Dianne Sylvan is the author of a graceful, personal little book on Wiccan spirituality called “The Circle Within.” It’s one of the books I recommend to people when they find out that there’s this cool thing called Paganism and come asking what they ought to read. Even though it’s Wiccan in focus, what she has to say about everyday spirituality is valuable to all us Earth-based types. She has a blog, which I just found today and added to my blogroll, and in that blog she has a post called “Ten Things I Love”. I read that and tried to think of ten things I love along the same lines, but found that after reading her post, my ten things all sounded too much like her ten things, because I had just read the post and love pretty much the same things as she does.
Instead, I went and found my copy of “The Circle Within,” to remind myself of some things she said there, and re-discovered the “Things to Think On” questions at the end of the chapters. They seemed like more productive questions to write about than the ten things one, so here’s the first one (from p. 16):
“Up to this point, how have you seen the God and Goddess? Do They have faces and names? Are They a presence without words?”
I’m not Wiccan, so I don’t really have a “God and Goddess” concept of deity. There are lots of gods, and lots of goddesses, and lots of divine beings with no gender polarity, or both, or have trinary rather than binary gender, and so on and so forth. In other words, my view of divinity is endlessly diverse, and I don’t place any particular limits on the ways they can and can’t be. To the last two parts of the question, I could just answer “Yes”,” but that would be kind of a copout.
It’s hard to talk about the gods. I find myself using language like, “oh, they are really this way,” or “really that way,” or just “they are” and getting myself into all kinds of ontological trouble with that tricky little irregular verb. Reality and being aren’t the same when talking about gods. They are not real in the same way that I am, and I am not real in the same way they are, and here I am getting into trouble again. Suddenly and without even trying I’m saying things I don’t really mean – this is how it always happens.
I’ll start over by talking about one particular god, Lugh. I see Lugh in many different ways. When I first saw him, it was as a shining light. That, I suspect, was a smack on the head in order to get my attention, because it was the sort of thing I couldn’t explain away as a figment of my imagination. So that’s one way of seeing him. I have also seen him in the Otherworld, where we have had long and interesting conversations. There he looks (don’t laugh) kind of like Liam Neeson – I suppose because that’s what my subconcious conjures up as an imagine of strong and slightly paternal Gaelic manhood. So there’s another way of seeing him. When I am knitting or otherwise engaged in a tricky craft project and can’t quite get something to work out right, I’m in the habit of calling on him by one of his names, Samildanach, which means “Master of all arts.” “Samildanach” I mutter under my breath (or shout in frustation) and, almost always, the thing that I can’t get to work suddenly works. This borders on the miraculous for me, because I have never been clever with my hands as some people are.
So, is Lugh a shining light, an imaginary friend who resembles a certain movie star, a swear word, a character from various Celtic mythological stories, or what? I can say, all of the above, or I could say, more honestly, that I have no idea. All I know of Lugh is my experience of him. How do I see him? Well, what day is it?
One of the reasons I’m going to apply to join the Sisterhood of Avalon (and I am – I drew an Ogham on it last night and got Queirt, the apple tree, which was pretty much a no-brainer answer of “do it!”) is that, of the five goddesses they work with, three of them (Arianrohd, Ceridwen and Rhiannon) are ones that I have felt close to for a very long time without knowing why, or much about them, and I see this as an opportunity to get to know them better. The other two are Branwen and Bloddeuwedd. I don’t know Branwen but she seems like someone I could come to like. Bloddeuwedd was kind of a sticking point for me.
In the Mabinogion, Bloddeuwedd is created out of flowers as a bride for Llew (Lugh’s Welsh counterpart.) They are married, but she falls in love with someone else and uses Llew’s trust in her to betray and murder him so she can be with her lover. As punishment, she was changed into an owl. Now, I thought, how can I possibly offer any kind of reverence to that? Wouldn’t it be disloyal to my patron? So, naturally, I went and asked Lugh about it. I was expecting some sort of disapproval. He said,
“This is mythology, not soap opera, and approaching it as though it were a petty drama misses the point. I am not a man and Bloddeuwedd is not a woman and you don’t have to pick sides as though this was a domestic dispute among your friends. Take the story as mythology and the flower maiden as a goddess and see where that leads you. ”
This still doesn’t really say how I see the God and Goddess, but the idea of taking a concept and following where it leads, looking for the gods as an experience rather than an intellectual concept, is, I think, at the heart of it. If I could describe deity accurately, I would probably be one. I can’t, and whatever I say is just a shadow of it.
OK, that’s one question from Dianne Sylvan. There are two more just on that page, but those will have to come later.