Perspectives: Gods of Place

Rynn —  May 10, 2014 — 20 Comments

Perspectives is a monthly column with the goal of showing the wide variety of thought across the Pagan community’s various Paganisms.

The US is a nation comprised of native and immigrant cultures, customs and Deities. Each immigrant wave brought not only customs and cultures to this land, but Deities as well. The Wild Hunt asked five members of the community—Henry Buchy, Witch; Fritz Muntean, co-founder of New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (NROOGD) and Editor Emeritus for Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies; author, activist and founder of Tashlin Clan, Wintersong Tashlin; and Sam Webster, President and Executive Director of the Pantheon Foundation and publisher at Concrescent Press—for their thoughts on this topic.

How does your tradition, lineage, or cultus handle the subject of “place” as a specific entity? How does this intersect with the deities with whom you have built devotional relationships?

I’d have to rephrase that as “spirits of a specific place.” In some cases there may be a more concrete feel of a specific spirit in regards to certain land features. There are also other spirits in relationship to that place.The way we handle it is to go out and find out who’s who and what’s what, and try to be as direct and open/objective as possible, and work from there. I don’t really have a devotional relationship with “gods.” I have mutually beneficial relationships with “spirits/entities/beings.” — Henry Buchy, Witch

The traditions I practice (NROOGD, plus a kind of genteel non-lineage Alexandrian) do not especially focus on ‘deities of place.’” — Fritz Muntean, Pomegranate

“For starters, it’s useful to know that in my tradition we draw a distinction between the presence of spirits or entities that may be bound to or identify with a particular “place,” and a place having an agency or spirit all its own. That distinction is a bit hard to elucidate, but here’s my best shot: A spirit or deity of a place takes on some of its characteristics and vice versa. From the human interaction side, one is experiencing a separate Power and consciousness through the lens, or perhaps even the medium, of the place in which they dwell.

So for instance take a hypothetical naval ship (I know I’m stretching the definition of “place”). In the course of its voyages, a spirit or Power of some sort, an ocean sprite let’s say, could come to take residence in the body of the ship, becoming joined with its physical form. The granting of a soul or astral self if you will, connected to and perhaps even dependent on the form. Alternatively, when a place develops a Power and Will all of its own, there isn’t a separation between the spirit and the place itself. They are one and the same. In the context of our hypothetical ship, this would be if rather than gaining a sense of self through joining with an outside power, over the course of its construction and/or through the energies it’s exposed over the course of its travels, the ship was to develop some form of awareness, agency, or will by virtue of what it was.

As to how we “handle” those entities and situations, our approach begins and ends in most cases with respect. When we encounter a place with a distinct spiritual presence or power, we engage in the most limited way we can at the outset. The energetic equivalent of hold out a closed hand for a strange dog to sniff. The truth is that not every spirit or power has the slightest interest in people, or perhaps just in specific people.

In those situations, we don’t engage in devotional, ritual, or outward magical acts unless we’ve been given some form of consent. To do otherwise feels too much like not only barging into someone else’ living room, but holding the door open for a bunch of friends to come in too.

The vast majority of place spirits we have worked with are rudimentary in their interactions and care not one whit what we do as long as we don’t engage in harmful behavior. If we plan on doing a great deal of devotional work, such as setting up formal altars and making formal offerings to our gods, we make periodic offerings of one form or another in thanks and to maintain good will.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Whether with respect to the Golden Dawn, Thelema, Witchcraft, or the kind of Paganism I find myself in, we have the capacity to make sacred space, and so where ever we are called to worship or practice, we create a place to meet our Deities. When we get to stay in one place long enough, such as our homes, we tend to build altars and shrines to give the Divine Ones a ‘seat’ and settle their presence. We then render our worship or practice before these constructed divine loci.” — Sam Webster, Pantheon Foundation

In the views of your tradition, lineage or cultus, are Gods inherently present in all places, or do they express through specific places? How does place of manifestation change the nature of theistic expression?

