I’ve been thinking, since reading “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa, and “Lost Gods of the Witches: a User’s Guide to Post-Ragnarok Paganism” by Steven Posch (originally published in Pentacle magazine: link unavailable), about naming the Sacred.
In ADF Druidry, you are encouraged to adopt a particular “Hearth Culture” to work with. This is usually one (or more) particular pagan pantheons of named deities, which are invoked in rituals. Within other forms of Druidry, the named gods and goddesses of the ancient Celts and other pre-Christian indigenous religions are frequently called upon and honoured.
Of course, such gods have their place in contemporary paganism. We are, after all, inspired by the ancient past and the deities of our ancestors and our lands before the coming of monolithic monotheism. To reaffirm our connection with this heritage, it is fitting that we should turn to the myths and gods of the ancient past.
Yet, I have sometimes found these gods to be remote: historical remnants of the ancient world, mythic figures frozen in time and linked inexorably to a different world.
But what of the gods that are all around us, here and now? Steven Posch writes of “The Eldest Tribe of the Gods”, those who were before humans created their anthropomorphic deities and gave them names and stories. These are the Powers of Nature itself: Earth, Sun, Moon, Storm, Sea, Wind, Fire, and others. These powers have been given various names by various cultures, but they have no need of them. Nor do you need “belief” to worship them, they are objectively real. This, for Posch, is the “hardest polytheism”.
What if, instead of calling upon named gods in our own image, one were to simply call to the Sacred in this way? If instead of invoking Belenos or Lugh, one simply worshipped the Sun? Or called to the Earth rather than “The Goddess”? What would that paganism look like?
Perhaps it would be one where we can remember the “forgotten gods of nature” Lupa writes about: “the ones whose stories were never written down because their devoted ones never wrote a word in their lives”, the gods of Salmon, of Pine, of Dictyostelidal slime molds: “the unnamed gods, the forgotten gods, those who lay in the shadows of the many pantheons of humans”.
In such a practice, rather than attempting to re-construct cultures and practices of the distant past and shoe-horn them into the modern world, a task Posch describes as a “paradigm of pretense”, one may develop relationships with the great Powers of Place, those non-human beings and forces that shape and move this landscape. For me, these would be the East Wind, blowing chill and harsh over the flat fenland; the Sun that bakes the ground in the heat of summer; the Rain that falls seemingly endlessly throughout the year; the Rivers that bring life to the fields but also bring raging floods; the great trees, Oak and Ash and Pine.
Connecting with these Powers, entering into relationship with them, enacted through ritual, through meditation, through prayer and through direct ecological action, could, potentially, be an effective form of truly Nature-based paganism. You could argue that these forces of nature cannot hear our prayers, and care nothing for our rituals, but I feel that would be missing the point. I don’t do those actions because I believe they change the Sacred: I do them so that the Sacred can change me.
Posch writes: “Our mandate is to be the pagans for our own time, our own place, our own post-modern, science-driven western culture. This is the only kind of pagan we can honestly be; anything else is pretense”.