Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters

 

forksmaine

Dead and Kennebec Rivers, The Forks

 

My first experience with a God was with the River God of the Kennebec River in Maine. When I met the Kennebec, She was wild and untamed in spite of being dammed for over a hundred years. (Note 1) (Note 2). My family lived at the meeting of this river with the Dead River at The Forks. Although the Dead River is considered a branch of the Kennebec, it has a different nature. According to my late grandfather (former Maine Guide), this river was called “Dead” since it took so many lives of people trying to travel the river. While the Dead was quiet and menacing. I could sense that the Kennebec did not tolerate humans very much either.

Since then, I have met the acquaintances of other River Gods. The ancient God of the Potomac of Washington D.C. is so primordial that He is beyond language. The New River of West Virginia, although more primeval, is amused by humans and their activities.

Echoing my experiences, Regis Boyer wrote in his forward of “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” by Claude Lecouteux. (Note 3), “We evolve within an inhabited ‘natural’ world, one in which the gods themselves, or the deified dead, are the cornerstone of reality. As a result it is a world that cannot conform to appearances.” (Note 4) Boyer further observed that the “Spirits of the Land” (Genii Loci) have been devalued, starting with Christianity. Even in modern times, the devaluing continues, but the Sacred still manifests Itself.

In examining ancient and medieval customs, Claude Lecouteux concluded that people once understood that they cohabited with the Spirits (Gods). Because of this, ancient peoples performed rituals, listened to oracles and made sacrifices. The folk customs of the medieval peoples such as the “rite of crossing a river” continued to fulfill this contract with the Spirits (and various Gods). Lecouteux continued, “they left us one essential law: mankind should live in harmony with the surrounding nature…. In order to prosper then, we must continue to honor the genii loci.” (Note 5).

Lecouteux interprets the ancients as asserting that the world is neither human nor spirit centered, but is full of spirits. Some are Gods, some are land or water spirits, but none are human. A wise person understands that they would have to co-exist with all of these Spirits, since they will encounter Them at times.

Recognizing the power of the Gods, Christianity sought to tame Them. The Church renamed various Gods as Saints, and built churches by sacred fountains and in groves. Those Spirits (and Gods) they could not tame, the Church called demons, who had been expelled from heaven. Meanwhile, lay people often saw these Spirits as dragons, fairies, or simply “The Little People.” No matter how much the Church (and later Science) sought to de-sanctify Them, the Gods still remained powerful.

The Gods of Water have many sacred places throughout Europe, which are still recognized. The Severn of the U.K. is named for an old British Goddess. The Rivers Boyne and Shannon in Ireland are named for the Gods Boann and Sinann respectively. The healing springs at Bath, England is the sacred place of Sulis, the Celtic Goddess of Healing. The Romans revered the Tiber River as Tiberinus. Each of these Gods received offerings from local peoples.

I, as a Roman Polytheist, do not see rivers, springs, mountains, and forests as aspects of “nature.” For me, They are not part of one divine entity such as “Mother Earth.” Each has their own power. Some heal, some kill, but all need to be respected. Bodies of water have yielded offerings of silver made by people, who understood the power of these Spirits. One does not enter a forest without permission nor drink from a spring. The Land and Water Spirits remain vigilant, ready to assert Themselves even in modern times.

Tourists like to white-water raft on the Kennebec and Dead Rivers. However, these rivers will claim lives as their due. The loggers who once drove logs down the rivers to the mills understood this. They knew these rivers took what was rightfully theirs.

Notes:
Note 1. Gods and Spirits of the Land and Waters include Those of cities, forests, mountains, and streams.
Note 2. The dam was removed in 1997. Since then, She has reasserted Herself as a powerful, wild river.
Note 3. Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land,” translated by Jon Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015. Lecouteux, who is French, specializes in the study of medieval folklore and magic. He taught at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Note 4. Page x, Claude Lecouteux
Note 5. Page 182, Claude Lecouteux

Picture of “The Forks Plantation” from Maine Encyclopedia.

When A God Says No

In monotheism, when God says no, it has particular meanings. Usually, God’s refusal is explained that it is a part of His Divine Plan. The believer is to trust in God’s Love and Judgment since God knows what is best for all. Therefore instead of focusing on God’s contravening the request, a believer should pray to know God’s Will for them.

