This Dusty Earth: Witchcraft in the City

A blog about mental health, magic, and the cycles of nature in parched Los Angeles.

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God Fatigue

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

After taking a couple of weeks off from blogging, and then being gently informed by my editor that those couple of weeks were actually six months, I realized that I’m burned out on gods.

I never came to Witchcraft for the gods, but mythological deities--you know, the ones whose stories you can read at your local public library--hold such a fundamental place in modern Paganism that they quickly seeped into my practice. Starhawk’s writings center on nature, the immanent Goddess, and the horned God; Reclaiming Witchcraft centers on gods from world mythology and folklore to the point that--and this is a very gentle, loving critique--we hold rituals in Redwood forests and on dramatic beaches and give only the most cursory nod to the abundant spirits around us, focusing instead on gods and stories from faraway cultures. I stepped back from my local ritual planning circle in part because we invoked gods even for business meetings, and I was tired of elaborate, theatrical invocations for deities I didn’t care about. Other Reclaimers find deep meaning in the gods they work with, and I’m happy for them. But I eventually had to admit that it wasn’t for me.

This isn’t to say that I’ve never had good or powerful experiences with gods. I have, and I continue to. It’s just taken me a long time--an embarrassingly long time--to realize that the antlered god I love so fiercely is older and wilder than the embossed silver figure with the Roman name; that statements like “the Morrigan is the goddess of sovereignty” currently accomplish nothing except to carve off and lock away swaths of the Morrigan’s infinite potential; that it really is ridiculous to take stories recorded and adapted by Christians and try to pound them into Pagan orthodoxy. (All the dogma thrown down by thin-skinned BNPs, all the shrieking and squawking between hard polytheists and atheist pagans, haven’t helped, either.)

What is the purpose of this post, exactly? I’m not sure. Partly it’s to explain where I’ve been all these months. And partly it’s to hold myself accountable to the heart of my practice, which I found breathtakingly articulated by Peter Grey when I first discovered his writing:

Witchcraft is quintessentially wild, ambivalent, ambiguous, queer. It is not something that can be socialised, standing as it does in that liminal space between the seen and unseen worlds. Spatially the realm of witchcraft is the hedge, the crossroads, the dreaming point where the world of men and of spirits parlay through the penetrated body of someone who is outside of the normal rules of culture. What makes this all the more vital is the way in which the landscape of witchcraft is changing. Ours is a practice grounded in the land, in the web of spirit relationships, in plant and insect and animal and bird. This is where we must orientate our actions, this is where our loyalty lies.

For many Pagans, working with named and storied gods reinforces their connection to the land. That’s beautiful and vital and life-giving, and I’m glad that it's happening. For me, though, those names and stories have proven to be a distraction. When I write about deities in public, I find that some readers’ comprehension stops where a god’s name begins (Oh, yes, that god, I'm already an expert in that god, no need to listen further), and accusations of “unverified gnosis” (can you think of a sillier, more pointless term?) take the place of any semblance of theological discussion. When I call to them in private, the names veil everything around me in a vague demand for reality to conform to some myth. I mean, not all the time. When I see Venus, I smile at Inanna in the sky. I pray to Sophia and to Shekhinah. I pour milk and whiskey for Anu and the Bucca. But it’s a matter of calibration, of catching the moment when the name and the prayer stand in for actual contemplation, when we swap modern Christian hegemony for the hegemony of some other wealthy priesthood from the past.

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that despite (because of) Very Serious High Priests and impassioned flame wars, concepts like “Morrigan” or “Cernunnos” have started to feel like brightly colored illustrations in a picture book to me. We can do better with our theology, opening up possibilities instead of shutting them down. (Demands to "verify" gnosis serve only to stamp out any insights that don't serve the most powerful voices.) Meanwhile, in my own practice, I’ve gone back to my roots, finding the exact same gods I left behind--only older and wiser, with names that are unpronounceable.

As I write this, it’s raining in Los Angeles--a precious event that may actually have a chance of pulling us out of our six-year drought. The gratitude coursing through me at the sound of water, the sense of peace I feel when I look out at the winter clouds, is what brought me to Witchcraft. Witchcraft, to me, is keeping my eyes open to the countless spirits and oracles all around me.

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Asa is a sliding-scale tarot reader, intuitive, and witch blending pellar craft with animism and earth-based Judaism. Instagram: @tarotbyasa

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 04 January 2017

    I tried to do the eight Sabbats and the full moon ritual and they didn't click for me. I was just bored with it. Now I'm going with whatever works for me as an individual. For 2016 that meant writing my own orders of service. I find that I like the creativity of writing even if it is just for myself. If writing no longer serves as a sufficient media for your spiritual expression I hope that you will find art and handicraft media that fulfills your need.

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Thursday, 05 January 2017

    I agree. The stories of the Gods and Goddesses come from patriarchal and warlike cultures for the most part. The idea that they are archetypal masks the fact that the stories of the Gods and Goddesses whether Greek, Celtic, or Sumerian have been crafted to support societies ruled by warrior kings. I have never found a named Goddess I could fully affirm--let alone a God. The rapist Zeus? Give me a break. Nature is for me a more powerful teacher.

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Wednesday, 25 January 2017

    Oh Asa! I didn'r realize how much I missed your writing until I stumbled across this post today (almost a month after you posted it). Sing it friend!

    I could say much, and your post says most of it. So, I'll raise a glass to the wild places in nature and in my heart and wish you happy journeys.

    Gwion

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