Movable Gods

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research into the gods of continental Europe, of the areas once known as Gaul and Germania, as well as those British gods we know from history and archaeology more than from literature and myth. I have a real fondness for these deities, along with other gods who traveled.

This makes sense, honestly, for me as someone who lives a good way away from the regions my gods first made themselves known. I’m similarly interested in the ways that communities introduce new gods, and the ways that deities accompany colonists to a new region. Gods and their migrations is clearly a topic of some interest.

A lot of what little we know about the gods of Gaul and (apart from Ireland and Wales, where a mythic literature survives) Britain is based on archaeology and linguistics. What this means is that much of our knowledge is dependent on what has survived and been discovered in and on the ground, usually in the form of imagery and (Latin) text inscriptions. This included not only temples (some gods had several, most had none that survived) but also such things as votive offerings which might have inscribed on them the name of the deity receiving them, altars raised in fulfillment of a vow made to a particular deity, and place-names that appear to honor a deity or indicate the presence of a worship site. Sometimes the linguistic and archaological evidence doesn’t match up–for example, the goddess Nantosuelta’s name would indicate a river connection but her strong association with symbols of abundance and prosperity (along with her large number of likely worship sites) suggests that she is far more than a river spirit. It may be that other gods we are familiar with from fewer sources originally had a wider range of associations than we know of as well.

In some cases a god was known across a wide geographical area. Epona was one such–the Romans themselves adopted her and there is, uniquely, evidence of her worship in Rome itself–but other gods were known in different regions as well, such as Belenos, Sirona, or Rosmerta. Others were most well-known in a particular area–for example, as goddess of the river Seine, Sequana tended to be worshipped most often near that river. Still others, tribal deities, have been attested primarily in regions where those tribes existed, although tribal territories sometimes moved and their gods did likewise. There are also gods we know of only from a single inscription or other archaeological find.

Here I’m going to talk a bit about Rome. I’m not myself (at least at this point in time–I’ve learned over the years to never say never) a follower of the Roman gods. Partly this is a conscious choice in that the Romans were very particular and detail-oriented about their worship, and I don’t think I’m personally a good match for that sort of system; partly I suspect it’s because I am already so connected with the Greek gods, and the Greek and Roman pantheons have a very complex relationship.

But about Rome. The Romans were travelers, that is one way to put it. On their travels they encountered many people, and along with these people they encountered their gods. And when it came to gods, the Romans had this thing called the interpretatio romano, which means, essentially, that they saw the gods they encountered as being their own Roman gods under different names. So if they ran across a Celtic god who was a healer, they figured that he was Apollo; if they found a war god, they assumed he was Mars, and so forth. So, Apollo Grannus is the Celtic god Grannus by way of the interpretatio romano. Mars Leucetius is the deity formerly known as Leucetius. And so on. (So, if this is the way your polytheism rolls, there is certainly precedent for it. :))

This was more common with male deities, although sometimes a Celtic goddess was associated with a Roman one (such as Sulis Minerva, patron goddess of the healing springs of what we now know as Bath). But often the Romans would take a Celtic deity couple, such as Borvo and Damona, and only the male deity would be given a Roman name to add on–thus, at some sites Borvo might become Apollo Borvo while Damona remained simply Damona.

To some extent the interpretatio romana is helpful to us in that it provides a bit of context that would otherwise be missing, since we lack a lot of information on Gaulish gods; knowing that, say, the Celtic Cissonius was known to the Romans as Mercury Cissonius lets us know that the Romans believed that Cissonius had something in common with the Roman god Mercury. On the other hand, we have no way of knowing exactly why the Romans thought that Cissonius was Mercury–Mercury has many associations including commerce, communication, and travel, and we don’t know which of these attributes may also have applied to Cissonius.

On the other other hand, it’s certainly arguable that becoming identified with Mercury made some changes to Cissonius’ character, and that Mercury Cissonius was a subtly different entity (or, at least, took a different role) than the “original” Cissonius. But that’s not quite what I meant to write about here, so I’ll let it pass for now.

