Deity-Human Relationship Patterns

All relationships with the gods are founded on mutual respect, reciprocity, and hospitality. Generally, we can say yes or no to the gods when they approach us, but the same is also true for when we approach them. The gods are not obligated to accept our offerings. We are not obligated to serve the gods against our will (except in rare cases, which I’ll discuss later).

In general, there are four types of devotional relationship patterns for working with the gods.

The first relationship pattern is that of a devotee. Usually, a devotee makes offerings to the gods with whom they have relationships to sustain those relationships. When these offerings are made, how they are made, and what offerings are used depends on the tradition. This is the type of relationship that most practitioners have.

This is the level where most of my relationships with the gods I honor are at. This includes Thor, Tyr, Niorun, Freyja, Sigyn, Quetzalcoatl, Hermes Trismegistus, Bast, and Mani. This is the level that most deity-human relationships will always exist at, and that is perfectly acceptable and commendable.

Moving on, the second relationship pattern is that of an oathsworn devotee. This is generally a devotional relationship taken to the next level. Different commitments are required – essentially, a contract is entered into with a deity at this point. In exchange for doing X for said deity, Y is received.

That said, oathsworn relationships are dangerous, and you should not enter into them lightly, if at all. This is not a path for everyone – it is not safe at all. Because the gods have agency, they have their own plans, their own agenda, and they are not obligated to share it with us. Even if we are part of those plans, they do not have an obligation to share – we do not have a right to know their overall agenda. Their ways are not ours, and they will hold us to our oaths.

When an oathsworn relationship exists, that deity has a right to your time where and whenever they show up. They are priority #1 over everything else. The work they demand is hard, exacting, and often downright exhausting. This is not for the faint of heart. Do not swear an oath unless you know, with absolute certainty, that it’s the relationship that you’re meant to have with that god.

This is the type of relationship I have with one god, and one god only, and that is Odin. In exchange for the insight and wisdom his path offers, I do a very specific type of work for him. Generally, it is in the form of providing people with information about him and his path whenever the subject comes up in conversation or through other mediums of communication, like emails or comments on blog posts. In addition to that, though, he has told me before that the work I do for Loki is also the work I do for him. More on that later.

Moving on, the third type of relationship pattern is that of a godspouse, which may or may not be as demanding as an oathsworn relationship. It requires a strong commitment, as it is essentially the marriage to a god. The easiest example to demonstrate this is the commitment undertaken by Catholic nuns – they are the closest equivalent to godspouses in the Christian world. In this type of relationship, the god is your #1 priority, and devotions matter almost more (or more) than those to other gods. These are exceptionally rare relationships, and few people will ever have a chance to enter into one. The requirements of these relationships are often secret, as the work a person does in a godspouse relationship is highly personal, highly intimate, and, in general, no one else’s business.

The fourth type of relationship pattern is that of clergy. A priest serves a god in a ritual and/or communal capacity in the ways that the gods make clear. Clergy are devotees and generally don’t swear oaths to enter into the service of a god – some do, so there are exceptions to this.

There are different ways to be initiated as clergy. You can be trained through an official program, you can be called directly by a god, or you can be elected by your community to fulfill that role.

Most clergy members of polytheistic religions are willing and able to take on the role of priest for gods other than the one/s they primarily serve.

When it comes to this type of relationship, I hold it with two gods – Loki and Freyr. The way I became Loki’s priest was through a conversation I had with him one night where he asked if I was interested in a godpsouse relationship. I declined, as I did not feel that was the correct relationship for me, as I have always viewed him more as a big brother/best friend (sorta father figure) than as anything else. When I declined that relationship, he suggested I become his priest instead, and I agreed to that.

The work I do for him is varied and dynamic. I talk about him and his path via blog posts and in face-to-face conversations. I also established the Facebook group Loki’s Wyrdlings at his request that I build a community where Lokeans could feel safe to discuss their practices without being immediately harmed by the Heathens who still view Loki as an evil god and his devotees as evil. Adding to that, I established Loki University, which is an online school where people can learn about Loki and his path. Most recently, I established (alongside some other awesome Lokeans) a book collection called Loki’s Torch, and the first edition of that will be releasing in August. As you can tell, the work I do for Loki is not a light load. Being a priest rarely is.

In terms of my relationship with Freyr and serving as his priest, I actually approached him and asked him if he would be interested in me filling that role for him. If he had said no, I would have accepted it and moved on. He did not. My responsibilities to him are more ritually based than about community building, and all of the rituals I have facilitated for Freyr have been some of the most rewarding rituals I have ever done.

One of the requirements he has for rituals is that no one brings a weapon of any sort into the ritual space – from what I understand, this is fairly common among the Vanir deities. This is something I ensure when I facilitate rituals for him, and I am fairly certain this is why the rituals end up being so strong. The other work that I do for him involves astral work, which I am not comfortable discussing over the internet, as astral work is very dangerous for the untrained.

