Conversations – What is a God?
I often get into really interesting conversations about various Pagan subjects with people from various walks of life. Recently I was talking with a colleague at my day job. He is not spiritual, but is genuinely interested in hearing about the unique outlooks of other people, more than this, he was a great conversationalist and I found that I learned as much from our talks as I hope he does!
I’m a lover of the Socratic method, although I’m probably not the best at applying it, but I try to employ a little of it in these conversations. I hope that by sharing some of them on this site it might help others understand the philosophy of the Wyldwood.
This conversation came about when my colleague asked me about Pagan Gods.
Colleague: I don’t believe in Gods, but I wish I did! You’re a Pagan, what do you believe a God is?
Herne: A long time ago I believed wholeheartedly in the Christian idea that there was a special place, separate from the earth where God lived, sitting on a throne in the clouds. God was separate, aloof, above and different.
Over the decades since I set out along this odd path I have come to see things differently; I no longer see the Divine as separate. I have come to see that I am divine and that you are divine and that this table is divine, each individual thing is divine yet not one single piece is THE Divine or what many people call ‘God’.
Colleague: What do you mean? How can I be God? I am just an ordinary man, I cannot control the weather or perform miracles!
Herne: Think of a forest, what actually is a forest? Take for instance the trees around us, are the trees a forest, or is the forest the trees? Where does tree stop and forest begin? Is it a single species of tree that makes a forest?
Colleague: No, a forest is different from the trees, it includes the trees, the plants, the animals and the birds.
Herne: And the water, the soil, the fungi, even the local weather makes up what a forest is, that is right. Think now about the big bang theory; that at the very beginning, something infinitely small, infinitely dense and infinitely hot existed, so small you could never see it, and that from that thing, all stars, all planets, all life and all consciousnesses that have ever existed, exist now and will ever exist came into being. Your consciousness, my consciousness, it all used to be one right?
Colleague: I think I understand; my consciousness is part of the entire consciousness?
Herne: Exactly! In Advaita Vedanta there is the belief in Brahman; the universal consciousness and Atman; the individual consciousness and many consider that these are not separate from one another. There are many who believe that a higher consciousness is the sign of being at a higher state of spiritual awareness, a higher state of divinity. After all as humans we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have a higher state of consciousness than the animals and birds, and more so than the rocks and rivers which to most people seem hardly conscious at all.
So understand that consciousness, the ability to learn, understand, grow and to conceive of new ideas, new creations, is divine. Then the single consciousness at the beginning must be THE Divine, must be ‘God’. When the Christian bible said that man was created in the image of God, it was not wrong, however this does not mean that God, The Divine has two arms, a mouth, two legs and two eyes, it means that our consciousness is created like that of The Divine, perhaps not equal to it, but an image of it.
Colleague: Ok I understand that I am created from the same stuff as ‘God’, but what is A God? What is the God you worship?
Herne: I venerate Cernunnos, the Antlered one as an aspect of The Divine which resonates most closely with my ideal self. What is Cernunnos? It is not a man in the forest with antlers, a torc and a snake! This is only an image that humans in the past have used to visually explain what Cernunnos is.
Just like the idea that A forest is the whole ecosystem, the whole community of trees, plants, soil etc, what is THE Forest?
Colleague: That would be all the forests of the world as one right?
Herne: Exactly! Each individual forest has its own unique signatures, some are arid, some are wet, some are cold, some have tigers and some have beavers; each one is individual, different yet the same. Where all forests come together, as I see it, this is THE Forest and this is Cernunnos. He is associated with the things that the forest gave to our ancestors, wealth, shelter, food and strength for instance.
Please understand that Cernunnos is not an ancient name for the antlered one! It was a word used by the Romans in order to group together a whole range of pre-Christian, Celtic horned and antlered deities whose names have mostly been lost to time. But that doesn’t mean that Cernunnos is NOT a God, in many ways he is far more relevant to the modern world than those individual deities! He now also represents unity, cross-cultural similarities, finding common ground. He teaches us that we can be at home wherever we are, that all is one and that there are far more things that unite us as humans than reasons to split ourselves apart.
Does this make the older deities irrelevant or less powerful than Cernunnos? Absolutely not! They are as relevant now as they ever were where they come from and among the people who venerate them!
Colleague: If a forest were to be chopped down and destroyed, would the God there die?
