A friend recently asked me on social media how I go about practicing a paganism that isn’t focused on Gods. It’s an interesting question and one I honestly had never thought about in exactly those terms. For the majority of the time I’ve been a pagan I was fairly deity focused as that’s just the template that american paganism tends to go by: almost everything from magical practices to celebrations involve deity one way or another.
But as I’ve gravitated more towards primarily focusing on the Daoine Maithe (fairies) and as my previous ties to specific deities have fallen away my practice has changed significantly if slowly. So, what follows is my own answer to the question that was posed, with an understanding that different people may have very different understandings and approaches to this.
What Is a God Anyway?
One of the first challenges in answering a question about how I have a non-deity centric pagan practice is understanding how I define what a god is. Maybe that seems like an easy question, but I don’t think it is; and in fairness some of the beings that I do honour as higher powers might be considered deities by other people. My own approach for a long time has been to use a sort of sliding scale based on power and ability to influence the world, with the very bottom end including beings that are very limited in what they can do and affect and the top including beings that have a great deal of influence which I might label as gods. I have never viewed deity – any deity – as omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent though so the top end of the scale while far, far beyond human ability is still limited in some ways. Perhaps not many, but some.
A secondary criteria I use, which is more straightforward and less subjective is whether a being has historically been understood or worshipped as a deity. So obviously personages like Odin, the Morrigan, Hecate, Isis, Ares, and so on fall into the deity category without my worrying about where they fall on my personal scale of power. If a previous or existing culture viewed a being as a deity I’m not going to argue.
Who Do I Honour?
It gets very fuzzy when there’s not a lot of historic material (or none) or we are trying to decide where the line is between a deity, a Fairy Queen, and a very powerful spirit. I’m currently in a place where I hesitate slightly to call the main Powers I deal with deities because they, themselves, don’t seem very fond of that terminology. I have referred to them as Liminal Gods because that’s the easiest way to convey their overall position in the scheme of things but often the concepts are fluid and unclear. I could as easily say they are Queens and Kings of Fairy groups, with a nod to the muddled connection between gods and Fairy monarchy. I suppose the short answer is they seem to prefer Fairy Queen or King to god and I just go with that.
Clear as mud?
Beyond that though the main beings I actually, practically, engage with aren’t on that high end of the power spectrum. My daily life, for the most part, isn’t about gods by any name or guise but about the spirits that are around me and who I have built connections with. I’ve talked before about how my Heathenry might best be described as Alfatru because that focus on and belief in the Huldufolk is the cornerstone of my Norse spirituality. I can say the same thing about my Irish spirituality and my focus on the Daoine Maithe, although with the Aos Sidhe it is by nature more complicated and convoluted. Either way though it is these in-between beings, perhaps not Gods* but definitely powerful and able to influence the world around me that are my main focus.
Spirit Focused Instead of Deity Focused
So, how do I craft a paganism that is about these spirits and not the gods? Honestly it seems pretty straightforward to me. My daily and weekly practice involves looking at strengthening and maintaining the connections I have with these Otherworldly beings and with the spirits in the world around me. I pay a lot of attention to spirits of the land and of my home, to make sure everything is as it should be. I listen to them and try to respect what they might need in a given circumstance, and ultimately at the least I try to be a good neighbour to them as much as I’d like for them to be to me**.
On holy days, which I admit are in flux for me right now, I focus on the wider cycle being celebrated and on the spirits (daoine maithe, huldufolk, specific beings) connected to that time. I may invite them to join me in my celebration or ritual, depending on what kind of spirits we’re talking about, and I may make offerings for them. My approach to offerings is that the Good People are owed them as much or perhaps more than the gods may be and also that giving to them as seasonal points builds luck and success.
One thing that’s important to understand in all of this is that it very much isn’t about an either/or mindset. I’m not denying the Gods or even choosing not to focus on them, and I am and do include them when it feels right or appropriate. I know they exist and that they are powerful and important beings. I have no qualms, unless I feel uncomfortable in a specific circumstance, about participating in deity-centric rituals. For me though the Gods, as generally defined and understood, are not where my own focus is. At least not on a daily basis. Kind of like I know that trains are important and exist but 99% of my life doesn’t involve them in any significant way, even though they are vital to other people. Maybe one day that will change, because life is all about constant change, I don’t know.
That’s about where I’m at with my own spirituality and I hope that at least gives some idea of how I approach a non-deity based paganism at this point. I suppose it may seem strange to some people, but if I’m being honest I find the obsession with everything being so deeply deity based a bit odd myself. Even when I was including gods in my paganism it was always only a percentage of my focus, divided between gods, spirits, and ancestors. The gods are important but the spirits who are with us every day and whose places we interweave our own lives with seem a lot more immanently important in my opinion.
*nó b’fhéidir andéithe?
**a little euphemistic humour, sorry I couldn’t resist