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I’ve gotten a bit behind on my Read-Along of To Walk a Pagan Path by Alaric Albertsson (chapter 1, part 2) plans… As usual, life happened. Hubby is out of town for 2 months for work (again), and Sharkbait is needing a slight medication adjustment (sleep issues). Also, I’m trying this *get my butt in gear to apply to grad school* thing again. But, one of the things (in 3 or 4 parts, otherwise its super long) that I wanted to address before I moved on to Chapter Two was the whole idea of “Connecting with Spirit”, because I think the book really short changed it a bit in favor of a pantheon-specific polytheism perspective, and failed to consider the other ways that Pagans connect with spirit…

My daughter starting assembling her own pantheon at 4. Some of the names are similar to the deities she’d heard in myths at bedtime story time, but others are unique. Over the past few years, some of them have left, and new ones have arrived. Still others remain, though her interpretation and experience of them has changed. Mama O’shen looks very much like Oshun now but still has a dolphin daughter, Mr. Neptune, Luna (instead of Mother Moon), H’sheth, and G’geegle have been joined by Bast, Aset, Ma’at, Apollo, and Mars. My son (Sharkbait) isn’t quite as interested in the gods, but I chalk some of that up to the ADHD–he’s too busy to listen as deeply as Chickadee…but I have the feeling this might change as much as he loves it when his big sister reads mythology to him before bed.

Everybody is on a path, but everybody is at a different point on the path. In real life, if two people are on the same path, and look at the same tree, each will see it differently.

(You can do an experiment: Set a cardboard box on a table and look at it. Move one foot to the left, or to the right, or forward, or backward, and the box will look radically different. Did the box change? No, that’s an illusion. What changed was the perspective of the viewer).

So, two people on the same path, looking at the same tree will each see it differently. Arguing about “who sees it correctly” is foolish.

~B. de Corbin, Pagan Forum member, speaking on the subject Buddhist traditions…something perhaps that applies to Paganism as well.

My personal experiences have left me with a quite different perspective and practice than that offered by the author of To Walk a Pagan Path.  Lets face it, not everyone that is drawn to Paganism is drawn to a specific deity, pantheon, or culture. Albertsson suggests that the first step to living as a Pagan is “connecting with spirit”, and to this end, he suggests that we can do so through connecting with deity (which he goes on to describe in some detail), or with nature spirits or with one’s ancestors.  While I largely agree, I think the idea of “connecting with spirit” aligns better with the Four Centers of Paganism that I mentioned awhile back–deity centered Paganisms, nature/earth centered Paganisms, self centered Paganisms (don’t confuse this one with being self-centered!) and community centered Paganisms.

Connecting with the Gods

Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, many Reconstructionist or Revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, and those which borrow techniques (i.e., aspecting) from African-diasporic religions. The Pagan identity of deity-centered Pagans is defined by a dedication to one or more deities. Authenticity is determined by one’s relationship with those deities and/or one’s relationship with the reconstructed practices of ancient pagans who worshiped those deities.
~John Halstead, Three (or more?) Centers of Paganism @ The Allergic Pagan

Some of us have it easy when it come to figuring it out what tradition of Paganism we are meant to follow–perhaps we felt “called” by a particular deity, or maybe we we’ve always been drawn by a certain mythos or culture (maybe its our ancestory or a book we read as a child or a trip we took as a teen or, whatever).  If you are one of these lucky people that have an idea of where to start looking for their connection with deity, then you can jump right in!  But maybe you are someone that only knows what you *aren’t* interested in.  Or maybe you don’t even have that much of the elimination process down.  Or maybe you can’t decide between one pantheon and another.  Or maybe you are drawn to two different deities from two different cultures.  Or maybe…

I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to muster any more than an academic interest in the Celtic, Norse, Saxon, or Egyptian pantheons or cultures (with a few exceptions).  I quite love history and mythology, but not from a personal religious interest or spiritual inspiration.  The gods that I am interested in do not have a pantheon in common (for that matter, many of them have no myths to themselves), so much as they have what I call “proper context” in common.  I’m (unabashedly) an eclectic–one of those people that Albertsson stereotypes as “scattered” who are “leaping from one pantheon to another, collecting “patron” deities like Hummel figurines” (p 17).  But I know very few people that actually do this in practice (except maybe when they are still in that seeking newbie stage).  Eclecticism done well depends on thoughtfulness, particularly as it relates to how one views godhood, how one develops their relationship with their gods, and how one integrates their deities into their practice.

