I have had a bunch of crap published over at the Witches’ Voice. It’s a good place for new authors of things about magic and paganism to get started, since you get decent exposure and feedback, and because they’re not too discriminating these day about what they publish. (Seriously, I could make a drinking game out of how often they have a “What paganism means to me” or “what is Wicca” essay up.)
Any my most read article, by a wide margin, is about Selecting a Patron Deity.
I can only assume that there is a large interest in this topic, which frankly implies to me that this is not something that is adequately addressed in the Pagan community. So I’m going to revisit this topic and see what else I can add and maybe clarify.
The first point that must be addressed is the importance of research. If you really want to devote yourself to a god, you should find out all you can. You should look up what pantheon he belongs to, who his friends and enemies are, how he was worshipped, and what is sacred to him. If at all possible, rely upon academic sources, as modern paganism is rife with fluffery and politically altered ideals of the gods. You’re better off establishing a solid link with a deity by finding out what we know of how past worshippers regarded that deity, rather than contemporary conceptions which may be watered down and edited for content. With that consideration in mind, let’s audition some gods.
This cannot be stressed enough. Even I am negligent in this area, and I’ve had some interesting experiences in which finding out little known details and correcting some aspects of devotional work has paid significant dividends. The more you know about a god or goddess, the better equipped you are to deal with him or her. And there is a lot of misinformation out there – be careful!
The first thing you may want to consider is what pantheon you want to follow. Sure, some traditions ascribe to the belief that you can mix and match from different pantheons, but I’ve found that staying with a particular group of deities allows for significantly more self-consistency and a deeper meaning for the myths and lore attached to your personal deity. So what strikes your mood? Your personality? Your interests and passions?
I struggled for a while to find a pantheon that resonated properly. The Celtic gods of my father’s lineage did not (and still don’t) speak to me. I explored many options before coming home to the Roman gods of distant heritage on my mother’s side – a connection that seems obvious now (and in childhood) but that I was blind to at the time. I still need to study my mythology, but the basic beliefs and practices are just so right. And that’s not to say that heritage and lineage is the only way to go. I know Americans of European ancestry who worship Japanese gods, and I know black Heathens. It’s just what fits, and if you have trouble finding a fit, stop trying so hard. Look at what you do in life, at where your passions are, and there you will find your gods.
Next you will probably want to look at what roles and areas of influence are sacred to certain gods. These associations are most likely to speak to your passions. Is home and hearth most important to your life? Academic success? Is much of your time spent in pursuit of the opposite (or same) sex? Various pantheons have different gods that fill these roles, but they are generally covered by someone. An artist working in the Greek pantheon might gravitate toward Apollo, while someone who parties all the time may find Dionysus more appealing. Again, do your research, as you may be surprised what gods are associated with what fields. A geologist may find more in common with Poseidon than Gaea!
My love of writing and music connect me to Apollo, and my love of higher learning and debate endear me pretty well to Jove. And Mars … well, he and I have some history.
If you’ve narrowed down your search for a patron deity, you may now want to consider how that deity relates to others, both in and out of its pantheon. A follower of Ares may want to be cautious in dealing with Hephaestus. Yahweh isn’t known for playing well with others. The devotee of Hera needs to watch she’s not too friendly with any of Zeus’ illegitimate children, but the follower of Zeus may want to include Hera in certain festivities. The gods have friends and enemies, just as we do. They may appreciate us extending courtesies to friends, but may frown upon associating with enemies.
This is where being familiar with myths comes in. Find movie versions if it helps. We’re not Christians — you don’t need to get the exact wording and dogma right, just the gist of the story. Or at least a few versions of it.
Once you’ve taken into account matters of divine friends and foes, you might want to look at a calendar. Many gods have certain times of year associated with them, and some have particular feast days. You may even want to consider feast days of other gods in the pantheon than may be best celebrated or avoided. Certain times of the day may be more appropriate to make offerings than others. Devotion can be very time-consuming, and while I’m sure that most gods will allow for some schedule conflicts, you’ll want to keep matters of time and seasonality in mind.
