One of the more recent classes I have been teaching at Treadwells-London is a series we've called Meeting the Gods. Each session I focus on a different deity, or a different group of deities, and look at the ways in which we can work with them, honour them, and do good work together.
Of course, if you come from a monotheistic background, the pagan view of working with deities may come as a shock to you. Are we worshipping many gods? Possibly, some pagans will tell you that they are polytheistic, but others like me will tell you that they are polytheistic monotheists - the gods are archetypes of a greater whole. And if you come from an atheist back ground, you may wonder if its really essential to bring in all of that god-stuff. Its not for everyone. However, as a Wiccan priestess, work with deities is an essential part of that path (to me).
This post is really by way of an exploration - what do I see deities as, and how do I work with them?
Before we go any further, the thing about beliefs is...
The thing with beliefs is that they are not true. Of course, truth is relative. What I mean by that is that they are not scientific truths - we are not in that realm where truth can be measured or quantified. All you can go on is your feeling. Does the feeling resonate for you in the deepest part of your soul, or in the pit of your stomach, or in your heart? So through your journey of working with the gods, all you have to go on is your kinesthetic sense of 'does it feel right?' For those of you who work in scientific fields with more logical frameworks, that might feel like a stretch at first. That means this is going to be one of those annoying posts which is at time vague, and sometimes discursive. We are dealing with the ineffable here, and that can sometimes be hard to articulate.
The use of the 'w' word. We've all been in those online arguments about what wicca is or isn't, and if you can be wiccan without being initiated into a coven. This isn't the article for that discussion as we would be here all day, but if I am using Wiccan with a capital 'w', I am referring to the trained and initiated priesthood which can only be entered into with a coven that is established by an also trained and initiated priesthood. Yes, you might be able to establish working groups without those initiatory lines, but they are not covens that are connected to a magical current or tradition. I will write more on that later.
While we are on it, the other terminology mine-field is around the use of priest or priestess. As far as I am aware, we don't yet have a non-gendered word that we can all agree on, so if I am using the 'p' word, please note I am not being gender specific.
The Disco-Ball Theory
When pondering how the many gods / one god belief system fits together, I once had a teaching session with my High Priestess who said that she sees deity as being a bit like a giant mirrored disco-ball. Each deity is a mirror on the disco ball, each representing a different facet of a greater whole, but it also does something else. The facets or deities are also archetypes. As her High Priest had taught, gods are a concept created by mankind to explain the unexplainable, and so they take on qualities and characters that reflect the human experience, and the challenges we experience in living. Through time, stories take on more meaning, and a life of their own, which can mean that a deity is created though story, and nourished through worship. Its a theory.
The Wiccan World View with regards to Deity
I shudder whenever I write a title like that, because if you put a whole group of the Wiccan priesthood in a room, we would probably all give you a different view of what deity is. That's the beauty of the Wiccan path - it is not written down, and it is not canonised. Each coven may view their relationship with the divine slightly differently. Some covens I know work with very specific deities, others stick to a more generic 'God and Goddess' worldview, with sacred and secret names, and mythology. My lineage is of the latter. You won't find them written about in books, as the nature of them is oathbound and secret. I can tell you that our god is the antlered god of the woods, and our goddess is the goddess of the moon, but that's about as far as I would be willing to go without meeting you in the circle.
We also don't tend to see deity as remote, far-off infallible beings. We see them as more equal to humans. That doesn't bring them down to our level, it raises us up to theirs. We (all beings, not just Wiccans) are divine beings.
How to meet your deity
One of the questions I am frequently asked is, 'how do I find my deity?' The truth is, they find you. If you are called to work with a particular deity, you will know it. They will repeatedly pop up in ways you cannot brush off as mere coincidence. Even if you were not trying to meet them, you will. You might notice strange coincidences start to occur. A seemingly chance walk down a street you are less familiar with will take you to a building with a frieze of them on the wall, or a book in a shop window that you just happen to walk by. Then there is the animal totem that represents them - you might be visited by a lot of crows if Odin or Hecate is calling to you. You might suddenly find statues of elephants everywhere you go if Ganesh is calling you to work with him. Keep your eyes and your heart open.