Now, when it comes to establishing relationships with the gods, there are specific types of people, and it is important to understand this in order to understand how relationships with the gods develop.

There are people who are god-touched, which means they are very attuned to the spirit world (or astral plane, whichever you prefer), and they are able to easily communicate with the gods and other spirits. Because of this, gods often seek these people out, as it is easier to form a relationship with someone you don’t have to scream at to get to pay attention.

There are also those who are god-called. Generally, these are the people who have had gods watching over them for their entire lives, just waiting for the moment when the person finally notices the god’s presence. At that point, a strong devotional relationship spontaneously develops.

I watched this happen with someone I had a conversation with about polytheistic practices and how polytheistic religions answers the question of why good things happen to bad people. About two days after that conversation, which lasted about six hours, the man came back to me and told me that the goddess Morana had come to him and he was working with her – after essentially telling me during the original conversation that he was an atheist. Basically, once he was made aware of the fact that there were religions outside of Abrahamic ones, Morana came forward and made her presence clear to him.

There are also people who are god-claimed. This can happen in a ritual, but it can also happen if someone dedicates a child to a god when they are born. This isn’t always an ethical practice by human standards (although the Christian rite of baptism suggests otherwise), but the gods do not ascribe to our morality. If you were dedicated to them, they have a right to you.

Undoing that kind of ritual dedication is extremely difficult, dangerous, and not recommended unless absolutely necessary. A claim can also be held by a god if you dedicate yourself to them as a thrall (or a slave). Few people do this, but some do, and they generally walk a fine line between sanity and madness. This is not a path I would recommend to anyone, and if you are considering it, I would suggest an alternative path unless there is no other choice.

As a note, because so many of us are raised in Christian environments and usually baptized against our will (as we are too young to properly give consent), it is almost always necessary to do a severance ritual once we have chosen a different religion. I was lucky that I was never baptized, as my parents believed that I needed to make that decision when I was old enough to make it for myself.

I did, however, see a friend struggle with their baptism into Christianity interfering with their ability to properly work with the Celtic gods that they had chosen to honor. She had to have a severance ritual performed so that the Celtic gods could more easily communicate with her without the Christian god’s claim on her interfering with those relationships.

So, if you are someone who has been baptized and find it difficult to communicate with the gods of the path that you have chosen, I highly suggest finding someone trained who can perform the severance ritual for you. While it is is possible to do such a ritual on your own, the cut is likely to be cleaner if you have someone else perform it for you, as they are outside the claim that the god holds on you. Like I said before, severance rituals are dangerous, and they should not be undertaken lightly.

Lastly, you have the type of people that I call god-stalked. Like the god-touched, these people can be sensitive to the spirit world – sometimes they aren’t. This is generally a person that a god has taken such a vested interest in that the god will absolutely not take no for an answer. That means there is no ritual, no request, no anything that will get this god to leave the person alone. It is an adapt or go insane scenario and, thankfully, exceedingly rare.

Most gods honor a yes or no, but, again, gods do not ascribe to human morality. They do not have to honor consent because there is no such concept for them. Relationships are generally more productive when they do honor our concept of consent, but the god-stalked do not have the luxury of saying no. The only real way to deal with being god-stalked is to give in and accept that the god will not take no for an answer.

I have seen this happen to a grand total of one person in the nearly 20 years I have been practicing, and the deity was the Morrigan. This was a pretty unique situation, however, as we did a large group ritual to the Morrigan, and the person opened the door to allow the Morrigan access to them. Once the Morrigan had that door opened, she did not allow it to close, despite the fact that the person on the other side of it was trying to slam it shut.

This is why it is incredibly important that you do not participate in rituals if you are not potentially okay with the deity being honored coming into your life on a more permanent basis. Our gods are not safe, and it is imperative that if you are walking a polytheistic path, that you acknowledge and accept the dangers that come with honoring gods that have their own agency and their own agendas.

We can have amazing relationships with our gods. They provide us with an astonishing wealth of gifts in our lives. The gods, however, are not unfeeling forces or archetypes, content to do nothing except what we wish they would do. No, they are hugely powerful forces and sentient beings with their own desires, their own emotions, and their own ideas. Relationships with the gods are almost aways intense, unique, and gratifying. That said, however, relationships with the gods are never safe.

©Kyaza 2019

The Difficulty with Pagan Taxonomies

Dividing the Pagan umbrella into different categories is a rather difficult thing to do, and many people have tried before me to do so. I have no intention of reinventing the wheel, and the combined version of Halsted and Beckett’s four pillars of Paganism work incredibly well.

