Guide to Pagan Gods
Do you want to be as wise as Isis? As brave as Achilles? As joyful as Aphrodite? “Which Gods are right for me?” can be a more complex question than you think when becoming a pagan, covering not only the Gods available but how you relate to them. Which in turn becomes an examination of yourself…
Views of Divinity
The first step in finding the God or Gods that are right for you is putting some thought into how you generally perceive the divine. Look deep inside yourself and ask “what does Deity really mean to me?”
This may seem like a simple question at first, but once you engage in some self-exploration, you may find that the answer is a lot deeper than you had first imagined.
Here in the West, we are very often presented with a pre-established idea of “God” and what that is. Predominantly this is in a Judeo-Christian sense, but things are considerably different in Paganism. Pagans have a vast array of perception of the divine, some you may be aware of and some you may not.
But even if we examine the already known ideas of the Christian God, it can give us pause for thought, despite the familiar territory. It is a being of spiritual presence, human presence and Godly presence. One being taking a role in three worlds. Even considering the meaning of this can leave us grasping for understand, but this triune God idea is not too uncommon. We see it present in religions like Hinduism, Irish Celtic and perhaps more familiarly to you in the form of the Wiccan Goddess, who is presented as Maiden, Mother and Crone.
There are a great many ways to look at the divine and it can take some soul-searching to really get to the heart of your beliefs on the matter and even when you do, you may find that they change over time.
Some of you will probably be coming to this article already with an idea of what you believe – or at the very least, what you think you believe. So what is offered here is an opportunity to really come to understand those beliefs and then find a way to embody them and interact with them in all your workings.
For this we will begin slowly, by looking at different forms in which the divine may exist:
Some Pagan religions are monotheistic. This means that they believe that there is just one single God, possessing a single personality, even though that personality may manifest in different ways.
Although you may be more familiar with this in regards to religions like Christianity, there are some Pagan religions that hold this perception of the divine.
This is the belief in many Gods, all with different personalities and characteristics. This is a belief that you will probably encounter quite a lot in Paganism. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Celts and Heathens (to name but a few), held this belief and so you will find it is quite prevalent these days with people who seek to recreate these religions. In this belief, each God is unique and as much their own person as we humans are. To some the Gods are higher beings, separate from humanity, while to others even humans can attain Godhood.
Polytheism covers a very large spectrum of beliefs, but all have one thing in common: the belief in multiple Gods.
This is a very particular form of polytheism, focusing on the belief in just two deities. Wicca is one such religion, with a God and Goddess, who in this case represent the masculine and feminine, while simultaneously embodying the cycles of the natural world.
This isn’t true of all duotheisms though. The classification of a duo-religion is the belief in just two Gods, whatever their relationship may be to each other.
Some people also believe that all Gods and Goddesses are equally valid, as they are all expressions of one singular deity. This, in a way, is a very unique form of monotheism. The best example of this is Hinduism, which has a very large variety of Gods, but sees them all as different aspects of the singular Brahman.
This point of view has become very popular in modern Paganism, especially among more eclectic paths.
There are many views that touch on this idea or concepts that are very similar to it, such as Pantheism, Panentheism and in some ways, monism. However, dividing up the differences between these three could take more space than is available here. So, I would suggest that if this is your view of the divine, you may find it interesting to do some additional research into these things. Some fairly easy to understand articles can be found on Wikipedia.
It might seem like a strange one to add to the list, but truth be told, atheism is a perfectly valid view of the divine when it comes to Paganism.
Atheism is the disbelief in any kind of God. Granted, this isn’t going to be an obvious choice for someone seeking a connection to the divine, however it is perfectly possible to find the occasional atheist among the casual herds of modern Paganism. Most of the time this tends to apply to witches who have no belief in Gods or Goddesses. Again, it’s rare, but it does happen.
Essentially the belief that you can never really know if there are any Gods. However, being as the direct purpose of this article is to help you determine just that, I’ll not bother gong any further on this one. But if by the end of your search, you are still unsure what you believe about Deity, then this is a perfectly acceptable label to take if you wish. Once you have decided your basic view of the divine, then it may help you forge a better relationship with it/them by coming to identify them in the way that feels right for you.
