Deities as role models, by Eli Effinger-Weintraub
photo by B. T. Newberg
For months, I’d been trying to develop a relationship with a sun goddess. One day, I looked at the sun and thought, Why am I bothering with sun goddesses, when the sun is real and right there?
In my personal practice, I skip the intermediary and go for the thing, albeit often a highly symbolized “the thing”: the sun isn’t just a miasma of incandescent plasma; it’s a miasma of incandescent plasma with Something to Teach Me about nonjudgmental perception and honest communication.
But deity can have other resonance for me.
Deities as role models
In group ritual and practice, where deities pop up more frequently, I perceive them as über role models of whatever I need to call forth in myself. If I’m having trouble getting my life in order, who better to look to than Apollo, the freakin’ god of order? I have within me everything I need to get my act together – or, at least, I have within me the keys to getting everything I need to get my act together – but sometimes an external metaphor helps me focus.
Embodying the role model
This is how I handle aspecting, of which we do a goodly amount in the Reclaiming tradition. Aspecting, like Drawing Down the Moon, allows ritualists to bring the energy of a deity, spirit, ancestor, or concept (like “Power” or “Community”) into themselves. I’ve done it several times over the years, and, yes, even before I openly identified as a naturalist, it felt like talking to imaginary friends. Amazing sensations of presence filled me, yet I felt that that presence came from within me, rather than being a visitation by an external being.
If invoking a deity in ritual provides external focus for my goals, then aspecting calls forth those qualities within myself and makes them larger than life. It’s “fake it till you make it”: if I want to act more compassionately, wearing the infinitely compassionate face of Kwan Yin for an hour or so may go a long way toward evoking and enhancing the compassion within me.
Participating in the community
This view sometimes creates friction between myself and supernaturalistic Pagans who liken aspecting more to an old-school possession experience, or who give gods and goddesses the same weight of reality as their children and the mayor of their town. But I find the approach beneficial in my personal practice, and it allows me to participate more fully in public ritual and appreciate the diversity of practice and belief that Pagan community offers, rather than staying home, closing myself to the possibilities of deific inclusion, and saying, “Oh, god. Gods.”
Eli Effinger-Weintraub is a naturalistic Pagan rooted in the Twin Cities Watershed. She practices a mongrel brand of Reclaiming-tradition hearthwitchery influenced by Gaia theory, naturalistic pantheism, bioregional animism, Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Carl Sagan. But she tries not to think too deeply about any of that and mostly just rides her bicycle, instead. Eli writes plays, creative nonfiction, and short speculative fiction, often inspired by the visual art of her wife, Leora Effinger-Weintraub. She is also a mercenary copyeditor. Find her online at Back Booth and at the Pagan Newswire Collective blog No Unsacred Place, where she writes the Restorying the Sacred column.
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