In polytheism, no God has a divine plan either for any human or for the universe. Greek and Norse polytheists believe that The Fates who live outside of time decide people’s destinies. A person’s fate could be determined by their family’s luck, the deeds of their Ancestors, their own deeds, and those of whom they associate with. For Babylonian polytheists, Enlil, the Great Mountain, holds the Tablet of Destines which links the heavens with the underworld. However, this Tablet is not a divine plan for the universe. Slavic polytheists see Mokosh responsible for weaving people’s fate. As the Mother of Good Fortune, Mokosh is also the Spinner of Fate. Meanwhile, the Romans could appeal to Fortuna, who turns the wheel, for better luck.

In polytheism, a God may attach Themselves to a family to guide its future. A God may sire individuals within the family such as Venus with Caesar’s family. Therefore, these Gods may have input in that family’s affairs.

In my case, Woden (Anglo-Saxon Odin), Frigga, and Freya are my Family’s Gods, with Woden directly involved with my son. He has many characteristics of a Woden-blessed person – a thirst for knowledge, beserker rages, and shamanic abilities. So I usually consult Them for guidance in parenting my son. Since he is struggling to find regular work, I asked these three Gods for help. They all said, “No. They were not an employment agency.”

Following their refusal, I decided to make offerings to the “Unknown Gods of Work” and Fortuna for help. The beauty of polytheism is that when one God refuses, another may accept. So asking another God is fine, but as in all relations with the Gods, offerings must be made and Gods have their own agency.

Hercules, the Roman God/Hero answered me. He was the last God that I wanted to have any relations with. Hercules is too male and too anti-woman for my comfort. However, I decided to accept his offer, after finding out more about Him. I realized that Hercules understood my son, since this God/Hero is given to bouts of depression and insanity. To become whole again, He labored at difficult tasks to restore his sanity.

Roman mythology about Hercules differs from the Greek Heracules. For Romans, He is the Protector of Rome and One of the Original Founders, Patron of Quarrymen, and Friend of the Muses. What I learned from Hercules is how to be a mother to a man. (I now have a home cultus for the God/Hero.)

In polytheism, when one God says no, it can have many meanings. The God could be warning the person of spiritual impurity. The God desires not to be involved with a human. The God simply does not want to answer that particular request. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask another God. Bear in mind that no God is a cosmic bellhop. Each human enters into a contract with each God to do rituals correctly, make sacrifices, and heed divinations. Mine with Hercules is to make particular offerings in series of twelve on twelve consecutive days on his various holidays.

Greylag Goose: Follow Your Own Star

goosegreylagOne of Juno Moneta’s animals is the graylag goose, who live at her temple.

The largest of the Grey Geese, Greylag Goose is the last to migrate south. Some suggest that this Goose’s name came from Her being the last to leave. Besides being known as “graylag”, this big powerful Goose is also called “wild goose”.

Whatever her name, Greylag Goose is the wild ancestor of the Domestic Goose. Always alert, Greylag Goose is difficult to approach. Among Christians, Greylag Goose is the devout person who keeps a vigilant watch over their soul. Since Domestic Goose inherited her wariness, He makes excellent “watch goose”.

In 390 BCE, Greylag Goose saved the City of Rome. When the Gauls attempted to attack the Capitol area, Greylag Goose warned everyone with her noisy honking. Alerted by Her, the Romans were able to repel the invaders. Since it was in Juno’s temple where Greylag Goose warned the Romans, She became Juno’s sacred animal.

However Greylag Goose often comes into conflict with farmers. Because She prefers the youngest and most succulent of plants, they lose many crops to Her. Her heavy bill with its serrated edges easily snips the growing grasses. Many farmers consider Greylag Goose a pest.

Honored by some, Greylag Goose is detested by others. She is both a guardian for people and a destroyer of their food. Many things to many people, Greylag Goose listens to her inner voice. Domesticated many millennia ago, She remains the only wild Goose that still breeds in Britain. Greylag Goose ignores popular opinion to follow her own star. However, make sure that you do the right thing when asked.

Gods Recruiting: Buddhism and Westerners

“Buddhism” was the term used by the British to denote the myriad religions of Asia that featured worship of the Buddha. These religions include those practiced by the Japanese and Tibetans, as well as the Thai and other peoples. Originating in India, Buddhism is actually a missionary religion. In the 6th century, monks from Korea went to Japan to spread Buddhism. After World War II, priests of various Buddhist lineages emigrated to the West and set up temples for Europeans and other Westerners.

