A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door a couple of years ago and wanted to hand out Watchtower pamphlets and recruit me to their cause.
I’m always polite to the religious solicitors. I told them I had my own spiritual path, so I really wasn’t interested — no point in wasting their time or mine. One of them was adventuresome and curious: she wanted to know what my path was. I shrugged — she’d asked. I told her I was Pagan. She was fascinated, her partner not-so-much. She started asking me all kinds of questions.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and I had just wrapped a project, so I had some free time. I stepped outside to join them on the porch and started answering her questions.
One of the first was the “multiple gods” question.
The way I answered that was to point out that dolphins are highly intelligent creatures, but that their environment and social structure is so radically different from ours that we really have no common ground for communication. The monotheists say that we were all made by the same Creator, but it’s pretty clear that the worship of the dolphins will be directed toward a conception of God that is completely incomprehensible to us. Similarly, our God will be utterly incomprehensible to a dolphin. So even if we and the dolphins were to worship the same Creator, we’d be forced to worship very different Gods, not because there are multiple Gods, but because there are multiple worshippers.
It’s like the old poem about the blind men and the elephant. One felt the ear and said the elephant is like a fan. One felt the trunk and said the elephant is like a snake. One felt a leg and said the elephant is like a tree. They argued with each other and came to blows.
Even within a highly homogeneous community with strict creeds, no two individuals see the world in exactly the same way, and no two individuals worship the same God. In fact, as people age, they move naturally from one conception of God to another, more mature conception. So no one person worships the same God throughout a lifetime.
There are in practical measure many Gods, even if there were only one reality standing behind all of them.
But it grows still more complex when we consider what that reality might be. In her Seth books, the channel Jane Roberts described a model of personality that struck me as far more elegant and likely than what we normally consider. We view our human consciousness as a simple, flat, isolated bubble inside our heads. Some say it ends when we die. Some say it goes on forever. Perhaps they are both right.
Seth (the entity Jane Roberts channeled) described personality as more like a tree, and our individual consciousness is like a leaf at the end of a twig at the end of branch at the end of a bigger branch growing from a trunk that shares roots with an entire grove of trees. How “separate” any of us is from anyone else is a question of how far back toward the primal root-ball we have to go before we find the connection.
One important twist on this is that the “higher” (closer-to-the-trunk) connections are entities in their own right, with consciousness of their own that merges into ours. It isn’t a consciousness like our monkey (or dolphin) brains support, but it is awareness. And it is generally bigger and more comprehensive than our monkey-brain awareness. Call it our “higher self.”
This higher awareness can push out leaves into multiple incarnations, simultaneously, and there is no particular reason it can’t infuse multiple species. Seth — a disembodied higher-self entity associated with Jane Roberts and living (or existing) somewhere just outside our material realm — spoke casually of still having a couple of residual incarnations, one being (as I recall) a rather well-fed dog in someone’s house. Seth himself was connected to a still higher-order being that Jane successfully channeled a couple of times, whom she called Seth II. The connection was very difficult and draining, what she called “high frequency” as a way of expressing the difficulty of reaching for the “tone” that it represented. Presumably a still higher-order Seth III held many Seth II instances in its hand. And a Seth IV above that.
If there were a true Creator — a single core — in this model, it would likely be many levels above the Seth II that was so difficult to reach. That would be the monotheists’ God, but it would be so “high frequency” as to be utterly incomprehensible and unreachable. So in any practical sense, we would be forced to deal with lesser Gods, of which there are many, though they are all connected. They are also less than omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and — perhaps — entirely unified in their objectives.
I don’t propose that any of this speculation is True in any absolute sense. I only bring it up to point out that when we speculate about the Gods, there’s no particular reason to limit ourselves.
In practice, it’s entirely sufficient for me to recognize that I’m humanly incapable of dealing with the One True God directly, simply because my monkey-brain is far too limited to grasp anything much bigger than a Giant Monkey In The Sky. Even my wild-assed speculation is limited to beasts and trees and cause-and-effect in a framework of time.
So I’m perfectly comfortable with multiple gods at many levels, ranging from a local spirit of the hearth to a planet-sized Gaia. I don’t pretend any one of them is the True God. Indeed, I find the idea of preaching a True God to be rather immature and pretentious.
My direct personal experience of the divine has been fairly limited. I’m not a channel, nor do I think I would be particularly well-suited to it. As Teo Bishop wrote in his blog, I reach through the imagination.
I have had a strained relationship with male deities, owing largely to my early (and severe) indoctrination into the monster-god of the Old Testament in the Bible. I had a brief exchange with Jesus, once, shortly after I’d broken with Christianity for good: we stood on different sides of a river. I told him I had absolutely nothing against him, but I just couldn’t continue to deal with his father, especially with all his father’s crazy-assed followers out there screaming Hellfire and Damnation at the top of their lungs.
He made a face, and replied, “You’re lucky. He’s MY Dad.” It was funny and sad at the same time.
Goddesses have been better to me and for me over the past fifteen years. My first contact was the first time I cast a circle. It must have been 1995 or early 1996, because I remember sitting on my bed, the only space in my post-divorce rental situation where I could sit and call it my own.
First times for many things are the best, because you are paying such close attention. I felt quite distinctly the four elements that I called, and when I called the fifth element (spirit), I felt them all snap into place as though I had just erected a tent. I then invited the divine into that tent and was answered.
It was a very brief contact, and I have to say (smiling) that I never quite caught her name. I ventured Demeter as a guess, and her reply was, “That will do.” It wasn’t quite right, though, and that sense has dogged me ever since: that the old pantheons have passed on, but what they represented is still there, waiting for a new form and new myths.
I noticed that same dissolving of old boundaries again at my second Dragonfest in 1997. One of the priestesses who volunteered for the Drawing Down was complaining about the experience. She was used to channeling “her” goddess, but when she got out there for the Dragonfest rite, she said it was like being in Grand Central Station, with goddesses and even gods popping in and out of her like commuter trains, depending on the needs of the seeker. She said it was extremely uncomfortable and exhausting.
In the old days (and old tales) Hera and Aphrodite would have snatched each other bald; Mars and Hephaestus would have come to blows. Who knows what Innana and Pachamama might have done, had there been any contact between two cultures so thoroughly separated by time and space?
At Dragonfest, however, there seemed to be a much higher level of cooperation among old rivals and indiscriminately diverse pantheons. I even asked who had put Prozac in the gods’ coffee, which earned me a few glares from the less-irreverent Pagans.
But I think this merging and blending is both inevitable, and a hopeful sign. We’ve lived under the sign of conquest for at least ten thousand years, from the brutal city-states of Mesopotamia, to the burning bush in the desert that set itself above all other gods, to the conquering sign of Emperor Constantine, to the ongoing war of extinction between Christianity and Islam, to the “triumph of capitalism” that is turning the earth into a wasteland.
We need a new model and mythology of cooperation, not of conflict and conquest.
Perhaps the gods are willing to give us this, if we are willing to imagine it.