I love hearing this question – it shows someone is genuinely seeking, and it shows they’re thinking of gods and goddesses as real, distinct, individual beings. If you’re a pantheist or a monist or a duotheist, that’s fine (and who knows – you might be right), but I’m a polytheist and I like seeing other people working through religious questions from a polytheistic perspective.
I desperately want to write a series of posts on “finding the gods.” I want to help people answer this wonderful but difficult question. And the engineer in me likes formulas, processes and best practices.
However, one of the things I’ve learned as a polytheist is that every god is different. We already know every person is different. So it’s not surprising that different polytheists report very different experiences in finding and forming relationships with gods. The approach that works well for me may not work for you.
I’ve seen two very good examples this week. Over on PaganSquare, Elani Temperance says “patronage is not part of Hellenismos, and it was not part of ancient Hellenic life.” And at Walking the Hedge, Juniper gives an awesome (in every sense of the word) account of her direct experience with Frig, accurately titled “The Hedgewitch and the Hurricane.” Part 2 is here.
About all I can honestly offer in the way of “how to” is what I wrote while describing my commitment to the gods: learn who they are, form a reciprocal relationship with them, and embody their virtues. Sometimes through your searching you find a deity – more often they find you.
Though I cannot clearly and definitively tell you how to find a goddess, I can tell you how I found one particular goddess: Morrigan.
It was Summer 2004 and I was leading our Lughnasadh ritual. My polytheism was in its infant stages – all I knew was that gender balance was important and if I was going to invoke Lugh as God I needed someone to invoke as Goddess. I found an ADF Druid ritual online that invoked Morrigan as Lady of Sovereignty, a goddess of the land. That seemed to fit, so I copied the invocation, made a few tweaks and went with it. The ritual went well and I didn’t think anything more of it. In 2007 Bonnie recycled the invocation – we’ve used it on and off as part of our standard Lughnasadh liturgy ever since.
This simple introduction introduced me to Morrigan. I learned she was the Lady of Sovereignty, the Queen of Phantoms, and the Battle Raven. Though we called to her and made appropriate offerings, if she made an appearance at any of those Lughnasadh rituals I never noticed (Lugh, however, was unmistakably there).
Then one day a close friend in another state was in sudden physical danger. I felt a strong need to do something, but there was nothing I could do from 800 miles away. I prayed to Morrigan and asked the Battle Raven to protect my friend.
The danger passed. I offered thanks. I heard nothing more.
A few months later a local friend spoke of a relative in danger from domestic abuse. Again, I felt the strong need to do something even though I was hundreds of miles away. I prayed to Morrigan, made an offering of wine and asked for her help.
The former victim found the strength to leave the abusive relationship. Again, I offered thanks. But this time I got a different response. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Last night in meditation Morrigan came to me and said “I have done this for you, now I want you to do something for me.” I’m not going to share exactly what it is, but it’s a lot bigger than offering a special wine or writing a check to a particular cause. It won’t be easy and it’s a long-term commitment, but it needs to be done.
About that time I noticed other people talking about Morrigan. I read about their experiences and compared them to mine – they were hearing the same message in subtly different ways. I prayed. I meditated. I made offerings. I worked on the things she wanted me to work on. And I started learning something about who and what she is.
In 2011 Erin joined our group. She already had a relationship with Morrigan and felt the call to strengthen it. Erin asked us for an initiation. A small group planned it, I wrote most of the liturgy and in doing so found myself being pulled closer and closer to Morrigan and her message of sovereignty. At the initiation Morrigan’s presence was undeniably strong.
After the initiation in early 2012 I got another clear message from Morrigan: “your debt is paid.” The obligation I incurred in asking her assistance for the relative of a friend a year and a half before had been fulfilled. I thought this might be the end of our relationship, but it was not. I wrote several posts for and about her late last year, continued to spread her message of sovereignty, helped perform a devotional ritual to her, and this year at Beltane presented her stories in our circle.
I’ve been hearing much less from her since Beltane, but that’s mainly because Cernunnos (to whom I am pledged as priest) decided he needed something from me.
What of the other gods and goddesses I’ve invoked in ritual and prayer? Some I’ve formed relationships with, while others I’ve never heard from. None have responded to me this strongly and for this long. Why? I don’t know – they’re the gods, not me.
Will your experience of a deity match mine? Probably not. But I’m telling this story because it illustrates how taking seemingly small steps can make a huge impact. I invoked a goddess I didn’t know because she seemed to fit. Six years and several interactions later I found myself being asked to reciprocate.
Now I have to make a confession: I didn’t give Morrigan everything she asked for. I joke about not wanting to disappoint a Battle Goddess, but part of her demands turned out to be incredibly hard for me. Not impossible, but very, very hard. I tried, I failed, and I didn’t try again. My head is still on my shoulders and she released me from my obligation – obviously I provided something of value to her. But she has not made me her priest, something I expected would happen when these interactions began.
Has she decided to make use of what I can easily provide and fill her other needs elsewhere? Or will she reinstate her demands at some point? I don’t owe her anything, but I’ve worked with and for her for long enough there is implied consent for her to ask for anything she wants. And though I don’t need another priesthood, this is one I would very much like to have… not that it’s ever actually been offered.
Seeking the gods is many things, but it’s never boring.