Can Deity Be a Fad?

Can Deity Be a Fad? July 6, 2015

It’s hard to escape The Morrígan in Modern Paganism. There are countless blog articles dedicated to her, she has a very public Priesthood*, she even has the most successfully crowd-sourced book I’ve seen in the history of Pagandom. People obviously love The Morrígan, and more power to them, but there’s a part of me that wonders if it’s all just a fad.

Ride of the Valkyries by John Charles Dolman.  From WikiMedia.
Ride of the Valkyries by John Charles Dolman. From WikiMedia.

Put down the tar and feathers, it’s nothing personal against The Morrígan. A lot of the deities I’m closest to have been fads at one point or another. I can’t help but find it fascinating when a goddess or god rises up and captures the imaginations of large groups of people. It’s something I’ve even noticed regionally. The deity choices of respected teachers or Priestesses often get picked up by their students, resulting in a lot of adoration towards a particular deity in a specific area.

I was chatting with Dana Corby a few months ago and she sent me some of the things she’s currently writing. One particular paragraph jumped out:

“Early Craft put much more emphasis on the Mediterranean and Egyptian than is acknowledged today. The generic name & image of Horned God was not Cernunnos but Pan or Dionysos; The Goddess was almost always invoked as Diana, Artemis, or Isis. Few of us even knew the names of any Celtic Deities.”

It’s hard to imagine Modern Paganism without Celtic deities rolling off the tongue, but the literature of the period proves Dana’s point. The Celtic pantheon is not as ubiquitous in 1975 as it would be by 1995. Some of that is cultural of course. The 90’s featured a lot of “Celtic” stuff in the popular imagination. Both Riverdance and Lord of the Dance were successful Broadway (and PBS fundraiser) shows, and “Celtic Music” was a presence at parties, with New Agers, and on the folk scene.

The Matres, from WikiMedia.
The Matres, from WikiMedia.
A Modern Pagan interest in Celtic stuff shouldn’t come as much of a surprise either. The four greater sabbats are all Celtic-Irish, and many of us have long been fascinated by druids, the priestly-judges of Celtic Gaul and Britain. What might be most surprising is that the drift towards Celtic deities took as long as it did, and had to be helped along by a shift in popular culture. (It might have come much earlier if Celtic myth were a little less “garbled.” It’s never been as easy to pick up on as Greek or Norse mythology.)

If The Morrígan is a fad, and I’m not saying that she is, she’s in good company. The Greek god Pan had a pretty long run as a fad, from about 1800-1920. He went from not really being written about in the English language to being one of the most written about deities ever. He was reborn as the English god of the countryside in the Nineteenth Century and has held a piece of the world’s imagination ever since. I became familiar with the god Pan at a young age because he was in mythology books and in a lot of the poetry I was forced to read in high school and college. The “Pan fad” of 200 years ago is why this blog is entitled Raise the Horns.

Morpheus Ravenna has a direct response to this article over on her Shield Maiden blog. I don’t agree with all of it, but I think her response is definitely worth a look.

(Pan’s initial popularity in the Modern Pagan world seems to have been eclipsed lately by the Gaulish-Celtic Cernunnos. I love ’em both of course, but maybe that’s because I’m embracing the horned gods that greater Pagandom has picked for me? Maybe all of my deity choices are influenced by the fads of the last 200 years?)

Mithraic relief from WikiMedia.
Mithraic relief from WikiMedia.
The ancient pagan world was often affected by what was “hot” or trendy at the time. Most of us are familiar with Mithras, the mostly Roman deity with Persian echoes. In a very short period of time Mithra became Mithras, and an elaborate cult grew up around the newly rechristened (and reborn) god. He became the god to a lot of soldiers in the military, all without even existing in his Romanized form 100 years prior. That’s a pretty good fad.

So far I’ve only written about male deities, but goddesses can rise in popularity (and notoriety) just as quickly. The Italian Aradia is an obvious example. Her first appearance in English is in Charles Leyland’s Aradia, and while I certainly believe in the goddesses existence, she seems to have arisen from a variety of legends and histories. Today we honor her with statues and she’s a fixture at many Witch-rituals, but was literally unheard of outside of Italy 115 years ago.

It’s probably not fair to use the word “fad” in regard to deity. Most fads last just a few years; all of the deities written about here were fads for decades if not centuries. Of course goddesses and gods might very well age differently than we humans, perhaps 100 human years is the equivalent to ten deity years?

Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen by Johann Heinrich Füssli, from WikiMedia.
Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen by Johann Heinrich Füssli, from WikiMedia.
Maybe there’s something else at play here too, perhaps divine beings re-engage or re-awake when they are needed? Pan returned at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution for example, right when many folks needed a link to the natural world. We are destroying large swaths of the Earth and the creatures who call it home, perhaps Cernunnos is returning to defend his own? The Morrígan is traditionally a battle deity, and I see plenty of battles ahead (hopefully most of them will play out in elections and boardrooms instead of fields, but I’m not confident they will).

Perhaps 100 years from now The Morrígan will be seen as the goddess in Modern Paganism (or perhaps Modern Polytheism)? I certainly don’t see her leaving, though time will tell if her current level of popularity will remain the same. I like to believe that certain deities arrive at certain points in time for a reason, which tonight has me listening a little more closely to the call of The Morrígan (that is if I can get through all of these blog posts being written about her).

*And it might just be public since I know some of the folks involved and it pops up on my Facebook feed with some regularity, your results may differ.

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