“I’d have to rephrase that [question] to are ‘spirits/entities/beings’ present in all places? To that I would say, in my experiences, yes. Do they express through specific places? Certain ones, yes. Specific places have a more concrete feel of a specific being. For other types of spirits, they have the same feel regardless of place in the sense of type, if that is what you mean by theistic expression. In other words, there are types of spirits that inhabit general types of terrain, i.e. woods, fields,swamp, etcetera, that are recognizable by a shared general nature.” — Henry Buchy

“The gods we work with are substantially immanent and universal — as archetypal forces in the collective human unconscious. So they are, generally speaking, present in all of us, wherever we are gathered. Still, our deities are defined by the sacred texts and compelling narratives of the ancient world (ie, through myths). So local landscapes often remind us of the settings that occur in these myths. This is especially helpful in designing the ritual dramas that form such an important part of Mystery Traditions.” — Fritz Muntean

“The answer to this question is again a bit nuanced. The short answer is that no, we do not traditionally view gods as present in all places, that is, not omnipresent. However, for the most part neither are they restricted to only specific places, although there may be some exceptions. While we do believe that our gods can manifest in multiple places simultaneously, we nonetheless see them as having some limitations. And nor are they present or aware of places where they are not making the deliberate choice to be present. That said, we do believe that some places are more conducive to their expression. Those places may have characteristics that are associated with certain gods, or with devotional acts to said gods. We most definitely believe that repeated use of a place for devotional acts “attunes” a place to the gods the devotion is directed to.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“In short, yes to both. The Gods, being Gods, are the structures of existence, much like the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, They pervade the Cosmos, and indeed They are those laws and so much more. Yet, at some point in time, some one had a specific experience of one or more Deities in a location and set up a place of worship there. Usually, the tale is of a specific manifestation of the Deity giving it a characteristic or locative epithet. Thus while the Deity is in all places active and available, at this place, in a manifestation specific to the place, the Deity most especially in that form, is particularly available.” — Sam Webster

When a Deity begins expressing themselves through or in a place not historically or traditionally associated with Them, do you consider that Deity to be expressing through that place in a unique way?

“I’m not sure what you’re asking on this question as far as ‘place’. However, I’d say yes it would be unique simply by virtue of their being somewhere they usually aren’t. that would bring up a lot questions for me, and bear investigation.” — Henry Buchy

“Depends on to whom these deities are expressing themselves. The evaluation of UPGs forms a very important part of the administration of religious traditions of all sorts, and most especially in this regard.” — Fritz Muntean

“No, not really. Perhaps because being a North American who doesn’t work within traditions native to this land, most of the deities I interact with regularly are already outside of their native geographical context. I suspect that some of those deities do express themselves differently than in places associated with them and their historical worship. Unfortunately, I’m not widely enough traveled to have that a frame of reference. It would be fascinated to experience interacting with some of the deities I consider myself closest to in their places of origin in terms of traditional mythos and cultural relevance.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Any way at any time a Deity expresses themselves is it always unique. If it happens to be a new way, then we are especially blessed to have that experience. It also lets us know that the Gods Live Still, and arise to us in ways meaningful to our lives.” — Sam Webster

What about Gods of exodus, diaspora, nomadism or other human movement? Is there a difference in your tradition or lineage between Gods who come through a new place versus Gods who are carried with Their people?

“Not sure what you mean by “gods who come through a new place.” If you mean the ‘discovery’ of spirits or beings connected to the new place, to me there is no difference, spirits/entities/beings—’’gods’ if you wish, are gods. However, this is a pretty complex question that really depends on the ‘people’ mentioned, and their theology/cosmology, as to whether they incorporate the new, syncretize them with one of their own, or dispossess it.” — Henry Buchy

“Speaking for myself, as well as those downstream of me and my teachings, we are very careful not to engage in mis-appropriation of the spiritual and mytho-poetic traditions of diasporan or nomadic people. On the other hand, most of the specific deities we work with had their origins (or had the details of their narratives reshaped) during the Hellenistic period, when local deities were syncretized over the course of a few short centuries to serve the needs of a population on the move (throughout the Mediterranean and beyond) and becoming cosmopolitan.” — Fritz Muntean

“Overwhelmingly we approach the gods through the lens of diaspora and nomadism, which we see as two separate things. Gods of diaspora came with people from one place to another, where they then settled, and in some cases stayed even as their people spread further.

