The Names of the Gods Aren’t Their Real Names

“Apollo”, by Adam Camerarius.

There is a phenomena that happens in the mystic sector of our communities that regularly drives a knife into the heart of the mystic – That of suddenly realizing that the Gods you are so close to are not who you expected them to be, which is the very foundation of mysticism. At first it is rending. Then it is uncomfortable. You begin the journey, diving into what we define as syncretism, and you’re met with mixed emotions. You mourn the loss of equilibrium. You fear uncertainty. You mourn what you’ve lost. You doubt your path or your sanity, sometimes both. Sometimes there’s the loss of community or co-religionist friends. It hurts. It’s excruciating.

Meanwhile there’s tickling excitement as you find spots where you discover the familiar in new faces and learn new things. You gain new tools for approaching your beloved Gods. You expand your community of like-minded, same-hearted companions.

This is the very basis of the mystic experience. You grow. Your relationship with the Gods grows. You learn and accept (Eventually? Hopefully?) that, like most relationships, you don’t have full control of the situation. Learning to let go of the reigns, trusting that the beings carrying you on your journey know the way even when you may not, is one of the hardest things that will ever happen in your life.

In the last month or two I’ve been musing over this quite a lot. As believers of Many and not just One, we don’t have as many sources of people historically going through this. Many of us identify with the Abrahamic mystics, who have the luxury of there only being One in their core beliefs. We also learn in school that Gods fit into neat boxes of what they’re in power over, and that construct is not something that simply goes away because we will it. Suddenly the God of your heart does not fit into that box. They tell you that they no longer wish to be called by the name you’ve always known them as. They want to be called something else.

Now I’ve rambled here, trying to get the foundation of what I’m actually wanting to say… And that is this: Those who walk with the Powers with root in the Indo-European traditions are grounded in the very nature of the Gods does not allow for boxes. The names of our Gods were rendered in the languages spoken and carried through time. Words, after all, have power, but power shifts like everything else. Our Gods are many-named, otherwise there would have been no need for titles, epithets, and facets. No need for syncretism and interpretation. Everyone in history would agree. But that is not the case.

Many of our traditions hold that the Gods’ true names are rarely known. These true names hold power. Only the initiated learn them, and they are held as some of the greatest secrets lost in history.

These names cannot be found in primary sources and secondary sources are mere speculation. The only way to find these names now are directly experiencing the Powers. These names were regularly part of Mysteries.

We can find this in the Rig Veda:

As God, the secret names of Gods he utters, to be declared on sacred grass more widely.

– RV 9.95.4

We can find this in regard to Rome:

…and, last and greater than all, Rome herself, whose other name the hallowed mysteries of the sacred rites forbid us to mention without being guilty of the greatest impiety. After it had been long kept buried in secrecy with the strictest fidelity and in respectful and salutary silence, Valerius Soranus dared to divulge it, but soon did he pay the penalty of his rashness.

– Pliny, Natural History, Book 3, Chapter 9

We can find this, dear to my own heart, in Hellenic sources for Apollon:

O fair-beamed Sun, how you have destroyed me

and him here. You are rightly called Apollon among mortals,

whoever knows the divine powers’ unspoken names.

–from M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth quoting Euripidies’ Phaethon (225 f. = fr. 781. 12 f.)

If you read chapter 3 of M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth, you will find other examples of this reality. Which is exactly what it is: Reality.

Years ago, I came across a database of all the recorded names found for Celtic gods, and I was struck by how many gods had once been worshiped in Europe that were entirely lost save for a single inscription. As far as I can tell, despite lots of searching, the database seems to be gone now, which just painfully reminds me of the ephemeral nature of language and names. Some of the names in the database were simply possible reconstructions of meaning, because the language wasn’t so much lost as it evolved naturally over time. The art of describing the world around us changes, words become taboo, and the sounds that roll across our tongues are ever evolving.

