One Star

One Star

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Harmonizing New Spirits into Your Life and Spirit Community


Sometimes we bring new magic into our lives without really thinking about how we're bringing it into our lives. I'm going to talk a bit about what to think about and how to do that, but to start, lets look at discord and harmony. I'm going to illustrate these ideas with a recent non-magical experience, because these ideas are relevant to our lives as people as well as our lives as magicians.

          This week and last week I have had several "beginners" in the youth camps I've been running. Normally, the camps are entirely, or almost entirely, youth athletes with whom I work throughout the year. Maybe some young adult athletes, but also ones with whom I usually work. With COVID restrictions in full force last summer, a lot of families are taking the less restricted summer and traveling more and doing more activities. With more families on the move, fewer of my students could attend camp, and so, we expanded to include students from our four week beginner class. Many of these kids are young. Most have not done major athletic training. Most have about 6 hours of fencing practice spread over four sessions under their belts.

          Suddenly, these kids with no experience, with no history of intensive conditioning and athletic training, are jumping into 5 eight hour days of concentrated conditioning and fencing. They're jumping in with a team of kids who have been working together for at least a year, some for several years. This team of kids works year round, so unlike most youth sports where you're on a team for two to four months and may not even remember who was on your team later, these kids spend the bulk of their adolescence training together year round.

          Not only do these kids train together year round, they have a fraternity like club-member environment. They get nicknames. They participate in a secret initiation ceremony (which their parents watch). They learn club customs by watching and emulating their teammates, and are told that this is how everyone else learned them and so this helps make them all bonded. These beginner kids, these unintentional-outsiders, don't get any of this. They just have to jump in and swim without ever having seen water.

          As a result, there is some discord. Some of this is on the end of the kids and things they bring to the table. Some of this is because of the situation. Given the situation, we don't necessarily know everything they bring to the table like we do with the kids who have been around for awhile. If they have baggage, it hasn't been unpacked.

          We have to take special steps because the kids don't naturally understand each other's boundaries or how to navigate them. Since they're kids, they don't have all the tools to assess boundaries and all the control to not trample them. They feel stressed trying to keep up with work they aren't used to. They feel alone because they don't have friends yet and feel like they don't fit in with the group that already exists. So, we teach them to fit in, we teach the other kids how to accept them. We teach them how to get to know each other. We remind them about boundaries, respect, and being good teammates who work together whether or not they feel like they fit together.

          This kind of navigation is something we all go through in life. We start a new job, we go to a new school, we move to a new neighborhood or town, and in starting within our new community or social group we start out as an unintentional-outsider. We have to learn the customs, norms and expectations. They may be similar to what we were used to before, but there will be specifics based on the new collection of individuals with whom we are dealing. We have to get people to actually welcome us, even if they take steps to formally welcome us, it's not until they really let us in and we become part of their group that we really feel welcomed in. We have to make friends, build our places in teams and find what we do in the group and what others do. We have to acclimate, but more than that, we have to harmonize. We have to find out how we fit together to make everyone work better and feel like a whole, rather than how we fit against and make things more difficult and fall apart.

          If you've read my book, _Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits_, or my blog, Glory of the Stars, you've probably seen me refer to spirits as persons, and compare interactions with spirits to interactions with people. If you aren't familiar with my work, but are familiar with the work of Jason Miller, he frequently makes the same point, as do a handful of effective and experienced magicians. Often when we think about how we would treat other people, or issues we might run into with other people, we can map those reflections onto our interactions with spirits. They might not be the exact same in terms of how we are impacted, or how the spirits are impacted; details surrounding the specifics of the situation might vary from situations with embodied persons, but, the basic high level concepts will usually track.

          In our contemporary magical world, it's not uncommon for people to work with multiples systems, traditions, or types of spirits. Magicians often feel inspired by something they see or called towards some spirits or system they hear about, and will frequently find ways to make connections and work those spirits into their practices. With more skilled professional magicians working, buying products or services that involve spirits acting in your life may be more common as well. With all these possibilities, it is pretty likely that you'll have to navigate working with spirits who don't seem connected to one another as well as having an established spirit court and then adding the influence of other spirits, if not actually introducing them into your court of friends and allies in the spirit world.

          With that in mind, it's not only reasonable to consider the possibility of needing to create harmony and balance between your existing spirit-social-circle and newcomers, it's probably going to be necessary from time to time. I think for the most part, acknowledging that this may be an issue and being mindful of it and working to address it within your regular working approach will be the advice experienced magicians need to take from this. Some people reading this might be newer to spirit work, or newer to navigating differing groups of spirits, or not especially practiced in spirit work but still exposed to work with spirits through products and services they acquire from professional magicians. The difficulty in giving solid practical advice here is that it might vary a bit depending on your tradition or system - some might even have elements which handle this built in. It may also vary depending upon the type of spirits. Some might be more inclined to acclimate to each other, some less so, some might work in ways that don't cross over as much, and some might feel more territorial. Because of the possible variance, we'll discuss a few ideas and things to keep in mind more than presenting a particular rite or ritual for taking care of this.

          The first thing I would say to consider is whether or not you have a coordinating spirit, or an intermediary spirit who helps you navigate the spirit world. If you do, this spirit should be involved in most of your work on some level organizing how spirits interact, possibly how offerings are shared, and helping you with communication in general. Depending upon the tradition they may be like an agent working on the other side helping manage the parts of things where you can't be hands on, or they might be like an involved parent-like or teacher-like figure who looks after you and coordinates your spirit actions to look out for your interests, or there might be some other relationship altogether.

