I read Jill Smith’s article on the appropriateness of importing Celtic Goddesses into the Southern Hemisphere with great interest.
The relevance of invoking foreign deities in our land, as well as worshipping ours abroad, is a topic I have given much thought to recently. To answer this question is complicated, because, as Jill points out, first of all we need to establish what we believe God/desses actually are. Are they manifestations of the spirit of place, are they archetypes, energies, concepts, or actual beings with distinct traits and personalities? Or are all God/desses representations of one Divine Energy, one Truth, one Source?
I agree with Jill that certain deities can be manifestations of the spirits of place, and that these spirits often have specific relevance to a particular land. In some power places, for example Glastonbury, Avebury or on The Isle of Lewis, this energy is stronger than in others. When visiting such sacred sites, respect and consideration for the spirits and energies that inhabit them is very important, even if we do not know their names or what they represent. This became very clear to me when I recently spent five months in the Indian Himalayas. There, the Hindu deities are extremely powerful, especially in the mountains and rivers, because millions of people worship and honour them several times daily and believe in the sanctity of those places. With such a high concentration of devotion, the presence of the deities is tangible. During my time there, I developed a solid relationship with the Indian God/desses and learnt some of the Vedic rituals and devotional ceremonies. When I returned, I took the vibrations of these deities with me, and I still honour them daily in my practices, even though I am now in the UK.
Jill writes that it does not seem right to her to invoke, manifest or ritually celebrate indigenous Goddesses in a very different place. Although, in principle, I genuinely appreciate and, to a certain extent, agree with her sentiments, I have recently wondered how true this really is for me, and why. This is mainly because, at the time of writing, I live at Shekinashram in Glastonbury, a spiritual community dedicated primarily to the Divine Feminine. Shekinashram is in close proximity to the town’s sacred sites, such as the Tor, Chalice Hill and Chalice Well, all of which are inhabited by strong God/desses and spirits. Yet, the Goddess revered at the ashram is not of Avalonian or Celtic origin - She is Indian, worshipped in the forms of Radharani, Shakti, Durga and Kali. Although I trained in the Goddess tradition of Avalon for many years, I feel fine about venerating the Indian God/desses on Her land, too. Yet, you may ask, what relevance do these foreign Goddesses have over here, in the Avalonian landscape, with its long tradition of Celtic deities and practices? And how appropriate is it for Western people to adopt another culture, especially when living in Britain? Does the honouring of foreign deities equal disrespect for the local God/desses and spirits?
Shamanic practitioner Simon Buxton, for instance, believes that it is not congruous for Europeans to try and ‘become’ Siberian or Nepalese shamans, as their culture is completely different to ours. During a recent workshop, he stressed the importance of learning about the culture and ancient shamanic practices of our own land - traditions that many of us seem to have become strangers to. Simon has a point: during a field trip to Sicily two years ago to conduct research about ancient Mediterranean Goddesses, I encountered a group of Sicilian Pagans who regularly invited a Wiccan teacher over from the USA. Seeing my enthusiasm about the native Goddesses and rituals of the Sicilian lands, it suddenly struck them as absurd to learn about Americanised practices when they had a rich mystical heritage themselves, right on their doorstep - something they had been oblivious to thus far. Maybe, like in Paulo Coelho’s "Alchemist", we need to journey outwards sometimes to discover the treasures that have been with us all along.
Barry Patterson, author of "The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci", believes that the worship of deities is strongly connected to our ancestral heritage. However, he divides the term ‘ancestors’ into three sub-groups. The Ancestors of Blood are those that represent our direct bloodline, such as our parents and grandparents; whereas the Ancestors of Place are our connection with the land we live on, and its earth-bound deities. Most crucially, however, Barry identifies the Ancestors of Path, the ancestors of our spiritual heritage. Whilst he argues that all of the ancestors must be honoured, he deems the Ancestors of Path to carry the most weight as ‘these are ancient connections that often run much deeper than blood’. This, I feel, is a vital point. At present, we may inhabit a body that was born into English culture on British soil, but this may have been very different in previous lifetimes.
