Pagan Paths

The morning sun rising in the east calls to the Bright Youth in me, and the Bright Youth responds. The full moon calls to the Muse, and the waning and dark moon to the Dark Maiden who is a part of me. The earth I touch with my fingers calls to the Mother, in both her guises, Nurturing and Devouring. The bright green shoots rising from the earth and the green leaves on the trees on my street in the spring, these call to the Stag King, while the red leaves fallen to the earth in the autumn call to the Dying God. The spring storm that rises up suddenly in the west calls to the Storm King. The night sky, the dark space between the stars, calls to Mother Night, my death come to make peace. The gods-without call and the gods-within respond.

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In Defense of an Eclectic Pantheon

"Don't mix pantheons."  I hear this frequently in Pagan circles.  I have heard it for as long as I have been Pagan.  And I've never heard it challenged.  The idea is that we aren't supposed to invoke Kali and Loki in the same ritual, for example, or Zeus and Odin, or ... pick two any deities from any two pantheons.

This injunction is often made by hard polytheists, but is made by some soft-polytheists too.  Often they are quite open about their disdain for those who mix pantheons.  It is seen as a form of immaturity or ignorance.  Others see it as a sign of disrespect.  I hear this no-mixing-pantheons talk so often, it seems it must happen a lot, so I wonder why all the pantheon-mixers aren't speaking up in their defense.

 I am not a hard polytheist.  I do not believe the gods are persons or conscious beings.  I'm also quite eclectic.  On my altar, I have images of Artemis and Medussa (Greek), Cernunnos (Celtic), Qetesh (Egyptian), the Venus of Lespugue (Paleolithic Pyrenees), Mary (Christian), the "Mother Buddha" (Buddhist -- kind of), and others.  (Elsewhere in my house, I have images of Avalokiteshvara, Demeter, Jesus, Aten, and others.)  And so my perspective on this issue naturally reflects my own understanding of the gods and my own spiritual practice.

Lightning didn't strike.

I have heard some people who claim that dire consequences follow from such mixed invocations.  But, honestly, if this kind of mixing is anywhere near as common as its detractors claim, then we should be seeing some spectacularly bad outcomes on a pretty regular basis.  But generally speaking, lightning does not strike when Aphrodite and Baron Samedi get invoked in the same ritual.  You may wish it did, but it doesn't.

Why can't the gods get along? (And so what if they can't?)

All this anti-mixing talk seems a little like white supremacist anti-miscegenation talk.  If I can circle with a Hindu, a Druid, and a Vodoun practitioner, why can't we call Krishna, Cernunnos, and Yemanja into the same room.  What do you mean they can't get along?  Why not?  If the Hindu, the Druid, and the Vodoun practitioner can get along, I think we can help the gods to get along too.

And so what if they fight?  Plenty of gods within the same pantheon fight too.  The myth of ancient pagans are replete with stories about battles between the gods.  Do you think if you called Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite in the same room they would get along just because they're all Greek?  I think the Trojans would disagree.

Are they really so different?

I'm not so sure that there is really that big of a gulf between Krishna and Cernunnos and Yemanja, at least when these gods are invoked by contemporary Pagans.  I'm not saying they are the same deity or that they are aspects of the same archetype.  But when a group of Westerners invoke Krishna, is it really the same Krishna as Indians invoke?  When modern people invoke Cernunnos, is it really the same Cernunnos of the people that made the Gundestrup Cauldron 2000 years ago?  When Yemanja is invoked by white Pagans, is it really the same Yemanja of the Caribbean slaves?  I really don't think so.

Whether you believe the gods are "real" or in our heads, I think the gods that come when we call are those that recognize our voices -- the voices of contemporary Westerners.  It's the Western Krishna that comes and the contemporary Cernunnos that answers to our Pagan invocations.  The Yemanja that shows up may be black, but if she is called by whites, then she is probably the black as "other".  (See "White Women and the Dark Mother" by Cynthia Eller, Religion, Vol. 30, No. 4 (2000)).  I don't think this makes the invocation of these gods, or their epiphanies, any less powerful or authentic.  It just means that all these gods are, in some sense, the function of the cultural context into which they are invoked.  If that is true, then there is no reason they can't "get along" (or at least fight in a constructive way).

The gods evolve too.

So Pan and Isis might not be historically connected, but but surely the gods evolve.  The Pan that contemporary Pagans invoke has evolved quite bit since when he was worshipped in ancient Arcadia.  The Isis of the Romans had evolved a lot from the time when her name was etched on pyramid walls by ancient Egyptians.  And the Isis invoked by the Golden Dawn had evolved a lot from the Roman Apuleius' time.  And there is still quite a bit of distance between the Golden Dawn Isis and the Isis of present day Pagan rituals. Hard polytheists are fond of asking Neo-Pagans, "Which Goddess?", as in "Which goddess do you mean when you say the Goddess?"  But if you think that Isis wouldn't be comfortable in a ritual, then I have to ask, "Which Isis do you mean?"

