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. Once you engage in some self-exploration, you may find the answer is deeper than you 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 perceptions of the divine.
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 understanding, but this triune God idea is not too uncommon. We see it present in religions like Hinduism, Irish Celtic and 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. It can take some soul-searching to really get to the heart of your beliefs on the matter. 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 currently believe. So what is offered here is an opportunity to take some time to explore 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 and Celts (to name but a few), held this belief and it’s 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 expressions of a singular deity. This, in a way, is a very unique form of monotheism. The best example of this is Hinduism, which has a wide 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 in modern Paganism. Most of the time this tends to apply to witches who practice magic as an extention of will and have no belief in Gods or Goddesses.
Agnosticism is essentially the belief that you can never really know if there are any Gods. If, by the end of your personal 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.
Examples of Egyptian Gods
The chief among the Egyptian Gods is Ra, who is famed for pulling the sun across the sky in a golden chariot.
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 brought 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.
Examples of Greek Gods
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.
Celtic Gods – 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.
Examples of Celtic Gods
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.
Dedication ritual to the Gods
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 Dedication Ritual Guide I made earlier…
Dedication Rituals such as these are great ways to mark the beginning of your relationship with your newfound deities, but that is by no means the end of it. Your relationship to them, like any relationship, should be progressive.
You wouldn’t see your boyfriend once and then never see him again, nor would you invite the Gods into your life so intimately and then fail to acknowledge them afterwards.
Your Gods will undoubtedly keeping a close eye on you and it will be up to you to make good on your commitment to your path.
Reading up on your pagan gods
Chances are that you haven’t just plucked your deity out of the air. So that means that a large amount of people out there have gone before you and left behind a wealth of information on the Gods you are following. To improve your understanding of your Gods, let these people teach you how they have come to know the Gods by reading books on the subject.
There are lots of good authors out there, head down to your local library or book store and see what you can find. Or if you have the means, look up authors online and grab some good books over Amazon. You may even be able to find some cheap books on Ebay if you are lucky.
Even if you have a more general idea of deity, rather than a specific God, Goddess or pantheon, you will still find a great wealth of information available out there to give you insights on the divine and how it relates to you. Chances are that someone out there is walking a similar path as you and has something to say about it.
If you have chosen an established deity, there are probably already certain rituals and holidays associated with them. Learn about these rituals and partake in them when you feel comfortable doing so.
But more than this, find out all you can about these things. You will find that a God’s rituals and holidays are great insight into the God themselves. Rituals are laced with all manner of symbology and meaning that teaches you something about the deities and their relationship with us.
Of course, after that the best way to learn is through doing. There is no point in doing a ritual you don’t understand, it would just be a chore of meaningless actions to you and that would be dishonourable to your deities and is in no way beneficial to you. But once you do understand the significance of a ritual observation, then by all means, get out there and do it! It is one thing to read about a ritual and understand what it means, but it is something else altogether to be a part of that ritual and understand it from the inside.
Don’t be a spectator in your religion, take part in the magic!
Living your Life
I doubt that your new God or Goddess will want an automaton for a follower, so take your life and live it well. Likelihood is that the reason your Gods accepted you is because you already display the qualities that they find desirable. So don’t just drop your life in lieu or your new found path, instead live your life as part of that path.
It is very likely that taking these steps on your spiritual journey will change you greatly, if not immediately, then over time. You may even feel a change within yourself already. But try to keep in mind that your spiritual rebirth doesn’t take you away from this world and doesn’t remove the friends, family and work that you already have.
But this is a very significant thing in your relationship to your deity. They are also a part of your life now and if you allow them, they will be a beneficial influence to you, giving you a new outlook, an inner strength and a kind of personal guidance that is utterly unique to you. With this you can take the life you have and use the guidance and strength of your Gods to make it the best that you can.
Nobody likes a whiner
As has just been mentioned, you still have your life to live. This means that you also still have all the problems and challenges of day to day life, as well.
Finding a connection to the divine isn’t an excuse to avoid the bad things in life. The Gods aren’t there to solve all your problems for you and you can’t magic your way out of everything that you’d rather not do. Life is for living: good and bad.
The Gods help us to live; they don’t do all the work for us. So don’t go making rituals petitioning the Gods for every little thing and don’t waste your time doing spells to try and avoid all the negative things in life. The Gods are well aware of when you really need them and when you don’t, and magic isn’t an answer to all your problems.
Have some respect for the position the Gods hold and have some faith in your own ability to deal with things.
Honour your Gods
Quite simply, be respectful. We are talking about the divine manifest in nature, and however you view that, it deserves some respect.
