Understanding the nature of deity

The short answer would be, that I don’t – but as that’s not much of a blog post, let’s keep poking about! My sense of what deity is and whether there really is any varies from one day to the next. There are days when my rational inclinations leave me with a more atheistic perspective. The universe is complete unto itself. I can go from there to a feeling that the sacred force in the universe, is the universe itself and that we are all part of a growing consciousness. However, the scale of that is so daunting and impersonal that it’s not unlike having no gods at all.

I do however have this unshakable sense of the sacred, that stays with me on my most questioning, uncertain and atheistic days. It comes as a response to land and ancestry, to experiences in the moment and is informed by a sense of wonder. There are several personified deities associated with the land I live on, so I have a sense of them as both forms in the landscape and historical presences.  But as distinct consciousnesses with intentions and powers… I really don’t know.

I am aware that many Pagans experience deity as discrete individuals with whom it is possible to interact. The sense of deity as something anthropomorphic and human orientated, interested in our concerns and able to interact with us in ways that make sense… makes more sense with some deities than others. Many of the figures in ancient pantheons come across as being human-like – very much gods of the tribe. However, the gods of nature, or the possibility of the divine in nature clearly isn’t going to be so innately human-centric. Gods of earth, sky, seasons, gods of storm and sun seem very unavailable to me. I might experience them, but I do not feel much hope of understanding them or sharing with them in reliable ways.

This blog over at Corvid’s viewpoint has had me pondering though. If consciousness begets physical reality, and not the other way round… then what might that consciousness be? My small consciousness clearly isn’t creating much reality. In the warp and weft of existence, perhaps the gods are the underlying threads onto which the rest of reality is woven. Perhaps the gods are the loom, or the wool. I like craft metaphors such as this.

I still have no idea how reality works. No matter how much pondering I do, I will not come to a place of certainty, because my uncertainty is one of the few things I’m a bit dogmatic about. Other people may know… I do not.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Understanding the nature of deity

  • angharadlois

    This feels very familiar – I often find myself returning to craft metaphors, though not being a very crafty type I am learning to find better metaphors that resonate more deeply with my own experience! – but yes, the warp, the weft, the tapestry and the unpicking…

    At the moment I am learning to set aside the intellectual arguments and work a little more with experiences, because I found that the desire to make sense of it all was scaring me off from fully engaging in those experiences. I’m finding it pretty difficult! But I do have a strong sense that walking a more mystical path for a while will lead me back to the same place I reached through intellectual reasoning, only with new insights and much more perspective to, er, weave back into the tapestry!

  • Aurora J Stone

    It seems to be the need of some humans to put more intimate human faces on the deity. I remember the hullabaloo when people tried to rid Christian liturgy of male dominated images for god. They came up with Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — to replace Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They replaced the ‘persons’ of the Trinity with functionalities, and it didn’t work. Most people, except many seminaries, over half of whom were women, just didn’t want to go there. People liked the comfort of a god who the could image more like us — even though it clearly states in the 39 Articles, I think, that God is without body, parts or passions. Then there was the whole problem when Mary was deemed Theotokos — the God-bearer and almost elevated to a fourth person of the Trinity – quite a contradiction. Anyway — it is hard to come up with ways to describe a deity without recourse to humanocentric language. People have been trying to explain the Christian triple godhead by metaphor for a long time — there is a 13th century text called the Pseudo Turpin where one of the main Christian characters is trying to explain to a giant the nature of the triple godhead and uses ice, water and steam! Remarkable.

    I agree that it is hard to make humanlike the deities of nature. They seem to defy this tendency, at least for the modern mind — Poseidon Earthshaker comes to mind as a way to mix both a humanish image with that which they were known for, as well as Hera of the Cow-eyes and Rosy Fingered Dawn in the Illiad.

    With all this history of how we have tired to understand and from there name our deities is it any wonder that it is so confusing for us. I think it is also complicated because we have so much knowledge of how the sky and space work and so too the seasons; the way the surface of the earth is stitched together however fragilely of tectonic plates; some sense of the patterns of and the ability to predict weather, to project about drought and flood; and are getting better at warnings of tsunamis, though unable yet to know when those events that trigger them will occur; and ditto for volcanic eruptions. But we still don’t know everything or have a totally coherent answer that satisfies everyone about the nature of nature and the natural world.

    All these complicate matters for those of us who related to deity in the natural environment, those of nature and landscape. I find it a challenge personally to work with some energies of nature — the big ones like the sea and interstellar space and the planet as a whole. I can work with and relate to more localised nature deities — the little stream or one specific bend on its path; that special woodland; a particular tree; even on constellation, but if it gets too big I cannot get my mind or soul around it. I lose the ability to relate clearly and closely. It is all down to experience I think and we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to letting ourselves go enough to enter the flow, experience the turbulence, walk in a different way or guise. And this effects I think and for me how, on any given day or season, I am able to understand the nature of the deities of nature and relate to them.

    Did any of that make sense? Or was I babbling drivel for far too long? If not or if so, respectively, sorry.

  • Ryan

    I tend very much towards atheism, but still find druidry meaningful. I suppose I could be classed as a ‘naturalistic pantheist’ in that I try to revere nature (all that is) without anthropomorphising it as a deity.

    Named, human-like deities who answer prayers and intervene in the world never made much sense to me. I tend to see the gods and goddesses of myth as symbolic, poetic figures that point beyond themselves to some aspect of the natural world.

  • syrbal-labrys

    This is pretty much where I find myself…with occasional mystic flights that leave me reeling in reality; talk about a metaphysical hangover!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Our ancestors certainly did not look at their gods and goddess as being all good and often the gods had their own games to play. Often our ancestors did their best to avoid getting a deity’s notice least the deity put the human into his plan which might not be all that good of the human. It was one of the reason parents would not brag about their children’s ability.

    Another oddity about our ancestors was that religion was often left to the shaman or the priest and priestess. While the ordinary person might have personal or family gods the ceremonies were left to the official priesthood. The ordinary person offer a prayer their their own personal or family god but when it came to the official gods the ordinary person might only leave an offering fro time to time. Even in the temples the most holy of holies was off limits to the ordinary person, an area on for the priesthood and perhaps the king.

    Our ancestors argued about whether the gods were real even as we do today Not believing was not so often the crime that it became later just long as you did not openly mock the gods or other’s belief in them.

    I myself do no try to define the gods or claim to know what they want with us or any grand plan that they have for us. I don’t know what they are or for certain or if they exist. But I do like the idea of gods and goddesses, but I am not certain that they have or need names, or that they have emotions, or need our worship. I don’t know.

    That still leaves things open for all the other beliefs about deities. For those that have direct contact I will not contest that you do but I don’t have direct contact though occasionally I seem to feel directed in certain directions.When things go well I will offer thanks to the deities just in case they played a part. But I don’t feel the need to blame them for anything as have no reason to know what they are trying to accomplish with what they may send my way

  • lornasmithers

    On TDN Heron made this helpful statement – ‘The Gods: In Nature they are presences; In Culture they have form.’

    This is very much my experience.

  • seamus13

    well said, Nimue – and thanks so much, most especially for your book on spirituality without structure – when i finally granted myself a full and final divorce from the religion into which i was born, which had resulted in litlle spiritual growth and much damage for years, i was exploring the druid path – but much of what i was reading on the internet seemed that i would be trading one man made organization for another, which i had promised myself i would not do – bottom line – your book encouraged me to forge my own path – keep the good stuff coming!

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