Currently, a nice cool rain is coming down this morning. Just a moment ago, I heard a loud peal of thunder, and watched as one of my cats put herself as low to the ground as possible and hurriedly crawled underneath my desk. Poor Shadow, she is always like this when the rain comes in. Born as a barn cat, her instinct is to be afraid of the sounds associated with rain. Why exactly? I am not sure, but I can see what I deduce to be fear on her cute, furry, and whiskered face. Essentially, I see her reaction to the sound of rain and thunder, and then ascribe the feelings I believe I am seeing in her. In a manner of speaking, I am ascribing human feelings and emotions on to her. I could be completely correct about what I am assuming is her reaction to the thunder and rain; however, I could also be incorrect on that thought as well. Since Shadow cannot communicate her exact feelings to me in a manner that I can completely comprehend, I will never be able to correlate whether I am completely correct or not.
At the moment, I am reading – and thoroughly enjoying – “Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans” from Moon Books, edited by Trevor Greenfield. Thus far, the book has exceeded my expectations. The first third is a depiction of various Pagan Paths by the practitioners of those Paths. The second Part, which I just started, gets into the nuts and bolts of what Paganism is about. The first part of this section “What We Believe” concerns Deities, and the first passage was written by Robin Herne, whom I had never heard of before this, but has intrigued me enough to place on my list of “authors to look for” list.
This particular passage had me sitting up late last night, sitting in the dark, pondering what I perceived as a deeply thought-provoking passage. The exact quote is as follows:
To some extent the argument about wether there are fifty gods, one god, or no gods is all a bit pointless without being able to define exactly what it is that we mean by a deity in the first place. Its a remarkably hard question to answer, and clearly different religions have varied notions on what they consider their respective deities to be. I suspect that one of the problems faced in this exploration is that many people feel obliged to find a unifying theory that incorporates all possible perceptions of deities as if they were all the same thing, when quite possibly there are a number of distinct types of entity that get labelled under the catch-all of ‘deity’. -Robin Herne, p. 107-8
…and thus began my late-night roller-coaster of thoughts, which would keep me up well later than I had originally intended. I sit here, trying to formulate just where to start with where my head currently has me at in this arena of thought. Perhaps, its best to do what others have seemed to accomplish – let’s start with what I believe.
I have read numerous blog posts from other blog authors on this particular topic, and am going to avoid some of their areas of thought. I am not going to describe myself in terms of polytheism, animism, atheism, monotheism, and what have you. Nor am I going to approach the concepts of pantheism and polytheism. I hear a lot of people explain their start to this topic with “I am a [insert term here]”. This is where I am at: I believe in the Gods. I have conversed with some of them. I believe in the Spirits of the Land. I have communed and conversed with quite a few of them. I believe each to be a separate, unique entity. I also believe that everything around me has a manner of consciousness. I figure there is a term out there that may describe me. Whatever *-theism that might be, I have no idea. As for the other descriptives I have heard – weird, strange, crazy, insane, out-of-his-head, odd…if that is the descriptive that helps someone else define me for their little collection boxes, so be it. I just know I am a Pagan on a Path of Druidry…and that I believe in the Gods, the Spirits of the Land (or Water, Air, Fire, Spirit – if you prefer), and that everything has some form of consciousness to it – even if I cannot perceive it. Whatever that defines me as is fine by me. However, none of this really answers the question posed by Herne of just what I mean when I ascribe the term “deity” to something.
Deity is a tough term to define, as Herne notes, since the simple desire is to try and find an all-encompassing, all-inclusive definition – thus watering down our own personal definition in the process of doing so. It is, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable for a human being to want to be inclusive in a statement – particularly in an area so personal as religious or spiritual belief. So, in taking a queue from Herne, I will attempt to define the concept of Deity in what I personally ascribe to. Perhaps the best thing is to start from a base, and usually the best place for that is a dictionary. Dictionary.com described deity as:
noun, plural de·i·ties.
1. a god or goddess.
2. divine character or nature, especially that of the Supreme Being; divinity.
3. the estate or rank of a god: The king attained deity after his death.
4. a person or thing revered as a god or goddess: a society in which money is the only deity.