So what's really going on?

I have a theory about the prohibition against mixing pantheons.  I think it has less to do with the gods and what they do or do not like and more to do with us.  When we mix pantheons it creates cognitive dissonance, at least for some of us.  If we associate Pan with a Greek cultural milieu and Isis with an Egyptian milieu then calling them in the same ritual can be psychologically jarring.  It can pull us out of the state of suspended disbelief and the ritual looses its glam.

But it need not be so.  Pan and Isis have been invoked together for at least a century by Western occultists, which is probably why my friend experiences no dissonance calling them together in a Wiccan ritual.  This is in spite of the fact that the Arcadia Pan and the Egyptian Isis are separated by significant geographic, temporal, and cultural distances.  And if Pan and Isis can be called together, then there is no reason why others might also be called together, even Baron Samedi and Krishna.

I agree that ritual participants should be warned in advance if a ritual planner intends to mix pantheons -- precisely to minimize the cognitive dissonance -- but this has more to do with the people involved than the gods.  With a group of eclectic Neo-Pagans, this may not be problematic.  But for others, it may be a real impediment to an creating a sense of authenticity in the ritual.  But this as an aesthetic or psychological issue, not a metaphysical one.  I think all this talk about the gods being uncomfortable with each other is us projecting our own cognitive dissonance onto them.  If the gods are more than our projections, then they must be beyond such human limitations as xenophobia.  Let's own up to the real reason for our discomfort.

The fact that people choose to invoke Orishas, Greek gods, and Norse deities in the same ritual, well, that just reflects the diversity of the people gathered.  Not every ritual should be turned into an eclectic free-for-all.  But I imagine that an eclectic ritual that reflects the diversity of contemporary Paganism can be a beautiful and healing experience for our community.

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John Halstead also writes at (Patheos),,,,, and The Huffington Post. He was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” (, and the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. John is also a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community ( To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 21 August 2015

    I took a college class on the History of the Ancient Near East. I remember the teacher telling about a king of Babylon sending a statue of Nergal to Egypt to help with an outbreak of plague. There was a follow up letter of inquiry asking how did he do?

    I am a frequent reader of Biblical Archeology Review. I remember reading about a town were from the inscriptions it appears the locals worshipped Yaho (the god of Israel), Qos (an Edomite god), Nabu (a Babylonian god) and Uzza (a north Arabian goddess). So historically I see eclecticism as the norm, at least when people from different areas interact.

    I think the exclusivity thing is a carry over of the fights between different denominations of Christianity. I expect it will wither away as pop culture pagans and those who grow up attending pagan festivals become writers and share their own stories.

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Sunday, 23 August 2015

    Here's what I might say about the subject.

    I love Thai food. I mean I really love Thai food. I also love the experience of Thai food. The decor of the restaurant is important to me. The particular way the rice is built into a stupa. The gentle music, the sound of a Thai grandmother in the kitchen, barking out her orders the way she's done her whole life. Thai food fills my stomach and my senses.

    I love a proper English pub that serves proper English tucker. I mean, my uncle was a landlord in a pub for 30 or so years, so how could I not love a good English pub, right? The smell of the oaken floor planks, coated with a fine patina of ale spilled on them for the last three centuries. Pork Pies and scotch eggs. That particular thud as the third dart buries itself just inside of the treble twenty wire and someone yells "wooon hundred and twenty!" English pub life fills my stomach and my senses.

    Now imagine my uncle and that Thai grandmother opening a Thai pub, serving steak and kidney pie in a lovely Tom Kha Gai gravy. Tetley's bitter would be served in dainty tea cups and pad thai noodles would be handmade by an ex-dart champion, Dennis, who delivers fridges on his off days.

    It's not that the "Bangkok Arms" couldn't exist but it might make for an awkward evening of gastro-experimenation. There would be those customers that would get it, of course, they like the avante-garde and fusion foods. Others would take to their Yelp apps immediately and post ever so erudite reviews of how this abomination of a restaurant won't last the weekend.Most folks would look for the least offensive dish on the menu, sit there politely as they wondered what in St.Nigella's name was going on, pay their bill and never return again.

    It's all about context and content. Why are we mixing Thai and English food? Who is doing the mixing and what are their skills? How would peanut sauce and pickled onions work together in such a way that the flavours of both dishes were edified and heightened to a degree that had never previously been attained?

    It appears I am not hungry and off to the pub.

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