In his Patheos article, “The Three (or more?) ‘Centers of Paganism,’” John Halstead attempted to divide Paganism into three broad categories. In his view, Paganism itself holds at least three – if not more – particular centers that a Pagan may focus on in their practice. The three approaches to Paganism he describes are “Earth-centric,” “Self-centric,” and “Deity-centric.”[1]

When Halstead speaks of Earth-centric Paganism, he denotes the difficulty with referring to religions as Earth-centric as “earth is a cultural construct and means different things to different people.” Instead of trying to define Earth, Halstead instead suggests that Earth-centric Pagans are those who focus primarily on ecological concerns and define their practice by their relationship to the natural environment.[2]

Though he refers to the second approach as “self-centric,” Halstead is careful to point out that he does not mean that Pagans that define themselves this way are inherently selfish but that they focus on the innermost Self that transcends the ego and the individual entirely. He states that “Self-centered Paganism includes Jungian Neopaganism, many forms of Wicca and feminist witchcraft, and more ceremonial or esoteric forms of Paganism.” Halstead suggests that a Pagan who falls into the “Self-centric” approach to Paganism use the practices of Paganism to facilitate their own individual growth.[3]

Halstead’s third category, “Deity-centric,” is one that he adopted from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, as he freely admits. He states that “Deity-centered Paganism includes many forms of polytheistic worship, many Reconstructionist or Revivalist forms of Paganism, including those which are closer to Heathenry, an those which borrow techniques from African-diasporic religions.” Halstead explains that those who take a Deity-centered approach to Paganism define their religion by their relationships to the gods.[4]

John Beckett, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, adopted Halstead’s centered approach in his first book, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice, although he added a fourth center – community.

However, he approached these centers differently from Halstead, who seemed to draw the three approaches as if they were completely separate from each other. In contrast, Beckett states, “These aren’t rings you’re either inside or outside of – these are poles you’re closer to or farther away from. Some Pagans are so close to one pole (center), they’re hugging them – they don’t care about the other three centers. Others are close to two to three or even all four centers.”[5]

Beckett explains that those who fall more into the community-centric approach are the Pagans who “find the divine within the family and the tribe – however they choose to define those groups.”[6] These are the Pagans whose practice is centered around the communities they live in, rather than being centered on the Earth, self-growth, or deity-relationships. It is important to remember, however, that any Pagan can take all of these approaches or only a few of them.[7]

Each one of those Pillars – Earth-centric, Self-centric, Deity-Centric, and Community-Centric – have their own subcategories. One of the most frequently made errors is when a person attempts to define Paganism as a set of Earth-based religions. While many religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella are Earth-centric, not all of them are, and this is a grievous error to make.

The other grievous error made by many, scholars included, is that Wicca and Neopagan religions are synonymous. In, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States, H.A. Berger quotes Andras Corban Athern as saying, “Neo-Pagans are just witches who haven’t come out of the broom closet yet.”[8]

Wicca, however, can be seen as an Earth-centric religion, as that is one of the central tenets of many – if not all – of the Wiccan traditions. For Wiccans, “The ‘Pagan’ element is emphasized in the form of worshipping nature and the Earth, with the consequent duty of the individual not to defile it by pollution and excessive usage of natural resources leading to their depletion.”[9] Many forms of Wicca can be seen as Earth-centric religions, so the connection between Wicca and Earth spirituality is an easy one to see.

The second pillar mentioned – Self-centric – applies mostly to Jungian archetypalism, although Halstead insists that some forms of ceremonial magic also belong in this category. The issue with that, however, is that magic is not religion. Religion can contain magical practices – in fact, many do. Magical traditions, however, rarely require the practitioner to follow any particular religious path and are entirely secular in nature. For more information about Jungian archetypalism, consult John Halstead’s blog, The Allergic Pagan, on Patheos.

The third pillar mentioned – Deity centric – is the one that I am most interested in focusing on here. Over the twenty years I’ve been practicing, I have seen a handful of different ways that Deity-centered Pagans related to the gods. These are my own personal demarcations based on years of observing people within the wider Pagan community.

In terms of how people relate to the gods, there are those who view the gods as either individual beings that possess their own agency (hard polytheists) or those who view the gods as all part of one singular overarching entity (soft polytheists). This demarcation can also be referred to as the one between Reconstructionists and Universalists.[10]

Nearly all of the Neopagan Reconstructionist religions hold Hard Polytheistic views. This includes Hellenismos and Heathenry – Greek and Norse – Reconstructionists. It also includes Solntsa Roshcha/Rodnovery, Slavic Reconstructionism.[11]

