The Gods We Know… and Those We Don’t…

I have a vague inspiration this morning. I will try to craft a post from it, but it may well fall flat. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has an excellent column this morning on grappling with the concept of new Gods, and Apuleius Platonicus has, whether you agree with his views or not, a rather passionate post that speaks to both the importance of direct divine experience and the tendency to label our mythos in black and white terms.

I suggest you read them both and then come back. Here’s some music to accompany your perusing:

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Are you back? Good.

I live in the Americas, these vast and strange continents that have been famously painted as devoid of Gods by Neil Gaiman. I adore American Gods, and eagerly anticipate the Showtime series based on it, but Gaiman is dead wrong. I know because I have had direct divine experience with pre-European beings inhabiting this land.

The Nunnehi live here in these Appalachian mountains. Gary Carden has an interesting article on them:

A Cherokee myth concerning a race of immortal (and invisible) beings called the Nunnehi (meaning “those who live anywhere”) says that the Nunnehi maintained a home beneath Nikwasi. In ancient times, smoke from their underground townhouse could be seen emerging from the top of the mound. (They also fished in the sky and hunted deer on the bottoms of rivers.) Since they were favorably disposed towards the Cherokees, they often gave them advice, socialized with them (they loved to dance) and even came to their rescue in a battle fought near the mound, attacking their enemies with arrows and lances that seemed to emerge from the air, swerving to strike their victims behind trees and rocks.

They were known to rescue lost travelers, giving them food and shelter, and then setting them back on the right path. They love music, and I have heard their music in these mountains: distant, mysterious and emanating from the land.

I’ve also found beings that followed immigrants over and became lost here in Appalachia. I had to bargain with a particularly mischievous spirit from Ireland who was content to play tricks in my neighborhood many years ago.

I believe Columbia is a native Goddess of the new world, who inspires democracy here much as Athena did in Athens, and whose influence is seen in the Iroquois Confederacy and in the United States government.

But I have never encountered a new God. I know they exist. When Neil Gaiman wrote of the new, young Gods in America, it rang partly true to me. Not because America is special enough to have new Gods, but because if we look at the history of polytheism, we know Gods come into being. They are being born all the time, from Divine coupling, from mishap and error, and even springing spontaneously from nature itself.

In the 1500 years of monotheistic dominance in the West, it’s possible entire pantheons of Gods could have come into being with no one to recognize them, to weave their myths, sing their songs and offer them tribute.

There is a game, it’s name escapes me, where all the lights in a house are turned off and someone hides. When you, stumbling in the dark, find the person hiding, you simply stay with them in silence. The last person to find the hider discovers a whole crowd of people standing in still silence in the dark. It’s a hilarious game, and sometimes I wonder if I will one day open a door and find a whole host of Gods standing there mutely waiting to be discovered.

I don’t seek out new Gods. I believe they exist, but I’m not brave enough to track them down. So much of Paganism today is based on history, and if Hesiod or Snorri Sturluson or some other ancient hasn’t already recognized a God, we pay them no mind. The Gods about whom little is known but their name, they are effectively cast off. We are UPG-phobic, terrified lest our sacred experiences make us less viable in academic eyes.

Some Greek philosopher, and my Google-fu is failing me at the moment, exhorted his students to worship all the Gods, not just the ones for which they have an affinity. Worship Venus all you like, but be sure to gives Mars his due. Maybe the idea of patron Gods is a bit narcissistic. This picking and choosing Gods as if they were bits of jewelry. The pantheons of ancient religions existed for a reason. For each culture, for each religious worldview, the pantheon of Gods associated represented a balanced whole. Pantheons are ecosystems, and ecosystems are not stagnant. You can’t remove a single element from an ecosystem without affecting the whole, nor can you focus on one element of an ecosystem while ignoring the rest because it is the ecosystem itself that brings the element into proper perspective within a cohesive whole.

So maybe when we talk about new Gods, we are really talking about evolving ecosystems. Maybe the very concept of new Gods changes the way we look at the old Gods. And maybe it implies we have an obligation to Gods we do not know yet.

And maybe this idea suggests the great difficulty of Wicca is that it’s ecosystem contains so few elements. One source, two Gods, 4 elements. I don’t know. It’s something to ponder.

In writing this, and attempting to suss out the rhyme and reason, I’ve merely given myself more questions than answers. I’ll be pondering these things a lot over the next few days, and likely revisiting concepts.

What are your thoughts?

 

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Vision_From_Afar

    Fascinating rumination, Star. I’m literally twitching in my chair, eager to go on a “New God Search.” I have no idea where to look, though. For now, I’ll keep my eyes open and my ear to the ground. :D

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      In my own experience (not that it’s necessarily relevant!), the new gods weren’t “found” by me in any conventional sense, so much as they presented themselves in a way that I could not possibly ignore them.  The gods–old or new–have a way of doing that, of suddenly jumping out of nowhere and going “See me!  Feel me!”  (With apologies to The Who!)

      Certainly, keeping one’s various senses and one’s mind extremely open and receptive is a good way to be more likely to notice them when they do come along…

      But, I wonder what your own results will be with an active “searching” intention instead of what occurred with me, where it was just an appropriate response to something that emerged.  I look forward to hearing more from you as you go along!

      • WhiteBirch

        Always + brownie points for a well timed Who reference. 

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    I like this. I’d like to add that humans are part of the global ecosystem, and we are now facing some fundamental changes in our role based on nothing more than our numbers: there are enough of us, doing enough “human” stuff, to tip the balance of the world.

    It seems inescapable to me that we need new gods.