Gods of nomadism on the other hand are carried with their people wherever they may go, and have no geographical anchor, or have traveled so far afield from said anchor as to render it virtually irrelevant. All that matters is the people, who could be thought of as the gods’ anchor in the mortal world. They may express or manifest in a particular place, but only because that is where their people happen to be at that moment.

In the gray area between diaspora and nomadism you find gods who travel with their people, but only have notable presence once altars or other dedicated space is set up for them in a new place.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“I live in America and am not Indigenous/Native American, so all of my ‘Old World’ deities are being worshiped in a new place.” — Sam Webster

How does movement to, or new expression through, a different place impact the relationships between the Gods and their people? How are these impacts accounted for in ritual and technological expression? How are changes or “new” things dealt with?

“Historically, as mentioned above, incorporation, syncretization or dispossession.” — Henry Buchy

“Again, our own examples are found in the Hellenistic age. Watch Hecate, or Thoth, or (especially) Isis undergo transformations and syncretizations during this period for examples of how we might best proceed. Clearly (from history) this is not a process left up to individual expressions or agenda.” — Fritz Muntean

“In our tradition, people are expected to adapt to our environments, and in doing so hold space for our gods to connect to our world. How we adapt energetically and ritually to new places plays a large role in how we interact with our gods. As we adapt, so does how we interact with our gods, and in some ways, how the gods express themselves in our lives and our world.

So for instance, when my family made its home in relatively rural areas in the New Hampshire and Maine interior, our devotion and the cycle of rituals was tied to the flow of the seasons, and we interacted with our patron in different aspects of Herself in accordance with where in the course of the year we were.

However, since moving to the seacoast our interactions and devotional have come to be oriented around two dominant cycles: that of the moon/tides, and that of the ebb and flow of people and energy in and out of a popular resort town through the course of the year.

She is colored by the energies of the place in which we connect to Her, but how much of that is due to Her act of expression in this place, and how much is a reflection of our own energetic and mental patterns when we are interacting with Her is totally up for debate.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“Once I was given a vision of Tahuti, Lord of Scribes, Lord of Information, and saw Him with a book in His hand. Noting my question, He replied that my ancestors would have seen a scroll, my descendants will see a screen. The Gods are eternal, how we experience Them changes as we do.” — Sam Webster

When “new” Gods arrive in a place (if indeed any God can be considered new), how does Their arrival impact the local Gods and spirits of that place, if at all? How does your tradition, lineage or cultus view these relationships, if at all?

“The same as when a new group of people arrive in a place already occupied, and the same approach of incorporation, syncretization or dispossession.

Nowadays, it’s a fine line between ideas about “colonialism” and “appropriation.” Personally for me, the “God(s)” of my people (family/ancestry) is the Christian God. I’d have to go pretty far back to hit pagan ancestry. Part of my ancestry has been here on this land for three hundred years or so. There is the question of dispossession ancestrally. There’s not much I can do about that past, but to break with it by making my own peace with the land. Though I may be of European descent, I am not European, and I am not in Europe. I’m in this land. My body, bones and blood are of the earth and water of this land, I breathe the air of this land, and so I owe, to an extent, myself to this land. It’s spirits call to me, not in the voice of my European heritage, but in its own voice and so I answer in the best way I can, and approach the elder spirits here with no pretense about my heritage. To them I am still “foreigner,” but yet of the substance of this land, but I listen and learn their ways. I learn their names. I accept them as they come and they do like wise. I respect their domains and privacy. I honor them in the ways of the elder people, who are far and few between now. I do so with no pretense, and they know heart. Some folks say this is appropriation, and it is, though it’s the land that has appropriated me. We learn from each other. I explain to them the ‘gods’ of my heritage, and they explain to me the ‘gods’ of this land, and so there is peace between us.” — Henry Buchy

“In our worldview, the gods (as archetypes) are always present, wherever people dwell and (especially) engage in their devotional activities. The stories of gods, however, can and frequently are adapted to local landscapes. You’ll notice that I’m using ‘landscape’ instead of ‘place’ — to imply a dramatic sense, rather than one of cultural/geographic/political import.” — Fritz Muntean

“For starters, within the cosmology and belief system of our tradition, gods can be both “new” in terms of new to a place, and in terms of literally being new(er) deities. We believe that new gods can come into being and forgotten ones sometimes fade into the shadows.