Another thing the Romans did on their travels was grow their empire. Over the centuries the Roman Empire expanded from Rome itself all the way to Britain, on the way taking over great parts of Gaul, adding their lands to the Roman territories, and taking their citizens as part of their army.

These Gaulish soldiers took their own gods along with them when they travelled with the Roman army to other parts of the Roman Empire. Thus, when we have evidence of gods being worshipped in a variety of regions, we don’t necessarily know how that came to be, although in some cases (for example, when a god known to exist in what is now Germany is also attested at a Roman military site in northern Britain) it does seem to indicate that a soldier may have brought his gods along with him to his new posting.

So the issue here, for me, isn’t whether a god can move from one geographic region to another. Clearly there is evidence that the ancients believed that they could. It’s more a matter of how this happens–and of what happens when a god who was once strongly associated with a place is honored in a different place. For example, it seems likely that a healer goddess retains that ability whether or not she is called on at her own healing springs–the British Coventina, known for a spring near Hadrian’s Wall, is also attested in what is now France and Spain.

My own sense is that gods may begin as gods of place, but they don’t necessarily stay that way.

How Hard is Your Polytheism?

Over the last however-many years, I’ve observed the terms “hard” and “soft” polytheism becoming less and less useful, both in the larger community and personally. Getting to know the Egyptian deities was a real paradigm-changer for me in that area and while I do still consider myself a mostly-hard, primarily-hard, relatively-hard polytheist, it’s a matter of degree.

On a tangentially-related note, like a lot of kids, I grew up with rocks. Rocks in the field, rocks on the beach. From an early age I collected them, brought them home, played with them, seeing which rocks I could write with and which rocks were best to be written on.

Which brings me, in a round-about way, to my first point. The Mohs scale is a very old and very traditional way of determining and measuring the hardness of minerals. (The ancient Greeks and Romans knew it, although they did not call it by that name.) Basically it involves putting two minerals together and seeing which will scratch which–that which is scratchable being the softer of the two. The Mohs scale ranges from 1 to 10, ten being the hardest; a diamond has a Mohs score of 10 while talc has a score of 1. To put it another way, you can scratch talc with your fingernails, while a diamond can scratch almost anything else in your jewelry box because it is the hardest stone in there.

Speaking of stone and stones, I sometimes find myself in old cemeteries. These days most grave markers are made from granite, but a long time ago they were more typically made from marble. Well, marble may be prettier but granite is harder. Old marble tombstones are often weathered and worn, the text is difficult to read, the corners are rounded by the many years of rain and wind.

The point is, some rocks and minerals are harder than others, and the same can be said of our polytheisms.

I am not a diamond-hard polytheist, nor am I easily crumbled between two fingers. Sometimes I might be a bit like granite, other times I am more easily weathered by the encounters I have had.

Praying on Autopilot

Ideally we do all things mindfully and with full awareness.

Less ideally but perhaps more frequently, we sometimes do things without that full awareness, particularly things that we do often.

Like when you’re driving along a route you often drive and suddenly realize that while you did indeed end up where you intended to go, you don’t in fact remember this specific trip. You were, for lack of a better term, on autopilot. Maybe you were daydreaming, maybe you don’t even remember what you were thinking about, but in any case you weren’t quite all there on your journey.

Or like when you’re reading a book, and suddenly notice that you’ve just read a page and a half with no idea whatsoever of what you read and you have to read it again.

Maybe you’re tired. Or distracted. Or preoccupied. Or nervous. Or worried. Maybe it’s one of those times when your brain insists of going in one particular direction regardless of what you ought to be (or want to be) thinking or doing instead. Maybe it only happens on rare occasions. Maybe it is an ongoing effort to hold your focus steady.

And yes, prayer and devotion is something that, ideally, is done mindfully and with full awareness. It’s something you want to be fully present for. Ideally.

It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis. Keeping focused on prayer can be hard, is hard. My mind wanders, it goes everywhere except where I want it to be. Irrelevant thoughts intrude, they sometimes overwhelm the thoughts I mean to be having.

