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Cat Treadwell — professional Druid and nature-mystic - gives us a perspective from the English countryside.

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This Land is My Land... Deity and Modern Practice

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One of the key foundations of modern (and ancient) Paganism is also one of the most contentious. We find it very hard to talk about, it seems, and yet it's fairly key to many people's personal practice. When I've talked about it in the past, it almost seems like I'm breaking a taboo, with the words themselves being 'dirty' or embarrassing. And yet, learning from my passionate and heartfelt Heathen friends, that embarrassment is itself disrespectful, dishonourable and, ultimately, rather foolish.

Who are your Gods and Goddesses? What does Deity mean to you, and how does it influence and affect your Paganism? From the Platonic 'ultimate Male/Female' images (tallying with 'All Gods/Goddesses are One') to the pantheistic, international eclectic transference of pretty much any deity with any other no matter where you yourself live, talking about Deity is a tricky business. Especially because ultimately, nobody can really tell you you're wrong. Or right. Except, perhaps, those Gods themselves.

The Judgement of Paris (Classical)

For the purposes of this post, I'm taking God and Goddess to mean the personifications that we visualize to represent larger aspects of the Universe, and (perhaps) Jungian archetypes within ourselves. Odin and Freya; Isis and Osiris; the Dagda and Cerridwen. All of whom started out in the translated mythologies as 'just people', and have evolved over time (as these images demonstrate).

I do think that the nervousness when discussing the Big Father/Mother figures comes as a result of the larger, more socially-accepted faiths and their 'I'm right, you're wrong' attitudes. This is a generalisation, but quite often it's fair to say that when talking about religion, Pagans refer to the sacredness of Nature rather than the personification of ultimate powers. Nature is something that we as human creatures all can understand and connect to at some level - Gods, slightly less so. And there's always the worry about any God with horns being associated with Old Nick.

One of the biggest challenges of modern Paganism (of any path) is conveying a very personal spirituality in a way that others understand. This includes other Pagans - no methods of practice or belief systems should be taken for granted, but it's so hard to put such amorphous feelings into words. Explaining your relationship with your Patrons might not be necessary - why should you have to justify it? But sometimes it comes up in conversation. Or ritual. Or when you just can't hold yourself back from mentioning it, because someone else is just getting things so wrong... (I really enjoyed the 'Thor' movie - but it's based on a comic book, people!)

The Judgement of Paris (Rubens)

This weekend, I officiated at a Handfasting that, typically enough, consisted of 1% Pagans, 99% Muggles. This is not usually a problem, I'm very glad to say, but I do try to maintain understanding throughout, so that everyone's involved and not isolated, confused or scared.

The Patrons of the couple were called into the circle to bless the rite - a very brave step by them, as this is something that can easily be misunderstood. But my partner and I did our best, as always: he spoke to the Gentlemen, I addressed the Ladies. And so They bore witness.

Those with even a smidgen of awareness felt the change in the air. The Circle was cast, the space was made sacred - but the presence of named Deity brought the energy up a big notch. We weren't just calling random names. These are the Patron Deities of those two individuals who are the focus of the entire rite. My partner and I were simply conduits, guides - and very very aware of the appropriate levels of politeness, respect and connection that were being established. Offerings were made, and our thanks were completely heartfelt.

The following day, I was giving a talk at the national Pagan Pride event in Nottingham. I was asked about Deity (I love synchronicity, don't you?). I was talking about the need for honour in our practice, sincerity in ritual, walking our path in truth, Pagan and Proud, every moment of every day. And so as Pagans, pantheists and polytheists, we honour our Gods in our own lives, not just as a token name that we've picked out of a mythology book because it sounds cool. If we don't, they tend to let us know about it.

My talk at Pagan Pride (©Caz Galloway)

One lovely fellow asked me if, as a Druid, I could worship Thor or Loki. I had to laugh - and the movie 'Thor' was inevitably referenced again! In fact, my partner and I have often worked with the Norse pantheon in the past, and Loki tends to turn up quite regularly in our house (we keep a bottle of very good vodka on standby, just in case). This has caused problems with those who don't understand what we're doing - which has been rather surprising, given how open-minded fellow practitioners are supposed to be.

I'd also been involved in a discussion that day about how one family had sought inspiration in overseas spiritual practices, such as Native American and Buddhism, because 'well, there's just not much over here in Britain, is there?' I sigh when I hear this.

In the British Isles, and in the United States, we are essentially mongrels. Our ancestors came from far and wide, and honoured each other enough to intermarry and combine their bloodlines and histories. With them came their Gods. UK and USA both encountered Vikings quite early, and the British certainly traded with the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans... we have our own history, and that of others. As many as the lands of those who have made these their home for generations.

So as a Druid, the Gods of my land are a very mixed bunch. This isn't eclectic Paganism - this is history. This isn't picking names out of a book; my Goddess picked me (to my surprise). This can be the beginning of a great exploration, a relationship of learning as you open up your practice to combine your own preferred rites with those of the Deity themselves. One of the joys of Paganism is that there is so little dogma - even the disproved 'Egyptian' writings of Budge or the 'fake' Druid histories out there can inspire. Just don't become a slave to other people's opinions of pantheistic practice.

Consider your own God and Goddess - or even your view of what is sacred. How do you live that every day? How do you represent them? The land, your own ancestors, the Gods that your people swear by. Do you live with honour, walking your path and practice well? This doesn't mean shouting from street corners or jingling with huge pentagrams - this can be as simple as a 'good morning' and 'good evening', a 'thank you' in ritual, acknowledging that sometimes you need help and there is someone to call upon.

While it may seem 'work', hard to remember and a worry to get right, it shouldn't be, not really. We take time to connect with our families and friends. We're proud that our faith is constant, not just on certain key days. Druidry, as I've often said, is a lived spirituality.

So our Gods walk at our sides. Try to remember and say Hi. They may just have something to tell you.

 

The Goddess that hides in my garden

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Cat Treadwell is a Druid Priest living in Derbyshire, England with her partner and animal family. She is a professional ritual celebrant and multifaith worker, travelling throughout the East Midlands and beyond. Her first book, 'A Druid's Tale', is out now. Cat is a Trustee of The Druid Network, as well as Regional Coordinator for the East Midlands Pagan Federation and member of OBOD. She is a regular speaker on BBC Radio, and has appeared on BBC News representing The Druid Network and East Midlands Ambulance Service. Cat welcomes questions and comments - please feel free to get in touch!

Comments

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Wednesday, 08 August 2012

    Wonderful post. :) I think about the Gods in general, and my patron/matron Gods, all the time. But too often I forget to stop, listen, and say thank you. I need to do that. Today.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Wednesday, 08 August 2012

    Cat:
    Like Elani, you are articulating one of the major cutting edges of contemporary Paganism -- what *do* we believe? I, for one, have moved steadily away from "gods as embodied archetypes" to "gods as Real People" in my 30 years as a self-aware Pagan. I think there's a major split that's being articulated between "consumerist" attitudes in Paganism (pick a god, any god) and more devotional practice.

    I have been "picked" by several goddesses in succession, seemingly for specific purposes, for periods lasting between a few weeks to many years. Right now, Frigga is "on my head" as they say; before Her, Freya had my full attention for several months (she apparently just wanted me to get a household cat, because as soon as I did, She left and hasn't returned.) It's absolutely a phenomenon (how to work with the gods) worthy of a great deal of thought; thanks for your reflections.

    Anne

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