According to Tibetan Buddhism, one cannot feel connected to certain deities unless there is a karmic, past-life connection present. This might explain why some people feel a strong resonance with Hindu, Egyptian or Sumerian God/desses and have experiences of ancient teachings and language flowing back into consciousness with ease, even though they have never been to these places in this lifetime before. So what happens in this case? Is it ‘acceptable’ to invoke all of these God/desses in our prayers, or should we restrict ourselves to worshipping Celtic Goddesses over here and reserve our love for the foreign ones for when we visit their native country?
This solicits the question as to how we can truly know whether a God/dess is actually native. Much like ancient people, deities may have arrived and been imported by our ancestors or travellers several thousand years ago, and may in fact not be indigenous at all. A prime example is Christianity, the dominant religion in our culture, based on the teachings of a Jewish prophet. Furthermore, if we travel to the Middle East, do we pay our respects to Allah? Or, do we consider that monotheistic Islam is only 1400 years old, and remember that Sufism existed long before Islam? Or, looking back even further, do we recognize the shamanism and Goddess worship that have been practiced in these lands long before that? What happens when different people have very diverging ideas about which deities live on the land and which ones were there first? Will there be arguments and fights, or can they live peacefully side-by-side and even influence each other, such as in Nepal, where both Buddhism and Hinduism are practiced?
We now live in a culture in which many different deities are worshipped. Although Jill’s article was specifically referring to the energies of the land in a Goddess-related framework, on a bigger scale I’d like to ask: is there room for everybody’s religion and deities, or should only a specific culture/religion be practiced in a given land? Jill talks about Australia and wonders whether, as a European living abroad, you ‘import’ your own culture, or relate to the land in some way that does not disturb the culture of the native people. She further writes that matters become problematic when large groups of people migrate to other countries. England, for example, has a large population of Indian and Pakistani nationals. Should these Indians give up their deities or only honour them privately in their homes? Or is it ‘okay’ for them to build temples and mosques on the land on which they now live, and preserve their culture? Should the Nepalese shamanka give up her practices and God/desses and adopt ours when she comes to live in Europe? This may sound absurd, but this is what the debate ultimately asks when we take it from the stone circle into our communities.
It is worth considering that indigenous God/desses often have a counterpart in a different culture, and can take on many forms. For example, the Hindu God Krishna is said to be equivalent to the Greek Pan and the Roman Faunus; the Greek Goddess Artemis is known as Diana in Rome and as Skadi in the North; whereas the ferocious Kali corresponds to the Celtic Morrigan. Lord Shiva has 1008 different names and appears in many different manifestations. As Pashupati, he represents the Lord of Cattle, and yet, energetically he is still Shiva, albeit in a different form. Interestingly, the writer John Myrdhin Reynolds conducted a comparative study of the Wiccan and Western ceremonial magic with Indian Tantra. In it, he argues that the origin of Wicca lies in the universal archetypes of the Great Goddess and the Horned God, which appear in the Higher Tantras of Vajrayana Buddhism as the Dakini and the Heruka.
So could it be that we, as humans, have a habit of conceptualising and compartmentalising the different energies that exist anywhere on this earth and in the Universe? Does it really matter which names and imagery we attach to these divine energies, as long as we respect them? These are interesting questions, but personally I am inclined to agree with Barry, in that, as long as we honour the spirits of place, there is no reason as to why we should not communicate with foreign deities also. Ultimately, I feel that God/desses know no boundaries. They live inside of us and are part of, not separate from, us. They dwell inside our hearts and we take them with us wherever we go. Certainly, when I am in India, I will always honour Kali and Shiva first, but this would not stop me from calling in and remembering Danu or Venus, too, if it felt appropriate. My instinct is that we should do what our hearts ask us to. With conscious awareness, sincerity and purity of intent, we cannot go wrong.
I believe that, on the spiritual path, if our aim is to become completely self-realized, there comes a point when division between traditions no longer exists. Supreme enlightenment honours all ancestors and all traditions, and yet is not attached to them. Ultimately, I sense, all of our concepts will fall away when we merge with the Divine.