And I’ll find myself well into my devotional routine, just as when I am driving a familiar route, knowing where I am but also knowing that I haven’t really been paying attention to what I was saying. And there I am, two and a half prayers later and not remembering having prayed those prayers, although surely I did, surely the words were there, the names of the gods were there, they passed through my mind but I wasn’t watching when they did.

And while I try to do better, I eventually had to become okay with this.

Partly this is a matter of simply not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If the only acceptable devotions were those that were perfect–that were done with perfect and complete concentration, with no brain-flutters off in random directions whatsoever? I would have given up on the whole deal years ago.

Partly, though, it is a matter of recognizing the inherent worth of the imperfect, on its own, as it is. The prayers are said. The gods hear them. The names of the gods echo in my mind, regardless of how much conscious awareness I have of it. The words of devotion are spoken and meant, regardless of how much conscious intent is in the act.

On the Evolution of Personal Polytheism

I’ve been pagan for over 20 years, and actively a polytheist for perhaps 17 of those years. My practice back then was quite a bit different from my practice now; some things have stayed the same but others really have not.

I was dual-faith from early on (Hellenic and Norse), but since I now honor gods from four different pantheons, I have amended that to “multi-faith.”

Some of the changes are purely practical. I don’t spend as much time studying because there are fewer books and sources left to study. I do still study, but I know the basics, am familiar with the lore, and am comfortable with ritual and other practices, so some of that work has simply been done already.

When my kids were little, I used my shower time to pray and do simple daily devotions, because it was often the only time during the day that I could count on being left alone with my own thoughts. I assumed that this would change eventually, but they are young adults now and guess what? I still pray in the shower. It works. I don’t only pray in the shower, but I have kept that piece of my practice.

I used to do a lot more group work than I do now (mostly because of personal and health stuff that makes it harder to do that sort of thing). But I used to attend a lot of rituals. I used to write and to lead a lot of rituals, heathen for the most part because that’s the irl group connection I’ve had. I’ve had training for it, which I undertook because our group needed someone to do it. These days, though, I am more of a resource than an active leader, which is a change.

Doing less group work has meant (for me) a lessened focus on festivals and following the calendar and a greater focus on smaller personal devotions and worship. I think I have personalized my practice more since it’s just me now, but less so than I would have expected. I’ve kept the things that (still) work and changed the things that don’t.

I used to do a lot of networking, seeking out and meeting other pagans and polytheists locally, attending Pagan Coffee Nights and so forth. I don’t do much of that anymore.

Similarly, the fact that I no longer travel well means that I no longer go to events far from home. That means a decrease in face-to-face interactions with others, which is certainly an additional change in the role community plays for me.

I do, however, still have online connections with others, which is a different sort of community but community nonetheless.

I also used to incorporate more meditation and visualization work in my practice than I do now (again mostly due to the aforementioned “stuff” and the accompanying lack of focus). It never was easy work for me but it was rewarding, and I hope at some point to be able to do it again. Until then, I have the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve gained, and that has to be enough.

Goddess and Gods: Blodeuwedd

The myths of Wales, like those of Ireland, are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they have been far better preserved than those of their continental Celtic cousins. On the other, they were preserved by people who had a vested interest in stripping them of any religious content and focusing on their literary and (sometimes) folkloric aspects. Christian monks were not great promoters of Pagan gods.

In many cases, existing Celtic myths don’t identify deities as deities at all, and it can be hard to know the original fact of the matter.

So, Blodeuwedd. Known primarily as the bride of the hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes, her name means “flower-face” and she was in fact created from flowers and herbs. Lleu, you see, was under a curse–he was prohibited from taking any human woman as wife. For this reason, his magician uncle Gwydion and his magician great-uncle Math took oak and broom and meadowsweet and made from them the beautiful Blodeuwedd–who, not being human, was not subject to Lleu’s curse. Their marriage, however, was not a happy one and Blodeuwedd took a lover, with whom she plotted to kill Lleu. The plot fails and, as punishment for her faithlessness, Gwydion turns her into an owl. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

But I have a lot of sympathy for Blodeuwedd, honestly. She only existed in order to become the wife of Lleu. That is why she was made. She had no choice in the matter. She had no allies, no family, no friend, no one to take her side. She came into existence, fully grown. No one had ever thought of her as anything but a means to an end, cared for her for her own sake, or given any consideration to what she might want from her life. And then someone came along who might perhaps have thought of her as a person, an individual with her own identity and autonomy–things no one had ever thought her worthy of, or capable of.