If you are a polytheist, for example, then one of the following pantheons may strike a personal chord with you, however, if you are more of an all-in-one kind of person then you may simply be given to find the Gods that you feel the best connection to in order to forge a relationship with the greater divine essence.
At this stage, only you can know what feels right.
But look at the following brief descriptions and see if anything there sparks your interest. If it does, then begin some research on those things. If you can, talk to people who follow that path and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember, questioning is the best way to understanding.
Who are the Gods?
There are a great many Gods and Goddesses out there, spanning a wide range of different Pagan religions and beliefs. From the Aesir to the Wiccan Lord and Lady, a new Pagan can seem spoilt for choice. But they are all very different and most likely you wont want to form a close personal relationship with tem all. Because that is what you are essentially doing, coming to the Gods and forming a relationship, but one unlike any other you have known.
But what Gods are there, exactly? Well, given the sheer number of them, it would take at least a small book to list them all, so instead here is a brief summary of the more well known pantheons of Gods:
The Aesir are the principle Gods of Norse mythology, ruled by the All-Father, Odin. As well as the Aesir, there is also a second group of Gods known as the Vanir, who were at one time at war with Aesir. However, these two groups were eventually assimilated into each other after forming a peace treaty.
The most well known Gods of the Aesir are probably:
Odin: the chief God often seen as very wise and powerful.
Thor: the God of thunder, seen as a strong and noble warrior.
Freya: Goddess of fertility, seen to be beautiful and also associated with magic and death.
Tyr: God of justice, who sacrificed his own hand in order to shackle the great wolf Fenrir.
Baldr: a God of rebirth and innocence, who is said will be reborn after all the Gods have died.
However, following the Norse deities needn’t be restricted to the ranks of the Aesir. Followers of Asatru may also call upon the power and wisdom of their ancestor spirits and other beings of the natural and supernatural world.
The Netjer and Neferet
These are the terms used by the ancient Egyptians to refer to their Gods and Goddesses, Netjer being the word for God and Neteret being the word for Goddess.
The Gods of the ancient Egyptians span a great a varied mythology that was recorded in great detail by the Egyptians.
The chief among the Gods is Ra, who is famed for pulling the sun across the sky in a golden chariot. Other popular deities in this pantheon are:
Anubis: the Jackal-headed God who assists in the judging of the dead and guides the worthy to the throne of Osiris.
Osiris: Osiris is the lord of the underworld, but also symbolises the regenerative powers of nature.
Isis: a mother Goddess who is the sister and consort to Osiris, known for her magical powers, especially concerning life and death. She is also seen as a great ruler and is the mother of Horus.
Horus: a heroic God who is the son of Isis and Osiris. He is famed for avenging the death of his father at the hands of the God Seth. He became a great ruler of Egypt and was revered as a sky God, with the sun and moon visible in his eyes.
Hathor: the Goddess of joy, love, dance and song. She cares for mothers and children, but also nurtured the dead on their way to the underworld.
Bast: or Bastet, is a benevolent Goddess, depicted with a cats head. She was a fertility Goddess, but also protected humanity from disease and evil spirits.
Many of the Egyptian Gods are combined at different times in Egyptian history, as their concepts merge with each other, while some Gods are formed as aspects of other Gods. For example Bastet is formed of the benevolent side of Sekhmet, while Sekhmet was into being when Ra transformed Hathor into his avenger for a time. Meanwhile Horus, as a God of the Sky, was sometimes worshiped as “Horus of the Horizon” and seen as a sun God. In this aspect he was eventually absorbed into Ra, becoming Ra-Herakhty.
The Greek Gods were mythically said to reside upon Mount Olympus and hence are sometimes known as the Olympian Gods. Their mythology is very deep and detailed, coming from a great culture of myth-makers and storytellers, where these stories where seen as moral lessons, designed to entertain the listener while teaching a lesson. The stories of the Gods were seen in a similar light, often taken with a pinch of salt, as they all at once believed in the Gods, but also knew the purpose of their myths.
Amongst the Olympian Gods were:
Zeus: the chief of the Gods, who could wield the power of the lightening bolt.
Hera: a mother Goddess and the wife of Zeus. Her myths are often tales of domestic strife, as she jealously seeks to punish the women with whom Zeus has affairs.
Ares: the God of war. He was the instigator of violence and a passionate lover.
Artemis: the virgin huntress. She was a Goddess of the wild, natural places.