The other thing to note is that its not essential you work with every deity that calls you. Some deities can be quite vociferous, but you don't have to acquiesce. You might not feel the pull in that way. Its a bit like being asked out on a date - there is nothing that says you have to go out with them. You can say no, and you don't have to say yes just to be polite (with dates or with deities).
One way of meeting your deity is to start by narrowing down the field. Which pantheon are you naturally drawn to? (You will know as you will either want to read the stories, or they will leave you cold). Then, amongst that pantheon, who inspires you the most? It might be because events in your life draw you to them, or because you have a particular need in your life. gradually you will find your way to them.
Forming a Relationship
As I am learning at the advanced age of 40-something, forming relationships takes time, and this is for a reason. It gives you a get-out clause if you need one. You don't have to rush headlong into a life commitment to a deity without getting to know them a bit first. It is perfectly fine to get to know each other in a light-handed way, and it is fine to say that you will do this slowly.
Deities, like people and non-human animals take time to get to know you. Don't rush this process, for you or for them, as it is important you let it unfold naturally over time and don't force it. If you are looking to become a priest (non-gender specific) of a particular deity, this is potentially a life-long commitment, and it shouldn't be rushed. You are not training to be a deity stalker (and neither are they).
Establish some clear boundaries with them. They will never ask you to do something that is outside of your gift to give them, and they will not ask you to do anything harmful. That's not deity - that's something you should be speaking to a medical professional about. By the same token, it also doesn't have to be a life-long relationship. You can commit to working with a deity for a specified amount of time - for example, one lunar month.
It sometimes happens that you commit to a particular period, and then at the end of that time together it just naturally continues to work. I have several deities I work with regularly. One came to me very naturally during the early years of my Wiccan training and she has stayed - I live and breathe her as effortlessly as I am drawn to chocolate and rose petals. Another was one I had to develop a relationship with over time, as he can be quite tricky and has to be handled with care - we get along very well these days but sometimes he can be a little naughty. Another deity was one I pledged to work with for a lunar month, and at the end of that period we just kept going. He now appears on everything in my life, from my quilt cover to the art on my walls. He keeps popping up in strange and lovely ways.
However you decide to approach them, whether through cerebral means (reading) or transcendental ways (meditating to see who comes in), take your time and allow yourself to feel your way in. The bond you form may well be a lifelong path or just a date or two, but that doesn't have to determine the richness of your encounter.
A Note about Cultural Appropriation
It is really important that you are mindful of the culture your deity comes from, and be respectful of that culture. When working with a deity who has a whole religious context that they are nestled within, its important not to rip them out of that culture, and parade them around with wild abandon. The people who are of that culture will quite-rightly be offended if you don't acknowledge that cultural context, and treat it (and them) with respect. Learn about the culture that deity comes from, really get to know it, its history and its practices, but also be mindful that it may not be your culture.
For this reason, you will never see me teaching a class on how to work with the Hindu gods, or how to work with the Voudou Lwas, because I am not Hindu or Voudou, or even of Hindu or Voundou extraction. Its important to be respectful, and don't assume that just because you have been working with a particular deity for so many weeks / months / years that you are now an expert on them, and its ok to tell people of their religion that.
Work with a Deity can be private
You will also notice that I have not explicitly revealed to you the different deities I work with. That is because those relationships are sacred and private to me. I might tell you about them over a cup of coffee one day, or during a walk, but that's only if I have a relationship of trust with you also. You might mention in person a particular work you are doing, but as with the section above on cultural appropriation, its important to be mindful of how much you talk about, and ask about. You wouldn't ask another person you don't know very well about their relationship with another human, and its polite not to probe into their relationship with a deity either. While I may teach classes on Wicca and paganism, and write books about it, I also reserve my right to not answer every question.