          If you're working in kind of a European Traditional Magic setting this concept is there but isn't always addressed so clearly or treated as a visible active thing. We might kind of expect our Guardian Angel to just handle this automatically without us having to talk to them, or actively working to introduce the spirit. Sometimes this is ok and it works out fine. It may be necessary to light a candle, pray and petition your Guardian Angel and introduce them to the spirit you're bringing into your life. Ask them to help that spirit work with the other spirits around you and for it to assist that spirit in its parts of the relationship you and the spirit are developing. Let your Guardian do its job - which is, to teach and lead and guide - by helping you navigate bringing this spirit into the neighborhood.

          If we're dealing with the dead, and you have a good relationship with your ancestors, bringing in additional dead people is often pretty simple. If I'm approaching a cemetery to develop a relationship with the spirits there, I bring tokens representing my ancestors which are used in making contact with the spirits in the cemetery in establishing that relationship. So from the get go, they are part of the process. When I bring home dirt from the cemetery I put it on my ancestor shrine and make special offerings with the request that they work together and help empower each other. If I'm beginning to incorporate a deceased relative or an ancestor I have learned more about and attempted to make contact with I ask for my ancestors to help with that process. With someone more recently dead, my initial prayers for them, whether attempting to work with them or not, is for my ancestors to receive them, comfort them, and guide them. So I'm already actively working with spirits to make sure their passing is recognized and offerings are made in the light of that spirit work to help with that transition. Moving to actively including them on the shrine when and if that is the right thing to do is not a big leap from that point. If it's an older ancestor who has recently caught my attention then I will turn to my ancestors for help in reaching out and connecting with them.

          Often, it won't be your ancestors or the local dead that are the question for most folks. Working with the Christian or Jewish God and angels from those religions, alongside pagan gods, the fair folk, and demons, might seem a less than smooth way of blending things. Certain folk spirits might seem at odds with other gods and spirits, whether they actually are or not. Some folks might say this kind of blending is modern nonsense and you can't combine these things, or that you're not really working legitimately with certain spirits while also working with others. There is a bit of a reasonable criticism of this in light of how things get blended, appropriated, and redefined to whatever people want in some forms of magic and NeoPaganism that are still following the sort of eclectic styles of the late 20th century. Double-faith, or Catholicism absorbing elements of other religion into Catholic folk religion, or new religions arising out of mixing elements of Christianity, folk traditions, and pagan or indigenous religions is something which has existed all over the world as long as Christianity has existed. Even before Christianity Greeks and Romans actively blended their religion and magic with elements of other cultures in mystery traditions and magical traditions. There are ways that these kind of modes of engaging multiple different things separately, and then perhaps engaging elements of them in conjunction with one another can work, can be respectful, and can be effective.

          If something seems like it can't blend or shouldn't blend, don't always assume that's the case. Try to understand each piece on its own terms first. Ask the spirits involved, do divinations, test the waters. Do what works and what the spirits permit, don't do what doesn't work and what the spirits say no to. Sometimes it won't be so much that you can't work with both things so much as they need to be worked with in their own spaces or their own ways. Sometimes working with them together in a personal context will work fine. Work with the spirits to see how to navigate it. Look at historical relationships and syncretism and see how they fit into what relationship is unfolding in your own work.

          Another thing to consider is offerings. Sometimes, some spirits, can be given offerings as a group. Other times spirits will need their own individual offering. Certain spirits, if you have a particularly close relationship with them, may want to be recognized and receive an offering when you are giving offerings to other spirits. It's easy to say they will be jealous if they are ignored, maybe that's what it is maybe it's some other reason. There are spirits where this need for recognition can be real regardless of the reason. Some people might suggest that that is a fairly human sort of behavior and we're trying to think of the spirits like humans. Maybe, but, it's a pretty historical practice. We see it in the ancient world and we see it in other living spirit traditions sometimes. If you have a close relationship with a god, or spirit, or saint, you might still need to venerate them and give them offerings when turning to some other god or spirit or saint for help with a particular thing.

          The last thing to address is what to do when things go south. Maybe you're trucking along and working with some new spirit and something happens to make you think there is an issue. Maybe you get a feeling or messages telling you your established spirit allies are not happy with this. Maybe you get a feeling or message that there is a problem. Maybe signs begin occurring. In extreme cases, maybe blessings and boons you have received from those spirits will be withdrawn, either all at once or piece by piece, until you rectify the issue.

          In that sort of scenario, you would need to work with the spirits to figure out what the issue is and how to resolve it. If it's because you've brought some new spirit to town there could be several reason your spirit court is not on board with it. Maybe they sense a danger or do not feel the spirit will act in your best interest. Maybe the new spirit is at odds with things that are important to your spirit court - for example, if you work with a lot of nature spirits and begin working with a spirit connected to things which harm nature or the lands protected by those spirits. Maybe it is a spirit from a tradition that needs things you don't have or aren't prepared to put in place when safely working with that spirit and your spirits recognize that this could be an issue. Maybe they are offended that you have brought in some other spirit to do something they believe they should be doing or believe they are doing. Just like when things go south with people and there are a myriad of possible reasons.