During the various exchanges, Buddhism both transformed and was transformed by each culture. Because of the evolving nature of each culture, there is no one “pure or authentic” Buddhism. Instead, there are many lineages and sects instead.

In the exchanges with the West, Western philosophy permeated Buddhism. Western scholarship methods are now taught in Buddhist centers. Students read commentaries of the Holy Scriptures in English. Meanwhile from living in India, the 14th Dalai Lama has adopted the ahimsa of non-violence taught by Gandhi into Tibetan Buddhism. In contrast, the 13th Dalai Lama told Gandhi that he had no idea of what ahimsa meant.

The Gods in Buddhism are a cultural part of the religion. The Goddess Tara, a popular Goddess in Buddhism has many forms, but most Pagans worship Green and White Taras. (Security and Compassion, respectively.) Tara, Herself, was formed by the tears of Avalokiteshvara, the original bodhisattva. She is considered by some to be a Mother Goddess.

Another Goddess that Pagans revere is Kuan Yin (Wade Giles spelling), whos often regarded as the Mercy Goddess. She is another form of Avalokiteshvara. Kuan Yin is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of All Buddhas,” and is similar to the Christian Mother Mary. (Tara is from the Indian tradition of Buddhism, while Kuan Yin is from the Chinese.)

In venerating these Gods and others of Buddhism, Pagans should be aware of several things. First, the Buddhism that permeates popular American culture is an invention of Henry Steel Olcott. (Note 1) He reimagined the religion as rational, free of dogma, and with no rituals. His reinvention has Buddhist tenets based on Western science.

Secondly, the Shangri-La myth (Note 2) of popular culture presents Tibet as the place of all wisdom, with the lamas as the “old wise ones.” By romanticizing Tibetan Buddhism, this myth gives Westerners the notion that this is the purest form of any religion. The Shangri-La myth spoke to the Western psychological needs of being unrooted in a modern world.

One Pagan that I knew regarded the Green and White Taras as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deities.” (Note 3). He viewed these Goddesses to be non-judgmental and compassionate. He often spoke of Them as helping him to heal and to be a happy human being. As he told me about Them, I thought of the Taras as therapeutic constructs for him.

I think that Pagans who worship Buddhist Gods should know their cultural origins. Not only that, but what sect of Buddhism are They a part of. Context will aid in knowing who these Gods are. This helps in keeping these Gods from becoming psychological devices to meet the particular needs of the worshipers. Once Pagans understand the cultural roots of these Gods, they can be better able to adore Them.

Notes:

Note 1: Olcott (1832-1907) is regarded to be the first American convert to Buddhism. He is a co-founder of Theosophy with Helen Blavatsky. He is also credited with the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Note 2: James Hilton (U.K., 1900-1954) presented a Tibetan utopia called Shangri-La in his novel “Lost Horizon,” written in 1933. This book became one of the most popular novels of the 20th Century.

Note 3: Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined this term in 2005 to describe the beliefs of American teenagers. They define Moralistic Therapeutic Deism defined as:

A God exists who created, ordered the world, and watches over human life on earth.  The God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in The Bible and by most world religions. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. The God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when this God is needed to resolve a problem. Good people go to Heaven when they die.

For Further Reading:

Tibetan Buddhism in the West: Cultural Issues: Info-Buddhism.com

Study Buddhism from Dr. Alexander Berzin: StudyBuddhism.com

Previous Post in this series: Gods Recruiting: Hindu Gods

Gods Recruiting: Hindu Gods

While some people have been recruited by various Hindu Gods, the vast majority have attracted to these Gods for other reasons. Many Eclectic Pagans have a statue on their altars of Lord Genesha, the “Elephant God,” to remove any barriers in their lives. This means that Lord Genesha shares altar space with non-Hindu Gods, and may not receive the proper reverence.

Other popular Hindu Gods among Pagans are Kali Ma, the Dark Mother and Tara, the Mother Goddess of Tibet and India. The Goddess Religions will add to these Goddesses, Kuan Yin (Wade-Giles spelling), the Chinese Goddess of Compassion to complete the trio. Within these religions, each of these Goddesses is a part of the Great Goddess.

