Deities: Weekly Lesson 4

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As different as are the many religions of the world, in essence they are all the same. It has frequently been said that they are simply different paths all leading to a common center, and this is true. The basic teachings are all the same; all that differs is the method of teaching. There are different rituals, different festivals, and even different names for the gods… notice that I say \"different names for the gods\" rather than, simply, \"different gods:'
Friedrich Max Muller traced religion back to \"an ineradicable feeling of dependence\" upon some higher power that was innate in the human mind. And Sir James George Frazer (in The Golden Bough) defines religion as being \"a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to Man, which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life:'
This higher power-the \"Ultimate Deity\"-is some genderless force that is so far beyond our comprehension that we can have only the vaguest understanding of its being. Yet we know that it is there and, frequently, wewish to communicate with it. As individuals, we wish to thank it for what we have and to ask it for what we need. How do we do this with such an incomprehensible power?
In the sixth century B.C. Ethe philosopher Xenophones remarked on the fact that deities are determined by ethnic factors. He pointed out that the black Ethiopians naturally saw their gods as black, whereas the Thracians' gods were white, with red hair and gray eyes. He cynically commented that if horses and oxen could carve, they would probably represent their gods in animal form! About seven hundred and fifty years later, Maximus of Tyre said much the same thing: that men worship their gods under whatever form seems intelligible to them.
In lesson 1 you saw how, in their early development, people came to worship two principle deities: the Horned God of Hunting and the Goddess of Fertility. These, then, were our representations-our understandable forms-of the Supreme Power that actually rules life. In the various areas of woman and man's development, we see that these god/goddess representations became, for the ancient Egyptians, Isis and Osiris; for the Hindus, Shiva and Parvati; for the Christians, Jesus and Mary. In virtually all instances (there were exceptions) the Ultimate Deity was equated with both masculine and feminine… broken down into a god and a goddess. This would seem most natural since every where in nature is found this duality. With the development of the Craft, as we know it, there was also, as we have seen, this duality of a god and a goddess.

Deities' Names

As mentioned in lesson 1, the names for the deities would vary depending upon locality-and not only locality. With the Goddess, especially, the question of names could become quite involved. For example, a young man with problems in his love life might worship the Goddess in her aspect of a beautiful young woman. Yet a woman in childbirth might feel more at ease relating to the Goddess as a more mature \"middle-aged\" female. Then again, an elderly person would tend to think of the Goddess as herself being elderly. So there we have three separate and very distinct aspects of the same Goddess, each having been given a different name, yet all being the same deity. As if that were not enough, the deities would have names known to the general worshippers but also other, secret names (often two or three), known only to the priesthood. This was a protective measure.
In Witchcraft today there are many traditions that continue this multiplicity of names. Traditions with degree systems, for example, frequently use different deity names in their higher degrees than in their lower. Gardnerian is one example of this. So we have this idea of an Ultimate Deity, an incomprehensible power, and in trying to relate to it we have split it into two main entities, a male and a female. To these aspects we have given names. It would seem that by so doing we are limiting what is, by definition, limitless. But so long as you know, and keep always in the back of your mind, that \"It\" is limitless, you will find that this is the easiest path to follow. After all, it is pretty difficult to pray to a \"Thing;' a Supreme Power, without being able to picture someone in your mind.
In Judaism there is this problem to an extent (though Judaism is a theocentric faith); the Supreme Power has a name that may not be uttered and may not be written. Yahweh is the vocalized form often used, but it is derived from the four letters YHWH (the \"divine Tetragrammaton\"), signifying \"that name too sacred to be pronounced.”
In Christianity there was developed the use of a human male, Jesus, to play the part of the \"Son of God;' the Christ, thus giving a recognizable form to deity; a form to which the followers could relate. With the addition of Mary, the mother figure, the duality was complete. So it was much more comfortable to pray to Jesus, as the extension of God/Supreme Being, yet all the time knowing that there was the indefinable, the incomprehensible, beyond him. Jesus and Mary were the intermediaries.
So in Witchcraft; those we know as the God and the Goddess are our intermediaries. Different traditions use different names, as already mentioned. These are the names used for the \"understandable forms\" of the Supreme Power, the Ultimate Deity. They are the deities honored and worshipped in the Witchcraft rites.