5. the Deity, God; Supreme Being.
c.1300, from O.Fr. deite, from L.L. deitatem (nom. deitas) “divine nature,”coined by Augustine from L. deus “god,” from PIE *deiwos (see Zeus).
Now, we’re getting somewhere….divine nature. A deity can be described as something that has a divine nature. Which would be what? I fear I have just dropped myself back to Square One without ever really leaving Square One in the first place. But, I remember something from the SciFi show Babylon 5. where the character G’Kar tries to explain an unknown to a space trader that has encountered something near his empire’s territory.
Catherine Sakai: Ambassador! While I was out there, I saw something. What was it?
G’Kar: [points to a flower with a bug crawling on it] What is this?
Catherine Sakai: An ant.
Catherine Sakai: So much gets shipped up from Earth on commercial transports it’s hard to keep them out.
G’Kar: Yet, I have just picked it up on the tip of my glove. If I put it down again, and it asks another ant, “what was that?” [laughs] How would it explain? There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They’re vast, timeless, and if they’re aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we’ve tried, and we’ve learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.
Catherine Sakai: That’s it? That’s all you know?
G’Kar: Yes, they are a mystery. And I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Miss Sakai, they walk near Sigma 957, and they must walk there alone.
In quite a few ways, I approach the idea of what the Gods are in the same way. They are there. What precisely they are – beyond a consciousness – I cannot say for certain. And I am not totally sure I want to try and explain them completely. They are there. They do exist. I have talked with some of them. Others I have no idea exactly how to communicate with. But I am aware enough of their presence in the world around me. How much they are aware of me, I am not completely sure. Herne notes that “Animism surely implies that sapience is not actually restricted to animals with brains, or even necessarily to things that current science regards as alive in the first place (p. 111).” Plus, this line of thought further questions the difference between the Gods, the Spirits of the Lands, and consciousness in our environment around us. Where does the line get delineated?
I know the Gods exist. Would I be able to convince someone else of their existence? Or perhaps I should ask, should I convince someone else of the existence of the Gods? Does everyone have to believe in the Gods as I do, so that I can justify my position on an issue by a force of numbers? I enjoy having my beliefs challenged with thought-provoking perspectives and questions, but am completely turned off by people that present their beliefs as an either/or perspective – believe in the sanctity of Jesus Christ and the fact that he died on the cross to atone for your sins, or you will suffer an eternity of punishment and agony in the burning pits of Hell. However, I am so sure in my manner of having my beliefs challenged, that I think everyone else should have their beliefs challenged in the same manner as well? I know what I believe. I am secure in my understanding that the Gods are singular entities that can be communicated and communed with. I am also secure with the idea that no one else in the world has to believe as I do, because what matters most is that I believe.
The Gods are real to me. They are singular entities. Exactly what they are – I not only cannot fathom the answer to that – I also cannot provide any descriptive language that may adequately convey that to another person. Experiencing the Gods is a personal thing, and widely different for each individual. My friend John Beckett is on a similar Path as mine…and yet, his experiences of the Gods will be different than my own. That is because he is John, and I am Tommy. And while I love John as a good friend, I have no desire to swap places with him in any kind of “Freaky Friday” scenario (no offense John).
I know, I have accomplished what can be considered a very poor description of the Gods…but as Herne noted, this is a difficult question to answer. Attempting to describe the Gods can be an uphill battle. After all, each individual will have a different experience of what the Gods are – and their descriptive language can be quite varied. And since each experience is unique to the individual…trying to describe that to someone else can be done in terms that the second individual has ascribe some other experiential meaning to. For me, this is an internal conversation I will have myself throughout the rest of my time on this cycle of the wheel of my life. And in the end, I am not quite sure I will still have a much clearer understanding of how to describe what I have experienced as Deity. But as I said previously – I do believe in the Gods, I do believe in the Spirits of the Land, I do believe in the consciousness throughout my environment. I am only recently aware of the connectivity between each – and its those connective strands that bring my sense of awe and wonder. For I am both terrified and reassured that there are things that I cannot explain…and am completely thankful for the opportunity to explore them.