The Names of the Gods Aren’t Their Real Names

This is an excellent blog post on a very complicated topic. Polytheist dialogue has long emphasized the distinctive nature of our many gods with the unspoken implication that They will always remain distinctive to our perception. So what happens when our most commonly used method of distinguishing Them – Their sacred names – get soft and slip away?

When I was in my mid-20s some ten-ish years ago I was forced to loosen my grip on the idea of convenient names and even forms. Although the One I loved remained as familiar as He was ever going to be (which is a doubtful matter even on good days) I learned that nothing about a category was truly fixed. There was no quality of a name that required it to remain fixed in the same place, meaning the same things, pointing in the same direction forever and always. Even the identity behind the name could be shaken to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

As I got older and read more and more accounts like this one where the sacred personality remained the same but all the assumptions the devotee held were torn away, I would wonder when that would happen to me – WOULD that happen to me? Then it finally occurred to me that it already had. But rather than losing Him, I lost myself – which turned out to be effectively the same thing, since knowledge of Him rested in me and if I was not who I thought I was, then who on earth could He be?

I spent many hard months wrestling with these questions that were all the time colored by this conviction that I loved Him anyway. Regardless of who He was or who I was or who I thought He was, I loved Him. Everything else amounted to unessential details and so, hard though it was, I stopped worrying about that and decided to make the fact of loving primary. The rest gradually fell into place but it has never stopped changing. I have no clue who I am and fear lying when I try to name particulars. I barely have any clue who He is except that He is the same – except when He’s not. There’s a name that we agree to use and it seems to be the same name that He agrees to use with lots of people – but there are other names, other forms, other ways of being that characterize the One I love.

There is a childish arrogance in thinking that because we know a Name that we know everything there is to know about the Named. A sacred name is merely a coordinate in space, a kind of astral address that (we always hope) will get us to the place we hope to arrive at. Outgrowing that arrogance is essential and, I always hope, an experience that will give rise to compassionate regard for other’s struggles and for their stubborn insistence that they possess all knowledge regarding Name, Form, and Fame. We should be humble in the face of this sacred mystery and know that a wealth of knowledge on our beloved gods exists inside each worshiper. From this respectful attitude sprouts a willingness to accept sacred mystery on its own terms – or so I always hope.

Foxglove & Firmitas

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…

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