The Gods We Know… and Those We Don’t…

The Gods We Know… and Those We Don’t… March 30, 2012

I have a vague inspiration this morning. I will try to craft a post from it, but it may well fall flat. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has an excellent column this morning on grappling with the concept of new Gods, and Apuleius Platonicus has, whether you agree with his views or not, a rather passionate post that speaks to both the importance of direct divine experience and the tendency to label our mythos in black and white terms.

I suggest you read them both and then come back. Here’s some music to accompany your perusing:

Are you back? Good.

I live in the Americas, these vast and strange continents that have been famously painted as devoid of Gods by Neil Gaiman. I adore American Gods, and eagerly anticipate the Showtime series based on it, but Gaiman is dead wrong. I know because I have had direct divine experience with pre-European beings inhabiting this land.

The Nunnehi live here in these Appalachian mountains. Gary Carden has an interesting article on them:

A Cherokee myth concerning a race of immortal (and invisible) beings called the Nunnehi (meaning “those who live anywhere”) says that the Nunnehi maintained a home beneath Nikwasi. In ancient times, smoke from their underground townhouse could be seen emerging from the top of the mound. (They also fished in the sky and hunted deer on the bottoms of rivers.) Since they were favorably disposed towards the Cherokees, they often gave them advice, socialized with them (they loved to dance) and even came to their rescue in a battle fought near the mound, attacking their enemies with arrows and lances that seemed to emerge from the air, swerving to strike their victims behind trees and rocks.

They were known to rescue lost travelers, giving them food and shelter, and then setting them back on the right path. They love music, and I have heard their music in these mountains: distant, mysterious and emanating from the land.

I’ve also found beings that followed immigrants over and became lost here in Appalachia. I had to bargain with a particularly mischievous spirit from Ireland who was content to play tricks in my neighborhood many years ago.

I believe Columbia is a native Goddess of the new world, who inspires democracy here much as Athena did in Athens, and whose influence is seen in the Iroquois Confederacy and in the United States government.

But I have never encountered a new God. I know they exist. When Neil Gaiman wrote of the new, young Gods in America, it rang partly true to me. Not because America is special enough to have new Gods, but because if we look at the history of polytheism, we know Gods come into being. They are being born all the time, from Divine coupling, from mishap and error, and even springing spontaneously from nature itself.

In the 1500 years of monotheistic dominance in the West, it’s possible entire pantheons of Gods could have come into being with no one to recognize them, to weave their myths, sing their songs and offer them tribute.

There is a game, it’s name escapes me, where all the lights in a house are turned off and someone hides. When you, stumbling in the dark, find the person hiding, you simply stay with them in silence. The last person to find the hider discovers a whole crowd of people standing in still silence in the dark. It’s a hilarious game, and sometimes I wonder if I will one day open a door and find a whole host of Gods standing there mutely waiting to be discovered.

I don’t seek out new Gods. I believe they exist, but I’m not brave enough to track them down. So much of Paganism today is based on history, and if Hesiod or Snorri Sturluson or some other ancient hasn’t already recognized a God, we pay them no mind. The Gods about whom little is known but their name, they are effectively cast off. We are UPG-phobic, terrified lest our sacred experiences make us less viable in academic eyes.

Some Greek philosopher, and my Google-fu is failing me at the moment, exhorted his students to worship all the Gods, not just the ones for which they have an affinity. Worship Venus all you like, but be sure to gives Mars his due. Maybe the idea of patron Gods is a bit narcissistic. This picking and choosing Gods as if they were bits of jewelry. The pantheons of ancient religions existed for a reason. For each culture, for each religious worldview, the pantheon of Gods associated represented a balanced whole. Pantheons are ecosystems, and ecosystems are not stagnant. You can’t remove a single element from an ecosystem without affecting the whole, nor can you focus on one element of an ecosystem while ignoring the rest because it is the ecosystem itself that brings the element into proper perspective within a cohesive whole.

So maybe when we talk about new Gods, we are really talking about evolving ecosystems. Maybe the very concept of new Gods changes the way we look at the old Gods. And maybe it implies we have an obligation to Gods we do not know yet.

And maybe this idea suggests the great difficulty of Wicca is that it’s ecosystem contains so few elements. One source, two Gods, 4 elements. I don’t know. It’s something to ponder.

In writing this, and attempting to suss out the rhyme and reason, I’ve merely given myself more questions than answers. I’ll be pondering these things a lot over the next few days, and likely revisiting concepts.

What are your thoughts?


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