A Poor defense of Deity Conflation

Deity photoSince I have become interested in modern Paganism and Heathenry, I have been fascinated by the issue of the relationship between deities of different pantheons. Generally, when this topic comes up, I find most people I have spoken to online adhere to a view that all deities from all cultures are distinct individuals. My purpose in writing this post is NOT to dispute that such an idea is a reasonable or practical way to be a modern Western polytheist. However, I would like to offer a brief argument asserting that the conflation of deities from different cultures is not an inherently philosophically or morally problematic approach.

I believe the rather poor reputation of cross-cultural deity conflation derives from the way in which it has often been done rather than the idea being problematic in and of itself. I view this issues as similar to some of the criticisms of “eclectic” polytheism – it can be hard to do well, it can be easy to do poorly, but is not an inherently inappropriate approach.

Two very valid criticisms of deity conflation are related to imperialism and what I will term simplistic conflation. Imperialism, in the way I am using it here, refers to the tendency to see one culture’s deities as subservient to another culture’s. As an example, some Greek and Roman polytheists would identify deities from outside of their cultural regions as “really” being Zeus, Mars etc. with of course the Greek or Roman understanding of the deity being the more accurate and true version. I think the problems with this approach are fairly clear – it is inherently dismissive of other cultures and speaks more to feelings of superiority and group identification than it does to any real attempt at a theological reconciliation between pantheons.

Secondly, there are numerous examples of simplistic conflation. Often this takes the form of “Deity X is associated with Y, so deity Z, who is also associated with Y is clearly the same being.” The problem with this is that it simplifies deities to a single or small number of characteristics and presumes such characteristics define the deity. For example, while I don’t it is inherently ridiculous to think that, for example, Zeus and Thor are the same deity, I think it would be a form of hubris to assert that this is an obviously true fact and/or that those who do not agree with such a conflation are clearly misguided.

I am writing this post because the idea that there are deities who are known in different ways in many cultures is intuitively satisfying to me. However, I believe that in order to do so in a way that is not disrespectful one must abandon the idea that the “true” nature of the deities can be known. I am not going to be able to sit down with a list of pantheons and discern what the “real” 12 or 36 or whatever number of Gods there “really” are. Since this idea presumes that deities can have vastly different roles and relationships in different cultures, it makes it practically impossible for humans to use those roles to determine if two or more deities are, in fact, a singular being. Accepting that deity’s identities are inherently unknowable also, I think, guards to some extent against the Imperialism and simplistic conflation I mentioned earlier.

If one accepts that some deities may be known in a variety of forms in different cultures and also that the nature of such relationships are ultimately unknowable, the practical effects in one’s personal practice may be quite small. Whether I think Odin is distinct from every other mentioned deity or if he has counterparts in other cultures, my relational activities will focus on his stories, iconography, etc. rather than those of any deities I suspect may be related to him. However, for me, I find it satisfying to think that the deities I worship may also have engaged in relationships with people of other cultures, and what is personally more important for me, is that this view feels right in an intuitive way.

I would like to restate that the idea all named deities are separate beings is not something I am opposed to or wish to criticize. I have just found that with time and experience, my intuition about the nature of Deities has been moving in another direction, and I wished to articulate a defense of this idea – to assert that it is not an inherently idiotic or morally problematic viewpoint.

How do you experience energy?

energy field photoI mentioned elsethread that I mostly get magical energy perception as musical/audio data, rather than other forms, and from comments there, it seems like that might be an interesting discussion, so here’s a place for it.

Some questions to get us started, but please expand into other directions!

1) Do you perceive energy (in the magical/ritual sense) in a particular way? Light? Colour? Texture? Sound? Air pressure? Something else?

2) When you’re trying to focus or harness energy to do something, what kinds of things work for you? Alternately, are there approaches that really don’t work for you?

3) Have you noticed similarities or differences when you’re doing other kinds of magical or ritual work? For example, deity-focused rituals, meditation, daily practices vs. group ritual practices, etc?

Respecting the Deceased’s Religion

deceased photo
Photo by David Paul Ohmer

I wasn’t sure how to title this, so I’m hoping that subject line is enough!

Anyway, this question was spurred on by a dream I had last night, and it brought me to wondering how certain deceased people may feel about others trying to honor them with a religion they were outright against or iffy about. Bear with me, this is a little bit longwinded, but I feel like I need to explain how I started thinking about this, since it’s not normally something I would worry about.

A few nights ago my uncle died. I’m not broken up about it, since I wasn’t close to him or my aunt (who is still living) at all. They’re technically my step-aunt and step-uncle via my grandfather re-marrying very late in life. I only saw them occasionally at church growing up and sometimes they’d be invited to family gatherings, but I hadn’t seen my uncle in several years due to his Alzheimer’s. Last time I saw him, he introduced himself to me with his full name, so there was no point.

Despite my relative detachment from the whole situation, I had a dream last night where I was trying to do a little memorial offering of my own design for my uncle. I had a large ceramic planter filled with soil, and dumped a bunch of runes in it- not just rune stones, but the runes themselves. Mixed in with those was something else but I can’t remember what exactly, since it wasn’t as important.

I was going to present this at his wake, believing that his spirit would come into the planter and cause something to grow. Slowly, and with a few odd looks from people around me, I realized that this might not be the greatest idea. My uncle, like his wife, was steadfastly Christian, and if he was anything like my aunt (who I know a little better) he’d have had trouble accepting other Abrahamic religions besides Judaism and Christianity, let alone pagan religion. He spirit would be offended, I thought, and would reject my little ritual. I scrambled to try to pull the runes out, but felt as though that would be ruining the spell in my offering. Yet I had nothing to give from a Christian standpoint, since I wasn’t one.

