Relationships with deities

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There’s a paradox: you’d think in any discussion about religion, we’d spend a lot of time talking about the deity or deities we honor, and how to deepen our understanding of and relationship with them.

And yet, a lot of intro books sort of brush over this one – and a lot of discussion do, too. People talk about honoring or feeling really connected to a particular deity, of course, but not so much about how to get there. So, here we have a two part piece: this article about some of the things to think about in broader terms, and then an article on learning more about a particular deity.

A note on language:

You’ll see Pagans use a range of words to describe their relationships with their Gods. Often, you’ll see people talk about ‘honoring’ or ‘working with’ a deity, rather than ‘worshipping’.

For me, it’s not that worship isn’t part of what I do – but it’s often a smaller part of what I do than other things. Sometimes I’m serving the deities I honor by doing a specific task of interest to them. Sometimes I’m thanking them for something. Sometimes I’m asking for help with a particular need. In all of those cases, ‘worshiping’ leaves things out.

The one phrase that does frustrate a lot of experienced Pagans is the term “using” – some people get the idea that the Gods are plug-and-play switches in spells: for a love spell, just plug in Aphrodite into all the name blanks, and go along.

This is not a smart idea with people, and it’s even less of a smart idea with Gods. Any time you consider asking a deity to lend their energy to what you’re doing or wanting – whether that’s a ritual, a spell, another act of magic, a prayer, or anything else, it’s a very good idea to have a solid idea of who you’re asking, and why.

A relationship with a deity is a relationship:

Most relationships in our lives take time to build. In order to really have a strong relationship with someone, we need to spend time with them, get to know them, and get to know what matters to them. That’s also true of the Gods. We also learn more as we go through ups and downs in our lives, and see how the relationship adapts to that. This is true of deities too.

Now, sometimes, we may meet someone where there’s an instant click: we know as soon as we meet them that there’s something special there, whether it becomes a deep friendship, a romantic relationship, or something else. That can also happen with deities – but just as it’s fairly rare with people, it’s also fairly rare with deities. Most of the time, we go the slower way, of spending time together, learning about the other person’s history and interests and passions, and gradually making more and more shared memories and connections together.

It’s also good to remember that not all relationships with a deity will last for years or your lifetime. Just like sometimes we have a friendship or relationship that’s important to us, but only at one point in our life, sometimes the same thing happens with a deity. Someone looking to build a romantic relationship may spend a lot of time with one of the Goddesses associated with Love (Aphrodite, Astarte, Venus, etc.) but then thank them and back off as they find the relationship they wanted, and build a new life together.

(Note the ‘thanking them’ part. Just like it’s rude to drop a friend out of your life, it’s rude to drop a God out of your life. There are a number of simple ways to say “Thank you” gracefully.)

The question of numbers:

Some traditions and paths honor and worship and serve specific deities. Some encourage people to develop a particular relationship with one or more deities in their personal practice (either as well as or instead of tradition or path-specific Gods). And if you’re working on your own, you may develop a relationship with different deities.

Wiccan traditions, and Wiccan-derived paths generally honor both a God and Goddess in ritual. Other traditions may honor or work with different deities depending on the season or reason for ritual, or in different numbers.

And, just the way that your relationships with your friends probably aren’t all exactly the same, your relationships with deities may not be all exactly the same. For example, I honor three pairs of deities regularly in ritual. 95% of my daily practice is with two deities I honor in my personal practice, but I also regularly worship and honor the deities my coven works with, and my tradition also honors and works with two other specific deities at particular times of year.

It seems sort of complicated, but it’s really more like one pair of deities are very close friends I talk to regularly, two are people I like, but we mostly get together when we have specific things to do, and two are people I see a couple of times a year, but where we get a lot out of those few times.

This kind of pattern is relatively common for people working in groups, since people often have meaningful relationships with the deities the tradition or coven honors, but also develop other relationships on their own.

On the matter of names:

One thing that often confuses people is that you see people referring to the Lord and Lady, or the God and Goddess. In the British Traditional Wicca traditions, the actual names of the deities they work with are oathbound, or private. So, when they’re talking in a public setting, they use a title (Lord/Lady, or God/Goddess) to refer to them instead. Sort of like how you might refer to someone as “My teacher”, or “My doctor”: they still have a name and a specific identity and personality and passions and interests, even if you don’t say their name.

However, over time, many people also have come to honor Gods and Goddess by description – what are called epithets – not just names. You might see:

  • The Sun God or the Sun King
  • The Moon Goddess or The Moon Queen
  • The God of the Wild
  • The Goddess of the Hunt
  • The God of the Grain
  • The Goddess of the Harvest
  • The God of the Sky
  • The Goddess of the Earth
  • The God of War
  • The Goddess of Love
  • and many many more.

These describe beings – but they’re not names. Some people think that when you use these epithets, these descriptions, you get a specific deity each time. Some people think that you may get a particular deity or individual who fits that description – sort of like if a child gets lost and calls out “Mommy!” chances are good that more than one of the Moms within hearing will at least look over to see if they can help. The child still has a specific Mommy, but the others are still Moms.

You don’t need to decide what you think about this right away, but it’s a good thing to tuck into the back of your head and come back to later. You may find that the deities you connect with have a strong opinion.

Spending time with a deity:

We might:

  • Invite that deity to our ritual and celebrations.
  • Meditate and ask for that deity to help us learn about them.
  • Work on a creative project that helps us learn about that deity.
  • Do something that honors that deity – an offering, a prayer, putting our time and energy into a cause particularly near their heart.
  • Use specific ritual practices that offer more choices.

But most importantly, we may simply talk to that deity, share our day with them. We might start with a quiet Hello in the morning, or a prayer for the day. We might be open to their presence in our life during the day, and might see it in small ways. We might end our day with a prayer, or a divination reading, or meditation, a chance to hear what they might want to share with us.

Will we have earthshaking moments every day? Nope. No more than your friendships do, or your romantic relationships do. You may have some great moments (and some not so happy ones), but you’ll mostly have a lot of day to day living.

You may want to read the article on learning more about a deity now.

[last edited December 24, 2016]

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