Personally, I like to think that the Gods have a sense of humour and a good few times I’ve had a rather amusing chat about the “Horny God”, but you and I should both know the difference between having fun and being offensive. I say that if you cant laugh at yourself, then you are taking life too seriously, but at the end of the day there is still a certain degree of appropriateness when dealing with anyone, God or otherwise. You wouldn’t (I hope) just insult people without good reason and so don’t act in a way that demeans your relationship with your Gods.
You don’t need to convert people, talk about your Gods to everyone you meet and advertise your spirituality. Of course, be proud of who you are and what you believe, but there is a time and place for all things, so give the Gods theirs.
Another key way to honour your relationship with the Gods is to make sure that you do what you vow to do. If you make a promise to your Gods, keep it. This includes the vows you made at your Dedication/Initiation and any that may have followed since.
Another part of honouring your Gods comes in your relationship to other religions. Don’t go giving a bad reputation to your religion and your Gods by acting as a negative example.
Finding your own Gods and being proud of them isn’t an excuse to tear into other religions. You wouldn’t like your religion and Gods being disrespected, so show the same courtesy to other people. Even if you encounter people who insult you and your religion, feel free to stick up for yourself, but just be aware of who you are targeting. Just because they may be acting like offensive trolls doesn’t mean that is necessarily a reflection on the God they follow and it certainly isn’t a reflection on all followers of that deity.
Just because another person may be a poor representative of their Gods, doesn’t mean that you have to sink to that level and dishonour both yourself and your Gods, all at the same time.
Respect your contemporaries
You most likely aren’t the only person following your deity and its entirely likely that other people may have a few views of the Gods that are different to yours. This in itself doesn’t make them wrong. Each person forges their own relationship with the divine that is unique to them and so it may bring to them certain perceptions and insights that it hasn’t to you. Likewise, you have a unique relationship with your deity and probably have insights of your own.
But don’t get me wrong though, people are certainly free to hold their own views, but that doesn’t mean you should just roll over when you really do disagree with something. If you feel someone has a completely unrealistic view of your Gods or religion, then it’s your choice if you wish to say so. Just keep in mind that just because you disagree with them, doesn’t mean that they will listen.
Best you can do is to try to educate them. If they won’t accept it, then there is nothing much you can do. However, don’t go thinking that you will always be right. Indeed, prepare for the odd education yourself.
Keep in mind what your Gods want
You came to your Gods for a reason. They/he/she/it probably stood for something that you agree with and from there you have entered a relationship with them. As part and parcel of that package it’s probably true that your Gods consider certain qualities to be desirable virtues in their followers. In bringing the Gods into your life and dedicating yourself to them you have made an arrangement. They are in your camp and in return you need to be in theirs.
If they commend certain virtues then you probably owe it to them to try and embody those in return for their presence and help in your life. After all, the Gods aren’t really going to want to associate with someone who is in opposition to the things they stand for.
Chances are that if you have felt called to these Gods, then you probably already have those qualities in abundance, but perhaps now is the time to try and develop those qualities within yourself as part of your commitment to your deities.
A relationship goes both ways
You’re following your Gods, whoever they may be and they may make certain demands of character and expect you to behave in a certain way.
But let’s be realistic here. This isn’t a one-way street. Just as you are giving something, so too are the Gods. Or at least we would hope so. Perhaps you should ask yourself “what exactly is it that I want to get out of this relationship?”
That isn’t a bad question to ask in any kind of relationship, whether it’s divine, romantic or a business arrangement. But keep in mind; just like with any kind of relationship, you won’t necessarily get everything you want. The desires of both sides have to be reasonable. So think about what it is you desire and whether it is a reasonable to want these things. Then consider what the Gods are offering you and whether you are living up to your side of the commitment.
Don’t get above yourself though. Keep in mind that the Gods have a pretty good insight to things and so what you want may not always be necessarily the best thing for them to offer you.
This could be an opportunity for you to really think about the difference between the things that you want and the things that you need.
Ultimately, I would say that it is up to us to attain the things we want, while the universe has a nice way of providing a path to our fundamental needs. Somewhere in the middle the Gods meet us, giving us the occasional helping hand to what we want and opening new paths to the things we may not even know we need, providing a way to our spiritual wellbeing and growth.
But every relationship is unique and will depend on how you see your deity and how you are seen in return. It is by no means all about personal gain.
What you put into a relationship is proportionate to what you get out of it and the most worthwhile things to put in are love, respect and happiness. We aren’t talking about some kind of legal contract here, we are talking about forming a very real connection to the divine and the only way to do that is with an open heart and an open mind. You have to let them in to your life and they will let you into theirs.
When you practice your rituals and festivals, you aren’t just honouring your Gods, you are celebrating with them. Take joy in your relationship with them and allow them to take joy in their relationship with you.