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Deity Concepts by D. Sylvan, Sibylline Priestess, Founder of Blessed Ways Temple, and author

There is a debate going in the community: are the gods real beings, or archetypes? Are the names and faces for energies that have always existed, or creations of the human collective unconscious? Like any good theological argument, nobody will ever win, but I have my own take on it and so should you. After a few good rituals and some meditative work the gods will make themselves known to you in whatever way they see fit, and you'll develop your own relationship with them that may be completely different from mine. There is no one way we Pagans see the God and Goddess, this is reflected in the thousand names you will hear for each.

It is my belief that before the universe as we know it existed -- before any universes existed -- there was energy. It wasn't male, it wasn't female; it wasn't dark, it wasn't light. It just was and it was alive. Then, the Big Bang or whatever happened to make things go, and creation began. This creation had a hand to lead it -- the Force, which some of us call the All or the One. Some mythological systems assign it a gender, but I don't.

So through one explosion and another, yadda yadda yadda, and we have planets. Then there was life on Earth, and for better or for worse next came humans. (I skipped a couple of parts there) Humans were blessed with this strange ability called thinking, which a few of them would use to great effect as time went on. Humans lived out in the wilderness among the plants and animals and biting flies, and after a while they started to wonder: where did all this come from and why did it itch so much?

Enter the concept of a higher being, when humans started looking for a name for what makes things happen.

Now, the problem with a big nameless and genderless force is that it's, well, big and nameless and genderless and basically impossible to relate to, especially when you just crawled out of the ooze not a billion years ago and can't do algebra yet. So, humans in their wisdom started splitting the Force into manageable parts creating individual deities to explain and simplify this creation energy and giving those parts names. I think naming is the most important thing we as a species ever figured out how to do, aside from making chocolate milkshakes and paperback books. Eventually humans started disagreeing about whose names for the Supreme Beings were better and so forth, and disagreeable things like idiocy and televangelism were born.

No matter what you call it, the energy remains in and of itself the same. Societies and individuals have given so much of their own faith and energy to these deities that the deities/names have taken on a life of their own, even if it's just in the unconscious. Over time, the more belief invested the more real it becomes. When you call upon, say, Hecate, you're calling upon a vast reservoir of belief that's made up of the Force. That means you're invoking a being that exists both inside you and outside, the same way you can say "love" and mean both your own emotions and the general concept.

That doesn't sound much like loving and caring parents, you say. Sounds more like transcendent and meaningless psychobabble. Well, welcome to one of the great Pagan paradoxes. The above satisfies my intellectual need for a basis to my belief system, but it's my direct experience with the gods that has satisfied my spirit. The fact is, I think the natural processes that define our world are beautiful. Evolution, far from being a soulless process of trial and error, is an elegant way to let life take care of itself. The gods may be symbolic in nature, but the fact is that when I call upon those symbols, the Force (which I personally think of as divine energy) enters into those symbols and, for me, makes them real. It is a source of constant wonder to me that the divine can be in me and around me and through me and everyone else and still show up in my living room to comfort me when I hit my thumb with a hammer.

You'll find that when it comes to the God and Goddess, most Wiccans run short of words. That's another important concept: the mystery. A mystery is something you can't explain to someone else without sounding like a moron. It's just something you have to experience to understand. Divinity is the greatest mystery--our own divinity, and those we worship, which are exactly the same thing.

Triple Goddess
"The Goddess is the universal mother. She is the source of fertility, endless wisdom and loving caresses. As the Wicca know Her, She is often of three aspects: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, symbolized in the waxing, full, an waning of the Moon. She is at once the unploughed field, the full harvest, and the dormant, frost-covered Earth" --Scott Cunningham

The Triple Goddess is likely the most popular version of the Lady known among Wiccans. She's the one I was drawn to first, and encompasses many other aspects from a variety of pantheons. The Triplicity itself doesn't spring from any one culture, but there are Triple Goddesses in Celtic, Greek, and other pantheons, so it has proven a versatile way to call upon the divine feminine.

The Triple Goddess's three faces correspond roughly to the phases of both the Moon and of women's lives, and often each individual aspect is evoked at different times of the month (i.e., the Mother aspect at the Full Moon).

The Maiden represents the time in your life before you learn the word "commitment." She is unbridled curiosity, the Seeker, the child on the cusp of learning about womanhood. She is adventure, the fearless spirit of youth who still trusts the world but can defend herself if need be. She is a symbol of beginnings, of seeds planted and lessons learned, and of the Waxing Moon. The Maiden is virginal in the original sense of the word--she owns herself completely and owes responsibility to no one else. Her love affairs are brief, passionate, and often numerous. The traditional color for the Maiden is white. Some Maiden Goddesses from various pantheons are Kore and Artemis.