While Kemeticism – Egyptian Reconstructionism – holds hard polytheist views, it is NOT a Pagan religion, as it does not classify itself that way. The Kemetic Orthodoxy states: “While Kemetic Orthodoxy might be understood as a ‘Pagan’ religion in the context of the Roman Catholic Church, we do not currently classify ourselves as Pagan, as we neither follow the spiritual teachings of the Holy See, nor do our spiritual practices derive from the same sources, or even the general structure, of groups that currently refer to themselves as Pagan or Neo-Pagan. We do recognize ourselves as polytheists…”[12]

Because there are so many Reconstructionist religions in the world today, it is incredibly important to determine whether a religion you assume is Pagan classifies itself as Pagan. I see many people refer to practices such as Voodoo, Lucumi (Santeria), and the African Diasporic religions as Pagan – they are not. Voodoo is not a polytheistic religion either – it is monotheistic – and Lucumi and the other diasporic religions come from unbroken traditions. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of African diasporic religions, and I highly encourage people to do more research into them. I took a class in my undergrad years on Afro-Atlantic Material Culture where we focused almost exclusively on discussing Yoruba, Santeria, and the Orishas, which is where my understanding of those religions originates.[13]

Within Heathenry, which is the main Reconstructionist religion I practice, I have noticed two very different approaches within the community. There are those I consider strict Reconstructionists who require everything to be done exactly as the lore says with no room for interpretation outside of it, and there are those who I consider recon-derived practitioners who use the lore as their foundation but allow room for personal gnosis and innovation.

Those who stick too closely to the lore, who cannot see past it, are those who I fear are stuck too much in the baggage of the monotheistic society of the United States. Abrahamic religions, Christianity included, are all “religions of the book.” Growing up in a society where the main religion is a book-based religion may make it more difficult for some within the Heathen community to allow themselves to move away from the books into a more substantial and rewarding relationship with the living gods.

When it comes to soft polytheism, there are really two versions – the Universalist approach as previously mentioned, and the Duotheistic approach that religions like Wicca use. Wicca holds that there are two main gods – the God and the Goddess – and that all gods exist within the God and all goddesses within the Goddess. Wiccans introduce a gender polarity that is not found in more traditional soft polytheistic (more properly called polymorphism) religions like Hinduism and Kemeticism (ah, but weren’t they hard polytheists? And thus, the confusion continues – some are, some aren’t).

Though I have never seen anyone else speculate on this, it is something that I have reflected on quite often. The United States is a monotheistic society, and Wicca is generally the first Pagan religion that religious seekers stumble upon if they end up pursuing the Pagan paths. Learning how to think like a polytheist is an incredibly challenging task when you are faced with the reality that your society is monotheistic and that has greatly impacted the way you think.

Wicca, to me, seems almost like a bridge across that gap. There are two gods rather than one, which allows a person to adjust to the idea of the divine being many rather than one. Then, once a person can think of there being two gods, they learn to think of a multiplicity of gods. That often – from what I have seen – leads people away from Wicca and to a more structured Reconstructionist religion. That isn’t always true – some people stay Wiccan forever, and some Wiccans adopt a hard polytheistic mindset.

That said, the community Pillar is the last one to discuss, and Beckett clearly stated that what he meant by community was whatever the person who focused on community defined it to be. For some Pagans, that may mean their immediate family. For others, it may mean their particular Pagan group or their friend group. For others, it may mean their online communities.

The reality of Paganism is that it is varied and diverse, and there is no way to cover all the potential subdivisions of each of the four pillars established by Halstead and Beckett. People define themselves using their own labels, which is what makes an attempt to classify people pretty much impossible from the outset. It is, therefore, of vital importance that we learn how people classify themselves and how the practitioners of a religion define that religion. Despite all our best intentions, the attempt to create a Pagan Taxonomy can never be complete – people are too complex to be classified.

Perhaps the real lesson we need to take away from all of this is the understanding that we group people in our own ways through our own experiences, rather than how they would classify themselves. There are people who view themselves as polytheists who I would argue do not fit that definition, but at the end of the day, who is right? Me, as the person attempting to force them away from a label they wish to use, or them, the person who may use the labels they choose as the stepping stones of the path in front of them?

That’s the danger of classification – we risk to lose too much by trying to force definitions on people who know themselves and what they mean by the labels they choose to wear than we can ever hope to gain. It is only in realizing that exercises like this – attempting to classify others – is something we do only for our own benefit, and the labels we choose for others are rarely the labels they would choose to wear.

[1] John Halstead, “The Three (or more?) ‘Centers of Paganism,” The Allergic Pagan, Patheos, May 23, 2012. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/05/23/the-three-or-more-centers-of-paganism/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Beckett, The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice, (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2017), 36.

[6] Ibid, 48.

[7] Ibid, 48.

[8] Berger as quoted in Gary F. Jensen and Ashley Thompson,  “Out of the Broom Closet”: The Social Ecology of American Wicca,” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 47, No 4 (Dec 2008): 755.

