The Case for Choosing a Pantheon
The Case for Choosing a Pantheon
From the beginning of ADF's work, we have sought to base our Neo-pagan work on the actual ways of Indo-European Pagan cultures. We know that the religious we are making are, and must be, modern. We are modern people in a modern world, and we will inevitably bring with us ideas shaped by our experience. However, like many Pagans, we seek to move beyond many of the common paradigms of our times. We see things in the modern world that we consider to be les than desirable, and we hope to relieve those ills, at least in our own lives, by looking to the ways and values of the old religions. The old ways are our inspiration, their sages, magicians and priests our spiritual mentors.
In accordance with that philosophy, one of the core instructions of ADF's work is to study the cultures of Pagan Europe with the intention of comprehending them as fully as possible. We work to learn the facts about Paganism, but also to understand the minds and hearts of the people who lived it. To do this, we must comprehend not just the religious symbols and forms of the ancients, but their lives and work. We must know their art and artisanry, the structure of their families, tribes and nations. We must know what they ate, what they wore and, to the best of our ability, who they were. If we do not seek a grasp of the essence of a people's way of life, then we will fail to understand what their spiritual ways have to teach us. We risk doing no better than pounding the triangular peg of religious symbolism into the square hole of our modern preconceptions.
In addition to the study of archeology and ancient customs, insight into the modern cultures that descend from the Pagan past can contribute to our understanding. Getting involved in the folk cultures and more modern history of the Irish, Welsh, Danes or Greeks offers insights into the spirit of a people that cannot be gained from academic sources alone. So we encourage students to listen to the folk, music of these cultures, learn their traditional dance, and especially to learn at least some of the native tongue of the gods they wish to address.
On the most basic level, we strongly recommend that each ADF ceremony be focused on a single pantheon. That allows the rite to be unified in esthetics and cultural detail, and it ensures that the powers called will be in harmony with one another. Even in early stages, when you are examining various traditions, it is best to keep each rite focused on a specific culture. Experiencing the gestalt of each culture in turn gives a dearer understanding of each.
In our Druidry, we have learned to view the deities as real persons - independent, freely acting individuals of great wisdom and mighty magic. We try to avoid viewing the spirits as 'archetypes' in the 'collective unconscious'. We do not, in general, find that Deities with similar function are 'aspects' of one another, or of a greater whole. So we would consider Thor, Taranis and Zeus, despite the association of each with thunder, to be separate, individual deities.
So it seems only right to address the powers in the cultural idiom to which they are accustomed. When we invite the gods and goddesses to our rites, we feel it is proper to treat them with honor. We feel it is best to use Greek customs for Greek deities, and Welsh for Welsh gods and goddesses. We see it as less proper to construct ritual out of bits and pieces of many cultures and try to 'plug' in I whatever powers one wishes to 'use'.
On a more personal level, we recommend that each student choose one Indo-European culture to work as their 'home' culture. If we wish, we might refer to this as one's Hearth Culture, or Hearth Ways.
Ancient Paganism was certainly fairly open and inclusive. It seems likely that neighboring cultures influenced one another sways, including their religions. But the people of those cultures would have begun life with a child's immersion in the ways of their local religion, at their family's hearth. If, when adult, they chose to include spirits or works from other cultures in their personal religion, they would do so with the particular world-view of a Celtic tribesman, or a woman of the Hellenic cities.
This is very different from a person whose native land is in the modern, industrial west, who tries to absorb Pagan ways directly, without regard for the cultures in which they grew. Far from bringing the wisdom of the ancients into modern life, that approach may only superimpose the form of Paganism on the attitudes, beliefs and lifestyles of our materialist, Christian-influenced culture.
So you might think of yourself as a new human, freshly brought into the world, of ancient Athens, or Ireland or Scandinavia. Or you might think of yourself as a voyager thrown up on the shores of a Pagan culture. As a newcomer among the people it is your duty to learn their ways and, in time, to be accepted as one of them. It is by the kind of cultural immersion that a child or a castaway might experience that you can truly move past modern upbringing toward more Pagan perspectives.
Please understand that we are not recommending an exclusivist or fundamentalist approach to this choice. The ancients seem to have had little of such attitudes. There is little evidence to show that they wished to preserve 'purely' Celtic or 'exclusively' Germanic ways. Every European Pagan culture was (and is) the result of thousands of years of intermingling and mutual influence) and the cultures of the Pagan Iron Age all drew freely on one another's cultural and religious ideas.
So while you should work to understand your 'hearth' culture fully, you need not feel required to limit your personal work only to those forms. If you have a relationship with a deity from another culture, you should certainly continue it. If you have spiritual practices from various cultures that work for you, use them. Perhaps you will find yourself adapting your older patterns to fit your hearth culture. as you move more fully into its model. In the end you should be able to find a balance between formal work in your ethnic tradition and a more personal eclecticism.
Respect for the cultures from which we seek to learn asks us to go beyond simple borrowing, or 'cut-and-paste' approaches. Wisdom suggests that to comprehend the gods and goddesses) and the spirit and magic of the old religions, we must comprehend the cultures in which they existed. Practice has shown that involvement primarily in a single culture leads to solid, practical results. So we earnestly suggest that you take up a hearth culture for your work in Our Druidry.