Who Are the Gods? ­ Part 2 – The Gods and Goddesses of Wicca

(Originally appearing in The Second Road)

Last issue we discussed monotheism, polytheism and the concept of archetypes. To the pagan, the archetypes are beings of power existing on the planes of consciousness. They may express themselves as different deities to different cultures and time periods, but they contain a similar theme, purpose and energy. It is in these common threads a modern witch can begin to weave his or her own tapestry of personal experience.

As modern people we are usually a psychological term, archetype, to describe a spiritual being, it is important to realize the energy and experience of the goddesses and gods are very real. It is said that all goddesses lead to the Goddess, and all gods lead to the God. The meaning, with all our religious conflicts, can be less clear. To the witch, everything is divine. Everything is spiritual. In mystical philosophy, this is sometimes called the Divine Mind. But to connect with and process and experience of everything at once, of the complete Divine Mind, can be quite an awesome tasks. The individual deities, each with a specific scope of power, can give us a more tangible connection to the divine. They act as bridges from our limited perspective, to the unlimited perspective of the Divine Mind. By looking at the Divine Mind as having many faces, we have many paths to make a personal connection. All deities and paths ultimately lead to the same divine spirit.

These paths branch out from the divine first as the archetypes, primal beings of power embodying aspects of nature and consciousness. Archetypes encompass the powers of the Earth, Moon, Sun and such concepts as wisdom, justice, war and love. As the archetypes become closer to human consciousness and understand, they take on forms and shapes that act as masks. They assume characters, names and stories that best relate them to a culture, time or individual. One archetypal being can wear many different masks, and each one will have a different energy and flair. The great Sun being can be expressed through the Sun god Ra of Egypt, of Apollo and Helios of the Greeks, as Balder to the Norse and Lugh to the Celts. As the archetypal beings are beyond defined form and shape, and beyond separation, several archetypal energies can combine and wear a particular godform mask. The goddess Ishtar combines the qualities of earth, heaven, love, war, the Moon and the planet Venus. The more all encompassing a deity is, the closer they are to the Divine Mind, and yet the harder they are to make a personal connection.

As we look at the archetypes, we are really looking at individual aspects of the Divine Mind. As a practitioner of a nature based religion, I like to look at many of the basic archetypes revealed in the changing seasons and cycles. Modern witches call this the Wheel of the Year, celebrating eight festivals, but the Wheel is the story of the Goddess and God told through the seasons, and if you listen and look closely, you can see the Goddess and God in their many faces.

The God is seen in the Sun, sky, vegetation and animals. Ultimately the God is seen as duel, a god of light and a god of darkness. The Goddess is represented by the Earth itself, as well as the Moon and oceans. The Goddess is seen as triple, as maiden, mother and crone. Like the Moon, the Earth waxes and wanes, and as it shifts, the Goddess and God change their faces. At the winter solstice, the light begins to grow. Cultures around the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the birth of the child of light, usually as a Sun god. As the light waxes and grows, he grows to maturity. In the spring, the Goddess arises from her slumber in the underworld, and with her rising, the plants begin to rise from the ground. The God becomes her lover, helping the fertility of the land, and ultimately becomes her husband and king. She becomes the Mother of the land. At the summer solstice, his power wanes, and he relinquishes his power to his shadow, the god of the dark and waning year, portrayed as an underworld god or animal lord. In some traditions, he is slain with the harvest, and sent to the underworld. The Goddess mourns his loss, and the land begins to wither. She too, heads for the underworld, to prepare for the birth of the new king and then takes on her crone aspect, resting and regenerating in the winter month. With the light’s return, the wheel turns again.

When we study the archetypes, we start to see the cross cultural truths. Many cultures tell the story of the wheel of the year, though each can use different details, names, dates and celebrations. The overall story is the important part. To the modern practitioner, individual mythologies can be confusing until you see the significance in the larger worldview. For better or worse, due to modern communication we are children of the world. We are not raised in a single culture with a single body of myths. We must sift through the stories of the world to find the path that leads to our own empowerment.

Although many people involved in Wicca favor Celtic mythology, it is a difficult place to start with. Like a Celtic knot, Celtic myth can be very twisted, with several different versions and spellings of any one deity or hero. The gods and goddesses express a number of archetypes woven together, since Celtic culture favored well rounded skill and knowledge. The gods exemplified this cultural trait. The mythologies demonstrate piercing the veil between worlds, as mortals often become more godlike, and gods often become more mortal. Lastly, much of our written Celtic myth was recorded by Christian scholars who did not embrace these beings as divine. They subsequently changed many stories to fit their own Christian sensibilities. For a deeper study of myth, I suggest starting with the Greeks. The ancient Greek culture was very precise and logical, even in its myths. Most deities embodied one central archetype, and their stories clearly demonstrated it. Much of Western culture is built upon the foundations of Greco-Roman thought, and is generally better known that other mythologies. With a greater understanding of myth and archetype, you can see the intricate patterns of other world mythologies more clearly.

Let’s look as some of the archetypes, and the deities expressing them.

Earth Goddess – From our Stone Age ancestors, the Earth Goddess image is the most prevalent. The Earth was naturally seen as a mother figure, all across the world. The most ancient mythologies often start with the creation of the Earth mother goddess, and through her own creation comes the other deities. In Greek mythology, she is Gaia. Gaia created herself from the cosmic seas and then created her son and husband, Uranus, the sky. Modron is a Celtic Earth Mother, as is the great goddess Danu. Freya is the fertility goddess of the Norse, also embodying magic and love. Sif and Frigga are two other motherly goddesses of the Norse. Other primordial mothers, who embody not only the planet, but all life everywhere, Queens of Heaven as well as Earth, were often incorporated into other roles as mythologies changed, such as Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Isis and even Aphrodite. Some goddesses focuses solely on grain and sustenance, like the Greek Demeter or Native American corn goddess Seluth.