Herne: No, once a deity comes into being, it is eternal. The Celtic people of Britain often venerated a Goddess named Danu or Don as a mother deity. She is not tied to Britain at all, the name comes from the ancient name for the river Danube which is the cradle of Celtic culture. Celtic art, society, fashion and religion were all formed in the loving, bountiful arms of the Danube river valleys where our ancestors traded with and were influenced by all the different and unique tribal cultures which passed through.
The Danube birthed the Celtic culture and so is the tribal mother. Just as the Celtic people of Britain had moved hundreds of miles from this cradle, and were separated from it by perhaps hundreds of years, Danu remained the name for the idea of a tribal mother. Today Danu is more often seen as the earth mother by modern Pagans, and this is perfectly fine; Paganism is not limited to any one culture, many Pagans consider the earth to be the mother of all life. Danu’s relevance has grown, shifted away from the Danube valley and grown beyond the Celtic world to become a mother figure for anyone inspired by her.
Likewise in India there once existed a great river, wider and stronger than the Ganges, it was called the Saraswati. As the Himalayas rose in height eventually the river dried up, however the deity of the river, Saraswati herself is still one of the three most important Devi (Goddesses), she is the wife of Brahma, the Creator in Hinduism.
Colleague: How do you worship a God like that?
Herne: I am uncomfortable with the idea of worship, it evokes the idea of being unclean, of needing to be changed in some way and the idea that we can never be divine ourselves.
I have often been asked what my daily rituals are and for a very long time I felt like I was a bad Pagan, a bad Druid for not having a set of specific rituals to practice every single day. But I realise now that while some people feel they need these practices to bring them closer to their idea of divinity, daily rituals are not right for me. I see my relationship to ‘the Gods’ differently.
For some, Cernunnos is the father, for some he is the guardian of the wild, and that’s absolutely fine of course, he is those things. For me though he is the guide, the friend. How do you worship your friends?
Colleague: I don’t worship my friends, that’s silly!
Herne: Exactly! Friends just enjoy one another’s company, friends celebrate one another’s victories and friends help one another through their trials. I sit and ‘talk’ about my day with Cernunnos, and I listen to his. This doesn’t mean that we speak with words and I don’t hear a voice in my head! How I ‘talk’ about my day is usually expressed in my emotions, my mood, whether I drink alcohol or whether I dance. I listen to his day by observing nature, the changing of the seasons, the nesting and the songs of the birds, the weather etc. Cernunnos provides beautiful sunsets to cheer me up, rain to cool me down, bird song to wake me and moonlight to bathe me as I sleep. Where I see litter I clear it, where I see wanton destruction of the environment, I fight against it in whatever way I can.
We have a friendship and I also learn from him; Trees teach us to grow slowly, to stand firm and to be ready to let go of all that we have in order to survive. Wolves teach us how to work as a team. Spiders teach patience and nature as a whole teaches us that we are minute and insignificant, but to never, ever give in! That fears can be overcome, we set our own boundaries. The stars above and the wheeling galaxies teach us that we are immortal, eternal and remind us where we truly come from.
Likewise you would have the same relationship with Danu as you would with any mother in a healthy parent-child relationship.
It becomes more difficult with the more ‘civilised’ deities like those of Greece and Rome. Celtic and most other Pagan cultures were animistic; the divine is in nature and Gods are of natural forces and features. In more ‘sophisticated’ cultures the Gods become more human, separated and rule over very human things like war and justice. It’s difficult to have a relationship with the concept of war, but it is easy to have a relationship with a protective father figure for instance.
Colleague: So you treat your Gods like you would your friends and family?
Herne: Absolutely! At least I treat them with as much love and care as I hope to be able to give to my friends and family, but I am only human, sometimes I get it wrong of course, just like I do with my human friends and family.
Colleague: As a Pagan, is nature important?
Herne: Very, nature is often seen as a conscious female force even outside of Paganism. You’ll often hear people, even Christians call her ‘Mother Nature’ and this is the mother deity which I venerate. Spirituality aside, would we even be here without nature? Of course not! She provides the rains to water our crops, the soil to nourish them, she birthed the animals and birds, the fruits and the trees. She is mother to us all and our ancestors used to build tombs like wombs so that we would go back into the earth, back into nature to be reborn in another life through her. I hope this all makes sense?
Colleague: Yes it does! Thank you.
Herne: There’s no rule to say that you need to see things my way, after all, this is my philosophy, my own path. The world is wide and there is plenty of ground for you to find your own way, if you follow in my footsteps you’d be destined to repeat my mistakes and learn nothing new.