[9] Sam Cameron, “Wiccanomics?” Review of Social Economy, Vol. 63, No. 1 (March 2005): 92.

[10] Neokoroi, “Hard vs. Soft Polytheism,” Neokoroi: The Temple Keepers, 2003. http://www.neokoroi.org/religion/articles/hard-vs-soft-polytheism/

[11] Neokoroi, “Hard vs. Soft Polytheism,” Neokoroi: The Temple Keepers, 2003; BBC, “Heathenry,” BBC, 2003. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/subdivisions/heathenry_1.shtml; Solntsa Roschcha, “What is Slavic Reconstructionism?” Solntsa Roschcha, https://solntsaroshcha.wordpress.com/

[12] Kemetic Orthodoxy, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Kemetic Orthodoxy, http://www.kemet.org/faq

[13] I spent many weeks in a classroom learning from Dr. Antonio Bly about these religions, so the only source I have for this information is the voluminous lecture notes I took in his classes.

© Kyaza 2019

The Importance of Myth in Practice

The easiest way to learn more about the gods is to read their stories, to study their myths, and to meditate on the meaning of what the gods show us about themselves in the stories.

One of the best ways to do this is to examine a myth through the lens of each god that plays a role in that story. In the myth that discusses the building of Asgard’s wall, the actions of Odin, Freyja, and Loki all show us different aspects of each of the gods.

Odin needs the wall built, and he is willing to do pretty much anything to do it – i.e. the ends justify the means. When the giant suggests that the price he wants for the wall is Freyja’s hand in marriage (alongside a few other key things, like the moon), it is Freyja who protests the price, not Odin.

That shows us that Freyja will not allow herself to be auctioned off or turned into a pawn in one of the All-father’s games, and it paints her as an independent, strong-willed goddess who can match wits with Odin himself.

The gods then turn to Loki to find a solution to their dilemma, and that immediately shows us that the gods trust in Loki’s ability to solve problems. He is a creative, cunning thinker, and he comes up with a scheme to prevent the giant from finishing the wall so that the ill-struck bargain cannot be completed. He is the ultimate con artist, and the rest of the story demonstrates that. It also shows us that he runs his cons for the good of the gods – and sure, his cons work out well for him too, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just from that one story, we get glimpses of the gods and their individual personalities. Odin is hell-bent on getting what he needs – there are no lengths too far for him to go. He is ruthless and determined and self-assured. He can be this self-assured because he knows that he can rely on Loki, and that is clear because he brings Loki in to find the perfect solution to his problem.

Being able to see these glimpses of the gods through the myths is why it is so important that people who come to polytheistic religions read the stories. The secrets of the gods are hidden in their stories.

Those stories, ancient as they are, were once the shared gnosis of entire civilizations. Myths are the collective understanding of the gods and their unique agencies in this world. That is why they are so important, why it is so imperative that people read the myths about the gods they wish to work with.

It is not about denying personal religious experience and gnosis when we experienced practitioners tell newcomers to read the myths and learn the stories about the gods they are wanting to honor. We tell them to do this because we know that the secrets of the gods are hidden in their stories. We tell them to do this because we know that those stories contain the key to unlock religious experience.

The more of the myths you read and seek to understand, the more you start to know the gods. The more you come to know the gods, the better and more reliable your personal gnosis becomes, and the greater your religious experience becomes.

If you want the key to your own greatest religious potential, read the myths. They are your greatest weapon and your greatest strength.

©Kyaza 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part III

Chapter Four of Sallustius’s treatise, On the Gods and the Worlds, starts out with a straightforward assertion; he claims there are five types of fables – myths.

The treatise reads thusly:

Of fables, some are theological, others physical, others animistic, (or belonging to soul,) material, and lastly, others mixed from these.

The five types of myths then are

  1. Theological
  2. Physical
  3. Animistic/Psychical
  4. Material
  5. Mixed

Sallustius then states:

Fables are theological which employ nothing corporeal but speculate the very essences of the gods; such as the fable which asserts that Saturn devoured his children; for it obscurely intimates the nature of an intellectual god, since every intellect retuns to itself.

This is interesting, as it suggests that what a god consumes that god already contains and is. This also suggests the gods are forces because there is a metaphorical level implicit in the story of Saturn consuming his children – by consuming them, he reclaims his own intellect, which in turn reflects his nature as an intellectual god.

At this level of myth, the gods are not seen as having physical forms but being pure essence, pure force, and the myths of the gods reveal information about their individual essences.

Sallustius continues:

But we speculate fables physically when we speak concerning the energies of the gods about the world; as when considering Saturn the same as Time, and calling the parts of time the children of the universe, we assert that the children are devoured by their parents.

