Thoughts on the worship of little-known gods

I have a real fondness for little-known gods, gods whose names are known only from a handful of sites, or even those who make a single (known) appearance. There’s no way of knowing just how localized these deities were, how long they enjoyed a cult following, or just how many worshippers they had over the years. But I think that it’s worth paying attention to these deities nonetheless, if you feel called to do so.

When you’re researching gods with little or no literary trail, such as the continental Celtic and Germanic deities, you’re often limited to what has been found in the archaeological record. If you’re lucky there will be statues, votive offerings, and inscriptions with some detail, but sometimes all you’ve got is a name, in which case you may be limited to trying to parse the etymology. None of this is all that easy, and most of it is going to be subject to interpretation.

Here I’m just going to put down a few of my own thoughts on this process and things to keep in mind, in no particular order.

  • Most of the inscriptions we know of date from the era of Roman colonization. This places them chronologically, roughly and depending on where you are geographically, between the 1st and 5th century CE.
  • Gallo-Roman religion was a thing, and that means that even what little information you are able to glean may differ in unknown respects from what the locals were doing before the Romans came around.
  • Inscriptions that predate the Roman era are extremely, extremely rare. There is other archaeological evidence for this era but generally it doesn’t help identify gods.
  • Statuary is likely to reflect the Romans as well although it can help identify deity attributes.
  • Consider the company they kept. I don’t only mean cases where a god appeared with their consort (i.e. Nantosuelta and Sucellus), but where a group of gods were worshipped at the same site; such as in Etrechy where Carantana, Etiona, Gnatus, Isosa and Hidua were found together.
  • Chances are that you will come across more unique female god-names than male. The Romans were more likely to apply the interpretatio romana to male deities than to female, so you have plenty of references to Gaulish Mercuries, Apollos and Marses, who may or may not have their original name attached (i.e. Apollo Grannus).
  • Remember to respect the deity’s original land and context–remember where they came from.

A Brief Intro to Greek Hymns, Part 1: The Homeric and Orphic Hymns

While I am a big fan of writing your own prayers to the gods, you absolutely do not have to do this. Maybe you don’t feel called to do it, maybe you just don’t care to, maybe you prefer using prayers with some ancient history. In any case, you have other options.

Probably the best known sources of ancient Greek hymns and prayers are the Homeric Hymns and the Orphic Hymns, both of which have been collected and made available in a number of different translations. They are lovely and there are quite a few of them, so here I’m going to provide just a little context.

The Homeric Hymns
The 34 Homeric hymns were not (as is often assumed) written by the Homer who is said to have authored the Iliad and the Odyssey during the 8th century BCE, although many are believed to have been written not long after those epics in the 7th and 6th century BCE, while others appeared hundreds of years later. They are called “Homeric” because they use the same poetic metre.

Some are very brief (as short as 3 lines) while others are quite lengthy, ranging from 293 to 580 lines. The shorter ones tend to be prayers of praise while the longer ones often include the telling of myths of the gods. They are believed to have been used to introduce longer pieces (or, in the case of longer hymns, as stand-alone works) during performances and competitions.

What that means is that these prayers were intended for an audience, not generally for use in what we would consider a religious context, and certainly not for use in personal prayer. That doesn’t mean that we can’t use them that way–just that it’s something to keep in mind. The shorter prayers in particular are often a lovely choice.

The Orphic Hymns
By contrast, the 87 Orphic Hymns were not only written for religious use but in a very specific religious context–that of Orphism, a mystery religion practiced as early as the 5th century BCE.

They are quite beautiful (I am especially fond of the Orphic hymn to Athena); they also come with incense recommendations for each, which underlines the religious context.

The Orphic hymns reflect the Orphic religion; they thus include prayers to gods not a part of the “mainstream” Greek religion, as well as references to a specifically Orphic mythology that diverged from what we may be familiar with in a number of ways.

What this means is that while we can certainly use Orphic hymns in our own worship even if we don’t subscribe to that particular belief system, it’s probably a good idea to learn a bit about the Orphic religion first because some of what is in the hymns does have a different meaning in the Orphic context.


To be continued!

New in my Etsy Shop: Wire-wrapped Prayer Beads

I’m actually not quite sure how best to describe these, but basically they are
prayer beads made with rosary-style chain construction. Rosary-style chain is made by threading each bead separately with wire, forming a wire link on either side and joining the beads together with those links. Wire-wrapping adds extra strength and durability to the chain and the finished piece. They have a different “feel” to them in use than the other beads in my shop–kind of an apples-and-oranges thing–and they are way more time-consuming to make, but also a lot of fun.

I listed six to start:

Aphrodite

Athena

Dionysos

Hades

Hestia

Poseidon

Coming soon in my Etsy shop!

chain beads coming soon

Five Reasons to Write Prayers

While I am a writer of prayers and (like most other prayer-writers, I think) I am happy and honored whenever someone uses one of my pieces* in their practice, I am also greatly in favor of people writing their own devotional works for the gods. I don’t think it’s something you have to do, but if it is something you are at all drawn to, there are excellent reasons to give it a try.