It’s understandable. It’s relatable.

To me, that’s the bigger message behind the story of Blodeuwedd. The importance of knowing one’s own value, the importance of having one’s own will.

Breaking the Rules

There’s something I heard, a rule of art, when I was young that has stuck with me over the years: you have to know the rules before you can break them. I’ve seen it attributed to Picasso, and to the Dalai Lama, both of whom are respectable sources. It always made a certain amount of sense to me when applied to art and similar skills–that you have to be familiar with the techniques as they are usually practiced before you can experiment with them successfully. You have to know the tools and what they can do before you can discover what else they can do.

I actually tend to apply that principle across the board in my life. First time I make a new recipe, I follow it to the letter. I may (and probably will) make changes when and if I make it again, but on that first attempt I want to know that what I am making is as expected. When I know how it is meant to turn out, I can do things differently and see what effect that has.

And yes, this also informs my approach to my religious practice. If there is an established way of doing something, I will probably try that first. If it doesn’t work for me, I can make changes, tweak it to see if it’s adaptable, or try something wholly different.

Briefly, I try the tried-and-true, and if the tried-and-true isn’t true for me, I try something else.

What’s In My Etsy Shop

As a multi-faith polytheist I honor many gods, and most of the beads I carry in my shop are for gods I have honored and do honor myself, although I have done and will do custom beads for gods from other pantheons. So my shop-stocking process tends to be a little unique–I try to keep something in stock for many gods regardless of whether the pieces sell, because I think they should be there. And I try to restock sold items as soon as I can with something similar–again because I think they should be there.

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages and finally got around to it. Here’s a list of links to all the deities I have in my shop, arranged alphabetically and by pantheon.

Greek Gods
Aletheia (Truth) Prayer Beads –
Amphitrite Prayer Beads –
Aphrodite Prayer Beads –
Apollo Prayer Beads –
Ares Prayer Beads –
Ariadne Prayer Beads –
Aristaios Prayer Beads –
Artemis Prayer Beads –
Asklepios (Asclepius) Prayer Beads –
Asteria Prayer Beads –
Athena Prayer Beads –
Charon Prayer Beads –
Chione (Snow) Prayer Beads –
Demeter Prayer Beads –
Dike (Justice) Prayer Beads –
Dione Prayer Beads –
Dionysos Prayer Beads –
Eileithyia Prayer Beads –
Eirene (Peace) Prayer Beads –
Eleos (Pity) Prayer Beads –
Elpis (Hope) Prayer Beads –
Eos (Dawn) Prayer Beads –
Eris (Discord) Prayer Beads –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Eros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Anteros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Himeros –
Erotes Prayer Beads: Pothos –
Eunomia (Good Order) Prayer Beads –
Fates Prayer Beads –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Boreas –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Euros –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Notos –
Four Winds Prayer Beads: Zephyros –
Furies Prayer Beads –
Gaia Prayer Beads –
Ganymede Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Aglaia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Euphrosyne Prayer Beads –
Graces, Elder: Thaleia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Eukleia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Euthenia Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Eupheme Prayer Beads –
Graces, Younger: Philophrosyne Prayer Beads –
Hades Prayer Beads –
Harmonia Prayer Beads –
Hebe Prayer Beads –
Hekate Prayer Beads –
Helios Prayer Beads –
Hemera Prayer Beads –
Hephaistos Prayer Beads –
Hera Prayer Beads –
Heracles (Hercules) Prayer Beads –
Hermes Prayer Beads –
Hestia Prayer Beads –
Horkos Prayer Beads –
Hypnos Prayer Beads –
Iris Prayer Beads –
Kairos (Opportunity) Prayer Beads –
Khloris (Flora) Prayer Beads –
Kronos Prayer Beads –
Leto Prayer Beads –
Maia Prayer Beads –
Morpheus Prayer Beads –
Methe Prayer Beads –
Metis Prayer Beads –
Muse Prayer Beads: Calliope –
Muse Prayer Beads: Clio –
Muse Prayer Beads: Erato –
Muse Prayer Beads: Euterpe –
Muse Prayer Beads: Melpomene –
Muse Prayer Beads: Polyhymnia –
Muse Prayer Beads: Terpsichore –
Muse Prayer Beads: Thalia –
Muse Prayer Beads: Urania –
Nemesis Prayer Beads –
Nike (Victory) Prayer Beads –
Nyx Prayer Beads –
Ouranos (Uranus) Prayer Beads –
Pan Prayer Beads –
Peitho (Persuasion) Prayer Beads –
Persephone Prayer Beads –
Phobos and Deimos Prayer Beads –
Poseidon Prayer Beads –
Prometheus Prayer Beads –
Psyche Prayer Beads –
Rhea Prayer Beads –
Selene Prayer Beads –
Semele Prayer Beads –
Thanatos Prayer Beads –
Themis Prayer Beads –
Twelve Gods Prayer Beads –
Tyche (Fortune) Prayer Beads –
Zeus Prayer Beads –

