Deities Matter

Deities Matter August 24, 2015

A friend of mine sent me his working script for Mabon Halig the other day and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. The ritual its self I found quite lovely, and if it’s enacted properly it should be really powerful. In it the Harvest Lord dies at the Autumnal Equinox, only to be reborn as the as The Lord of Death. That transition from harvest to death ties in nicely with the turning of the Wheel in September/October, so the idea behind it really clicked with me.

"Hylas and the Nymphs" by John William Waterhouse.  From WikiMedia.
“Hylas and the Nymphs” by John William Waterhouse. From WikiMedia.

However, there was a problem before we got to all the good Harvest/Death stuff: the ritual called for invoking Pan. As many of you know I’ve got a special spot in my heart for the goat-god and probably know him better than any other deity. Perhaps because of that I’m sensitive to when and how he’s called upon. In this particular instance I didn’t understand his inclusion. Pan is neither a god of the harvest, or death.

I’m sure some of you out there don’t think that it matters, that one god is completely replaceable with another, but I happen to disagree. The deities we call in ritual matter. They aren’t names to simply be pulled out of book, or interchanged with one another. One of the mantras of my life is Pan is not Cernunnos and I think it’s worth repeating here. They are completely different gods with different attributes and characteristics. I don’t call the plumber when my cat is sick, I call the vet. Both are professionals, but that doesn’t mean they have the same skill-sets. Deities are no different.

0uToPVGTheological & Mythological Sense The deities we call should make sense theologically and mythologically. In the scenario outlined above the presence of the god Pan doesn’t make theological sense. Pan is not a god of the harvest, and while it’s true that his father Hermes shepherds souls, that’s not something that’s ever been associated with Arcadia’s favorite goat-son. A deity is going to bring their attributes to the party (or ritual) and you want those attributes to line-up with what’s going on in ritual. A Harvest Ritual is probably not going to be about lust, the wine-skin, masturbation, and panic-terror. Calling to Pan might end with things wildly off the rails.

If I were going to call a sacrificial-death deity and wanted to stick with known “Horned Gods” I’d go with Herne. Herne dies twice in his myth, and as a god of hunting has some ties to the harvest. It’s not a completely perfect match, but I think it makes more sense than Pan.

Myths connect us to where we are on the Wheel of the Year. Invoking a deity whose myths are alien to a particular sabbat can bring about ritual disconnect. The stories that I want with me at Yule are stories that relate to Midwinter, throwing in Aphrodite and Adonis doesn’t make much sense. It’s hard to focus on a ritual when the myths associated with a deity are the antithesis of a particular rite.

11129261_10153163927573232_3283509793477554198_nEnergy Sense When deity is called to, its energy often, but not always, becomes part of the ritual (there’s always the chance that the goddess or god being called to chooses not to show up). This means that when someone calls Pan his energy creeps into the circle and it can inspire people to do things or to feel a certain way. The energy associated with deity changes our perceptions and feelings.

When I’ve been in rites calling to a Mother Goddess I’ve felt embraced by the love of the mother. The energy of Dionysus often leads me down the path of excess, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the circumstance. The deities we call influence the behavior and emotions of those we practice ritual with.

Don’t believe in deity? I still think this matters. Just like a movie or a poem can make someone cry, there are so many things associated with deity that it can all have the same effect. I don’t believe deities are just tall tales, but all of our gods and goddesses have stories, and when we call to them those stories find their way into hearts and minds. If you can’t feel deity, it’s still probable that you know something about them. Just the image of Aphrodite and all she represents in someone’s head is probably enough for at least some of that passionate energy to get through.

A Knowing Sense Before inviting any particular goddess or god into circle it’s probably best to get to know them first. Just like I don’t call random strangers at 9:00 at night on my phone, we shouldn’t call random deities either. If you are going to call a deity you should have a relationship with it. There should be some mutual knowing between you and that particular deity.

Since deity brings its own energy into the circle, it’s best to have experienced that energy before subjecting a coven or circle to it. Witchcraft by its very nature often contains a little bit of the unexpected, but just how much unexpected we all want in our circles varies. I’d rather know just what it feels like to invoke the Dread Lord of Shadows before inviting him to ritual.

YeahrdScan-e1414454771358Attribute Sense In my early Pagan days I often sought out god and goddess manuals to help me decide who to invite to ritual (this was before understanding the knowing sense outlined above). If one is going to do a money spell, it makes cents sense to use deities involved with money. For many that might be Hermes, for me it’s generally Cernunnos because he was often depicted with gold coins. Either way, both are good choices because they have long been associated with wealth and/or commerce.

While I fully realize that the powers of deity far outweigh my own humble abilities, I have to assume that certain goddesses and gods are just better at certain things. There’s a reason so many of our pagan ancestors had pantheons of deities (and why the Catholic Church has so many saints who do much the same thing), and I’m not one to upset the apple cart. When a sailor left on a voyage they left a little something for Poseidon, I’m not sure Pan even knows how to swim*.

The deities we call to in ritual matter for a variety of reasons. If we are going to put time and energy into creating rituals, we should take at least an equal amount of time and energy determining who we should invite to those rites. Perhaps life would be easier if Pan was Cernunnos, but I think it would be less satisfying.

*Apparently he does know how to swim, check out the comments below. However, I’m not sure just how much I trust those goat legs. Hooves were made for walking, not swimming.

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