Hard Polytheism and the Fluidity of the Gods

Hard Polytheism and the Fluidity of the Gods July 8, 2015

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I first moved away from my rather generic Neo-Wiccan practice and began exploring Heathenry, it was easy for me to be a hard polytheist.  An incredibly hard polytheist.  An “every possible variant spelling of this name across cultures must be different deities” polytheist.  As I began learning more about the deities, things relaxed slightly; I’m now pretty comfortable using the more recognizable Icelandic names for deities that I honor in an Anglo-Saxon cultural context.  Are they exactly the same?  No, not exactly.  Just as Athena was worshiped rather differently in many of the Greek city-states, I’m sure there were differences in worship and perception between Freyja and Freo.

Reading older works on Germanic mythology, there is a big tendency to gloss deities together.  Commonly, Frigga and Freyja were seen as the same deity, who was also equivalent with just about every other female figure in the myths – Idunn, Mengloth, Gullveig, etc.  I disagreed strongly with these assertions, and I think that disagreement spurred a reactionary extremely hard polytheism in me that may not be exactly how the Gods are trying to come to me.

Recently I began an advanced study program with ADF, the Initiate’s Program.  As part of my coursework, I have been working on trance and journeying twice a week for the past few months.  This is much more frequent than I am used to; I largely concentrated on devotions and offerings and participated in trance only as part of a group ritual or if I felt particularly called to do it.  As a result, I have been pulled much closer to the Gods and spirits than I had previously been, and I am beginning to question some of the assumptions I held.

A few weeks ago, I was journeying and found myself going to visit Nerthus, the Goddess I am oathed to.  I had been reading an interesting passage on Jord, another Germanic earth Goddess, earlier that day; it spoke of Her mother Nott, the night.  It must have still been on my mind as I passed through the dense, dark trees that lined the barely visible path to Nerthus’s grove in the midst of a black, still lake.  I remember asking Her about Nott and Jord, how it seemed that really Nerthus was the darker of the earth Goddesses and wasn’t it funny that Nott was Jord’s mother.

She laughed at me.  Not a friendly, jovial laugh, but the kind of laugh one might spare for an ant trying in vain to carry a large crumb.  “How little you know,” She said, and turned Her back, while what little I could see of the sky above suddenly turned to black.  Frost began to creep across the ground.

“We should go,” my guide whispered to me.  I heard distant hoofbeats, and while part of me wanted desperately to linger, I was scared enough of my guide’s seriousness that I turned and followed him.

When he had taken me back to my little door to conscious reality, I paused.  I was so confused by what had happened – why had She laughed at me so cruelly, who was coming there that we wouldn’t want to stay and meet?  He answered before I could ask.  “Night falls.  You are not ready for the mother and the daughter together.”

So there it was.  Two earth Goddesses, both of Germanic culture but separated by a millennium, two that I had always treated as entirely separate, and now I was being told They were the same being.  I’m still not really sure what to think about it.  What does a person do when their perception of the Gods has been revised by those very beings?  It is difficult for me to accept this new UPG and move on with my practice – does it require modifications of my prayers, inclusion of deities I hadn’t thought to honor before?

Despite all of this, I still identify as a hard polytheist.  For one, identifying two deities as the same who share a cultural context, similar feels, and domains is very different than saying “all Goddesses are one”.  There are many Heathens out there who identify Gullveig as Freyja and still consider themselves hard polytheists.  The lines are still there, especially between cultures – but they’re a little blurrier than they were, the boxes not as neat and divisive.  And I must learn to live in a world more nebulous than I had thought.

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