Are the Gods Set in Stone?

Jul 10th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

I had something completely different in mind when I started writing this particular blog post. On Facebook, I had asked for folks to say something about a topic that they wanted me to write about. One individual asked me to take an animal spirit into account and see how much it changes around the world. Well, I work with Crow and Coyote, two Gods that have deep connectivity to the animal world, so I thought it would be a good topic to try.

The original title for this blog post was going to be “Crow Around the World.” The idea was to look at the Native American perspective of Crow as a Trickster and then compare that with other depictions of crows throughout the various mythologies around the world. On the second day of writing, the blog turned from this point to what you are about to read and I really have no idea how it got there. On day four (I am currently writing this on day five with the intention to publish tomorrow – Monday), I stopped to reread what I had written in several sit-down sessions and immediately noticed the huge turn. So I sliced off the original part of the post – two paragraphs’ worth – and added this introduction. I hope you enjoy reading it, but more so I hope that some of the points made will help kick some thought into your own approach to the Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Ancestor, and Spirits of Place. I claim no degree of expertise on the topics of polytheism, spirituality or even theology. I am just me, a Priest (for lack of a better term) to Crow and a simple Polytheist Pagan trying to make it through each day the best that I can.

A statue of Pan from the Louvre in Paris

My earliest memories of the Gods comes from a time frame when I was a library-rat in Wiesbaden, West Germany in the mid-1970s. I had been given an assignment on the ancient Greeks and had come across a section on the Greek Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses in an Encyclopedia Britannica set. I pored over the descriptions of each of Them for hours, wondering what these Gods had been like. Their magnificent depictions filled each page, and filled a young boy’s head with many conversations of what is like to be a God of the Seas, or what does a messenger for the Gods do? These internal conversations filled my mind for an entire Summer until it was time to come back to school and focus on mathematical equations that continue to confound me into my later adult life.

The descriptions were solid. The God of this, the Goddess of that – iron-clad descriptives of where each of the Gods fit into the environment surrounding the Greek peoples. But there was very little on their demeanor, Their personalities, nor the manner in which they dealt with mortals in various interactions. In my late teens, the myths suddenly came to light, along with all those internal conversations I had when I was younger. Dungeons and Dragons had taken hold of my generation and table-top role-playing games were everywhere. This led me to Deities and DemiGods, a manual to assist in roleplaying Gods and their followers in a D&D universe. The book was nice, but there were scattered references to other books, which contained the actual myths – the stories that helped piece together aspects of Their personalities. This God was easy to approach. This one was always angry. This one would deceive you at any turn. That one would try to find someone for you to love. Careful in dealing with this one, She has a quick temper that flares hotly. Or do they?

The myths, the stories, the legends – these are all depictions of past deeds, actions, and mannerisms. For nearly twenty-plus years, I have never really questioned any of these stories, deeds or legends. The Gods were set in stone. They acted this way. They were predictable for who They are and what the legends say of Them. Carved in rock, unbreakable, unchangeable, always the same. Except when my understanding of Polytheism started to change.

Originally, I had bought into the idea of the male and female archetype. All Gods were mapped to the male archetype, and all Goddesses were mapped to the female archetype. The only real difference between the two, when it comes down to brass tacks – was Their gender. Some gentle prodding from two Gods showed me how different each of Them is and my eyes were opened to a far wider, far more diverse universe than I ever dreamed of. A lot of exploration has occurred on my part as to which Gods and Goddesses appeal to my own senses. That turned out to be Japanese in nature, but those Gods were not where I heard the call. I wound up with Coyote and then, eventually, Crow. The entire traditional aspect and formal approach of the Japanese are still very appealing to me, and very different than the extremely casual approach that I get with Coyote and Crow. But that’s something for another time…

With my understanding that each of the Gods could be separate, unique individuals, I found myself approaching another crossroads. Are Their personalities set in stone, as I had previously thought? Obviously, the God of Thunder will always be the God of Thunder. But if a myth or legend ascribes his approach towards a mortal within the story as being stern, and unforgiving – does that mean that the God of Thunder is always that way? Or can the Gods grow in Their individual approaches with individuals?

The starting point for me was to define things with one question – if I believe that the Gods are separate, unique entities, should I afford Them the capacity to change and grow? Are Their personalities subject to the same changes that we human beings have? My initial response was a rather milquetoast  “possibly”. While I can postulate and speculate as to what a God or Goddess may be capable of, there are entities that are mostly an unknown quantity for me. I cannot place my finger directly on what makes Thor this, Odin that or Artemis this other. I do have the myths and legends to turn to, but even these come suspect to my own mind. After all, I am taking the legends and myths as being “set in stone” after numerous re-tellings, translations, and handling by human beings. Human beings who are prone to exaggerating the scope of something to suit their own personal desires and needs. Human beings that are prone to making mistakes in translation or even applying their own misguided politics to the turn of a phrase (see “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”). In the end, my decision was to see the Gods and Goddesses as living, breathing entities that were capable of change and growth within their own personalities.

To be precise and upfront, I have no empirical data to prove or even disprove my perspective. Take it as you will and whatever fits into your own paradigm. I am not out to rock the foundations of your understanding of the Gods and Goddesses. I am merely exploring this on my own and sharing my experiences with others through this blog post. Furthermore, in my mind, the idea that the Gods and Goddesses are capable of changing their behaviors and attitudes towards some people provides a small spotlight on the point that not everyone has the same experience with one of the Gods as someone else might. I would even go so far as to submit that the Gods tend to have Their own favorites among us mortal human beings for a variety of reasons. If They can achieve some of these human-like perceptions, surely They can change Their approaches to humans over time as well?

Yes, I started by looking at a specific animal and seeing how it was perceived in mythology around the world. But in trying to perpetuate the idea that a single archetype would be perceived in different manners throughout different cultures – I just could not shake my foundational perception of Polytheism, that each God and Goddess is an individual, unique entity. From that, I started to wonder whether the Gods could change, slowly alter who They are as individuals. My simple conclusion is “yes” with no empirical data to support my conclusion, aside from my perception of who They are. Should I ever get the chance to understand myself over the course of several lifetimes, and be provided the remembrance of any experiences with the Gods during those lifetimes – I could have a bit more data to work with. But until that happens – if it ever happens – I am satisfied with knowing that I can never truly know the answer. That my postulation is good enough. At least for me.

 

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