Let me say that again… Eclecticism done well depends on thoughtfulness, particularly as it relates to how one views godhood, how one develops their relationship with their gods, and how one integrates their deities into their practice.  I’d do it a third time, but I think we all get the point here.  Eclectic is not a dirty word.  It is not a lazy practice.  It is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.  It is not because someone didn’t want to do their research.  Its not because someone was hedging their bets.  Are there eclectics that do these things?  Sure there are–negative stereotypes always have anecdotal stories to accompany them.  But by and large, eclectic Pagans have their own reasoning and understandings that they have come to with just as much research and practice and experience as a pantheon-specific Pagan.

When it comes to practice, I’m quite polytheistc.  I worship one god at a time, through prayer, ritual, meditation, through mindful attention–because, to me, a one-on-one date makes more sense than a speed dating marathon. I also worship the gods in that same idea of “proper context”–for example, Psamathe, a Nereid and goddess of the beach gets worshiped at the beach (or with appropriate items of hers) for purposes under her domain while Hestia gets worshipped in my kitchen while I’m cooking for purposes under her domain.  This “proper context” is highly personal–one might see “proper context” as derived by the historically accurate portrayal of worship in a specific culture, or as relating to the culture the deity hails from without the emphasis on historical authenticity, or on the basis of the deity being representative of something valued…for me, context is centered around a deity’s identity and purpose.

Unlike Albertsson, who recommends starting with mythology as a way to find the gods that one is interested in developing a relationship with, I would recommend figuring out what one’s “proper context” is.  What is sacred?  Where do you feel the most connected?  Perhaps that connection actually comes from a specific mythology and culture–the ancient religions of the Greek or the Romans, or the Canaanaites or the Norse, or whatever.  But maybe it comes from the ocean or from being a mother or from mountain climbing or from working in a homeless shelter or from teaching.  Start where the feeling is and worship the deity that represents what you find sacred.  Don’t depend on what someone else tells you should be your proper context. The worst thing that can happen is that is that a relationship doesn’t develop and you move on (but even from that experience you can learn and grow).

From there, I can’t argue with the rest of Albertsson’s advice; its good–get to know the god or gods that speak to you (literally or metaphorically).  Read their mythology, look at devotional artwork and poetry, prayers (ancient and modern), get a sense of who they are.  And once you are ready, make an offering to them and then sit back and listen. You might need to do this for a while.

Think about an offering as making a phone call to a person that a mutual friend is trying to set you up with…they don’t have to pick it up.  By listening, I don’t mean with your ears…very rarely are you going to hear actual words, but with your entire being.  Having a pre-established practice of mindfulness is helpful here, but not required.  As Albertsson puts it “You may have a fleeting vision, or smell and odor that evokes a long-forgotten memory.  Or you may experience a “knowing,” a sudden awareness of the deity’s presence and message to you.  Or you may experience nothing at all. Do not be discouraged if this is the case.  You are not going to have a supernal experience every time you reach out to the gods and spirit.  In giving an offering to the deity, you have taken an action and made a connection.” (p 17)

He also recommends “moving on” if you don’t feel someone picking up at the other end after a few tries (to extend the metaphor of an offering being like dialing up a stranger for a date, maybe they aren’t that interested or its not a good time). Personally, I think this depends on why you’ve chosen that god.  If you aren’t looking for a personal relationship with a deity, I don’t see anything wrong with continued offerings (the gods are not, after all, actually a stranger you are calling for a date!). TBH, this idea of “personal gods” is a fairly modern development–not that it didn’t exist in ancient paganisms, but it wasn’t the norm for your average person.  For me, an offering isn’t to curry favor or attract attention; its a symbol of my sacrifice to something greater than myself.  But if you are looking for a “patron” deity of sorts, then moving on might be a good idea…if that deity (or another you hasn’t even considered) is interested in you, they will find a way to let you know (but maybe not on the timeline of our moder attention span)

Basically, how one chooses to connect with the gods is a personal thing.  It is born out of our understanding of the gods, our experiences with them, our interest in them, and maybe their interest in us…  Provided it recognizes autonomy and consent, no one should ever be judged for how they ultimately meet the gods or which gods they interact with.  And while this book (or my blog post for that matter) offer some different experiences and insights into how or why one might connect with deity, its just the opinion and experience of two people–everyone has their own methodlogy, their own story.