Basically, when we equate the gods to particular universal forces at work in the world, we are interpreting myth physically. Saturn – or Khronos – as Time. Loki or Prometheus as Fire. Hela or Hades as Death. Gaia or Njord as Earth. These are physical forces at work in the universe.

A deep perusal of the myths of any pantheon will reveal the forces each of the gods holds within them, which of the forces they control. Gods share dominion over different forces, else it would not be possible for both Prometheus and Loki to be Fire. What is most fascinating is that they are both Fire, but they are each Fire in a different way than the other – that might be something worth reflecting on.

Sallustius then says:

But we employ fables in an animistic mode when we contemplate the energies of the soul; because the intellections of our souls, though by a discursive energy they proceed into other things, yet abide in their parents.

Essentially, what the myths tell us about ourselves tells us more about the gods and the essence of the gods. This is another way to phrase that secret mystery – if you cannot find what you seek within, you will never find it without. This is that same mystery, wrapped in a different coat.

This is also the old maxim, as above, so below. The macrocosm and the microcosm reflect each other, so studying our own psyches reveals more to us about the psyches of the gods and studying the gods reveals more to us about ourselves.

This level of myth might be considered the beginning level for occult practitioners, as the evolution of self is the primary goal for most ceremonial magicians.

Moving on to the next level of myth, Sallustius says:

Lastly, fables are material, such as the Egyptians employ, considering and calling corporeal natures divinities; such as Isis, earth; Osiris, humidity; Typhon, heat; or again, denominating Saturn, water; Adonis, fruists; and Bacchus, wine. And indeed, to assert that these are dedicated to the gods, in the same manner as herbs, stones, and animals, is the part of wise men; but to call them gods is alone the province of mad men; unless we speak in the same manner as when, from established custom, we call the orb of the Sun and its rays the Sun itself.

Put concisely, Isis is the earth, but the earth itself is not a god. Osiris may be humidity, but humidity is not a god. Typhon may be heat, but heat is not a god.

In other words, this would be Sallustius’s answers to those who call archetypes gods. The gods can be archetypes – as in, Loki can be the trickster – but the archetypes cannot be a god. Therefore, Trickster is not a god but a construct that a god can embody when they choose to do so.

It’s interesting to see that Sallustius had an answer to the question only recently posed by archetypalists in the last twenty years back in the days of ancient Greece. He called those who would refer to the Sun itself as a god “mad men,” so it seems fairly clear that he would have no love for those who prefer to follow the Jungian style of polytheism many archetypalists of today adhere to.

Moving on to the final level of myth, Sallustius states:

But we may perceive the mixed kind of fables, as well in many other particular, as in the fable which relates, that Discord at a banquet of the gods threw a golden apple, and that a dispute about it arising among the goddesses, they were sent by Jupiter to take the judgment of Paris, who, charmed with the beauty of Venus, gave her the apple in preference to the rest.

For in this fable the banquet denotes the supermundane powers of the gods; and on this account they subsist in conjunction with each other; but the golden apple denotes the world, which, on account of its composition from contrary natures, is not improperly said to be thrown by Discord, or strife. But again, since different gifts are imparted to the world by different gods, they appear to contest with each for the apple. And a soul living according to sense, (for this is Paris) not perceiving other powers in the universe, asserts that the contended apple subsists alone through the beauty of Venus.

This is a great example of a mixed myth, and Sallustius does an excellent job of explaining it.

Discord throws a golden apple that causes a fight among the goddesses, resulting in them being brought before Jupiter for judgment. Jupiter turns the case over to Paris, who declares that Venus holds the ownership of the apple.

If the banquet represents the supermundane powers of the gods, and the apple the world, then the fight the goddesses are having is over which of the gods can be said to give the gift of the world. It is not as simple as fighting over an apple.

None of the myths are simple. All of them are heavy and laden with meaning. That is why it is so important that we read each and every myth carefully and several times, analyzing it further with each read.

The secrets of the gods are hidden in the myths – all we have to do is open our minds to the incredible richness of possibility in their interpretations.

*Note: While there are 21 chapters in the treatise, the first 3 chapters are the ones I find most relevant, so this particular series ends here. I highly suggest that those who are interested in reading further read the rest of the treatise for themselves, as it is free online. 

Sources

Sallustius. “On the Gods and the World.”

©Kyaza 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part II

Continuing on with Sallustius and his treatise “On the Gods and the World,” we come to his third chapter and his second major point: fables – aka myths – are divine.

He states:

This is the first utility arisng from fables, that they excite us to inquiry, and do not suffer our cogitative power to remain in indolent rest. It will not be difficult therefore to show that fables are divine, from those by whom they are employed: for they are used by poets agitated by divinity, by the best of the philosophers, and by such as disclose initatory rites. In oracles also fables are employed by the gods; but why fables are divine is the part of philosophy to investigate.

