necessary to make a complete break but it is dependant on the deities involved. If you do decide to continue to work with both I recommend that, unless they are the same pantheon, you offer separate devotions. For example, if you are working with the Olympiad and you suddenly feel drawn to work more closely with Persephone you can incorporate specific devotions in your existing ritual set. If you are working with the Egyptian Gods and you suddenly feel drawn to explore the Norse I would be inclined to make a clean break between your devotions.
Whayever reaches out to you, explore it. Find out about the deity through research, through experience, through communication both great and small.
Finding Your Fit
Personally, I started my journey by dedicating myself to Isis when I was a tweenie witch. I got nothing from this because despite my love of all things Egyptian it wasn’t the right fit for me. I eventually progressed to working with personifications of the Female and Male divine at seasonal rites, if at all as I began a process of separating deity worship from my Craft. If I did call on deities they would be selected for a purpose from with the British or Romano-British pantheons, preferring to work with deities attested to in the archaeological record of the Isles. This all changed when I felt the call of Hekate.
My path has evolved over time, lead not only by my research and reading but my experience as well. It is likely that you will experience your own evolution of practice, understanding and interaction with deity and if a connection is meant to happen it will happen in its own time.