In the waking world, I hadn’t really stressed much about this kind of thing except in that I don’t normally call upon my Christian ancestors (especially the Puritans) since I feel they’d be offended or disappointed in me. After having this dream, I feel like it would be a bit different with someone I know personally. Their spirit could be upset with me specifically, and their feelings about me could change even after death, and even if they’re gone from this world, that would upset me.

So, what do you all think about that kind of thing? Would it be more respectful just not to use a pagan ritual to honor a deceased person who holds strong views against it? Even if the intent is what counts, what about the wishes of the deceased? And you can replace paganism with any religion you like, the question would still be the same.

Are there any good non-Wiccan podcasts?

podcasts photo
Photo by RobertG NL

I’m new to paganism so I don’t have a label, but I know that Wicca isn’t a good fit for me. Does anyone know of any good podcasts out there for non-Wiccan or eclectic paganism? I’d be open to hearing about other paths too, such as Druidry, Chaos Magick, reconstructionist paganism, etc.

I prefer podcasts that are content-heavy and straightforward, and that aren’t “gabfests” (as someone else on the forum so eloquently put it). I’m basically looking for as much information as possible, since I’m running into blocks finding info on YouTube and in my library. Thank you!

Conceptions of Deity

Conceptions of Deity photo
Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

I was thinking over my practices and also my posts here. I think sometimes I use the term “gods” differently in part due to my pantheism. When I relate to an entity through offerings and prayers, especially when I get dreams or visions back, my mind thinks “god” or perhaps “angel” ( in the sense of any message bearing entity, not necessarily sent by someone else) or even “friend” and I do not make a hard distinction between those terms or between ancestors, spirits, and gods because as a pantheist I simply see a continuum of divinity, and my devotions do not look much different between them. I cannot think of any beings that are THE gods to me as opposed to some others I also honor.

How do you draw the line between say, ancestors and other spirits and gods? Or maybe you do not.

Wicca vs. Shaminism Belief Questions

shamanism photo
Photo by BillDamon

I’m a Wiccan. I know a lot of pagans and witches don’t consider themselves Wiccan (or at least that’s what it seems like in my experience- it seems like I’m always hearing pagans explain why they’re not Wiccan) but I do. I used to know a lot when I was Wiccan when I was younger but it’s been a while, so I signed up for a class through a local Meetup group. The teacher said she considers her religion more shamanism then Wicca or witchcraft (the class is mostly but not exclusively focused on Wicca, at least that’s what the description said) but after quite a few classes I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’m screwed up on what it is, because no one else seems really troubled by any of this but me. I’ve heard Wicca described before as “Western European shamanism” so the teacher’s profession didn’t bother me, but now I’m wondering if differences between Wicca and shamanism are the reason for some of these differences.

Some of the things that I’ve heard that trouble me:

The idea that the Goddess and God, however you see them, will just possess you without you knowing or without you remembering and then they’ll speak through you and you won’t know about it (I’m not talking about a lack of memory during a purposefully entered and agreed upon trance/invocation, like Drawing Down the Moon, but the idea that you’re just going throughout your day and bam!)
That the gods are often tactless, crude and use foul language “just like us”
The idea that the dead can attach themselves to you despite years of attempts to get rid of them
The idea that people can psychically attack or curse you using evil spirits
That worship/respect and affection/closeness/comfort are incompatible
The idea that your soul can fragment and go off into directions and need to be retrieved

I know we all believe differently and this shouldn’t bother me, but this is my first experience with real-life pagans and I’m wondering if maybe I’m just the one who has a messed up idea of what the religion is. I know I don’t have to believe anything that bothers me, but the things I listed above clash so much with my beliefs that it’s troubling me.

Oh, and I’m only taking the class 2 more weeks and I’m not going to sign up for the next installment. I realize I could quit earlier but I’ve made some friendships with a couple of women in the class that I’m already scared I’ll lose once class is over, so I don’t want to quit early. I’ve learned some things certainly and it’s been worth my time, I am just troubled.

<li><b>Message Board:</b> <a href=”https://ecauldron.com/forum/paganism-for-beginners/wicca-vs-shaminism-belief-questions/”>Join in our discussion</a></li>

Do you doubt your Powers?

doubt photo
Photo by gurdonark

I’m a born skeptic. I spent over three decades of my life yearning to believe in gods and magic but not allowing myself to do so, because I hadn’t seen sufficient proof.

Early last year I began courting the gods, laying down groundwork for spirituality, even though I was still deeply agnostic. Finally, late in spring of this year, I experienced things that made me finally Believe with a capital B.

But I can already feel doubt creeping back in, which makes me wonder if it’s just a part of my personality. I believe that there is a great spiritual dimension to reality now, but I find myself doubting my own personal connection to my Powers on a regular basis. Does anyone else have similar experiences? How do you deal with doubt in your practice?

Your Pagan Strength

Strong photoWe’re already talking here about the downside of your religious experience (https://ecauldron.com/forum/pagan-spirituality/what’s-the-downside-of-your-religious-experience/). A not-quite-opposite question: If you had to pick ONE thing that’s your strongest suit in your pagan practice (only one…because we know we’re all awesome at so many pagan things 😉 ), what would it be? Divination? Meditation? Research? Contacting deities or spirits? Designing or leading rituals? The possibilities are endless. Toot your own horn!

For me: Writing myths. (Which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been around the Cauldron for a while.) I think I wrote my first one when I was about 10 years old, and the storytelling in various forms has continued, with interruptions, ever since. So mythopoeia is where I excel.

What’s your pagan forte?