Where the gods are found

Just came across this post about Local Cultus. The author, like myself, is happy to see more emphasis being put on local cultus in modern polytheism, but dismayed at the way it is sometimes being discussed. They quote an example which was someone’s attempt to align the various Greek gods with the Boston area, and discuss where they think this person went wrong.

“I’m honestly disappointed in how people are handling these ideas. People are misassigning concepts to deities who just don’t handle such functions. It’s one thing to see examples of slow development toward functions that aren’t the norm elsewhere, but people don’t want development over centuries. They want everything now, even when they often lack a firm grasp of the basics.”

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise. Once again, they are treating the gods as characters, rather than actual living entities. They are guessing about what a god would like rather than finding out what a god actually likes. Which means, ultimately, they are eschewing any attempt at direct experience of the gods in favor of armchair theorizing.

Real, workable, relevant local cultus evolves organically (and yes, even slowly!) over time in response to one’s environment. Sure, some things might be obvious – if you live near the ocean, you’ll probably find Poseidon there. But you might also find another, unexpected god there. And you might have an experience of Poseidon more strongly somewhere else. Maybe, in fact, you’ll have so many experiences with Him in that other place that you realize He must really be present there, and you start worshipping Poseidon of That Place as a special aspect of the god. That is how it happens.

When I came to Eugene, one of the first places I felt Dionysos was at the base of the butte that rises at the edge of downtown. Yeah, there was a lot of ivy growing there – but that is true of many places around here. And yeah, it could almost qualify as a “mountain” and therefore a location of the traditional Dionysian worship of oreibasia – but that would be even more true of the butte on the other end of town which is much higher. If I were just picking and choosing locations for Dionysos based on a list of His common epithets and associations, I would probably pick the nearby vineyards, or even the bars downtown. But those are only the places where He might be found, not the places I actually have found Him. It’s a crucial difference for a living religion.

I will also note that in practice, historically, not every “major” god would be equally represented in a given area – because some were simply more present there than others. You wouldn’t find all the Olympian gods in equal force throughout a city – you might find, instead, that Athene was the most commonly worshipped there under several different locational epithets, followed by, say, Artemis and Hephaistos, and that you had to go to the nearest mountain before you found a major sanctuary for Zeus. That doesn’t mean Zeus – or any god without a temple or major cult presence – wasn’t worshipped by anyone there, it just means that He hadn’t (to anyone’s knowledge) claimed any part of the city as His special place. Just because there was, for instance, an oak grove there doesn’t mean it would automatically be favored by the god due to His oak association. It’s so much more complex than that in reality.

I hope we can, as polytheists, do better than this. I hope we can go beyond games of free association and treat the gods as real and our religion as a serious undertaking. And I hope we can be patient enough to let something deep and beautifully complicated grow, something that is based on experience rather than theoretical ideas, something that might even last the test of time.


~ by Dver on August 31, 2015.

16 Responses to “Where the gods are found”

  1. I’ve had this happen before. For a long time I thought that Chaak “just wasn’t *there*” when I visited my future home of British Columbia from much further south. I checked in all the usual places and found nothing even going to far as to think that I may just end my cultus after moving.

    But now that I’m there for more than a few weeks at a time, and more or less on a permanent basis now, I realized that I was just looking for Him in all the wrong places. The PNW is a rainforest, and *of course* looking for a rain god in a rain forest would be a completely different ballgame than looking for one in the desert.

    I still have a long way to go before I begin to understand who “Chaak of Vancouver” is, though.

    • Fascinating! Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I do, personally, feel that most gods can be contacted anywhere, but some obviously have a stronger tie to certain places. And as you said, sometimes the places They are found can change significantly due to various factors. Good luck unraveling that – I hope it leads you to a deeper understanding of the god.

  2. All my Gods are real and I pay the homage as they deserve – I do not only associate them with certain places – nothing wrong with that – but to me the are there every day and in a quiet place they often whisper to me – all the bustle and noise gone – you can hear them and feel them – hard to fine these quiet places these days – but what better place than an old forgotten graveyard? Many of the Souls there once might have believed in those same Gods I believe in now – and I feel very comfortable in their presence.
    Besides losing contact with the old Gods – people have also lost their deepest instincts that once were necessary to survive – but if you still have them they sure will help you in life – many time.
    Just my own opinion and Belief – and I say to each his own.

  3. […] Source: Where the gods are found […]

  4. I like this lots. The land itself teaches and unfolds, and sometimes we find inhabitants we would never notice because we expected (‘demanded’) someone else, a bit like those who miss the trees of a city because they aren’t the forest they’re looking for…🙂

    • Exactly – I find that expectations (not to mention demands) generally get in the way of authentic spiritual experiences. So much of what I’ve encountered was not what I was expecting – and that’s often the best part.

  5. Edward Butler directed me to this post specifically because it dealt with something that we were discussing yesterday (kinda)..in our case about how gods reveal themselves cross culturally and in revelations of syncretism. I have to rather agree with your observation. Although I worship a number of a gods, and have discussed the challenges of finding gods from a Mediterranean environment in one as different as living in the subarctic….I know I certainly haven’t found all of the Olympians residing here. The most obvious ones are Apollon (predominantly as Lykeios), a few particular aspects of Artemis, Poseidon, Zeus, Dionysos, Aphrodite and Rhea. This does not mean that other gods are not part of my regular worship but those are ones that I have experienced here locally. Trying to force the gods into what logically makes sense (and sometimes very narrowly) is actually a huge disservice to ones relationship with the gods in my opinion…..and also more often than not falls far short of the mark. Ones localized relationship with the gods really needs to be organic. So all very well said and appreciated!

    • Glad you chimed in as I know you’ve done a great deal of work on local cultus in a very different climate. Yes, we don’t have to stop worshipping gods who don’t have strong presences locally – They can still be contacted after all – but that’s different than having experiences of Them rooted in the local landscape.

  6. I too have had trouble finding the mediterranean gods in my environment, but only during wintertime; it seems like the killing frost comes and they’re no longer at hand in the same way. I have not had the same difficulties with the Norse gods though, which is understandable.

    One thing I loved about Rhyd’s “Where They May Be Found” series is that his writing was contributing to this exact process; sharing with people where he has found the god, although not in such a locational sense. I wish more people were writing such things.

    • Yes, I had similar problems when I lived in New England. Although, it should be noted, some areas of the Mediterranean did get snowy cold winters, for instance Mt. Parnassos in Greece (though when it did, Apollon had already left for better climes and Dionysos was in full force).

      I think the problem is that so many of us are solitary in our areas. I don’t know how much use it would be to anyone else if I were to detail where exactly I’ve found my gods in Eugene, Oregon, for instance. But maybe at least as an example of the types of places one *can* find Them, and the ways in which that exploration takes place…

  7. […] there was this one by Karl Benson on Local Cultus, mostly from a Heathen viewpoint (recommended by Dver), to which I […]

  8. […] Source: Where the gods are found […]

  9. I love this post. It expresses a most frustrating truth. It makes moving increasingly fraught. Just when I’ve found connection to *this* place, and found where my gods lie *here*, then I have to start all over. Makes me want to STOP MOVING and just dig deep.

    • Yes, it’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed here despite occasional restlessness. The longer I’m here, the more I can dig deep, as you say. On the other hand, ironically it was moving that got me to pay more attention to local cultus in the first place – I think I took it all for granted in the place where I grew up, but moving across the country opened my eyes.

  10. […] I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this […]

  11. […] A Forest Door: Where the gods are found […]

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