          Divination and communication with your existing core of spirits is the first step in resolving it. Why are they discontent about the new relationship? What do you need to do to work with the new spirit without causing problems? Is it possible to work with the new spirit without problems? These are questions divination and work with your spirits can answer. In general, if you have a good established working relationship with your spirits and an issue arises there is probably a good reason. If it's not so good a reason, it might be a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Spirits aren't all knowing or infallible, especially when we are considering the broad range of spirits out there. Even in the latter case, it's probably your core group of spirits you want to remediate the issue with rather than the new one. You know them, you've worked with them, you have a deep relationship with them, they're bringing good things into your life.

          It may be as simple as placing tokens of your core spirits and the new spirit together, or placing items from one on the altar of the other for a time. It may be a matter of making some offerings or doing a ritual to harmonize things. Ultimately, your spirits will need to guide you in this. If things seem too off kilter and you aren't sure you can trust your own divination on the matter, and messages aren't coming through clearly, you can turn to your Guardian Angel or the spirit who coordinates your work with various spirits for help and clarity. If that still doesn't seem to let you see through the mist to the heart of the matter, ask a competent diviner. Work to find the answer, and work to bring about a solution. Relationships are important, and a good foundation and a healthy development of a new one will likely be strengthened by welcoming acceptance within the context of the existing relationships. More than that, preserving, strengthening and valuing those existing relationships is indispensable.

If you liked this here are ways to follow and support!

 If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.

 

If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 

If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits


Now Available: An Audio Class and collection of texts on the Paracelsian Elementals 

More Opportunities for Support and Classes will show up at Ko-Fi

Friday, July 9, 2021

Thoughts on the Stele of Jeu While Pulling into My Favorite Pizza Place

The refrain which Mathers set in place in his Bornless Ritual in lieu of the various apotropaic statements in the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist is a pretty catchy, easy to memorize conjuration.

 

As most people reading this will know, it’s not the way the original is set up. Mathers sets this repetition up over and over, so that each time you go through a series of divine names you reiterate this intention. But it isn’t the way the original is set up.

 

The original has commands like “delivery him from the spirit who restrains him,” “listen to me and turn away this daimon,” or “save the soul.”

 

The Mathers version shits the focus by reiterating over and over the incantation:

 

“Hear me and make all spirits subject unto me so that every spirit of the Firmament and of the Ether, upon the Earth and Under the Earth, On Dry Land and In the Water, of Whirling Air and of Rushing Fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.”

 

The translation by D.E. Aune provides the text which inspired Mathers’s refrain translated as such:

 

“Subject to me all daimons, so that every daimon whether heavenly or aerial or earthly, or subterranean or terrestrial or aquatic, might be obedient unto me and every enchantment and scourge which is from God.”

 

The two texts are pretty different.

 

I think we usually think about how the repetition of Mathers’s version, and how it doesn’t match the original highlights how the Mathers text is a departure from the source material. I don’t think we talk much about what the differences highlight or what this portion tells us about magic. This is unfortunate, because both the comparison and the text itself tell us some interesting things.

 

The Mathers version repeats the “Hear me” adjuration several times throughout, essentially in conjunction with each series of divine names. It takes the form of a conjuration through the link to these names in the sense that all spirits in all places and all powers and acts of divine force are bound to the will of the magician.

 

When viewed as a prayer or ritual for achieving identification or communion with one’s divine self or the genius appointed over the magician with the understanding that a strong connection with this spiritual faculty or power will result in the ability to command spirits it makes sense that the prayer should focus on this concept as its main goal rather than the apotropaic elements found in the original.

 

Crowley’s use of the invocation as a preliminary to the Goetia of Solomon could make sense in this light. The Ars Goetia does not rely on the magician calling upon God prior to working. Coming from a Golden Dawn background Crowley could have seen this as a way of engaging that standard Solomonic step of the conjuration process.

 

The original presents this in conjunction with a formula to be written on papyrus and made into a paper crown. The magician adorns themselves with the paper crown on which the formula has been written and then says the “Subject to me all daimons (spirits)…” passage.

 

This is presented as a preparation for the ritual rather than something done throughout the ritual.

 

The Stele is used to constrain and remove a vexing spirit. By having spirits of all manners made subject to the magician before he begins he is able to command the vexing spirit since it too would be made subject to him.

 

The main goal of the Stele is the subjugation and removal of the vexing spirit and thus the authority and power to remove the spirit and the imprecation to remove the spirit and provide relief are the elements routinely repeated, though in varied manners, throughout the Stele.

 

The focus is one of the core differences between the two rituals – and in effect and manner that diverge enough that one might view them as two rituals; but again there are differences in wording in this passage as well as similarities which are illustrative.

 

The Mathers version lays out a cosmography or spirit ecology, as does the traditional version. As presented by Mathers we come to understand that the world is divided into certain regions or spaces and spirits reside in each of these.

 

The Firmament is given first as it is the highest of these. It might be interpreted as heavenly, or it might be interpreted as the starry dome between the heavens and the material world. If taking it as the latter this suggests that the spirits of the heavenly spheres, or the starry realms might be subject to the magician but those spirits beyond that space amid the waters beyond the firmament forming the heavenly space of the creator, are not subject to the magician or to this spell.