This is a pain in the ass.
The neo-Wiccan calendar than many Pagans go by is a modern construct with little practical value beyond Wicca and generalized Pagan social cohesion. If you go with any other pantheon and want to even partially replicate a traditional festival calendar, you have some work to do. Odds are you’re working with pre-Christian gods, so depending on how exact you want to be, you may have to translate to an archaic calendar (the means of reckoning the ancient Romans used does not line up well with the modern Gregorian calendar.) And then you have to decide which feast day to include or not to include, and how best to approximate them. It might cool to slaughter bulls and pigs in honor of Jupiter, but that’s a bit beyond my means, so I might just have a few friends over for some barbeque instead.
So you’ve picked your god, know who he likes and dislikes, and have an idea of what times are best for you two to get together. How are you going to facilitate that? What should be included on an altar or shrine? The design of the altar should be appropriate to the gods in question, and should probably include materials and objects sacred to your chosen deity. Perhaps some gold plated censors will be nice for your Apollo shrine? A battery-powered mini-fountain might be nice for Neptune. Statuary might be appropriate as well (and easier to find) . Will your altar have candles, incense, or both? Perhaps a vessel for burning herbs? A god who liked animal sacrifices in the good old days may appreciate a barbeque grill dedicated to him.
I’ve written on altar design before. Consider space first and foremost. Use what you have available, and don’t apologize for it. The gods understand. Symbols go a long way. Be creative – my altar statuary consists of little busts made of Sculpey. I pour my libations into a glass tea light candle holder. It’s nice to have the luxury to be elaborate, but use what works.
This brings up another issue as well – how best to honor your god. Are prayers and daily devotions enough, or will your god want incense (the right kind!) burned regularly? Appropriate celebrations for feast days should be considered as well – while it might be fun, holding a full-scale Bacchanalia might be problematic. Perhaps a good party with an opening and closing ritual will suffice. Or perhaps not.
I have had much success with a daily offering of incense and some manner of alcoholic beverage, of which I partake. Special festivals get food and other offerings as appropriate. Know your gods and what they might want, and know what they might take as substitutes if you can’t get first choice.
And of you miss a day, apologize and make an offering.
Any magical practice you may have will also be affected, as certain associations may become stronger or weaker, and as certain areas of magical work become more or less allowable. The symbols and tools you use should be appropriate to whatever pantheon and deity you chose, and care should be taken to avoid altering them too much (at least without appropriate divine consultation) .
I asked about this. The response I got was along the lines of “use what you know until you find something better.” Turns out Ceremonial magic is pretty easy to adapt to the Roman Pantheon.
So now you’ve done all this work. You’ve selected a pantheon that appeals to you. You picked a god that seems appropriate to your passions and loves. You’ve met his friends and family and shunned his enemies. You set up a nice place to visit him from, and found out what kind of offerings he likes. You know when he likes to play and when he’s not to be bothered, and hopefully you know how he’ll respond when you ask him for something. What now?
Well, submit an application and wait for a reply.
Any effort to connect with a deity can prove challenging, and it may take a while before a strong bond is formed. At some point, though, you should expect some sign of acceptance from your patron deity. This may be a feeling of comfort after a ritual, an inexplicable lack of injury from a severe car wreck, or maybe just a feeling of coming home to a god you’ve always been fascinated by. Or, it may not come, and you may feel uncomfortable with your choice after practicing for a while. Your chosen god may instead send you a sign to chose another, and may even be polite enough to show you who. Openness to divine input should be part of any devotion – just be aware that sometime the message might be, “go away.”
This is a really difficult step. I worked with a lot of gods and made a lot of offerings only to be told to go away. Don’t get discouraged. The job hunting analogy works well, because sometimes they’ll refer you to someone that might be a better fit. just ask nicely. You’ll know when you get it right.