The God and Goddess of Witchcraft

A general complaint about Christianity by Witches is that there is the worship of the male deity to the exclusion of the female. In fact this is one of the main reasons for people (women especially)leaving Christianity and returning to the Old Religion. And yet it is a strange paradox that many-if not the majority-Witchcraft traditions are guilty of this same crime of Christianity, if in reverse. . . they laud the Goddess to the near, or even total, exclusion of the God!
Witchcraft is a religion of nature, as any Witch will tell you. Everywhere in nature there is male and female, and both are necessary (I have yet to meet anyone who does not have both a mother and a father). It follows, then, that both the God and the Goddess are important and should be equally revered. There should be balance. But balance is as woefully missing in most traditions of the Craft as it is in Christianity.
We are all-every single one of us-made up of both masculine and feminine attributes. The toughest, most macho man has feminine aspects just as the most traditionally feminine woman has male aspects. So it is with the deities. The God has feminine aspects as well as masculine, and the Goddess has masculine as well as feminine. I will examine this in more detail in a later lesson.
What names you use for your deities is a matter of personal preference. In Saxon Witchcraft the name Woden is given to the God; in Gardnerian the Latin term Cernunnos is used; in Scottish, Dev'la. Each tradition has its own name. But names are only labels; they are only a means of identifying. You should identify, then, using a name with which you can feel completely comfortable. For, after all, religion is a most personal thing, at the core, and to be of real purpose-should therefore be related to on the most personal level possible. Even if you join an established tradition this is still valid, find a tradition that seems right for you (as I spoke about in lesson one) but. . . do not be afraid to modify where necessary to make it totally right for you. If the name used to identify the God, in the tradition you have chosen, happens to be Cernunnos (for example) and you have difficulty relating to that name, then choose another for your own use. In other words, respect the name Cernunnos in group worship and all matters pertaining to the coven but, in your own mind-and in personal rites-do not hesitate to substitute Pan or Mananna or Lief or whatever. A name, as I have said, is a label. The God himself knows you are \"talking\" to him; he is not going to be confused! (This all applies equally to the Goddess, of course).
It may well be for the above reason that the name Cernunnos is found in so many branches of the Craft. As I have mentioned, it is simply the Latin word for \"the Horned One.\" To add your own personal identification, then, in no way conflicts.
Traditionally the \"dark half\" of the year (Fall/Winter)is associated with the God. But this does not (or should not) mean that he is \"dead;' or incommunicado, in the \"light half\" of the year (and vice versa with the Goddess). During the light half he is fully active in his feminine aspect; just as the Goddess is active in the dark half in her masculine aspect. So, both deities are active throughout the year, even though deference may be given to one over the other at certain times.
There is a common theme of death and resurrection found in myths throughout the world. The symbolism is frequently furthered in a descent to the underworld with a later return. We find it with Ishtar's descent and search for Tannaz; with Sif’s loss of her golden tresses; with Idunn's loss of her golden apples; with Jesus' death and resurrection; with Siva's death and resurrection, and many more. Basically, all represent the coming of fall and winter followed by the return of spring and summer; the lead figure representing the spirit of vegetation. From Witchcraft here is \"The Myth of the Goddess\" as found in (a) Gardnerian Wicca and (b) Saxon Wicca.

The Myth of the Goddess

“Now G* had never loved, but she would solve all the Mysteries, even the Mystery of Death; and so she journeyed to the Nether Lands.
The Guardians of the Portals challenged her, \"Strip off thy garments, lay aside thy jewels; for naught may ye bring with ye into this our land.\"
So she laid down her garments and her jewels and was bound, as are all who enter the Realms of Death the Mighty One. Such was her beauty that Death himself knelt and kissed her feet, saying, \"Blessed be thy feet that have brought thee in these ways. Abide with me, let me place my cold hand on thy heart.\"
She replied, \"I love thee not. Why dost thou cause all things that I love and take delight in to fade and die?\"
\"Lady,\" replied Death, \"it is Age and Fate, against which I am helpless. Age causes all things to wither; but when men die at the end of time I give them rest and peace, and strength so that they may return. But thou, thou art lovely. Return not; abide with me.\"
But she answered, \"I love thee not.\"
Then said Death, 'An' thou receive not my hand on thy heart, thou must receive Death's scourge.\"
\"It is Fate; better so,\" she said and she knelt; and Death scourged her and she cried, \"I feel the pangs of love.\"
And Death said, \"Blessed be\" and gave her the Fivefold Kiss, saying, \"Thus only may ye attain to joy and knowledge.\"
And he taught her all the mysteries. And they loved and were one, and he taught her all the Magicks.
For there are three great events in the life of Man: Love, Death, and Resurrection in a new body; and Magick controls them all. For to fulfill love you must return again at the same time and place as the loved one, and you must remember and love them again. But to be reborn you must die, and be ready for a new body; and to die you must be born; and without love you may not be born. And these be all the Magicks.”