Sometimes at night, when the house is silent and I enjoy a few moments of peace to sit with the Gods, I think of all the Gods that we’ve lost over time. But the reality is that the Gods are immortal. They are deathless. They are waiting for us to find our way back to Them as we reforge what is left of our traditions. Rebuild? No. We will never be able to rebuild the structures that were destroyed, but we can take what has been recorded, discovered, and experienced. And with those pieces, we can listen to the Gods whispering how to melt them and forge them into traditions that build into a strong tool used to come back to the Gods of our Ancestors.

That is Revivalism. That is the job of mystics. When a God tells you that they are not who you thought they were, you’re allowed to feel the wide range of emotions that flood over you. You’re allowed to rage. You’re allowed to cry. To scream. To fight with them. To feel the height of joy as a clue falls into your lap. You are allowed to experience all the frustration that comes with this most holy of Work.

Let it take days. Months. Years… Let it take a decade or more. However long it takes you is just the right amount of time, because you’re on the path to the Gods. Not just greatest who are remembered or even simply recorded, but all the Gods. All of Them.

Let Them give you the names They now wish to be called. Let Them be nameless until They are ready to reveal a name to you as an initiate into Their mysteries. Try to be uncomfortable with Their namelessness with hope that one day you will be far along enough in your path to be given that name, which you will hold dear to your heart from that day on.

There will be new names given. New titles. New ways of engaging with the Powers. Dive into scholarly work. Dive into pop culture. Dive into whatever gets you to that place of understanding and love. Deep, deep love. The indescribable love that itself defies names and leaves you wordless when you are cradled in the love of the Gods.

It is entirely human to demand a labeled box with which to place the mysteries of existence. That’s where language comes from. It’s easy and comfortable to shove the Gods into the boxes that were kept from the destruction of our Ancestors’ traditions. But it’s entirely impious to think that these are the only Gods there are. It is clear that those of us reviving and creating traditions have the same understanding of our Ancestors – That only the initiated know the true names of the Gods, and those names are sacred.

Sacred means of the Gods’ and not of humans. You may be faced with the reality that the names of your Undying Ones are no longer known, though They are waiting to be remembered by a new name that means more to Them now, as it will rebirth them into the present.

Our lives are not static, and neither are our traditions.

Keep walking your path even if your Gods are suddenly nameless. You’re walking the paths of our Ancestors, even if it may not feel like it.

Our traditions depend upon it.

— Camilla (7/11/2017)

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Immersion, and the Revival

“The Household Gods”, by John William Waterhouse.

Every writer knows this little bit of crucial advice. It’s how we manage to convey the innermost thoughts and feelings of our characters without using pages and pages of arbitrary scene description. In this context, we take the reader along with the protagonist, on the journey and into the action as it is happening, not as an afterthought. It helps the reader to suspend their disbelief if they feel like they are a part of the story, experiencing situations while in their midst.

In a way, this could also be applied to religious activities. This is why video and audio contributions from Polytheist authors and bloggers become so popular. People want and need to see how things are accomplished, even if they later decide not to practice in the ways observed. You see, without dedicated land and buildings set aside for the worship of the Gods, we are not readily exposed to the many rich traditions of our pasts.It is true, we have many academic works that we may infer conclusions from, and even scholarly religious works written by Polytheists, for Polytheists, and however grateful we may be for this tradition of scrutiny applied to the roots of our faiths, following the dictates of any written work is limiting. At some point, hopefully, we begin to apply our own intuition to what we’ve learned from the many tomes.

This is the point when we being to show ourselves the true commitment we have, or do not have, for our faiths. If nothing more, practice, offering and simple focus upon the Gods serve to keep us within the fold of our religious traditions, while simultaneously challenging us to make them work, for us.

As opposed to a strict orthopraxy, some may find that building new structure upon the foundation of accepted rites and ritual forms will better suit them in these modern times. I am one of those individuals. My Land is alive and my religion is alive, so why should I be fated to, ever-so-slowly, reconstruct the body of past practices for a location that was completely unknown to the ancient Hellenes?

The answer is I shouldn’t, and I won’t. Instead, I choose to immerse myself in what is now, in the present time.

