‘Witchcraft is not a religion’, ‘Witches are not Pagans’…Anyone who has read even just a few books on traditional Witchcraft or hung around a few message boards long enough will have heard one or more of these sorts of things…very few people however really explain what they mean, certainly not in terms which most of us can understand. With many of us arriving at the gates of Traditional Craft having had quite a chequered spiritual past, sometimes it’s hard for folks like me to really grasp what people mean when they make these massive sweeping statements. But recently I have started to get it…and sometimes we need to look backwards to really understand where we are heading and how far along the path of understanding we have travelled.
There seems to be an overwhelming idea or a concept where divinity is made very human, I recognise this as it was something I was very used to and pretty much just took for granted. Attend any Pagan conference and there will inevitably be someone selling statuary of various Gods and Goddesses all looking very…Human. OK they all look like especially fine specimens of the human form but they look Human none the less. Yet I have begun to experience ‘The Gods’ in very a different way as I have wandered the woodland of Witchcraft. To even attempt to contain everything the Old Ones are in such ‘graven’ images is nigh on impossible… ‘The Gods’ are not human, ‘The Gods’ are faceless forces of creation and destruction, life and death, Earth, Fire, passion, hatred, lust, chaos, order, truth and fate… I find it hard to even describe such things so how is it we can put a face and form to such things? And what’s more who decided that form should be human?
I blame the Greeks and Romans personally…they seemed to love the idea of ‘The Gods’ (you have to say that with real dramatic emphasis and preferably with thunderous sound effects) wearing human clothes, standing on mount Olympus looking down on humanity…and according to them the Gods even saw through human eyes blurred with the whole array of human emotions. But humanity has moved on in the last few thousand years surely, so why have our perceptions of the Gods never moved on? Why are people still talking about the divine in very Human terms when our supposedly more primitive Ancestors, who drew the first icons of divinity in sand and ochre, seemed to have a better appreciation for who or what the Old Ones really are?
I suspect it’s because we as a species are now so far removed from the primal chthonic forces that it’s become more bearable and more wholesome for us, as a softer version of homosapien, to see ‘The Gods’ as beautiful long haired busty ladies or muscular men with chiselled features and designer stubble. It is with regret that I feel humanity’s own shallow idea of what beauty is has promoted the misconception that ‘The Gods’ all look like Angelina Jolie or the latest Calvin Klein male Underwear model.
Maybe this is because we as Humans need a face to relate to…we need to see our Gods before us in forms we understand in order to connect with them? I have no objection to this of course, but why should this be the case when we can easily see and feel the noon day sun upon our skin? Or the stirrings of wanton lust in our loins? Or the flutters of love, the icy North winds howling through trees in the winter and so on and so on…? Why do we attempt to constrict force into form in order to connect with it? Surely the path to spiritual evolution is to challenge our notions and perceptions of what we consider to be ‘reality’? Stuck before a statue of someone else’s imagined divinity can only deny us the possibility of everything else ‘The Gods’ could be?
Idol worship has in many ways become idle worship.
Interestingly, this idea of Worship is where I feel the gulf between the many and the Witch widens. I can of course only speak for myself and from my own level of understanding at this point in time but honestly….I do not believe ‘The Gods’ demand or even require worship, and if I were to be even more honest I don’t think ‘The Gods’ even care much about us at all! Sound harsh? Well it needn’t. Why would the oceans tides, or the changing seasons, or the stars endlessly turning in the night sky require little old me to worship them? They don’t…and they would continue as they are doing on this very day even if all the humans in the world were to vanish… We do not worship these forces, we honour and respect them, we look to them for wisdom and power in the hopes that we may come closer to that ultimate force behind all things and glimpse ‘truth’ but do they need us? Do they ‘eck. Neither do they meddle in the affairs of humans like petty children on high as the ancients would have us believe. However they inevitably influence the lives of all because everything is connected to everything else on the great web of Wyrd…even the Gods. How can we not be moved when floods claim our homes? How can we not grieve when a loved one is claimed by death?
Yes we pray to The Gods, but I don’t believe we should approach some statue as lowly Humans on bended knee but rather as powerful players in the grand stadium that is ‘life’…as kin to the Gods, as cohabiters of this wonderful existence. This assumption that the Gods are somewhere ‘up there’ and command our worship does nothing more than perpetuate a lie started 2000 years ago…a carrot dangling from somewhere in Rome before the heads of mortal men promising a better hereafter (so long as you tow the line!). Utter nonsense in my opinion! I’m sure if we were to really think about it would we see just how we have all been ‘affected’ by over 1000 years of Christian rule in this country…the idea of an old bearded (human-esque) man sat upon his heavenly throne surrounded by hosts of (again human-esque) angels. How much of this misrepresented divinity has filtered into common Pagan practise? How many Pagans fight against the so called ‘tyranny’ of monotheism without realising their beliefs are in reality just subtle carbon copies where the bearded white skinned old man has in most cases just been substituted for a big breasted lady!
Of course statues, icons, images of the Gods are useful symbols, I myself possess a couple and there is powerful magic in working with correctly empowered ‘idols’. Yet symbols are all they are and the symbol is never the totality of that which is symbolised! And who said the symbol needs to be (a beautiful) human in appearance? Furthermore who said the power behind the symbol would even behave in a human manner? Asking these questions and accepting this into my life (which everyone is welcome to challenge or disagree with) has been beyond liberating. Once we recognise the force beyond the form we can recognise it anywhere and everywhere…in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Paganism. By restricting our perception of ‘The Gods’ to images carved in clay, wood or stone we are in fact only emphasising the differences between us, just as we ultimately compare and contrast our own imperfect forms to those celebrity ‘idols’ in magazines and on billboards! Yet by keeping The Gods nameless and by keeping The Gods faceless we are, I believe, opening ourselves up to a far greater understanding of divinity (and our place within it!) maybe then we’d realise we’re not all so different after all!