The Meaning of Witchcraft

All day had Freya, most lovely of the goddesses, played and romped in the fields. Then did she lay down to rest.
And while she slept deft Loki, the Prankster, the Mischief-Maker of the Gods, did espy the glimmering of Brosingamene, formed of Galdra, her constant companion. Silent as night did Loki move to the Goddess' side and, with fingers formed over the ages in lightness, did remove the silver circlet from about her snow white neck.
Straightway did Freya arouse, on sensing its loss. Though he moved with the speed of the winds yet Loki she glimpsed as he passed swiftly from sight into the Barrow that leads to Dreun.
Then was Freya in despair. Darkness descended all about her to hide her tears. Great was her anguish. All light, all life, all creatures joined in her doom.
To all corners were sent the Searchers, in quest of Loki; yet knew they, they would find him not. For who is there may descend into Dreun and return again from thence?
Excepting the Gods themselves and, alack, mischievous Loki.
So it was that, still weak from grief, Freya herself elected to descend in search of Brosingamene. At the portals of the Barrow was she challenged yet recognized and passed.
The multitude of souls within cried joyfully to see her yet could she not tarry as she sought her stolen light.
The infamous Loki left no trail to follow, yet was he everywhere past seen. Those to whom she spake held to Freya (that) Loki carried no jewel as he went by.
Where, then, was it hid?
In despair she searched an age.
Hearhden, the mighty smith of the Gods, did arise from his rest to sense the bewailment of the souls to Freya's sorrow. Striding from his smithy, to find the cause of the sorrow, did he espy the Silver Circlet where Loki Mischief-Maker had laid it: upon the rock before his door.
Then was all clear. As Hearhden took hold ofBrosingamene, (then did) Loki appear before him, hisface wild with rage.
Yet would Loki not attack Hearhden, this mighty smith whose strength was known even beyond Dreun.
By wiles and tricks did he strive to get his hands upon the silver circlet. He shapeshifted; he darted here and there; he was visible then invisible. Yet could he not sway the smith.
Tiring of the fight, Hearhden raised his mighty club. Then sped Loki away.
Great was the joy of Freya when Hearhden placed Brosingamene once more about her snow-white neck.
Great were the cries of joy from Dreun and above.
Great were the thanks that Freya, and all Men, gave to the Gods for the return of Brosingamene.

The Tree: The Complete Book
of Saxon Witchcraft

Raymond Buckland
Samuel Weiser,N.Y.1974

On the subject of deity names, let me explain the ones chosen for the Seax-Wica. From time to time I hear comments from people who haven't troubled to check beyond the ends of their noses, to the effect that Woden and Freya were not the original \"pair\" of Saxon deities. Of course they were not and nobody-least of all myself-has claimed they were. Here is how the founding of the tradition was first explained, back in 1973:- \"It seems that most people who are Wicca oriented are also tradition-oriented (perhaps this explains the battle for the 'Oldest Tradition' title?). For this reason I have given my tradition an historical background on which to lean. Namely, a Saxon background. By this I most emphatically do not mean that there is any claim to its liturgy being of direct descent from Saxon origins! . . . But, for example, names were needed for the deities. . . the main male and female deities of the Saxons were Woden and Frig. Unfortunately \"frig\" has certain connotations today which would be misplaced! I therefore adopted the Norse variant, Freya. So Woden and Freya are the 'labels' used for the God and Goddess worshipped by the Seax-Wica.

Earth Religion News
Raymond Buckland
Yule, 1973

The Seax-Wica does not claim to be a reconstruction of the original Saxon Craft-such a task would be impossible. It is merely a workable tradition built on a Saxon framework, and the deity names were chosen specifically and for the reasons given. Any comment regarding their being \"incorrect\" is, then, totally erroneous.
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15 years 9 months ago #17353 by
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Very comprehensive and informative!
I do very much enjoy Raymond Buskland's works... I own his Complete Guide to Witchcraft and through the years it is still a favorite of mine.

Christina Krantz

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