 

The Ether comes next. Mathers would have understood this likely in terms presented by Levi, and taken the Ether as the Astral Light, or the uniting spiritual space between things and just beyond the perceptible reality.

 

Upon the Earth and Under the Earth divides the world into terrestrial and chthonic spaces and notes that spirits in both spaces are subject to the magician. Elemental spirits, intelligences, earth bound spirits, nature spirits etc. fall within the spirits upon the earth. Under the Earth might include devils, the dead, and a host of other spirits. The Golden Dawn’s treatment of the wide array of spirits was fairly limited and I can only imagine that Mathers’s imagination and grasp of the wide world of spirits is accurately reflected in what spirits the Golden Dawn touched upon.

 

Upon the earth we find the world further divided into dry land, water, whirling air, and rushing fire. Mathers definitely adds poetry which is not present in D. E. Aune’s translation, and which I then assume may not have been in the original. This divide gives the spirits upon the earth into four elemental kingdoms. This might have been viewed in a medieval light, with the elements forming four aires differing in density and altitude, each being inhabited by spirits of a different character. More likely, this was taken in a classical or Paracelsian light with elemental beings who were formed of the particular natures of the elements inhabiting and shaping the physical elements. This would tie to the elemental kings found in the Knowledge Lectures and the Paracelsian elementals which the Golden Dawn took from Levi.

 

Aune’s rendering paints a similar but different picture of spirit ecology.

 

Those spirits which appear in the heavens are not given with any terminology which separates the heavens as a particularly special place distinct from the more natural spaces in which we find spirits. Nor are the heavens given with terminology which divides one heaven from another. We don’t have a distinction between heavens and ether, so there is not an idea of a heavenly realm and then within the world a separate spiritual reality distinct from the material or perceptible reality.

 

The heavens are perhaps more imminent rather than the emanant heaven in Mathers.

 

The elemental spaces and the chthonic spaces are presented together rather than in a separate clause. Again, this suggests a lack of severe distinction. What is below the ground is still part of the world rather than a wholly separate world in this context. This mirrors that the heavens are also presented in the same clause as the elemental spaces and are likely contiguous with the material world rather than distinct therefrom. With this in mind it is plausible that the spirits were seen as imminently real and present rather than remotely present with influence echoed into our world as we often see in later spiritologies.

 

The elemental spaces do not include fire. This lack of fire indicates that these are not elemental spaces but rather the three spaces common to ancient thought. The land, the sea, and the sky, with the space beneath the land and the space beyond the sky included. The character of the spirits considered might change when we do not consider them of a nature or composition related to the elements but rather nymphs and spirits living in the waters, those running through fields and trees, and those inhabiting the winds and clouds.

 

While the purpose of the two rituals differs – Mathers looks to achieve a divine status to command spirits generally, the Hieroglyphist seeks to alleviate affliction caused by a spirit; elements of their operation are similar.

 

“He is the Lord of the Gods, He is the Lord of the inhabited world, He is the one whom the winds fear…” – tr. Aune.

 

“This is the Lord of the Gods: This is the Lord of the Universe: This is He Whom the Winds fear.” – tr. Mathers.

 

Both work by way of calling upon authority of the biggest divine or spiritual force possible to command other spirits. Both use a host of divine names to either suggest the totality of divine authority and therefore the highest authority, or perhaps to use enough names that the secret and powerful true name of this God is likely included amongst them.

To an English speaking reader one might interpret “He is” as speaking objectively, describing this spirit, and “This is” subjectively, and speaking as the spirit. Sometimes pronouns might be translated either as a subjective or a demonstrative pronoun, so I would assume that this is the difference here. Both spells go on to speak as the powerful spirit and claim identification with the spirit so that the magician can act on that spirit’s authority.

 

In that regard, calling on a powerful divine spirit and self-identifying therewith, the two rituals are the same.

 

This is also an example of that method of magic existing in ancient resources. We have examples throughout the PGM where the magician claims a connection to the mythology of the spirit or god as a way of establishing friendship so that the spirit or god acts in the magician’s favor while commanding other spirits (this is common in spells involving Set-Typhon.) In this case the magician utilizes some element of that…he claims to know the secret name, he claims to be the god’s prophet who the God has already given power and secrets to, he claims to be the messenger serving the God. His initial imprecation for the god to listen to him is based on the idea that he holds a particular status and deserves the god’s attention because of that. This then evolves into stoking up the god by describing how powerful he is and chanting his names until the magician is finally ready to pull the big guns out and say “hey, actually, I AM you.”

 

The overall pattern of the ritual is exemplary of this approach to magic, in addition to showing us that it is one of the ways spirit magic was worked historically.

 

It also illustrates that the idea of commanding a spirit because a bigger stronger spirit is on your side is not a late addition to magic.

 

Sometimes we look at anything that might be bullying or aggressive spirit work as something stemming from a Christian worldview. If we look to older Pagan magics we’ll find that you befriended spirits, you worshipped the bosses of the spirits and befriended them, and then used your relationship with those bosses to establish new friendships and get them to trade with you and do business with you.

 

Sure, this is a good way to do magic and sometimes in some cases it works, and we can see some historical modes of working that way both in Pagan and in Christian contexts.

 

We also see threats, escalations, bindings, leveraging authority and power of divine rulers, of enemies of the spirit, or terrifying monsterous spirits throughout ancient magic in various parts of the ancient world.