1. They are personal.

When you write a prayer to your gods, you write it from your own point of view. It will reflect the relationship between you and the deity, and you can say things with it that just wouldn’t be there in a piece written by someone else. It can be as subtle or as direct as you want it to be.

2. They are unique.

The prayers that you write are new to the world and to the gods. The words you speak heve never been spoken before. The gods have never heard them before. A prayer you write is an entirely brand-new creation!

3. They add to the accumulated honors paid to the gods.

The gods may not need our praise and recognition, but I think that most of them like it. And I think that we need it, not just on a personal level but as a community–the more we give to the gods, the more we love and worship them, the more we are all enriched.

4. They (may) add to the resources available to the community.

You don’t have to make your writings available to others, either widely in public or on a one-on-one basis. Most people don’t. The gods receive and are honored by them regardless. But if you do choose to share your writings with others, it is a real gift to the community.

5. You learn so much!

There’s something about the act of writing that brings understanding. It is rare that I come out of a writing session without some insight into the nature of the god or gods I am writing for; writing, to me, is not only a devotional act but one that connects me to the gods like little else can.


* My prayer blogs are online and include writings for Greek, Celtic, and Norse gods.

Why I Do What I Do

Back in another life, I studied technical communication; I’ve never actually worked in the field (due to a combination of factors including settling down so very far away from anywhere it’s a viable career :)) but I’ve used what I learned quite a lot over the decades. And one thing that has stuck with me in that time is the idea that it is good to make things easier for others. To take specialized information and present it in a way that is clear and understandable.

Because everyone can’t do everything. Everyone can’t know everything. They can’t, and they shouldn’t have to.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s the religion with homework.” That’s not inherently a bad thing–I am certainly a fan of research and study and learning about the things that are important to you–but it is a thing that can keep people from approaching the gods.

Not everyone has the time or the resources or the wherewithal to engage in intense study. And they shouldn’t have to, to honor the gods.

Not everyone has the ability to devote huge chunks of their lives to their religion. And they shouldn’t have to, to honor the gods.

I used to see on various forums, when a new someone would come in and ask a question, many people reply abruptly with “Read the Eddas/Iliad/Mabinogion/etc.!” And while that’s in a way understandable (“I did the work, you can too.” “If you really want it, you’ll go the extra mile.”) it is, to me, unwelcoming.

The polytheistic faiths are not evangelistic paths, we are not (generally) active seekers of new adherents, but I don’t think it’s useful or necessary to make it more difficult than it already is for the new person. Why set up obstacles? No, we don’t owe it to anyone to spoon-feed or hand-hold, but to offer a little help isn’t that.

So, you know what? I love research and reading. I enjoy it. It’s fun. Not everyone is me. (One is enough. :)) I like comparing sources and pulling them together. And I like to write. So, this blog, where I try to take what I’ve learned and make it more accessible.

I also write prayers, which comes from a different bit of background and a less clear-cut mental place, but even there I am doing it as a maker of useful things, a provider of practical and usable information.

It’s also, for me, something I do to honor the gods. Making it easier for others to approach them, learn about them, worship them, that’s a part of what I feel called on to do as a part of my own path. Taking information that may be difficult to access and making it available, to me that feels important.

Because you shouldn’t have to be a scholar to worship the gods. You shouldn’t have to be a student or a mystic or a poet or a priest. You should be able to be just an average person with a busy life who wants to connect with the deities in whatever way they are able, and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it because you lack the time or the resources or the wherewithal.

New in my Etsy Shop: Goddess Prayer Beads

If you’ve read my blog you know that I honor the gods of several different pantheons in my practice. One of these is a goddess who has not (yet :)) given me a name to call her, or a specific context, cultural or otherwise, with which to approach her. So I call her “Goddess” and I keep an altar to her, with things that just feel right. (She seems to like earthy, mother-goddess imagery.)

Since I realized that I’m not the only one in this situation, I’ve decided to add Goddess Prayer Beads to my shop.

These are meant not only for those who honor an unnamed or unknown goddess, but for those who honor a nonspecific or single Goddess for any reason, and for those who honor the feminine divine.

Here’s a link to the new section: Goddess Prayer Beads

And here are some of the items I’ve just listed:

p-goddess_knotwork1_1p-goddess_nile1_1p-goddess_willendorf1_1p-goddess_green1_1

I plan to include a variety of goddess-image types because I know that Mother Earth isn’t the only such connection, but I’m starting here because it’s in my comfort zone. If you’re interested in these, and you relate best to a different sort of goddess-image, please let me know and I can try to find something more appropriate (for example, I’m currently looking for a lunar-goddess image, but have not as yet found “the one” :)).