Gods Not Our Own

In a recent post, I touched briefly on my strong disagreement with the idea that the gods only exist to help us. As if humans were the only things that mattered. One of the comments I received, remarking on what I had quoted, read “Human-centric thought from Earth-centered paths confuses me.” Indeed.

I am probably one of the least human-centric pagans I know. This is due partly to my own misanthropic personality, and partly to something that has grown naturally as a result of serving certain spirits. The concerns of the spirits, gods, plants, animals and overall bioregions tend to pull at me much more strongly than those of my “fellow” people. But, I still catch myself in some anthropocentric thinking sometimes, and breaking out of that can be revelatory.

Last weekend, while we were doing a bit of psychonautical exploration, a realization occurred to me. We tend to speak and think of plant/animal/etc. deities as singular, rather archetypal concepts, and primarily in relation to their significance to humans. In other words, we might conceive of a deer god (separate from any deer aspects of other deities), a god that appears as a deer, watches over deer, and has what we think of as deer-like qualities. But humans do not just have one deity who appears in our form, one deity for every location in which we live, or even one deity who governs over a particular human concern (such as agriculture, communication, etc.). Since other entities in this world are just as real and just as capable of a spiritual existence (in fact, they likely do not even have such a self-imposed dichotomy between material and spiritual realities as we do), why should we not then assume that their gods are myriad? Is it not likely that there are, in fact, quite a few deer gods who are tied to different regions, different species, different cervid qualities and concerns? (Perhaps we have even glimpsed these different gods and mistaken a multitude for a single entity due to the same kind of cross-racial recognition difficulties we have within just the human race.)

Extending this further, there are also probably many oak gods, many granite gods, many lichen gods, although perhaps some of those forms of life are so different from us that their deities would not be recognizable as such to us, nor would they necessarily perform the same functions or interact the same way as ours do. There’s no reason, either, to assume that every god of significance to oak trees is, itself, an oak tree – just like not all of our own gods appear as human. An oak tree would have reason to be intimately connected to gods of rain, soil, insects, fire, fertility, drought.

But of course, other entities in the same ecosystem would also share those same concerns. The god that rains on the oak would not be different, most likely, from the god that rains on the fieldmouse, or in fact, the god that rains on the person taking shelter beneath the oak’s branches.

And though I hadn’t quite thought of it like this before, or articulated it as such, THIS is why local focus polytheism is such a powerful thing. Because by honoring the gods and spirits of place, you are by definition honoring the same gods as are the other members of your physical environment, in whatever way they do (and, most likely, some of the “lesser” spirits, who aren’t devoid of a religious life simply because they exist primarily on a spiritual plane).

Look at the world through this perspective. It may just change you.

And, while I’m taking this rare stab at theology, let me also direct you to some musings on syncretism by Phillupus over at Aedicula Antinoi, in which he says:

 if we think of various animal totems as “deities” in their own right, then when a particular deity has a strong association with an animal, or even sometimes takes the form of that animal, it is a form of syncretism between the animal spirit/totem and the deity. I like that, and think it makes perfect sense of why, for example, why certain deities have a particular animal form or association but may not have the same character or demeanor as the animal spirit/totem itself.

I think this is quite a significant insight, one that perhaps could be even deepened or expanded by consideration of the more multiple conception of animal deities that I am proposing. While I acknowledge there may be more totem-like, umbrella-gods of animals, what if the gods we know (“our” gods, the ones that are involved in human affairs, although they may not be exclusive to us) are sometimes syncretized with the gods we don’t know as well, the specific gods of local animals and plants – which may partially account for the variations between, say, a god with a reindeer face on the tundra of Lapland, and a god who wears caribou antlers in the boreal forests of Canada (even though they are the same animal).

~ by Dver on July 20, 2012.

14 Responses to “Gods Not Our Own”

  1. Anything that further multiplies our conception of deity, challenges our hubristic anthropocentrism, and promotes local focus polytheism already has my attention, but I really love the theological implications of this idea . . . there is much to ponder here. Thank you!

  2. I agree with Ryan on this one – I do feel Arta to be a similarly conceived Deity. She is anthropomorphic but not, both in one. She is the Bear Mother, but that has more than one view, insight, keening, and I suppose in the modern terminology is ‘aspect.’

    I love the insight – I will definitely sit with this over a good bowl of tobacco! It definitely has already deepened my understanding of my own Gods. Approaching them locally, and with an understanding that even my own beloved Gods are part of a larger whole – and I myself have my own part to play is something I’ve come to begin an understanding. It was hard to break the cycle, but in the long run – I’m learning more from this perspective than the gated walls of the previous. Thank you for posting this.

    I am still building the ‘place altar,’ in which the Local Gods I work with can have their place. Thanks again for that inspiration!

    • My own “place altar” is a constant work in progress. Ideally, someday I’d like it to actually be properly divided into the four directions, each actually facing the correct directions, but right now there is limited space so it’s all sort of lumped in together.

  3. This is very fascinating to me, and I’m glad you liked the earlier post!

    I’m reminded of a bit of discussion that was had at Lupa’s presentation on “Totems and Social Justice–Together At Last!” at the last PantheaCon, in which it was proposed that animal totems are the gods of the animal species in question (the matter of “one or many” was not broached, but being it was PantheaCon and monism is somewhat heavy in the air there, that’s no harm…!?!), and I asked if humans, therefore, have a totem animal as well. The answer, and the general consensus, seemed to be that we have gods, and the wide variety of humans accounts for the large number of gods, etc. Okay, fair enough.