  • Lady GreenFlame

    I have done a bit of work with New Gods, and They are real and powerful. As far as Wicca and duotheism – that is also why Wiccans often adhere to the [VERY misunderstood and much-maligned] concept of “All Gods are One God and All Goddesses are One Goddess.” (“And there is One Initiator,” to complete the quote from Dion Fortune.) Because we can see overarching unity on one level – Goddess is *that* big, God is *that vast  – and yet see fully-intact diversity and multiplicity on another level, where we engage with highly distinct personalities who are not at all alike. And all co-existing in a paradox that itself leads to new insight.

    Not only are the New Gods real, but the Old Gods are not always like They were back in the day. Isis is not always in Egyptian costume. She can be that Isis, or She can be in a modern outfit. And of course, why *should* They have stayed exactly the same? If They have any existence at all as energy forms outside of our own brains, then of course They will evolve, just as we do. Or, They will show Themselves to us in forms closer to where we are today, and not just superficial aspects such as appearance, but revealing more of Their complex vibration and matching ours. Thank Goddess. 

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Really fantastic questions, Star!  And, quite beautifully and meaningfully put!

    While I suspect that the new gods Neil Gaiman wrote about in American Gods could potentially exist, and could even usefully be engaged with in cultus, it always seemed a bit limited in imagination to me (!) to think that all of the new gods would be things like Television, ATM, and so forth.  Ancient societies didn’t have House, Water-Pipe, Wagon and so forth as gods (though Cloacina might be a slight exception there…!?!), they had personalities like Odin, Artemis, Sobek, the Morrígan, etc.

    Come to think of it, there was that issue of Thorn magazine back in ’09 or so that did talk about a little of this matter…and included Caffeina, Squat, and a few others.  But, again, it’s interesting that those deities are connected very specifically to particular objects, substances, or activities, rather than larger abstract forces or distinctive personalities.  It’s not to say that any or every deity has to be as fully-formed as a character as some of the more popular ancient ones are (and those deities do have strange senses of humor, needless to say!), but nonetheless…It’s interesting to see how the theorizing and practice on this have gone for the most part thus far.  “Modern gods” end up being almost like deified abstractions attached to modern material and active realities, like finding parking spaces or getting coffee every morning.  Hmm.  I wonder if it says something about our own modern human tendencies that such is the case.

    I have even more questions as a result of your own questions, so thank you for doing this!  :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Squat, known by many names, may be the most invoked God in modern Paganism!

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Very true–and, I’m not sure if that is something positive (“Yay!  People integrating cultus into their everyday lives!”) or something potentially negative (“Uh-oh…I pray to Squat more than I pray to my main deities, and more often!”).  Hmm…

        I wonder what the general view on whether or not Squat is related to Asphaltia, is syncretized with Asphaltia, or is a more personalized (and odd sense-of-humor’d) form of Asphaltia…or, vice-versa.  Hmm…

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        I very rarely pray to Squat, however–I usually only do so in a supportive fashion when others do, because I’m a non-driver, and I’m only driving with Squat devotees on an extremely occasional basis…

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

           I didn’t encounter Squat until I started spending time with other Pagans in person. My roommates do not call Squat, but the Parking Witch, which I always imagine to be somewhat similar to, oh, what was the name of the fairy Witch in the Wicked series?

  • http://twitter.com/whitestagforest Aine Llewellyn

    “We are UPG-phobic, terrified lest our sacred experiences make us less viable in academic eyes.”

    Very, very, very true in my experience!  It has taken me a while to be able to say without flinching that I have had and continue to have experiences with deities.  That a few of my most memorable experiences occurred in childhood also made me nervous to talk about it – I was worried I either a) would be assumed to be an idiot/attention-seeker and uneducated on anything concerning Paganism or b) I truly was deluding myself!  Through some self reflection and a bit of research I figured the ‘deluding myself’ option was a little less likely, but I try to always keep myself in check ;)

    I’m glad to see this topic brought up, as it helps me feel a bit more grounded in my own work with new deities.

  • Thefirstdark

    i really really loved this, Star. thanks for this. it kind of opened my brain in a much needed way. reason i say that, is that i feel like i’ve been so bent on finding myself in old gods – their comparisons in history, to then and now – that i haven’t devoted any time to connecting myself to the current state of affairs…or i guess what i’m saying is, ignoring the topic of existng pagan faith in the country i live in.  new or not, america had a longstanding history that many just don’t know about, well before discovered.  it’s in my blood, thru my great-grandfather and what is left of his people as a native american. thanks for inspiring me to take some time to explore those customs and practices of faith!

  • Wiccanlez

    Pick a god to be your patron/matron deity almost always has unintended consequences. I find it far better to let a deity come to you. That takes patience which too many people are sorely lacking in. You don’t have to accept the invitation but if an invitation is extended it works much better than the times I’ve watched people decide they are a devotee of, say Kali, and they wonder why their life goes to hell in a handbasket. OBTW my Iseum has worshipped a new Egyptian goddess, BunniHoTep for many years now. They don’t have to be American

  • Rika E

    I love the idea of a Pantheon as an ecosystem, something for me to think on today!

  • Zevenster

    Gods are images of mankind to focus their religious feelings.. So new can be as can old… i really like your imaging this : dark room and us stumbling around…
    You, my lady, are very good in words and imagination… And you feed me daily with it!

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      Thanks, but not everyone views the Gods that way. I certainly don’t.

  • Byron Ballard

    I wrote a play about the Nunnehi many years ago and have encountered them and other land spirits here in the southern highlands. Good piece, Star. Thanks!


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