Begun in the 1970s, in the West, the Goddesses Religions reject the over-emphasis of the masculine divinity in monotheist religions, and the subjugation of women. These religions focus on uniting the cross-cultural feminine divinities found in other religions. (Note 1) The result is that the Goddesses of many pantheons relate to each other rather than to their Gods of their own cultures.

However, all of these Gods and Goddess live in a richly textured eco-system where they relate to the other Gods of their Pantheon. Taking Them out of their religious and cultural context creates a loss of relationships and meaning. Fitting these Gods and Goddesses into an alien context causes Them to lose their original purpose of being. It changes Them in becoming something other than Hindu Gods. Some Hindus have complained that this practice weakens their Gods, and saps Their Power. As a “hard” Polytheist, I see differences between Kali Ma of Hinduism and Kali Ma of the Goddess Religions.

For me, this tendency to “plug and play” seems to manifest itself with Pagans who have eclectic practices or see the Gods as archetypes. I wonder if this is a carry-over from the propensity of New Age and Theosophy practices of using the cafeteria approach to Eastern religions. Or is it an offshoot of combining Eastern and Western religions into one belief system as the New Age and Theosophy does? Or is it simply a part of being a part of a monotheistic culture that tries to have all things be homogenous?

Each of the Hindu Gods cannot be distilled into to a single purpose or character. Kali Ma, who has many forms, is the consort of Shiva. She can either purge people of their anger or be the force of destruction. Lord Genesha, the Son of Shiva, has thirty-two forms and titles. His titles range from the God of Scholarship to the Granter of Prosperity to the Lord of Beginnings. This is an example of the horizontal aspects of a God. (Note 2) Each “piece” can be worshipped and called upon separately but together they make up the whole. In their vertical aspects (Note 3), Gods can move from cosmic and unknowable to personal. We as humans can only guess at their True Natures.

Hindus themselves have called Westerners who worship Hindu Gods but remain wedded to the Western lifestyle as “half-Hindus.” They do understand the need of the person to seek their soul purpose. However, many Hindu religious leaders regard these “half-Hindus” as being separated from their old faith but not fully embracing Hinduism. Added to their concerns is the history of predatory and disruptive conversions by Christian missionaries.

How does someone ethically worship Hindu Gods? Some religious authorities have suggested to first study the basics of Hinduism. For example, they counsel practitioners of yoga to know about the religious sources of their discipline. This will deepens the practice by understanding its underpinnings. I think that this can apply to Pagans as well. By studying Hinduism, they can forge the proper relationships with the Hindu Gods that they venerate.

Note 1. “Goddess Spirituality is a movement ¦ a practice ¦ a belief system made up of women and men…  A belief in Goddess as the primary divinity, the Creatrix, is one of the common factors of those who identify with Goddess Spirituality.  Ways of worship, ceremonial practices and expression of Goddess Spirituality is fluid and reflects a “being-ness” rather than dogma and there are no set rules.  Goddess Spirituality can exist within traditional religious frameworks and can also exist without any framework at all.”   From The Mother House of the Goddess http://themotherhouseofthegoddess.com/goddess-spirituality-priestess-practices-resources/

Note 2: “Dealing With Deities” by Raven Kaldera discusses these concepts in depth. Kaldera defines “horizontal” as the aspects where the difference is in the sphere of influence, not the distance from the person. If you call upon a deity using a particular epithet, that is how They will appear.

Note 3: Kaldea defines “vertical” as “how personal and close to humans, or how impersonal and close to the undifferentiated Divine.” The higher aspect is more distant and archetypical, but still the essence of the God.

——

To learn more about Hinduism as explained to Westerners: Kauai’s Hindu Monastery: https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/god-and-gods-of-hinduism

Their book: “How to Become a Hindu” (which is a free e-book) focuses on the questions of conversion and Westerners. https://www.himalayanacademy.com/view/how-to-become-a-hindu

Gods Recruiting: Shinto of Japan : My previous entry in this series.

Periodic Cicada: The Nexus of Time

cicada1Right now, my area is experiencing a cicada emergence. I have found these insects to be magical in their own way. Even their singing has an otherworldliness to it.