Hades: the ruler of the underworld. He resides over the realm of the dead.
Persephone: a Goddess of life and death as represented through the cycle of the seasons. She spends half the year in the underworld with Hades and half the year with her mother, Demeter, who restores the Earth to life upon her return.
Aphrodite: the Goddess of love in all its forms (not just sexual love). She is seen as a beautiful woman and associated with beauty and fertility.
Following the Greek Gods is a matter of all at once acknowledging their existence, while also paying heed to what they represent and the lessons conveyed in their stories.
The Tuatha De Danann
In their time, the Celtic people were spread widely across Europe and the British Isles and over that vast distance they could be found to worship a great many Gods. But amongst the Celts of Ireland, the most popular Gods were known as the Tuatha De Danann. This translated as “the people of the Goddess Danu”, who were the last generation of Gods to rule over Ireland. These Gods were very wise and highly skilled in magic.
The Tuatha De Danann appear to be known to most Celtic people of the time, as their names can be found in Welsh mythology and on inscriptions on the European continent.
The main Gods of the Tuatha De Danann were:
Danu: the founder and mother of the Tuatha De Danann.
Dagda: Dagda is a God of life and death. He is seen as a great warrior and a great magician.
Morrigan: She is a Goddess of war and battle. She often takes the form of a crow and is can also be viewed as a “Triple-Goddess” when choosing to appear as three hags, or with her other Goddess aspects known as Babd and Macha. However, she is also sometimes viewed as a fertility Goddess, as well.
Brigid: Brigid is a triple-Goddess of fire, embodied in her aspects as Fire of Inspiration, Fire of the Hearth and Fire of the Forge. In these aspects she is associated with the arts, the home and childbirth, and craftsmanship. Her festival is Imbolc, held on February 1st.
Lugh: The God of all-skills. This God of the Sun is a fierce warrior and is attributed as joining the ranks of the Tuatha De Danann because he possessed great skill in all fields of excellence, being a warrior, a sorcerer, a craftsman, a scholar, a poet and musician. His traditional feast is Lughnasadh on August 1st.
Eventually, according to their mythology, the Tuatha De Danann retired from their ruling position, taking residence beneath the Earth, where they came to be known as Aes Sidhe, which became synonymous with faeries over the centuries.
The Lord and Lady
In the Wiccan religion, which is much more recent than any of the previously mentioned religions, there is no traditional mythology. Instead, Wiccans venerate a dualism in the form of the Lord and Lady (also known as the God and Goddess). These two deities embody different identities that change over the course of the year, corresponding to the cycle of the natural world.
In place of mythology, Wicca has a kind of seasonal play that takes places upon the stage of the natural world, with its God and Goddess taking the leading role and playing every part. In this way, a story (or perhaps a set of stories) is told in a similar fashion to mythology, but instead of a written or spoken story, it is acted out in the change of the seasons and through the rituals of the religion.
Depending upon who you talk to, the Lord and Lady will sometimes be depicted with different names or in the guises of the Gods and Goddesses of other Pagan religions. However, despite this, one common factor of Wicca is that the real names of their deities are only revealed to people once they have initiated into the religion, where it remains a secret. For these reasons, these deities will simply be termed as the “God” and “Goddess” here:
The Goddess: Wicca has a triune Goddess, meaning that she is viewed in three guises. These are the Maiden, Mother and Crone, who represent the three stages of a woman’s life. She is a moon Goddess and with the God, helps symbolise the passage of life, death and rebirth. She is the “all-mother” bringing forth life in the natural world, but also giving birth to the God, whom will later become her lover.
The God: Sometimes referred to a “The Horned God”, he is the symbol of masculine power and virility. He embodies the male polarity of nature and humanity, but is also the representation of man’s passage of life and death. He is a hunter, who takes life for the good of others, but also a sacrificial king who gives up his life to nourish the natural world and continue into the land of the dead, where he rules.
The Purpose of Mythology
When looking at beings such as the Pagan Gods, it is sometimes hard to take them seriously when you look at their Dungeons & Dragons style mythologies (though let’s not forget you would have no Dungeons & Dragons without such colourful real-world mythologies). And it can be difficult to relate to them when they have this fantastical backdrop to them.
Well, there are essentially two ways to approach this: The literal and the figurative.
