Day 3: Deities

Because there are slots later in this meme that accounts for specific beings and pantheons, I am going to instead use this part to describe the natures and roles of deities in my view.

It used to be that I would just consider myself a strict polytheist, meaning that every deity is its own being in the way many humans consider each physical individual to be their own person. Nowadays it’s not so straightforward (though I still could be considered a polytheist). I have a tendency to be analytical about life, but deities are so difficult to do that with. For starters, no individual is going to meet most of the known deities in the world, let alone unknown ones. All we have to work with, for the most part, is what someone else says. Second, with the beings we DO have personal experiences with, we often still work with assumptions based on other people’s word, and sometimes there are disagreements. When there are disagreements, how do you know it’s actually the same being? How do you know the being you’re contacting is actually the “right” one? Third, how on earth is a deity that’s supposed to be connected or rooted in a specific geographical location or a specific group of people contacting you halfway across the world? Why would they even do that to begin with?

See what I mean about being analytical? I was that kid that  Sunday School teachers loathed.

It came to a point where I even questioned my questions, because they just weren’t getting any answers. I went back to square one, this time with my cultural interests in hand, and started doing comparative analysis on deities from various Eurasian cultures (I figured sticking with what I know instead of thinking globally would make it easier). I started looking at the human-deity relationships more than the mythological descriptions, and started developing a line of thinking similar to the creators of Waincraft. I had noticed that there are underlying similarities in function that numerous deities shared, which previously would have been considered coincidences or neighboring influences. A short while later, a discussion started on Asatru Lore’s forum on “gods as functions”, which went into the idea in great detail. That pretty much cinched it for me, because things were finally starting to make sense. Not everything of course, but I’m ok with that.

Where I am currently is a mixture of polytheism and god-functions. I keep the polytheistic belief with the beings that I have had personal experiences with. I “know” they’re there, so I can assume that they are their own beings. This tends to be associated the gods of low mythology (the ones with local cults) and totemic qualities (meaning clan-based, as in the academic form of “totem”). The ones that I do not have experience with, or the high gods, tend to be considered god-functions instead. For example, Thor/Donnar/Perun/Parom/etc. I treat the names as titles (referring to a Storm God) rather than representing individual beings. I do not assume the storms in Chicago are directly from Donnar or Perun all the way in Europe. I instead assume that there is a storm being HERE that’s the cause, and I call it a deity name as a title to refer to the storm-god function.

Confused yet? Trust me, in practice it’s not really that complicated. For one thing, it’s not like I meet a lot of deities in the first place, so I hardly have to think about these categories. I also don’t have to do anything with these categories when reading about deities in my heritage’s mythology, because they’re just in the stories at that point. If there are deity-associated holidays, like with Boldogasszony on Dec. 26th, then I simply pay respects to the deity and their associations at that point. No need to get into categories when I haven’t actually met them.

As for my other questions, such as the ones regarding long-distance contacts, I pretty much gave up on those. I figure that, if humans can figure out a way to communicate and mingle from afar, then so can gods. Besides, those questions would not have been useful in any way even if they could be answered, so there was no point in pursuing them.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Day 3: Deities

  1. Awa

    Ah. Yep, that makes sense. 🙂 Good post.

  2. Ha, my practice contains a small inversion of what you describe. Some specific “high” gods of Chinese religion have been “brought over” by Chinese immigrants, so I consider them to be distinct individuals (though it’s actually pretty complicated, people do talk of the “American version” of certain deities as being both separate but a part of the Chinese or Taiwanese deity of the same name).

    Chinese immigrants have brought their specific conception of local land gods to America, so I’m still trying to figure that out. But when it comes to local water spirits and the like, I approach them as “dragons” because that’s one way they’d be viewed in China, but I’m not really sure if that is accurate to what they really are. So I kind of use it as a “title,” you could say.

    • Hi, and thank you for commenting! What you describe makes sense to me (water spirits are also “dragon-like” to me as well, from both the Hungarian and local Native American tribal depictions of water spirits/water gods).

      Could what the Chinese immigrants brought over be similar to how the Japanese can “splice” their deities? There was a whole chapter in one of my fox books about how the deity Inari was hundreds of different “Inari”s through rituals designed to carry Him/Her to another location.

      I’m probably way off and rambling now, but I’ve spent years trying to research folk Chinese and Shinto (long story short, I wasn’t aware of heathenry back then, but I was aware of Shinto and Daoism since I was a child, and I thought my only other option was Wicca, which I didn’t care for), so I’m excited to finally meet someone who can remind me of all that.

  3. Pingback: Day 8: Patronage and other deeper relationships | Along the River

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