In the eastern half of North America, Periodical Cicadas from Brood X invade the countryside every 13 and 17 years. Crawling up from the ground, They emerge at once, in May and June, leaving behind their exoskeletons. For a brief month, Male Periodical Cicadas fill the air with a deafening sound, advertising for a mate. These large Insects spend their brief adult lives with only one thing on their minds – mating. When a Female Periodical Cicada is ready, She will “click” to the Males, “Here I Am!” After mating, She lays her eggs in trees. When They hatch, the Offspring will move underground for another 13 to 17 years.

Living longer than any other Insects, Periodical Cicadas emerge as a single Brood. Each Brood is spaced 13 or 17 years between emergences. This long period prevents Predators from timing their activities to eat the Cicadas. The prime numbers of 13 and 17 insure that nothing can adapt to the Brood Cycle.

Called Periodical Cicadas (Magicicada)), these Insects differ from their cousins Locusts. Unlike Locusts, Periodical Cicadas do not jump. They seem like Locusts because of their larger broods that overwhelm predators by their sheer numbers. After spending many years developing underground, They come up for only two months. Then, the Adults mate and die. Then years go by before another mass emergence.

Besides Periodical Cicadas’ size and numbers, what also makes Them outstanding is their song. Male Periodical Cicadas makes the loudest sound in the Insect World. By vibrating the ribbed plate in a pair of amplifying cavities at the base of his abdomen, Male Periodical Cicada can make his sound heard for long distances. A whole chorus of these whirring sounds resembles a deafening roar of hundreds of kazoos played at once.

Many people have heard Periodical Cicadas, and have not realized it. The sound tracks of many science fiction movies that feature UFOs use the Cicadas’ droning to signal the sound of the alien space ships. Think space aliens, and you associate Periodical Cicadas with them.

The lesson of Periodical Cicadas is living at the nexus of time. For Periodical Cicadas, time merges into one Brood. When They emerge in the present, Periodical Cicadas encourage people to remember the past. Also, They prompt people to think about what the future will bring. In the present, their numbers simply overwhelm people. Periodical Cicadas bend time into a prism of past, present, and future in one moment.

Gods Recruiting: Shinto of Japan

Another in my on-going series of Gods recruiting and religion.

Within Shinto, Inari, the God of Rice, Prosperity and Foxes, will recruit Westerners. Often times, these Pagans are not sure what Inari wants from them. The cultural and language barrier of Japan often stands in the way. Also, Shinto itself is tied to the landscape of Japan. In response, many of these Pagans have been listening to Inari for direction of what to do next. Many have learned Japanese and setting up a kamidama (basic altar).

Shinto could considered an open religion in the sense that the Japanese are bi-religious. In Japanese practice, the Shinto and Buddhist altars are kept in separate rooms, and tended at different times. People will be married in a Shinto ritual, but will have a Buddhist funeral. Therefore, a Pagan can be a follower of Shinto and still practice their form of Paganism. They have to be careful to keep the two religions separate in their daily practices, as the Japanese do.

Since Shinto is a living religion, non-Japanese also need to be careful for other reasons. One is that others, who are unfamiliar with Shinto, regard what these people do to be Shinto. Moreover, many Shinto rituals have specific meanings, and are done in a particular way. People need to know and understand the ritual technology of this religion.

People, not from Japan, should be mindful of interjecting their own cultural ideas into Shinto. The desire to be become a “cultural colonialist” is a strong impulse for anyone to be wary of. That means the person decides what Shinto is or is not for them. It also entails taking a cafeteria approach to the religion – deciding what to follow and not to follow. To know Shinto means to see it within the terms of the Japanese culture and landscape.

In addition, many Westerners are conditioned to think that in religious terms, they can only be mono-religious. Since monotheism, in different forms, permeate Western culture, this is understandable. There is a long cultural history of punishing people for practicing the wrong religion at the wrong time and place. Therefore being multi-religious like the Japanese is a foreign concept. However, Pagans can embrace it in their practice of Shinto, always being mindful to keep both of their religions separate.

To read more about Shinto: The Encyclopedia of Shinto from Kokugakuin University (in Japanese and English).

I lived by Izumo-taisha Grand Shrine, the oldest Shinto Shrine, in Japan. From Shimane Prefecture: Izumo-taisha.

Gods Recruiting: Closed Culture: Native American – the prior entry in the series.