This is fairly straight-forward, as Sallustius essentially says that myths and stories are useful because they make us think. They keep us engaged with the world, and they help to keep us alert, awake, and inquisitive.

He also states that there are three types of people who use myths in the pursuit of their arts. Specifically, he mentions poets, philosophers, and priests. Poets, he says, find their inspiration in the stories of the divine. That, to me, immediately conjures up the knowledge that the Eddas – both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda – are fantastic examples of a poet divinely inspired to impart myth.

Because of his need to see the old poetic style preserved, Snorri composed the Prose Edda, and, in doing so, preserved many of the ancient Norse myths. Without the effort he put forth, we would have far less knowledge about the myths of the ancient Norsemen than we possess today. It may very well be that Snorri felt divinely inspired to preserve the stories of his ancestors, but that is a question only the gods can answer.

Sallustius also states that the best of philosophers use myths, and that it is the job of philosophers to determine why myths can be considered divine. That is what Sallustius, a philosopher in his own right, seeks to do in this treatise, so we can expect him to answer this question in time.

As for priests, Sallustius says that priests use myths to disclose initiatory rites. What he means by this is that a priest of a religion needs to know the complete mythos of that religion, as it is the myths themselves that reveal the secrets of that religion. The mythology of a religion is not simply a collection of stories but the stories interwoven in a composite whole. To become an initiate in a religion is to come to that understanding, and it is the duty of a priest to set a person on the path that will allow them to gain that knowledge.

Sallustius’s next point follows thusly:

Since therefore all beings rejoice in similtude, and are averse from dissimiltude, it is necessary that discourses concerning the gods should be as similar to them as possible, that they may become worthy of their essence, and that they may render the gods propitious to those who discourse concerning them; all which can only be effected by fables.

Here, Sallustius basically says that we embrace similarity and have trouble embracing difference – a truth that is, unfortunately, one that has caused our world to become far more divided than it needs to be, considering our shared humanity.

Sallustius explains that the discourse – communication – about the gods needs to be as similar to people as possible, so that people may better understand the gods and see the gods as benevolent and worthy. To accomplish this, it is necessary to employ myth.

Essentially, the myths show the gods as similar to humans because it allows us, as people, to better relate to the gods and see them as good. It is not that the gods themselves are like us, but that we need to understand them as if they were, in order to be able to relate to the gods in any productive way.

Sallustius continues:

Fables therefore imitate the gods, according to effable and ineffable, apparent and unapparent, wise and ignorant; and this likewise extends to the goodness of the gods; for as the gods impart the goods of sensible natures in common to all things, but the goods resulting from the intelligibles to the wise alone, so fables assert to all men that there are gods; but who they are, and of what kind, they alone manifest to such as are capable of so exalted a knowledge.

Here, Sallustius says that the myths imitate the qualities of the gods that they possess. Since they are imitations, however, it is important to understand that imitation is nothing more but a pale echo – the myths, therefore, cannot capture the full essence of a god, no matter how poignant the myths may be.

He also says that the gods gift the shared senses to those who inhabit the world, but the gods only impart intellect to the wise. I find that this sentiment echoes in the Havamal, the Sayings of the High One (i.e. Odin):

54. Wise in measure let each man be;/ but let him not wax too wise;/ for never the happiest of men is he/ who knows much of many things.

Wisdom, after all, comes at a price. It is not a price everyone will wish to pay, and it thus makes sense that the gods would only impart it to those that seek it. It seems, after all, that only those who seek wisdom hold the capacity for it, but that is my own perception of the world I have seen.

Going back to Sallustius, he also offers a sage piece of advice. He says that while myths assert to everyone that there are gods, the meanings of the myths are not made apparent to everyone. Basically, he asserts that there are people who understand myths on a level others cannot, and this serves both as advice and warning – the myths are not simply what they seem.

Sallustius then states:

In fables, too, the energies of the gods are imitated; for the world may very properly be called a fable, since bodies and the corporeal possessions which it contains, are apparent, but souls and intellects are occult and invisible. Besides, to inform all men of the truth concerning the gods, produces contempt in the unwise, from their incapacity of learning, and negligence in the studious; but concealing truth in fables, prevents the contempt of the former, and compels the latter to philosophize.

Here, Sallustius says that the world itself can be seen as a story, as it contains corporeal existence in the form of bodies and other tangibles. The reality behind that story, however, is the eternal existence of souls and intellects, as they are intangible and noncorporeal. We are all, in the end, just stories.

He then states that it would be unwise if the gods simply informed humanity of the truth of themselves. Sallustius seems to say here that the unwise would find the gods contemptible because they would turn their inability to learn and understand that truth against the gods themselves. Similarly, those with a passion for learning, would turn away from their studies and make no attempt towards understanding the gods, as the knowledge would exist already.