 

The vexing spirit here isn’t removed because you’re buddies with Ossoronophris, and Ossoronophris is buddies with Orias, and he introduces you to Orias, and you become buddies, and you show Orias that instead of eating the food of or sucking the blood of the chief masons’s son he should just bro-out with you at Chili’s because you’re all friends now. The vexing spirit is removed because the God of the Void is inhabiting you and he rules the entire universe and he commands the spirit out with his divine scourge. This God hates evil, he makes lightning flash, and thunder roll, and his mouth is literally on fire.

This spell is an act of aggression.

 

But it’s a spell which is a reasonable act of aggression. The spirit present is doing something bad.

 

The spell is aggression, but it isn’t violence. There is no chain of the spirits here. We aren’t cursing and burning the vexing spirit, or the spirits being subjected to us.

 

It’s more walk loudly, and also have a big stick, and flex some muscles, and everyone will decide working with you is the way to go.

 

Going back to the differences between Mathers and the Hieroglyphist, there is an element of this authority and potential for violence which differs.

 

The way Mathers renders the translation he says:

 

“Hear me and make all spirits…and every spell and scourge of God…obedient unto me.”

 

God’s ability to work in the world and his ability to project wrath upon any force which disobeys are being subjected to the magician along with the spirits. Essentially, if spirits do no listen, the magician possesses God’s arsenal to use to make spirits listen.

 

Aune presents it as:

 

“every daimon…might be obedient unto me and every enchantment and scourge which is from God.”

 

The way it is rendered here, the enchantments and scourges of God are still in God’s possession, but the spirits will be obedient to them. Those powers are not made obedient to the magician but are highlighted as something present which could force obedience if needed.

 

Since the magician has called upon this god, and even identified therewith, the tools God has to command spirits are on the magician’s side.

 

To me it would seem that in one instance, the divine power to enforce divine authority is taken by the magician as his own weapon, he might use those directly upon his goals or he might command spirits, or he might use them to command spirits.

 

In the other instance, the magician has God in his corner, and if the magician can’t command the spirits God is there to command them and those divine tools for force as present to ensure that the spirits follow the magician’s command.

 

The difference might feel subtle, but I don’t think it is. Particularly if we consider that the Mathers version is intended to be used repeatedly to achieve a maintained state of connection and authority.

 

The question of what the original intention was would have to be seen by looking at the Greek. Unfortunately, when I did my degree in Classics I focused on Latin and Rome so I can’t address the peculiarities of Greek. In Latin, there are certainly ways in which a statement might result in the translator rendering the word order in different ways which could have this kind of change in meaning. The determination would be are “spell and scourge of god” direct objects which are being made subject to the magician or are they indirect objects co-equal to the magician to whom the spirits are made subject.

 

My purpose here isn’t so much to get into whether or not Mathers’s translation is right or wrong, or whether or in what ways Aune’s translation is better. I imagine Mathers took liberties with his translation. He seems to do that consistently, and that would have been the norm at the time in which he was working. On some level, the job of the translator is to render the piece into a way suited to the contemporary reader’s capability and stylistic elements may factor into that.

 

My intention is more to look at how the differences tell us about the magic being worked, and what Aune’s translation suggests about ancient magic working on the presumption that Aune is rendering a fairly accurate translation.


If you liked this here are ways to follow and support!

 If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.

 

If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 

If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits


Now Available: An Audio Class and collection of texts on the Paracelsian Elementals 

More Opportunities for Support and Classes will show up at Ko-Fi

Monday, May 31, 2021

Old Gods Made New

I wrote this several weeks ago, shared it with a friend who runs a local chapter of a Hellenic group to get her, much appreciated feedback, and have updated it a bit based on that. I'm adding this paragraph though because I just finished season 2 of Ragnarok on Netflix. I think it illustrates how one can take the concerns, goals, and nature of a god and contextualize them for our modern reality. If you can't read this blog post, then watch Ragnarok...or do both.

 

Throughout the original version of this, I think my friend had some confusion about my view on the changeability of the gods. For a short clarification to give context to things I'm saying, the gods are vast and enduring and unlike humans in many ways. As a result, over time we can see elements of them, and perspectives on them which are relevant to us now that people may not have seen before. The gods can address and deal with things which did not exist for mankind before, but which still existed in the greater purview of those gods because of the vastness of their natures. They can act in ways which address our current needs and seem different from previous concerns because they encompass a totality of modes of realizing their natures, and our interaction is one of many small pieces of that.

 

People get turned off by the "Polytheism" movement and the "Reconstructionist" movement because they feel like they lack relevance. Growing up, the explanation I always heard was that our goal was to worship the gods in a way which followed what we know from history and tradition but contextualized for today. Carried with this was the idea that Paganism (not NeoPaganism) is about engaging and being situated in the reality of where you are, not the fantasy in which you'd like to imagine yourself. Pagan means local and so it is very much situational - it has to deal with life as you live it.

 

Some people describe these approaches as attempting to imagine Pagan religions as they would be today if they had evolved uninterrupted by Christianity. This is a bad notion. The reality in which we are situated includes 500 to 1600 years of heavy Christian influence. Not addressing or considering that would be anachronistic and would fall into trying to live the fantasy in which one might wish to imagine themself.