Some weeks ago, a few of my Treasury Sisters and I were having a chat about names and labels within the various Polytheistic communities, when one of us was finally able to pin down a couple of terms that seem to work for a few of us. One is Revivalism, which speaks to the natural growth within Polytheistic faiths.

Revivalism (seen here in the Roman variety), in my view, is a growth of the spirit which inspired past practices and lore. As opposed to keeping the old ways and stories like we might keep a crutch, the old ways inform how we respond to the very real demands of the Land and its spirits, as well as the Gods, and helps us to devise new but accepted protocols with which to deal with these demands.

I know that many of the things my local spirits ask for may not have been conceivable in the ancient past. Personally, this is why Immersion (the second term to be discussed) plays such an important role in my spiritual practice. In order to become immersed within one’s own local framework, one must be willing to listen, and to be shown what is acceptable to the spirits one works with.

Immersion is the beginning of the path toward a true Revival, thus Camilla has coined the term Immersive Polytheism to refer to this first step, as practiced by those of us who claim the term.

I have talked about this before, though I had no proper name for it then, in my post here. Immersion is seeing from a different perspective. It is seeing, acknowledging, and aligning oneself to this world, as it is, while still maintaining deep ties to the subtle worlds surrounding us. It is allowing those subtle worlds to influence our everyday lives, and the ways we interact with our own world. If witchcraft were the topic instead of Polytheism, I might say that Immersion were equal to living the craft, in each moment of every day.

In this context, living the craft, or practice rather, could mean any number of things to any number of practitioners. Our individuality will shine here as our souls become entwined with those of the Land, and the Gods supporting us. It is important that we accept what is happening. To deny the subtle changes in our awareness will lead to stifled spiritual practices, and a lot of unhappiness on our parts, and the parts of those we claim to serve.

After we have become immersed in the life of our local community of spirits and Gods, the natural step forward would be to record what works, discard what doesn’t, listen, and to watch for what the spirits show us. We are all in this together, and we are all participating in varying amounts of show and tell. This is normal, however, I think that generally we’ve probably done enough telling for the next few hundred years. The future will be built by those who are able to show others their life’s work, and not only tell about it in writing. [Yes, I am one of those people who needs to write less and do more.]

There are so many ways to do this. One could organize rituals for the locals (spirit and/or human), or simply record one’s own rituals for a viewing audience later. One could participate in radio/internet broadcasts discussing important elements of their tradition and practices.

Showing is of course very easily done via the written word, and there are some wonderful anthologies available that give us glimpses into the world and work of others. I am not discounting the power of the written word, but why remain shackled by it when there exist alternatives that some, as individuals, might find more appealing and inspirational to their own practice? Immersion is also embracing modern technology and modern techniques for the advancement of Polytheism.

Once we are in tune with the life all around us, which is participating in this existence along side us, we may begin to find the elusive structure many of us are seeking. We have to build it, though, and that starts within (with help from our a/Allies), as we commit to showing ourselves, and each other, what we’re able to accomplish in this world, as well as the Others.

— Columbine (6/26/2014)

My Lord, Far-Reaching

My Lord, Far-Reaching,
Light-Bringing, He-of-the-Bow,
For You, Divine, most perfect,
who heard my prayers for healing
and found me, pliant and frightened,
worthy of your gentle hand,
I thank you.

For you, Phoebus, who found me
groping towards the edge of light,
blinded by the shift,
trembling from the sounds of what
has been and always been
bouncing violently against my ears,
like the ocean in a shell,
You who took my hand
who told me not to fear
who loved me even with my determination
to be so very small and frail

You who taught me to not fear the light,
who breathed grace into madness
and urged me to not only heal
but to thrive despite the terror
of holy wholeness,
tending to me like a flower
reaching hungry for the sun.

You who believed in me when I was
incapable of believing in myself.
You who cast out the shadows.
You, ever unrelenting in this journey,
the one who relishes in the mortal path to perfection
as much as I.

Honey-kissed, Laurel-crowned,
My Lord, I honor, love, and thank you.

— Camilla