Norse Gods
Aegir Prayer Beads –
Bragi Prayer Beads –
Eir Prayer Beads –
Frey Prayer Beads –
Freyja Prayer Beads –
Frigga Prayer Beads –
Heimdall Prayer Beads –
Idunna Prayer Beads –
Nerthus Prayer Beads –
Njord Prayer Beads –
Odin Prayer Beads –
Ran Prayer Beads –
Sif Prayer Beads –
Skadhi Prayer Beads –
Thor Prayer Beads –
Tyr Prayer Beads –
Ullr Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Irish)
Aengus mac Og Prayer Beads –
Brigid Prayer Beads –
Dagda Prayer Beads –
Danu Prayer Beads –
Flidais Prayer Beads –
Lugh Prayer Beads –
Manannan mac Lir Prayer Beads –
Medb (Maeve) Prayer Beads –
Morrigan Prayer Beads –
Nuada Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Welsh)
Arianhrod Prayer Beads –
Blodeuwedd Prayer Beads –
Cerridwen Prayer Beads –
Rhiannon Prayer Beads –

Celtic Gods (Gaulish)
Artio Prayer Beads –
Belenos Prayer Beads –
Cernunnos Prayer Beads –
Epona Prayer Beads –
Nantosuelta Prayer Beads –
Nemetona Prayer Beads –
Rosmerta Prayer Beads –
Sucellus Prayer Beads –
Taranis Prayer Beads –

Egyptian/Kemetic Gods
Amun Prayer Beads –
Anubis (Yinepu, Anpu) Prayer Beads –
Atum (Atem, Tem) Prayer Beads –
Bast (Bastet) Prayer Beads –
Geb Prayer Beads –
Hathor (Het-hert) Prayer Beads –
Heka Prayer Beads –
Heqet Prayer Beads –
Horus the Elder (Heru-Wer) Prayer Beads –
Horus the Younger (Heru-sa-Aset) Prayer Beads –
Isis (Aset) Prayer Beads –
Khepera Prayer Beads –
Khnum Prayer Beads –
Khonsu Prayer Beads –
Ma’at Prayer Beads –
Mafdet Prayer Beads –
Mut Prayer Beads –
Nefertem Prayer Beads –
Neith (Nit) Prayer Beads –
Nekhbet Prayer Beads –
Nephthys (Nebt-het) Prayer Beads –
Nun Prayer Beads –
Nut (Nuit) Prayer Beads –
Osiris (Wesir) Prayer Beads –
Ptah Prayer Beads –
Ra (Re) Prayer Beads –
Sekhmet Prayer Beads –
Serqet Prayer Beads –
Seshet Prayer Beads –
Set (Sutekh) Prayer Beads –
Shu Prayer Beads –
Sobek Prayer Beads –
Taweret Prayer Beads –
Tefnut Prayer Beads –
Thoth (Djehuty) Prayer Beads –
Wadjet Prayer Beads –
Wepwawet Prayer Beads –