 

While I would say accusations about relevance are arguably unfair, accusations about anachronism can be fair. Paganism involves piecing together bits which come from different regions at different times as if these were all part of the same religious expression and understanding. In most cases, they weren't. Frequently, it also involves attempts to adopt lifestyle elements from the bronze age, or iron age, or medieval periods or all of these thrown together. Often, people forget that modern Paganism is historical religion in a modern context and try to dress up for an imagined historical context. The anachronism accusations sometimes come with accusations of LARPing...but you can find LARPing in all religions.

 

Relevance though. We're talking about worshiping gods who had their heyday anywhere from a thousand to three thousand years ago - in some cases of Near Eastern and North African religions, even earlier than that. People back then were part of cultures far removed from our own with different concerns from our own and their religions were expressions of - integral parts of - those cultures. The gods answered the needs and interests of those peoples. So, how can they be relevant today?

 

Some people suggest that we can find the answer by looking at modern peoples living in those places once populated by those gods and their worshipers and reimagining the gods as expressions of the contemporary culture. If the gods are still part of that contemporary culture, maybe...but if they're not then we're just saying the gods are linked to that genetic heritage, or they're tied to that place intrinsically in such a way that the people and culture are still defined by them. Most people don't like the first suggestion and I think most people would realize that the second one frequently doesn't hold up.

 

Others might suggest that we consider the way the gods have survived in our popular awareness or even how they have appeared in pop culture. If the gods themselves guide these images then that could be reasonable. I think there are a lot of pop culture examples we can explore which run in opposition to how we might imagine the gods, either historically or in some present echo of their historical self...so I'm not sure I'm ready to take that approach. Some people might suggest that enough people believing in the pop-culture depiction of the god reshapes the god, or feeds that popular image until it becomes the god - whether the popular image is based on some authentic or traditional element of the god may or may not matter. Again, I wouldn't subscribe to such a view, and I don't think most modern Pagans would. That kind of thinking is much more useful for addressing thought-forms and egregores.

 

Finally, some people might suggest that the gods can be what we want them to be. We can look for what our lives need and what we need gods for and decide the gods fulfill these new roles. Again, I don't think anyone who believes in the gods as real autonomous beings would take this view...because we wouldn't take it with other living autonomous beings. In fact, if we tried to do this with the gods, rituals, or spiritual items belonging to other living traditions people would very rightly call foul.

 

Since I clearly don't agree with these common ways people suggest we can personalize and make relevant the gods, am I saying that they can't be made relevant for modern culture and modern people?

 

No. Not at all.

 

I think we can look to living traditions, historical trends, and the gods themselves and easily see how they adapt without us requiring that they suit our whims.

 

Gods and spirits within living traditions adapt to the contexts and lives of their people. We talk about this a lot in magic when we talk about adaptability. When we look at African traditions in the Americas we see people forcibly displaced from their homes. But not just from their house or village, or even the town or region which shares their culture, but displaced from their continent to the other side of the world. The environment is entirely different. The character of the land, the plants, the animals - all different. Their context is different too. Instead of free people in their community, surrounded by people who share their language, culture, and gods, they are in a place ruled by foreigners, and live mixed with other oppressed people who are foreign to them. Their religion and language are illegal, their customs have to be hidden, and the same is true of the locals with whom they are forced to intermingle.   

 

So, modes of worship and ritual adapted to maintain elements that could be maintained. Other elements were hidden in other similar behaviors and practices. Gods were hidden in images which were acceptable to their captors. Gods and spirits intermingled with local gods and spirits and new relationships and stories formed. Plants, animals, offerings which couldn't be obtained because they didn't exist in the New World were replaced with similar things. In the view of the people, the Gods took on elements which related to their own natures but which reflected their ability to help with and share in the experiences of this new context along with the new troubles and difficulties it presented. We might otherwise say, the people uncovered elements of the gods which were always present, but which weren't understood or weren't revealed previously because they weren't relevant to the people yet.

 

I think this last part is important. In many of these traditions, gods and spirits are still recognizable between people still living in Africa and people in Diaspora. Sometimes stories vary...just as stories of gods vary regionally. Sometimes gods might have attributes and elements which relate more to their new context while retaining elements of their original context. The fact that they can accumulate new areas to be concerned with while still being understood or recognized by people who did not undergo that displacement shows that our experience and understanding of the gods can adapt to new contexts while the gods retain their natures. Their natures can allow expression and action which is relevant for the new context.

 

I would imagine in many of these cases, when new stories arise and new patronages are attached to a god or spirit it's because that god or spirit did something which involved this area of interest. If a god is a warrior who defends his people and that god becomes a god who helps free slaves - he is still a warrior defending his people. He's defending them from a new danger, he isn't becoming something new and different from who he was.

 

Adaptations can take the reality of the gods and spirits, and their ability to communicate with us into account.

 

A Lukumi priest told me a story which explained why Oshun receives honey. I unfortunately don't remember the details enough to recount it fully. Essentially, it was time to make an offering to the Orishas and whatever sweet substance was usually offered was in short supply. They asked if they could offer a substitute and the Orishas agreed with the substitution. While the details are too muddled in my head to confidently tell the story...and it isn't my tradition or story to tell...the point remains that the people turned to the spirits involved to confirm that they could make this adaptation.

 

I've heard several times of South East Asian traditions in which sacrifices and blood offerings were common for certain spirits. The people eventually negotiated with the spirits and came up with other offerings.

