Deity tends to be one of the most mysterious things in my experience. My relationship and views on deity constantly change. Sometimes people ask me if I’m a monist, a dualist, a soft polytheist (seeing all godforms as the same divinity) or a hard polytheist (seeing all the godforms as individual and distinct). Sometimes I ask myself this. The answer always turns out to be “yes”. The gods themselves are a paradox. One of the things that has always intrigued me is the evolution of a god. We see throughout ancient history that gods often evolve, are conflated or synthesized with others and absorb attributes of others.
Does this mean all gods are the same? Yes and no. Does this mean all the gods are individual and distinct? Yes and no. There are three main models that I like to use, the diamond, comparison of human consciousness, and my current favorite, the river.
The most commonly used and understood model of deity amongst pagans is that of the mutli-faceted diamond which is embraced by softer polytheists. The idea is basically that deity is a diamond and each god-form is a different facet on the same diamond, with each side of the diamond containing the facet having a basic archetypal energy. While this is a great model for beginning to understand deity, I have found that in my experience it can fall a bit short as a metaphor when experiencing deity directly.
The second model that I like is the comparison of human consciousness. You the reader are surely a very different human being than I. We look different, have different emotions, desires, backgrounds, histories, etc. We may even be completely unaware of one another. Yet on a higher level we are all part of the same collective consciousness of humanity, which is a part of the higher divinity. On one level we’re all individuals, on another level we’re connected to our ancestors through the same river of blood. You and I have different bloodlines of ancestry, but if you trace it far enough back we’ll find a place of common ancestry, regardless of who you are. For me, this model works a bit better.
My current favorite model is one that Christopher Penczak recently proposed in response to a question I had. The idea is viewing deity as a river, and this is how I’ve come to understand it. If we think of Source as an ocean and gods as rivers coming from the ocean, things make a bit more sense for me. There are different points the river shifts, splits, comes back together, etc. Which we see throughout history.
Let’s take Hekate as an example with some of her historical conflations and synthesizations. We have the Thracian deity Bendis as a river. She then forks into two different rivers of their own, that of Artemis and Hekate. Artemis then merges with another river which we’ll call Diana. Hekate the Greek goddess takes a turn and becomes Hecate, the Roman goddess with some slight differences. At some point Hekate then merges with Diana as Diana-Hekate. We find that Ereshkigal merges at one point of the river as Hekate-Ereshkigal of the Greek Magical Papyri. We also find that a completely different and distinct river named Isis merges with Hekate at some point and creates Isis-Hekate. Now looking at the river of Hekate as a whole, there’s a point where Hekate splits off into different streams of power, or perhaps different epithets – also different egregoric connections with different groups and civilizations. We also find Hekate’s river broadening at some point as Hekate Soitera, the World-Soul itself of the Chaldean Oracles. But we must also remember that the water all came from the same source ocean as well.
When we call upon and work with deity, we are experiencing different and distinct parts of the river and where it merges and splits throughout history. We have points of specific power and personality. The gods however, transcending time and space, contain all of these past points and future points simultaneously outside of our linear perception of reality.
That being said, not all rivers touch so to speak. I’m not so sure that calling upon Quetzalcoatl-Eros would work or even make sense. Discussing this with Jason Miller recently, he shared a great insight which I agree with. He told me that he feels that “20th Century Paganism has had a terrible tendency to oversimplify and ask only about the correspondences – not the differences. As such we get a bland stew. If we focus on differences and what makes a being unique, we have an avenue for depth and lifelong commitment. I would much rather see someone face a quarter and invoke a deity by reciting a long list of their attributes and deeds, than someone standing up shouting dozens of names that have the thinnest connection and say ‘you who are known by….’”
In conclusion, I would say that the gods are and probably always will be the biggest mystery that shifts and changes as our relationship and experience with the divine does. While models are helpful, none are absolute or perfect. They help us gain an approximate understanding, but not an exact one, which may be impossible while living life as a human.