The Mother represents one who has chosen a path and dedicated herself to it. She may or may not have children, but she has come into her own and is whole, sensuous, and full-bodied. She has found her niche, whether it's in the kitchen or the board room or the battleground or the Oval Office, and pursues her path with her whole heart. She may be ready for a mate, ready to compromise and commit. She embodies passion and devotion whether it is to her work or to others, and is protective of the things she creates. Her traditional color is red, and she embodies the Full Moon. Some Mother Goddesses are Demeter, Isis, and Danu.

The Crone, who has passed out of her childbearing stage, is wisdom and power. She is compassion but not mercy, and can look at the world from a place of detachment rather than jumping in with both feet. She is still sexual but purely for pleasure, and is established in life as whatever she set out to be. The Crone is the Dark Mother, the Waning Moon, who is closer to death but still full of life. Her traditional color is black. Some Crone Goddesses are Hecate, Cerridwen, Spider Woman, and the Fates. (Adapted from Yasmine Galenorn's book Embracing the Moon)

The Horned God
"The Horned God" is probably the best-known aspect of the pagan God. He is Lord of the Animals, virile consort of the Goddess. He is known as the Challenger, the Hunter, the Horned One, and He is also Master of the Wild Hunt." --Yasmine Galenorn

This God has been called Herne by some, Cernunnos by others, and Pan by a large majority. I like Cernunnos, just because it sounds neat, but very little is known about Cernunnos as a specific deity. Whatever name you give Him, the Horned One is traditionally shown antlered or with goat horns (I like the antlers), and is seen as the embodiment of sexuality and all things wild and free. The Horned God represents energy, vigor, life-force, the heat of the Sun and of lust. He's a very earthy fellow, but at the same time fiercely protective of the things He loves, and can be equally gentle, ferocious, and lascivious (depending on what aspect of Him you arouse). Think of the most masculine man you know, but take away all the social conditioning that makes men think they can't be masculine without bringing in a crapload of machismo. Then put the Sun in the palm of His hand.

Getting in Touch
So how does one get in touch with the Goddess and God? There are as many ways as there are Witches. You can see divinity in the natural processes of the Earth. Watch a sunset. Watch a birth. Watch children on a playground or dogs in the leash-free zone of the park. Watch an ant colony. Listen to the wind in the trees (you'll start to understand them after a while). Watch a cat do anything. Smell the rain and jump in puddles. Watch an electrical storm. Watch one of those tornado shows on the Discovery Channel. Take walks in wild, natural places--stand in a rushing stream, hug a tree, lay on a Sun-warmed rock like a lizard. Get to know the energy of life, the energy of the God and Goddess. The simplest way to wake the divine energy within you is to start looking for the Goddess and God in the people around you. Take a day and each time you see someone, look at them and think, "Thou art Goddess/God." Then go home, look in the mirror, and say the same thing to yourself.

Invocation and Evocation
Yes, there's a difference. Although most ritual texts tell you to "invoke the Goddess and God," what they actually want you to do is evoke Them. It's all semantics, here's the difference:

Evocation -- asking for a deity to be present at your ritual, to appear before you and assist you or give counsel

Invocation -- calling a deity's presence into your own body; a popular version of invocation, known as Drawing Down the Moon, is a part of many Wiccan traditions and especially Esbat rites.

Most of the time you'll want to evoke--it's easier on you both physically and magically, and you have more control over the situation. Invocation is very useful when you want to bring a deity's attributes into your life. Where most people mess up is that they decide to invoke and evoke any ole Goddess or God without thinking about the consequences. Someone wanting change in her life might invoke Kali Ma, which would be a stupid thing to do without some serious forethought. Never ask for help from a deity if you aren't ready to accept what they'll give you. No matter how much you want it, Pele isn't likely to make it rain.

Many Pagans have a problem with working with more than one pantheon; I personally don't, as long care is taken in choosing the god/dess and making sure their energies work together. Generally I stick to one pantheon per ritual for clarity's sake. I worked with Isis for a while, but I got the distinct feeling that she was just keeping me company and humoring me until my patron showed up. Some people choose their patrons, but I prefer to let them choose me, since my conscious mind very rarely knows what my true spiritual needs are.

Whether you think deities are archetypes only or real beings, the thing to remember is that they are powerful. Mucking around with them unadvisedly is setting yourself up for some serious karma, and worst of all you may get exactly what you asked for. Just try bringing some Kali energy into your life when you're not really ready for it--by the time you get your head back on straight you may find yourself watching your house burn down while the IRS is pulling into the driveway and your parents are lost somewhere in the Andes - naked.

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