 

Living traditions show us that people who have a deep relationship and open communication with the gods and spirits of their traditions are able to communicate with them and adapt to fit with developments in human culture.

 

In all these instances, the change is negotiated with the gods, or some communication or experience happens. The gods or spirits see the changes we need to make and agree with them or guide us in how to make them. The gods see what new needs we have and they intercede regarding those needs or provide vision or tell stories which relate themselves to those things - usually in ways which reflect who that god or spirit already was.

 

Most people don't expect people from outside of a god or spirit's tradition to be the people receiving these messages or being gifted with these insights about how things have changed. Generally, if someone says they have discovered the true and hidden nature of a god or spirit, or they've decided they can dispense with the rituals or initiations that go with that tradition most people dismiss them as imagining things at best, or appropriating things at worst.

 

When we want to consider how the gods remain relevant to changing times, we can also look at how it's happened through history.

 

Cultures change and develop over time. Cultures intermingle, fade, get absorbed, and absorb others over time. When this happens the religious landscape can change. Sometimes those developments involve gods absorbing the characteristics of other gods or blending. I think the spiritual realities behind syncresis are beyond what I want to address here, but I think there are spiritual realities to it. I think there are maybe also times where it's more political than anything else and might not reflect something real.

 

I think more relevant to our conversation is when gods within a culture shift as a result of the shifts in that culture. This is, after all, the main thing we're really considering when we discuss the idea of historical gods in a modern cultural setting.

 

Religion is, almost always, through most parts of the world, relatively conservative. When I say this I don't mean politically speaking but in terms of thought and practice religious traditions frequently will maintain elements of culture which are otherwise long out of date. If we consider how religion evolves with people - particularly before the age of instant communication - it would be pretty unrealistic to think that a new generation would get a notion into their heads and decide the whole religion is going to shift to match it. It happens sometimes, but usually with kind of fringe outlier groups, or if the people with the notion are in power it might be something that takes hold but only while people in power buy into it (example: Akhenaton).

Culture might start to shift, but religious practices and stories about and understandings of the gods will probably lag behind. When the culture shifts enough, I think three things commonly happen.

 

First, elements of the god which weren't the focus before might become the focus. This isn't the same as deciding the god has changed what they are about. Gods are multifaceted, and major gods frequently have many aspects which relate to many areas of society and life. Some particular aspect might be the focus because it suits the needs or views of the people at the time but generations later, maybe some other aspect will become the most important. This doesn't mean the previously important aspect goes away, or that the newly important aspect is a change or growth of the god. It just means the way people engage and relate to the god has changed. If I'm traveling with a friend, and the friend speaks French and German, then in France I'll want the aspect of that friend which speaks French, and in Germany I'll want the aspect that speaks German. It's the same friend and nothing has changed, but we're dealing with different situations.

 

The second option is one we do see commonly in history. The god who is the focus of society might change. In some instances this is a question of who the people give attentio to primarily and is a human/social thing, in some it is reflected in the mythology and is seen to be cosmic. In the latter cases, this can include changes in rulership amongst the gods, but not always.

 

In Canaan, some of these shifts as far as what god was the focus of the people seems to accompany shifts in what god ruled the pantheon, as far as I understand. Those shifts in rulership of the pantheon seem to also potentially accompany political shifts as well. In Greece, we see particular gods being important for a place because of the particular heritage or customs or needs of those regions. This doesn't necessarily change who ruled the pantheon, but it could change elements of how the gods were worshiped in that place. In Rome there were shifts in importance between Mars and Jupiter depending upon the needs of the city, but those shifts in attention don't necessarily include changes in the positions of the gods in the cosmos.

 

So, if we look at historical religions it may be that those gods who are of primary importance to us and our lives are not the same ones who were of primary importance in history. For example, while Mars may have been of primary importance in Rome, maybe Ceres would be more the focus for Americans living in a culture concerned with commerce.

 

A third thing tends to happen when cultures encounter entirely new scenarios or technology. The understanding of the god expands.

 

I've had a couple disagreements about whether or not the gods evolve. I think the idea that the gods are the same as humans fails to grasp their divinity. I don't believe the gods are incomplete in the same way humans are and so the gods don't need the same kind of growth and development as humans. The gods have elements of their behavior which reflects human behaviors. I think sometimes this is because those elements in a story convey some greater truth which humans need to understand, and sometimes they convey some element of the gods which seems like a flaw to us when expressed through myth but which may be part of a more complex reality.

 

So when I say that the understanding of the god expands, I believe this is a reflection of humans changing, developing, and growing, and not necessarily the gods.

 

With traditional religions that survive through to today, I don't believe many of them think their gods suddenly learned about electricity or sat down and took a computer course. Our discoveries and understandings are not novel to the gods, at least not in the way they are to us. Members of traditional religions still recognize that religious laws, or divine patronages might apply to these new things. In some religions it may be that they understand a new god to be born, or some previously unknown god to now be known. In others, they understand these new phenomena in the light of older known phenomena and so they fall under existing laws and existing gods. For example, in the past we didn't know about electricity, but we knew about fire. Now that we know about electricity religion can treat it as a form of fire.  We didn't have cars in antiquity, now we do, but we still had vehicles and chariots and so cars are under the dominion of the gods who ruled vehicles and chariots.