 The arrival of “new” gods can displace or cause conflict with the existing spirits or even gods of a place if their intrinsic nature differs greatly from that of the native (or at least present) gods and spirits that preceded them. But in truth, that hardly seems to be a common occurrence in our experience.

As to how our tradition sees those situations, we generally come from the belief that the burden to integrate smoothly and without conflict lies with the spirits, energies, or gods that are “new.” If the newcomer is a deity we have a relationship with, for instance if we have moved and are beginning to offer devotion to our gods in a new place, we can do our part to smooth the way through offerings and courtesy to the powers already present.” — Wintersong Tashlin

“When we humans, in my lineage, arrive in a new place, we make offering to the Locals first. It just seems polite. Then we work our way up the chain of being back up to the non-local High Gods we generally work with. Thereafter, we include the Locals in our offerings.” — Sam Webster

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  • Michael A Manor

    It handles it by anticipating it. “I call upon all of the goddesses and all of the gods by whichever names you prefer or in whichever manner you prefer to be addressed and wherever you are.” It goes a step farther, too, saying “…to pardon any error I might commit in this rite which I hold for your honor in exchange for which pardon I offer this [whatever I happen to be sharing whether bread or incense or wine or the soda I happen to be drinking].” This piaculum prior to the main body of prayer covers mistakes that might offend them.

  • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

    I call myself “Landisc”, in my beliefs. That is to say that I believe all Ƿihta (gods and others) are tied to specific geographical locations – they exist within the land.

    That is to say, for example, that the seat of the Hellenic pantheon is Mount Olympus in Greece and, as such, the reach of their influence radiates from that point. I do believe that there is often a geographical overlap, a prime example of
    which would be the British Isles, which falls under the domains of several
    pantheons, including the Celtic and Germanic (and, possibly, the Roman
    pantheon, along the southern end of the isles).

    Many polytheists hold the view that a people can take their gods with them as they migrate. Whilst I accept that this is possible, to an extent, I remain of the conviction that each pantheon or god has a core territorial range. Even nomadic gods can be seen to have a ‘heartland’.

    As such, I feel it is safe to say that I have no confidence in any claim of deific omnipresence. This lack of being everywhere is more than made up by numerous gods in equivalent roles.

    If you feel a connection to any particular god, or pantheon, I feel it makes sense to at least make a pilgrimage to their homeland, to a historic sacred site. To not do this just seems like removing the context of the gods.

    Further, to ignore the local Ƿihta seems extremely rude. It is a snub to their hospitality, really.

    • Nick Ritter

      “Many polytheists hold the view that a people can take their gods with them as they migrate. Whilst I accept that this is possible, to an extent, I remain of the conviction that each pantheon or god has a core territorial range.”

      Put in this way, I think I can agree.

      “If you feel a connection to any particular god, or pantheon, I feel it makes sense to at least make a pilgrimage to their homeland, to a historic sacred site. To not do this just seems like removing the context of the gods.”

      I would also agree with this, very strongly.

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        Put simply, It would seem rather bizarre to worship Skaði in the Everglades.

        Much like celebrating solstices and equinoxes on the equator doesn’t really work that well.

  • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

    Great topic. I would have liked to see the inclusion of at least one of the many excellent animist writers we have in the Pagan movement, and/or someone practicing, perhaps, an Afro-Caribbean religion (for an example of a diasporic tradition with an unbroken line of practice).

    • Henry Buchy

      As far as representatives from other groups ,I’ll let Rynn respond to that. I do know Rynn asked a lot of different folks but not so many wanted to participate. I’m an animist, though I don’t write about it publicly. I suppose only the views of excellent writers matter anymore?