Sky God ­ The sky gods represent the intellect, clarity and precision of the culture, as we turned from Earth to sky, as well as the potential for cloudiness, stormy conflict and idealism. To humanity, the sky god is often painted with some fallibility. Uranus, Gaia’s consort, is castrated by his own son because of his harsh rule. His grandson, Jupiter, a god of storm and lightning, is alternately portrayed in myths as loving and wise, and chauvinistically unfair. Our perception of the divine changes as our culture changes. The gods themselves are simply reflecting our own consciousness back at us, as part of the path to connect with the divine. Other sky and storm gods include the Norse Thor and Celtic Tarranis.

Moon Goddess ­ The Moon evokes the feminine presence in many cultures, stimulating psychic ability, emotion and reflection. The Moon Goddesses often take form as a triplicy, expressing maiden, mother and crone through the cycle of the Moon. In Greek culture, the maiden is the huntress Artemis, known as Diana to the Greeks. She is the archer with silver arrows, maiden of the wild beast and patron to mothers and children. Selene represents the full Moon, pulling her chariot of the Moon across the sky and causing the darkness of the Moon when she visits her sleeping lover Endymion. Hecate, a triple goddess in her own right, represents the dark of the Moon and the crone. She is the mother of witches, and the guide of the crossroads in life. In Roman myth, they are Diana, Luna and Hecate respectively. Many goddesses across the world have moon associations, including Isis, Bast, Frigga, the Morgan, Arianrhod and Cerridwen.

Sun God ­ As the Moon evokes the feminine, the Sun usually evokes masculine deities of light, beauty and youth. Sun gods often give the gifts of healing, knowledge and inspiration. Apollo, brother of Artemis, is the Greek Sun god, pulling his chariot hitched to the Sun across the sky. Apollo may have been borrowed from the Celtic Bel, and originally have been a god of fire and light. Lugh, another Celtic god, embodies the Sun, grain and was many skilled, having talents and abilities in every area imaginable. Taliesin, son of Cerridwen, is a solar figure of illumination and patron of bards. Balder is the sacrificed god of light in Norse mythology, slain by an arrow of mistletoe. To the Egyptians, where the Sun is all encompassing, the Sun god Ra was credited by his followers as the sole creator of the world, and was the first ruler of the gods, later abdicated to his children.

Animal God
 ­ The Animal God is usually portrayed as the popular horned god of the witches, upon witch the image of the Devil was created by Christian institutions in an effort to discourage non-Christian worship. To the Greeks, the horned god is goat god Pan, god of music, sexuality and wildness. To the Celts, the stag god Cernunnos, or Herne, is the horned father, protector and hunter. In the wheel of the year story, the horned god often rules the year from Summer to Winter solstice.

Grain God
 – The Grain God is associated with the waxing year and the Sun, and is often called the sacrificed god, as the many stories tell us of sacrificed kings and consorts. His sacrifice is symbolic, to ensure the fertility of the land and harvest, demonstrating with all cycles of life, there is death. Godfroms of the sacrificed god archetype include Tammuz, Dumuzi, Adonis, Dionysus, Bacchus, Osiris, Lugh and Balder. Even the form of Jesus Christ, celebrated in modern mythology, is a form of the sacrificed and resurrected god.

Underworld Deity ­ The Underworld Deity can be male, female or partnered as king and queen. Some cultures focused on one sex or the other as the deity of death. For the Greeks, Hades rules the lower world, but he eventually took a queen in the form of the maiden Kore, later named Persephone. Their Roman names are Pluto and Proserpine. Hecate, though a goddess of the underworld, was not considered the ruler. The Egyptian Osiris, after his second murder by his brother Set, was resurrected as lord of the underworld. The Norse focus on Hel, the goddess of Hel, decaying below the waist as a sign of her rulership over life and death. In ancient Sumer, the fearsome leach haired Ereskigal ruled the underworld while her sister Inanna ruled the Earth and heavens. The Celts have many gods and goddess of the underworld and death, including Pywll, Arawn, Dis Pater, Cernunnos, Morgan, Cerridwen and Rhiannon. In Celtic myth, it can be difficult to distinguish the otherworlds from the “real” world, so not all underworlds were lands of the dead.

Messenger/Magician ­ Deities that do not fall into the broad categories of light and dark, or as many aspects of the Goddess, are often androgynous in nature, and acts as intermediaries between the world. They are messengers gods, often associated with the archetype of Mercury, or Hermes. Not only do they travel where they want, but they are often inventors, patrons of humanities evolution, scribes and skilled magicians and healers. Hermes, Mercury, the Egyptian Thoth and Anubis, the Norse Wotan/Odin and Loki and Celtic wizard such as Math, Gwydion and the most famous Merlin.

As we see the common themes and functions expressed by many different cultures, we begin to grasp the scope of the Goddess and God. Using the godforms of traditional myth, and our own personal experience, we build our own bridge to the divine, realizing that it existed within us the entire time. Mystics often call the spiritual planes the “inner planes” for they exist inside us all. Hermetic philosophers say “as above, so below” meaning patterns repeat themselves on multiple levels. We all reflect divinity in the diamond-like brilliance of the Great Spirit.

In Part III, we will explore how to make an intimate and personal connection to the gods and goddesses, using ritual, meditation and shamanic journeying.