This, to me, says that the world would be a place full of contempt and unease if the gods simply revealed the truth of themselves to all of humanity. It would take the fun out of the life we live for those of us who enjoy the pursuit of knowledge, and it would cause nothing but ire and ill-will to burn in the hearts of those who suddenly find themselves faced with beings they can never hope to understand.

That said, Sallustius completes this chapter thusly:

But you will ask why adulteries, thefts, paternal bonds, and other unworthy actions are celebrated in fables? Nor is this unworthy of admiration, that where there is an apparent absurdity, the soul immediately conceiving these discourses to be concealments, may understand that the truth which they contain is to be involved in profound and occult silence.

Of all the things Sallustius has to say in this chapter, this is my absolute favorite. In essence, he is saying that the myths that demonstrate unworthy actions on the part of the gods still require the admiration of the gods. He suggests that the actions are only unworthy at first glance, and that we will understand that the actions that seem bad only seem so – that, in fact, there are deeper truths to be found, if only we are willing to dig beneath the surface.

The Greeks believed that the Gods were inherently good, and we will eventually get to the part of Sallustius’s treatise that discusses that. For me, this particular section of this chapter of the treatise lightens my heart because it affirms something I have always seen as true.

The myths that paint Loki in a negative light, the ones that cause people to label him as evil or a frith-breaker or the bane of the gods – these are the myths that have the deeper layer. The ones that have more occult knowledge hidden within them than can ever truly be spoken. His stories are some of the deepest ones I know, and I am glad to find a treatise by a polytheist that explains why such seemingly cruel myths delve into sometimes unfathomable depths.

Sources:

Sallustius. “On the Gods and the World.”

Havamal Verse 54 from the Poetic Edda, Oliver Bray translation.

©Kyaza 2019

Interpreting Sallustius: Part I

Sallustius wrote one of the oldest known treatises on the Greek gods, “On the Gods and the World” in the 4th century. In this treatise, he discusses the characteristics of the gods and myths in dense detail. The treatise itself is under 15 pages, but it contains a wealth of wisdom for any polytheist interested in theology.

In the second chapter, Sallustius discusses the nature of the gods. He starts by saying that:

A god is immutable, without Generation, incorporeal, and has no Subsistence in Place.

This is the first argument about the gods that he puts forth, and he  explains it thusly:

The essences of the gods are neither generated; for eternal natures are without generation; and those beings are eternal who possess a first power, and are naturally void of passivity. Nor are their essences composed from bodies; for even the powers of bodies are incorporeal; nor are they comprehended in place; for this is the property of bodies; nor are they separated from the first cause, or from each other; in the same manner as intellections are not separated from intellect, nor sciences from the soul.

In the modern era, this is not an easy passage to interpret, especially as it concerns the nature of the gods themselves.

Even the first line can be difficult to wrap your mind around because how do the gods exist if they were not first generated? But Sallustius explains that the gods cannot have been generated, as the gods possess eternal natures and eternity itself cannot be generated – it simply exists.

His next statement holds some fairly interesting connotations since he states that eternal beings cannot be passive simply because they exist. That definitely implies that the gods are constantly in motion, constantly acting. They may be doing so in ways we cannot understand, but the lack of passivity definitely indicates that the gods are always in motion – that eternity itself is not a passive existence but a very involved one.

Sallustius then states that the gods do not possess bodies due to the fact that bodies hold powers that are incorporeal. By this, he means that the powers of a body do not impact the eternal existence of the material universe. In converse, the powers of the gods do impact and shape that existence, thus their powers cannot be found in something that holds a physical form. Essentially, if a god was bound to a body as physical beings are, they could not be gods, as the powers of the body would prevent the gods from acting upon the eternal existence of the material universe.

For a similar reason, the gods are not bound to place because only bodies hold the property of being bound to place. The gods are not restricted to where they are or are not – they simply exist. In some ways, this implies that the gods are both everywhere and nowhere because place means nothing – they are not bound to existence; they are existence.

Finally, Sallustitus states that the gods are never separated from the first cause or from each other, which is where this gets very metaphysical. Essentially, the gods are always existence, and, because they are always existence, they can never be separate from it. Since the gods are all always existence, and existence cannot be separated from itself, the gods themselves are always connected to each other.

This does not mean that all the gods are one god or that all existence is singular – it rather suggests that the gods each are a very particular type of existence that resides nested in all the other potentialities of existence. The gods are all in each, rather than all in one, which is the central component of the doctrine of polycentric polytheism.

Sallustius essentially establishes this principle within the second chapter of his treatise, where he lays out his basic understanding of the nature of the gods. In his third chapter, which I will examine in Part II, he discusses the divine nature of myths.

 

Sources:

Sallustius “On the God and the World”

©Kyaza 2019