      • http://www.patheos.com/Pagan Christine Kraemer

        I didn’t know you identified as an animist specifically, since the word doesn’t come up in the article. I just thought it was odd not to have explicitly included the one theological point of view that begins and ends with Place (and I think some of the theological writing that’s influenced by what some people are calling “the new Animism” is just beautiful and deserves more attention).

        • Henry Buchy

          well yeah I have identified as an animist in a few discussions I took part in, or perhaps I should say commented on. I’m not a ‘new animist’ but an old one. As for the rest, I know Rynn asked quite a few folks and when I received the questions, it was indicated that there wasn’t much of a response to the invitation.

        • Henry Buchy

          animism doesn’t necessarily ‘begin and end with place’, though specific spirit of a place is part of it, nor are these spirits necessarily “gods” in the common sense of that term.
          Who would be some of the ‘new animists’ that deserve more attention?

          • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

            I suspect the confusion probably stems from the fact that most polytheists identify also as animists (including myself), but there’s a different (“new”) strand of animism, and there’s not been much public discourse on how those two strands are related or conflict. Here’s hoping those conversations look nothing like the debates over polytheism. : )

          • Henry Buchy

            conflict or relation between what strands? Polytheism and animism? or “new” animism and animism? if the latter, I don’t see much problem as long as it doesn’t get overpowered by political rhetoric as in the polytheist ‘conversations’.

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            I think we could probably do better than “new” since I think many of the flavors discussed all have precursors in antiquity. I think a key question is do we honor a tree because it HAS a spirit (implicit dualism), or because it IS (nondualism)?

          • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

            Of course. But then the question also becomes, is that honor actually different, or do both beliefs result in the same thing? My inclination is to think both are equal because they both honor the tree, a sort of “both get to the same place with different language” thing. Similarly, if someone feeds the homeless because Brigid asks it of them, or they feed the homeless because it’s the “right thing to do,” the homeless are fed. : )

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            I don’t see a big difference, but the last few months convinces me that metaphysics and doctrine are a big deal for some people.

          • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

            : )

          • CBrachyrhynchos

            On second thought, I think Betkowski and others have made a good point that it’s not necessarily “the same place with a different language,” and that’s not a bad thing. For me, my vows to Mouse come first, which includes dietary, clothing, and behavior taboos. That’s my vows, not something for anyone else. For others, the gods come first, and they might demand blood or flesh sacrifices.

            And there are problems I’m still trying to work out in that relationships with my Beings are fundamentally local, individual, personal, and even time-limited.

          • Bianca Bradley

            Why not write up on that Rhyd? IT would explain and inform:)

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Wow, Rynn–awesome article, and incredibly useful. A brilliant format for helping people sort through precisely the differences in particular traditions, as well as seeing the similarities. For instance, one thing I’ve been noting increasingly is that “devotional” polytheists (I hate the extra adjective) and Feri practioners are much, much more similar in their beliefs than either group is from Wicca, so the selection of (my all-time favorite curmudgeon) Henry Buchy gave me even more insight into this. Really brilliant thing you’re doing here! : )

  • Franklin_Evans

    With all due respect, I would very much like to see an article like this one critiqued — negatively or constructively — on the basis of its inherent scope, not for what it “left out”.

    I’m an old-school curmudgeon. I’ve lived long enough to have experienced and observed the evolution of information availability from personal effort (physically travel to the corner store, book store, wait for the kid on a bike to toss your newspaper into the rose bush, etc.) to acquire some form of print, to the current get-it-yesterday world of the InterWebz. In the past, we took an article or book at face value. It had what it had, it said what it said. It defined its own scope.

    I’m also a “you had to be there” critic, in the sense that people complaining about something too often do so out of unsupported personal assumptions (UPA anyone?). The author was there. Offer her or him that minimal respect owed for being the person to do the leg work. Ask for more information, ask for what might have needed to be left out for length or clarity of context. Reverse the value of the assumptions, consciously expect them to be wrong instead of blithely expecting them to be correct.

    “Imagine what you might learn tomorrow.” — Agent K, Men in Black

    • Bianca Bradley

      I would like to see, more voices than the folks who are known on the interwebs in these articles.