The history of humanity is the history of migration. From our origins in East Africa our very ancient ancestors moved in every direction until they filled the corners of the planet. And as they moved, their Gods and ancestors moved with them.
Last week’s post on the intersection of ancestors, Gods, and place generated a comment that asked
Isn’t it time that we identify the gods and spirits of the land where our own feet touch the earth rather than constantly adopting old gods that are as strange to this land as we (Europeans) are?
That comment included some assumptions I think are inaccurate, but the main question is one I get from time to time: why do you worship Gods of Europe? Why don’t you worship North American Gods instead? That’s a fair question that deserves some honest thought.
The literature says They move.
The stories of the Tuatha De Danann begin with Their arrival in Ireland. The literature is unclear exactly where They came from, beyond “the North.” When They got to Ireland They moved around like any other God or human. For the purposes of this essay, where They came from (immediately or originally) is far less important than the fact They came from somewhere – They moved.
The stories of the Tuatha De Danann are not scripture and they were not written down until well into the Christian era. But they do tell us much about the Celtic Gods, and here they tell us that these are not land spirits who are tied to a particular feature or location. They are Gods, and like virtually all the Gods of our ancestors They are mighty beings, even if They aren’t omnipotent. There is no reason to think the Celtic Gods are qualitatively different from the Gods of Greece, Rome, Egypt, or any other culture and place.
History says They move.
The Romans were the greatest religious adopters and syncretists the world ever saw prior to the late 20th century. If a God of a conquered people proved helpful, they would add Them to their pantheon, either by identifying Them with one of their own deities, or by adopting Their worship outright. Mithraism – from Persia – came close to defeating Christianity to be the official religion of the late Roman empire. The worship of the Egyptian Isis was also quite popular. I’ve been to the Temple of Isis at Pompeii – there were temples to Her as far away as Britain.
The Gods of the monotheistic religions may not be the only Gods, but They’re still Gods. If Yahweh and Allah (who are probably the same deity, but that’s a question for a different blog) can move around the globe, so can Cernunnos, Danu, Morrigan, and Brighid.
Nature spirits may be tied to a feature of the landscape, but Gods are not. We have several thousand years of experience that say the Many Gods move with the people who worship Them.
Many Pagans and polytheists have experienced Them here.
I experience the presence of Cernunnos and other deities every single night in prayer. On rare occasion, I’ve experienced Him in intimate communion – here in Texas. I’ve stood next to a priestess while the Morrigan spoke through her. I am not unique in that regard. You want to try to tell the Coru priesthood that the Morrigan can’t or shouldn’t come to California?
Challenging other Pagans’ unverified personal gnosis (UPG) is an acceptable and sometimes necessary thing. But the direct experience of Gods far from Their lands of origin is so widespread that it’s at least shared personal gnosis and may be confirmed gnosis (depending on your requirements for confirmation).
Literature, history, and our own experience explains how we can worship the Gods of Europe in the Western Hemisphere. Why we should worship Them here is another subject.
Most of us do not have clear access to the Gods of this hemisphere.
Our understanding of Gods is intertwined with Their relations with a group of people. Danu and Brighid are unique, individual beings, but we know Them largely through Their interactions with the Celtic peoples.
The Gods of this land are mostly associated with the First Nations of the Americas. I stayed out of the recent shouting match on cultural appropriation because I had nothing to say that wasn’t being said by others, but make no mistake, cultural appropriation inflicts harm on people who are already oppressed. I have no desire to do that.
Beyond that, it’s inauthentic. I can’t relate to the Gods of this region in the ways of the Caddo people, because I’m not Caddo and I’m not even close. It has nothing to do with blood and everything to do with culture – with the shared experiences that make the Caddo (or the Comanche, or the other peoples who occupied this land in past times) who and what they are. This is one of the reasons why racists who say people with dark skin can’t worship Odin are wrong – those people with dark skin live in the same mainstream culture as their light skinned neighbors. Blood doesn’t matter – culture does.
I can’t worship the Gods of this land because I don’t know Them.
But we can relate to the spirits of this land.
Nature spirits don’t much care which group of humans occupy their land. They care how you treat the land and whether you acknowledge them with honor and dignity. I can relate to the spirits of the land – I can make offerings to them, I can listen for their presence, and I can address their concerns.
Former ADF Archdruid Ian Corrigan has led a series of magical workings to establish relations with the Court of Brigid – the attendant spirits who serve this Goddess. The process is based on the grimoires of ceremonial magic, and the results have been impressive. While I question the necessity of this process when dealing with known deities, the concept is sound: establish friendly relations with approachable spirits who will then intercede for you with greater spiritual beings.
And so as I and many others make regular offerings and devotions to the spirits of the place where we are, perhaps in time those spirits will lead me or my spiritual descendants to the Gods of this place.
They called me.
But until then, I’m left with the deities who call to me: Danu, Morrigan, and Brighid. Dagda and Lugh. On occasion Isis, Osiris, and Horus. And always, always Cernunnos, who spoke to me deep in the woods so long ago I didn’t know who or what He was.
And that’s a pretty good place to be.