    BUT, I’m wondering if it would be even less anthropocentric to consider that, perhaps, there is a divine being, a god-form, a totem animal, or what-have-you, that is just Homo Sapiens with no cultural associations, and perhaps even no personality as such. If totem animal theory is at all “accurate” theologically, and totem spirits are aggregates of all the animals of that species that have ever lived, plus all the human ideas about them (which may or may not be the case, as you’ve so brilliantly outlined her), then why wouldn’t there be a human totem animal who is similar? We are animals, after all, and people are so utterly willing to forget and ignore that whenever it suits them that I think bringing our attention back to that fact would be useful on a regular basis.

    (And this has me thinking even further: perhaps the “one” that so many people of a quasi- or pseudo-mystical bent end up getting in contact with or having experiences of is, in fact, this human totem animal, who is the aggregate of all human experience and personality…because the “oneness” that people feel is not in any way unconditioned by our human experiences…which would be a very different theological notion than what we’re used to with “One” deities being the origin of all the universe, energy, divinity, and consciousness–this would instead be a “one” that originated as the oneness of human/divine experience, and in fact is quite secondary to the origins of the universe, the earth, and anything/everything else, really…!?!)

    • I agree but I have a different standpoint on it. I don’t know if we have our own ‘totem,’ because in my belief, we ARE the creations and brainchildren of many Gods and Spirits. In my own example, Arta created the raw form that we all know today – in another, Cernunnos may have taught the wild animal human to make pointed sticks to hunt – and it evolved from there. An agricultural God or Goddess went from there – and so forth.

      I do admit, it is a fascinating idea that I’ve wondered myself. But I think that is what makes us an anomaly in Theological concerns – I don’t know if we have one – hence it explains why we look to the larger world with it’s spirits and Gods to ‘finish the painting,’ if you will.

      I really hope that made sense. I don’t have the eloquence of either of you…

    • That is a fascinating idea, whether there is a human totem. I mean, there should be, I would think. And yes, I wonder too if that might be what some people are connecting with. Which would make sense, since I’ve never felt a hint of anything like that, and I’m not exactly tuned into my own species, so…

  4. *laughs a bit* I just wrote a rant about the human hubris of thinking to be so important. Must be something in the air today.😉

  5. Wow Dver. Get out of my head!😉

    Nice to know I’m not the only one who is open to many, many multipliers in the “spiritual” realm (if we must use that sort of delineation). Always enjoying your words when I can steal a moment to visit.

  6. […] Dver waxes theological: We tend to speak and think of plant/animal/etc. deities as singular, rather archetypal concepts, […]

  7. I’ve wondered myself whether animals have gods (even before I read Watership Down!), and I’m not sure, because I do think that humans view the world in a different way than other animals.

    But maybe they do. I think they at least have ancestral spirits (and the line between those and gods is fuzzy). When I was a student working on my ecology degree, before I did any kind of research on some sort of animal, I would try to contact and make nice with the spirit of that animal.

    I did that when I went on this trip to do some research on Rocky Mountain gray wolves, and I contacted some sort of wolf spirit, but I don’t think it was Wolf, the totem of all wolves, like I had intended to contact. I think it was an ancestral spirit of those particular wolves in that particular area. I think he was once a living wolf at some time, the alpha male of a pack, and lived a long life and fathered many children, and now watched over his descendants.

    He was also extremely ANGRY and hated humans! That turned out to be merely the beginning of a very disturbing experience all around. I had an absolutely miserable time on that trip.

    • It’s true, we do view the world differently, but unless you believe that gods are simply mental constructs, that shouldn’t really matter. We have more complex gods, perhaps, because we have more complex lives and therefore have even created entire concepts that draw, or birth (depending on how you see it), their own gods – like agriculture, for instance. But the basic existence of deities shouldn’t depend on species, I think.

      You’re right, I think they do have ancestral spirits – after all, they certainly have ancestors! You may be right that their gods are simply that – after all, there are plenty of human traditions as well that see most of their own gods as elevated ancestors, at least to some degree.

      You know you’re experiencing something real when it’s not all nice and happy to see you! Sad, since so many spirits have reason to dislike humans.

      • I didn’t exactly mean that the gods/spirits are simply mental constructs, though after I wrote that I realized I didn’t express myself well.

        What I meant is more along the lines of “god is a job description”, though I guess not everyone defines it that way. What I’m thinking is there may be a spirit of a mountain, and that mountain spirit is much more interested in the lives of the deer that live on that mountain than the humans who occasionally hike there. What I’m not sure of is if the deer view the mountain spirit as a “god” in the same way as a human thinks of gods. I’m not sure how aware the deer are of the mountain spirit, and if deer feel any need to perform any sort of religious activities to honor the mountain spirit, and other things that humans associate with “gods”. But maybe they do. Who knows? I can’t read their minds, but it’s fun to wonder.

  8. […] in relation to Lupa’s presentation at PantheaCon in February, and was prompted by a post by Dver a few weeks ago as well. And, now I find that it might also have relevance, in the way I’m going to discuss […]

  9. […] Gods Not Our Own(forestdoor.wordpress.com) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s