Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Portable Gods

I've seen some interesting questions recently about the use of imported gods in lands where there is already a native tradition. There was some suggestion that the ideas about gods that can transcend place, be exported or borrowed was wholly Christian.

Throughout history people have taken their gods with them whenever they've travelled. Certainly, the Christians are well known for doing this, but what about the norse gods, who appeared to have travelled far and wide, too? In Iceland they seemed to take a firm grip, and they even influenced some of the natives of England and Scotland.

And what about the acquisition of new gods? Didn't the Romans sometimes adopt the local gods when they travelled to new lands in order to gain favour for their endeavours, even incorporating some into their personal pantheon? And wasn't it the Romans who first equated the Greeks gods with their own? I understood archaeology had borne out examples of similar practices here in the British Isles and throughout the former Roman empire. Is it solely a Christian idea: travelling gods?

So, when the Europeans left for America and the other new worlds, did their gods go with them? Or, were they booted back by the local deities? I just wonder, because there are so many modern pagans in the new worlds working with the gods of their ancestral countries. Are they deluding themselves? Are they working with their ancestral gods or the native ones in disguise? Do the gods really travel? Or are they firmly fixed to the landscape?

There was also some question as to the gods recognising those living in foreign lands, mainly why the gods would even bother to acknowledge the descendants of their people, several generations removed? But, if the gods have travelled to new worlds, surely they would be able to identify the descendants of their homelands through the ancestors, who could guide them to their own? Or, do the gods ignore those who would connect with them away from their natural landscape altogether?

I would be interested to read the thoughts of others on these points. As someone who was born in one of the new worlds, I am not sure I could have connected to my gods except on their home ground.


... said...

This is an interesting thought... I have gone down this road in my head so many times... I guess it comes down to how you view deity in general. Do you believe that the Gods of the North, the Egyptian Gods, Celtic Gods, or Roman Gods, Greek Gods, etc are all completely different Gods and separate form each other? Or are they interconnected? Is it more of an archetype that we recognize and name them according to native languages?

Ancestral Gael said...

I'm afraid I don't do archetypes, as I am a hard polytheist. For me the gods are separate and, I'm beginning to feel more as though they are inherent to the landscape, but not as tied down as the genius loci.

That's why these questions are of interest to me. ;)

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

I feel the gods of my ancestors through the blood of my ancestors--the very blood in my veins. While I revere the Earth Mother as my primary Goddess (and the Maiden/Mother/Crone moon for "magic"--a topic for another day!),my primary god is one of the Sea-- the name i associate with him is Celtic in origin, and my family's name closely resembling MacLlyr's gives me an even deeper reverence for him in particular.
Earth, Sea... archetypes???
more soon-- gotta go labor for green paper :O

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

Math.. take Calculus for example. Certainly the Laws that govern this branch were always there; somebody had to come along and codify, though, for it to become a 'recognized' or exercised arm.
My gods were THERE, awaiting my awakening unto them. They needed no 'travel'. They bother to acknowledge me not because i am a descendant of my people but because i AM my people.
American versus Irish versus Norse...Moot to me because if the gods elected to remain only in the land of their "original" followers, they'd be long ago left behind. To put it bluntly, I'm not sure Gods recognize territory at all; intent, yes. Territory (the root being 'Terra' or land,) i think woulds be more relegated the duty of the genus locii.
I feel certain that gods traveled with itinerant folk, despite the folk origin. People needed their gods; to leave home without them... and to expect new ones to be awaiting arrival...
New Ones?!? What a concept!(you'd think). Even if, the blessings of "our gods" upon arrival seems would have carried weight.

Well, i've rambled long enough for one eve... more to reflect on from this querying post-- which is in part why i follow!!!

On the morrow, M'Lady...


... said...

I feel the Gods more from an ancestral source. I have never been to any of the European countries that my ancestors were from, yet I feel strongly connected to their Gods. So, I guess I personally feel they are not linked only to the lands of their "origin?"... I have worked with many different pantheons. I have been pagan for 15 years... and have grown and changed alot along the way. But absolutely, without a doubt, have never felt closer to deity than when I work with with the Germanic or Norse Gods and Goddesses. I am not necessarily an Asatruar, but do believe that because my ancestors and my bloodline originated from those lands and followed those Gods, that somehow has been passed down to me... like lineage. Does that sound crazy?

Livia Indica said...

Hey, another hard polytheist! Awesome.

I follow traditions and personal gods for two distinct reasons. One: the most obvious is my ancestry. I'm almost all Irish and English, with a dash of Cherokee Indian. So, I follow some Celtic traditions and have an interest in the Celtic pantheon. However, and this brings me to my second reason, my personal gods are Greco-Roman and the reason for this is my past lives. I can't name a particular memory, but I have always had a seeming familiarity and comfort with Aphrodite and Luna and other Greco-Roman deities. My physical body is not of Greek or Italian descent; but my soul has lived in a Greek or Roman body at some point in my past. And, for some reason, those gods call to me much more strongly than the gods of the ancestry of my physical body. I don't follow the traditions of my native land because I am only native by virtue of a few generations. So, I guess I'm a mixed up example, but it works for me.

Unknown said...

I agree the gods are the ancestors of the people, so wherever the people go, they will always have the same ancestors, they will always have the same gods.

Bo said...

I don't thinkn you need to be so diffident here - of course different peoples took their gods with them when they settled or conquered new territory. The idea that 'travelling gods' is only a Christian concept is daft, but I'm not surprised people have been suggesting it. Huge sigh.

Ancestral Gael said...

Livia - snap. English, Irish, native American is my bloodline, too, though there are a few more additions.

I thought the Christian comment was a bit daft, too. It was used to attack a fellow pagan for being fluffy, because they believed their gods had travelled to the Americas. It didn't hold much water with me. :(

Ancestral Gael said...


No, I understand the concept of inheriting the gods. Its just, for me, I never felt them in the New World; not like I do here in the British Isles. I'm sure it's just a personal anomaly, but one that does leave me with questions still.