A reader asks, "Have you and your fellows ever wondered if the Gods & Goddesses are just handy constructs for dealing with supernatural forces?"
I have indeed wondered that, and have to come to the conclusion after several years of seeking that no, they are not. To quote Cora Anderson, former Grandmaster of the Feri Tradition, "In our tradition the Gods are not mere concepts but real spirit beings, and are part of the same life-chain of which we and all other creatures are a part."
My background: I have identified as a witch and pagan since my seeking led me to this Path (and past monotheistic non-magickal ones) in 1989, when I read The Spiral Dance. Yes, I am one of those "Starhawk changed my life!" witches! Unlike where she ended up (starting Reclaiming), I found such deep Mysteries in where she started (the Feri Tradition), that I have not left since finding Feri for myself.
It wasn't until I had a rooted tradition that did work with the divine in a tangible way that I experienced the Gods in a real fashion. Until that point in time, while I believed that they were real, I could not fault anyone for doubting their existence. But then I met some of them. As Victor Anderson, former Grandmaster of Feri Tradition has said, "Perceive first, believe later."
Unlike in a Christian tradition, where I am supposed to "have faith" that God exists, I don't need to be reassured like that. It's like Joseph Campell said, "I don't need faith, I have experience." My Gods are not distant- they are accessible to me and come when I call. (Much like your friend comes when you call.) I have a direct line to the Gods that I work with. Why? Because we have an established relationship. In Feri, we believe that we witches are equals to the Gods, just with a different role to play. Unlike some religions that worship their God(s) by fawning over them and making themselves less than their God(s), Feri witches know that "Self is God and God is Self and God is a person like Myself." (Again, Victor Anderson.) If we Feris are said to worship our Gods, it would be in the way that you would worship the body of a lover during sex, not in separating ourselves from the Divine and putting them on a pedestal.
Whether you realize it or not, reader, the root of your question stems from the attack that psychology has made (and continues to make) on magica(k)al people. Unlike what Carl Jung was getting at, my Gods are NOT archetypes. To quote RJ Stewart:
Gods "should not be confused with or by the current trends, jargon, and theories of psychology." He goes on, "Jung, who was widely read in the works of the ancients, misappropriated and altered the meanings of many terms used regularly in magic and metaphysics, and this perverted vocabulary has crept insidiously into modern apologies for the ancient Arts. The classic example of this misuse, which has caused much confusion, is Jung's alteration of the meaning of the term 'Archetype' but the overall effect is achieved by an almost frivilous use of concepts derived from alchemy and mysticism, mangled together until their original and established meanings are thoroughly bludgeoned, and new and even contradictory meanings are arbitrarily assigned to them in therapeutic practice." He continues, "The Other Worlds of the magical conceptions are, like our human world, occupied by a multitude of different creatures...Psychology treats such beings as delusions, whereas magic regards both humans and Others as temporary aspects of one Life Power, all subject to change, metamorphosis or transformation."
Artist credit needed!
If you know who painted this,
please tell me!
How do I know the Gods are real and not just in my head? How does anyone know anything? I believe myself to be a competent, grounded, accomplished person that can care for myself, my family, hold down a job, go to school, and display other obvious markers of sanity. I know myself to be sane, and I know several Gods personally. What can I say? They are actual beings that exist outside of myself*, although I have invited them in from time to time. I will admit when the Gods started talking to me in a very real way, I was freaked out and feared that I was nuts. After all, isn't that the message we all get- if you hear voices, you are dangerous. At that time, I asked an elder of the Feri tradition, "Am I really hearing the Gods talk to me, or am I crazy?" To which she answered, "Yes." What she meant by that was multi-faceted: 1. Many people would indeed think that I am crazy for what I shared with her. 2. You have to come to a place where you are an outsider, queer, wyrd, before you can actually hear the Gods- and many people consider giving up that mainstream culture and acceptance as crazy. and 3. The Gods were indeed talking to me. It was as plain as the nose on my face.
It's easy to know in the marrow of your bones that the Gods are actual beings when you have met them, talked to them and circled with them. I know that they are not mental constructs, only in my head. Many religions place lots of distance between themselves and their God(s), saying that the divine is "unknowable". And to some extent, that is true. The gods are often huge and alien, especially at first. But they are as real as the iced tea I am drinking now.
I leave you with a video documenting Voudou in Brooklyn, NY. When you are in the room with a God (and see the horse that carries that God do things that they are not normally able to do), you know that they are real.
*I'll skip the simultaneous seemingly paradoxical belief that all things are part of a Divine whole for now. That's another blog post.