You could, if you were so inclined, choose to see these stories as real tales of things that supposedly happened, both in our world and in the mysterious heavens beyond. If this is what you believe then that’s up to you, although I will say that you would probably have trouble believing in Ra pulling the sun across the sky when we know today that the sun is stationary.
But again, your beliefs have to be your own. Perhaps you will pick and choose, finding that some of these tales may be true and some may not. But if you want to get the fullest understanding of the Gods and their mythologies, then you need to understand the role their tales played in the societies they came from.
Mythology, for a large part, is about telling stories and explaining the world. When our ancestors looked at the workings of the world, they were undoubtedly given to ask (as we still do) “why does that happen?” “What makes that work?”
To answer these questions they often produced tales and myths that attempted to explain these things or in some way embody the ideas that they had about how the world works. Some times this meant that they believed these myths in a literal sense, at other times it was a way to convey personal theories or deeply held mystical understandings regarding the universe.
It’s for this reason that we can’t just discount mythology off hand. Through mythology we have the keys to understanding the mystic knowledge of our ancestors, the secrets they knew about our world and the next world, as well as the answers to questions that humanity is still asking today.
What do the Gods tell us in their stories? What lessons do they teach us about ourselves and society?
Mythology is a collection of morality and mysticism. Through mythology the Gods show us ways to live and behaviour to idealise.
Can we all be as brave as Achilles? As wise as Isis? As noble as Tyr?
We have always had our mythologies to give us these kinds of examples of greatness.
Today, our myths are told in comic books and movies. Our popular icons are superheroes and action-movie stars.
But is that all mythology is? Are we to assume that the Gods are nothing more than imagined characters in a creative story?
Oh no, not even slightly! Myth and legend is about telling stories about things that are real. Did Theseus really slay the Minotaur? Probably not. But Theseus is us, he is the hero that we all could be and the real hero in society. The Minotaur probably wasn’t a real beast, but what he represented certainly was. It is similar with the Gods.
Mankind is inspired to tell tales of the things he knows, the things he fears and the things he loves. The tales of the Gods are in essence, inspired by the Gods themselves. They are written to celebrate the very real relationships that the Gods have in our lives and to bring focus upon the things that the Gods teach us through those relationships.
We come to understand the Gods and who they are and we express that understanding through myths, which we use to teach others about the lessons that the Gods have to offer us.
It is a delicate balance between real events, creative storytelling and the subtle revelation of spiritual truth. As we cut our way between these different aspects of myth and legend, we bring ourselves to the heart of their being: the truth of deity.
The myths relay to us who the Gods are, what they like, the traits they admire and the things that we should strive for in order to reach them.
These stories help us to live together and to live well, both among humanity and among the Gods as well.
Aligning yourself to the Gods
I’ve heard it said time and time again by just about every Pagan I have ever met, that when they found the right path for them, they “just knew”. Something inside them clicked immediately and they knew that they had come across something very special.
Chances are that it will be the same for you when you find your path – assuming you haven’t already.
In a way, that is the beautiful thing about Paganism. It very much relies on you to find your own way and come to understand your own spirituality.
I’ve heard it said that finding the right path is like “coming home” and really that is exactly what it is like. It’s like a home-calling. You are discovering your place in the world and your very spirit becomes uplifted and seems to ignite with a newfound vitality.
But on the flip-side, there are those who say that they didn’t choose their path, their path chose them. They may have felt the same ‘click’, but they also seemed to gain some other kind of recognition, as if the Gods themselves took a direct hand in bringing them onto their path.
One Asatruar I spoke to told me of how he discovered Asatru and then over the following week several of the Norse Gods came to him in dreams. I know other who have felt similarly about the Lord and Lady in Wicca, feeling as if an intrinsic connection to the natural world sparked within them, as if the God and Goddess were suddenly making themselves known.
In Kemeticism, the selection of the Gods plays a vital and official role, where a big part of initiations is the discovery of what God claims you as their own.
But whether you choose the Gods or they choose you, either way it is a magical feeling of recognition and one that could change you forever.
Once you know which God, Goddess or Gods are the ones for you, you can set about forging and strengthening your connection to them.
A good way to mark the beginning of this relationship is through a Dedication Ritual, in which you come before your Gods and announce your loyalty to them. Here’s a