Rolling the Religion Dice

Years ago I was the acquaintance of a young woman whose religious and spiritual choices seemed to change on a weekly basis. She was smart, and I want to write that “she should have known better” because her choices always felt more like a cry for attention than any sincere conviction. The titles she used to identify herself were hard to keep up with but I remember my favorite one being “Thelemic-Christian-Witch.” At the time I knew a lot of people who practiced more than one tradition, but those often felt compatible at least (Druidry and Wicca for example). In Crowley’s Book of the Law Aiwass lays it out quite clearly:

“With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.” The Book of the Law Chapter 3 Verse 51

Perhaps Christianity and Thelema are compatible in some way I don’t understand, but the mixing of the two has never made sense to me.

A friend of mine used to joke with me that the girl in question probably started off her days by rolling “the religion dice” every morning. Sometimes the dice gave her Thelemic-Christian-Witch other days she’d get Islamic-Druid- Clairvoyant. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs out of the concept of religion dice over the years, and it’s still an idea that runs through my head every time I see religious and spiritual traditions getting mixed up in a way that doesn’t sit right with me. (Of course your milage may vary, and if you are an Islamic-Druid-Clairvoyant and it works for you by all means go right ahead . . . . . .)

Sometimes it feels like there’s a special set of Pagan Religion Dice™ set aside for use at large Pagan events. I think we’ve all been to those types of circles. Arch-angels at the quarters . . . . . calls to Aphrodite and Baron Samedi . . . . . . perhaps a working inspired by the Mabinogion. I’m sure there are a few High Priestesses out there who might be able to pull-off such an event, but I’ll admit to it being far beyond my rather limited capabilities.

A couple of weekends ago I attended a ritual sponsored by a local eclectic Pagan group I’m a part of. Generally our rituals are Wiccan in format, though that’s not exclusively the case, and certainly wasn’t for this particular rite. This time around our ritual was Heathen, and inspired by and based on the work of Hrafnar and Diana Paxson. Germanic Re-constructionism isn’t my cup of tea (or horn of mead) per say, but I like being exposed to different Paganisms, and I think it’s important to break free of the Wiccan-style format now and again.

The ritual ended with some ritual drinks (apple juice) and some hearty “Hail the gods!” toasting. The original plan was for the person introducing the toasting to run a disclaimer asking everyone to hail either their ancestors or Norse/Germanic gods. Things don’t always go according to plan and any statement about limits to our hailing was left unsaid. After the main presenters of the ritual all performed their toasts things were opened up for the other 30 or so people in the circle*. Almost immediately it was obvious that all sorts of gods were going to be hailed.

“Hail Kali!” cried one individual and then a vision began to swim in my head. In my mind’s eye I could see Kali looking down upon our little circle with a perplexed expression on her face, specifically sizing me up because of the Giant Thjazi costume I was wearing. This certainly wasn’t her usual temple, and what are these weird Western Spiritual Practices? If she showed up beyond my little vision I’m guessing she was most likely a little bit confused.

The circle continued its “hailing” until we had assembled a bowling team made up of various Orishas, Greek Gods, Norse Deities, several ancestors, and a couple of land wights (or Landvættir, Germanic Spirits of the land). It was a strange collection of entities to have on hand all at the same time, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I wasn’t uncomfortable with any specific deity, but uncomfortable with the assembly. Do Kali and Loki like each other? Perhaps Zeus and Odin have some sort of rivalry? It felt like 45 Pagan Religion Dice™ had all just been rolled at the same time.

During ritual I try to make sure that the gods I’m calling are not only compatible with each other, but with my Western-centered Tradition. I adore Shiva, but if I was going to do a Shiva ritual with my coven I’d make sure to do so with a rite that the god would be familiar with. Shiva is a Hindu deity from the Indian subcontinent, he’s not a European god used to magic circles and athames. Gods like Pan have been involved with circles and the like for at least 100 years, and most likely longer. The Wicca I practice is definitely a part of the Western Magical Tradition, a tradition that has honored European and Mediterranean Deities for centuries. (There was a long break in there during the Christian years, but I think the gods have pretty long memories.)

I think we’ve all probably read enough about cultural appropriation at this point, so I’m not going to go down that particular road today, I just think it’s important to call deities in the right sort of context. If you’ve been working with a Japanese goddess for a decade or so maybe it makes perfect sense for her to be at your Druidic Rite. I’m guessing though that most of the people hailing the gods during our little Norse ritual a few weeks ago had never called to those deities in such a context. I’m also going to go out on a limb and guess that all those deities called up that particular afternoon had never all been together before.

In order to avoid looking like you’ve just rolled the religion dice let me offer a few suggestions . . . . .

Be careful about the deities you call into a circle. If you are attending a Hellenic-style ritual it’s probably not a good time to call your favorite Celtic deity. When calling to specific goddesses and gods make sure they are compatible. Picking two from an established pantheon is a pretty safe bet, there are also a lot of deities out there who have been worshipped together with some frequency over the last one hundred years (and even beyond that). (Sometimes even using two gods from the same pantheon isn’t such a great idea, read up on some mythology and history before calling any deity.) Isis was worshipped all over the Roman Empire, she’s probably pretty familiar with Pan. I wouldn’t ask her to bless my Greek-style ritual but I’m guessing she’s fine sharing a Wiccan circle with my favorite Goat-god.

Respect the sensibilities of those around you. I’m not personally a Christo-Pagan, and I don’t have a problem with people whose spirituality takes them down that road, I just ask that they’re careful about when they share it. Unless everyone’s been warned far in advance the average open circle is probably not expecting anyone to pull the Jesus-card. This goes for arch-angels and superheroes too.

Go with the flow. If everyone else has been calling the Watchtowers at the four cardinal points now is probably not the time to call forth a dragon in the north. Keep the circle balanced by calling to consistent powers and entities.

Sometimes it’s best to compartmentalize our practices. My devotion to Shiva is an example of compartmentalizing my spiritual practices. My Shiva worship exists in a world outside of my general Wiccan practice. That’s not to imply that it’s somehow less important to me, I just believe that a god such as Shiva prefers to be honored on his terms and not mine. I know lots of Pagans heavily involved in Eastern Traditions and I think that’s awesome. Most of those traditions are certainly compatible with a Modern Pagan world view, it’s just best to know when to share them and when not to. Ganesh is pretty great, but unless everyone has been warned in advance it’s probably not best to build a Beltane ritual around him. I love calling to Jim Morrison, but I only only do so at pretty specific times.

Modern Paganism is a large, wide open canvas and I love seeing (and experiencing) invocations to all different sorts of deities and other powers. But to everything there is proper place and context. Knowing when to mix things up and knowing when a step too far has been taken are the hallmarks of a good ritualist and practitioner.

*Lots of (and perhaps even most) Heathens don’t cast circles, but that was done at this particular ritual to make things easier to understand for the uninitiated. Feel free to insert your “Wiccan Privilege” joke or comment here.

Stay in touch! Like Patheos Pagan on Facebook:

The Spirit of Summer
Lammas: A Square Peg In a Round Hole
There Are Many Reasons For Ritual
Creating a More Welcoming Pagan Community
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.