Naming the Goddess

I’m both a hard and soft polytheist. That is, when I’m not in ritual, I have a hard time believing that the gods are distinct entities–and I don’t feel any particular need to believe it. The gods can be avatars of one presence, they can be archetypes, they can be characters in myth. But when I’m in ritual, I believe in them absolutely. My Younger Self takes over.

But I’ve always had a tendency to over-analyze things, and I find that lately I’ve been falling prey to this perception that not only do I have to decide whether the gods are distinct beings or avatars, but I have to choose which ones I’m going to dedicate myself to exclusively. Now, this is 100% the product of my own anxious mind, but it’s fueled by two common perceptions in the Witchcraft community:

1. One should develop some sort of relationship with a deity before asking them for something.

2. One can have a matron/patron deity if one wishes.

My anxiety distorts these beliefs into the following:

1. No god is going to want to even speak to you, let alone help you in your magic, until you’ve thrown yourself into devotionals for them for years and years.

2. You have to dedicate yourself to one deity (or a male/female pair), otherwise you’re just a dilettante.

Partly I have trouble with these two beliefs because Paganism doesn’t have the wealth of theology of organized religions to draw on. When I feel confused, there aren’t that many sources I can turn to for guidance. The ancient texts often don’t have the benefit of modern interpretations, and the modern texts are crowded out by Wicca 101 books. Another reason I have trouble is that the anonymity of “the Goddess and the God” or “the Lord and Lady” is what turned me off to Wicca. I needed deities with personalities, stories, characteristics. And while I found that in Cernunnos (to me, his imagery tells his story: his animals, his antlers, his torcs and coins), the Goddess has remained frustratingly elusive.

At the core, though, a lot of my trouble has to do with the fact that I secretly have very low self-esteem. Deep down, I don’t believe I’m worth the gods’ time. The idea that they would actually want to help me is something I can’t wrap my head around.

(But when my toddler asks me for help, aren’t I delighted to offer it? When she wants to put her socks on her stuffed bunny, don’t I jump at the chance to do it for her, even though from my perspective it’s ridiculous?)

I think another reason I feel a need to name the Goddess, or worship her as a particular avatar, is that the Whole of Creation just feels too big and abstract to connect with. I have no problem thinking of it as feminine–that’s a huge part of what drew me to Witchcraft–but asking it to join my little circle, inhabit my wee altar? Other people might be fine with that, but it just doesn’t click for me.

And yet no Goddess avatar I investigate feels right. Isis has helped me a lot, and she has been described as “all that is, that has been, and that will be”…but when I think of her, I think of the mother by the Nile, searching for her husband’s body. Inanna and Artemis have their own distinct histories, their own unique adventures. They’re worshipped as mother goddesses, but they’re not all-encompassing. It doesn’t make sense to me to worship any one of them exclusively.

And yet, for some unfathomable reason, I feel like I have to.

When I do my daily devotionals–which, by the way, have changed since I wrote about them, so I plan to write a followup–I start by re-dedicating myself to the Goddess, and follow that by praising specific deities. I have to work through my fear that the deities are unhappy about coming second. Isis, in her original form, never claimed to have created the universe. Every goddess with a name is the daughter of an older deity, whether by bloodline or evolution.

When I get tangled up in this pantheon or that pantheon or this or that reconstructionist practice, I have to remind myself of why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to feel the Earth more deeply. I’m doing it to celebrate the divine feminine. I’m doing it because I crave the sensuality of magic.

What if all the goddesses are worshiping the Goddess just as I am?

I’m curious–has any other witch out there worked through problems like these? How has your practice evolved to temper them? How do you come back to center when you feel yourself getting lost?

May you feel your practice deeply and with certainty, in whatever form it takes.

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4 thoughts on “Naming the Goddess

  1. Haloveir says:

    When I first began my practice as a pagan (and I do mean practice—not armchair witchery) I was pressured into choosing a matron deity and a patron deity. Not only that, I was told they HAD to be from the same pantheon, and that furthermore they HAD to be deities that my High Priestess was familiar with. Oh, and they couldn’t be deities that someone else in our group had only picked. Really, you would think I was choosing which color Power Ranger I wanted to be based on available jumpsuits left.

    When I left that temple, I went through a fallow period. The gods were still there, in the background, but I felt too hurt and too burnt out to do much about it. The way I got back into things, though, and started developing REAL relationships, was to take it slow. Just like when you get back into dating. Talk with a few of them, spend time together. You might not ever come to the point where you dedicate yourself wholly to just one or two (the ancients didn’t, for the most part…picking one or two to devote to seems to be a modern construct), but you’ll get a better idea of who’s out there, and you might make a few divine friends along the way.

    • Asa West says:

      Haloveir, what you describe sounds like the way my friends and I picked favorite Sailor Moon characters in high school. (One of us was Japanese-American and got us the bootlegged episodes to edgy for American TV.) I liked Saturn, but someone already had Saturn, so I had to go with Uranus.

      Which is to say that that’s ridiculous! I’m so sorry you went through that.

      Your advice is sound, though. I think I’ve been so burned by petty jealousies among friends that I feel pressure to go steady with a deity the moment I reach out to them–as if Deity A is going to say to me, “I saw you with Deity B last night! What were you doing!?” I need to move past that.

      • Haloveir says:

        If mythology will teach you anything, it’s that deities, for the most part, are not monogamous. 😉

  2. priestessavalonrainsong says:

    As someone who also struggles with over analyzing things, I can definitely say it robs us of spiritual experience. If we question our experiences too much, they dissolve into nothing, and that’s what we’re left with. Belief is fine. Knowledge is fine. But belief and knowledge are two separate things. No, we do not want to be willfully ignorant, but there is so much in this universe that can only be felt. I don’t want to ruin that for myself by nit picking my experiences.

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