 

In all these cases, we can look at history and see that just because a focus changes, or a position of importance changes, or an understanding expands it is not automatic that these mean that the old thing is gone. The gods don't stop dealing with their now less needed aspect, they don't cease to be, and their attributes don't necessarily abandon their previous meanings when they begin to include new ones. Even as Christianity grew into prominence, the gods of pagan religions didn't disappear, they became viewed as daimones and faeries, and Saints. Ancient peoples would sometimes celebrate holidays which even they admitted they didn't know why they were celebrating it - but they retained elements of some god or spirit or their heritage which was not as immediately obvious to the common person anymore. Those unneeded elements remained in place even if they weren't the thing the average person understood anymore.

 

So, we looked at living traditions, and we looked at history, the final place to look for finding relevance was at the gods themselves. I think, honestly, looking at what we can see in living traditions and what we can see in history tells us how we can look to the gods themselves for this.

 

If we want to understand how the gods fit our lives today we can ask the gods. We can listen earnestly for answers. We can do divination. We can develop deep and meaningful relationships and let them guide us through those relationships. 

 

We can examine our own lives and our needs and we can scour mythology and history and find gods who speak to those needs and who speak to us.

 

We can deeply explore the myths, history, archeology, and rituals and holidays related to individual gods and get to know them more fully than some surface summary of their personality. Once we do this we can begin to unfold how their existing nature is already relevant to our lives.

 

For example - Mars. Most people would say "Well, Mars was the Roman version of Ares, he was a god of war and violence and carnage whereas his sister Athena was the wise elements of war like strategy."

 

Those people would be wrong. Mars is not the Roman version of Ares. They are two very different gods. Mars was one of the chief gods of Rome whereas Ares did not have a broadly established temple cultus.

 

Rome was founded by farmers, and according to those legends, more specifically by shepherds. Those shepherds were led by princes who had been raised amongst them, after having been suckled by a wolf as babes when they escaped the murderous intentions of one of their relatives. More importantly, these shepherd princes were the twin sons of Mars. Discovering their mother's captivity and the past ill intentions of their uncle the boys rose up and gathered their shepherds and turned them into a band of warriors to overthrow the king - their uncle. They avenged their family, restored the rightful king (their grandfather), and killed their uncle, then they established a new city for the shepherds amongst whom they were raised.

 

Mars was the god of the early Roman people, along with Quirinus who might have been linked to deified Romulus or might have been linked to Mars, while perhaps having elements of an earlier Italic god.

 

Mars is initially a god of farmers and shepherds - admittedly his bucolic worshipers get into a lot of fights and wars. But he has elements related to parentage, to shepherds, to city building, to justice along with the more commonly understood connection to warfare. Even Mars's connection to warfare is more than that. Mars is a god of the military, training and military games were part of his domain and so therefore also he is a god of sports. Mars is a god of expansion and broadening boundaries to establish order as this is his role in establishing empire (whereas Jupiter is a god of imperium itself, or the power and command which maintains empire). Mars is a god of chariots and vehicles.

 

When we look at a god and say "Well, do we really need this war god anymore? Maybe he can relax, his wars are done, and he can stop being a war god and focus on these other areas of life..." we are probably selling those gods short. They likely already dealt with a huge array of things and had a multifaceted touch that rarely gets explored. We don't need to reimagine them and give them new areas of concern - any major god probably already had several.

 

When we start unpacking how much more there is to a god we can begin to unpack how much of our lives can relate to that god. For people in the military Mars could still be important. For people who play sports or work in relation to sports or enjoy watching sports Mars could be important. For people who drive cars, Mars could be important. Even in terms of warfare though, while Victory is embodied by Nike or Victoria those angels of victory still connect with other gods...including Mars. Mars is a god of triumph and can be a god to turn to when victory is needed, or when conflicts need to be explored or dealt with.

 

Approaching Mars for ways he can realistically fit into our lives doesn't require that Mars change, it just requires that we earnestly look at Mars and attempt to understand him.

 

Clearly, my point is not to advocate that anyone establish a relationship with Mars or become a Roman Pagan. Mars as an example of how the gods are enough as they are, more than enough, and we just need to take time to deeply understand them and build relationships with them. We don't need to dismiss them as needing to be reworked to suit our desires or our sense of what it means to be modern. When we seek to make the gods fit our desires, we're seeking our desires rather than seeking the gods. When we believe the gods are whoever we want them to be, we stop challenging ourselves to find their truth and explore how that teaches us about our lives.

 

The gods have deep meaning for many people without us needing to change them. If we don't see that meaning, then we can move on, or we can explore how the gods can change what we see.

 

This is obviously pretty different than a lot of what I usually post, but all the same, the info to follow and support will be below, and also...go check out Ragnarok on Netflix (they obviously aren't paying me to advertise them...the show is just awesome.)

 

Thanks for reading.


If you liked this here are ways to follow and support!

 If you enjoyed this please like, follow, and share on your favorite social media! We can be followed for updates on Facebook.

 

If you’re curious about starting conjuration pick up my new book – Luminarium: A Grimoire of Cunning Conjuration

 

If you want some help exploring the vast world of spirits check out my first book – Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

 Sign up for our free online publication: Minor Mendings Magical Magazine

More Opportunities for Support and Classes will show up at Ko-Fi


(lightning strike image from Netflix's Ragnarok taken from https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2021/05/27/ragnarok-season-2-ending-explained-episode-6-netflix-snake/)