The Ancient Gods and Neo-Paganism
By Aaron Leitch (Khephera)
As we all know, there is no shortage of bad scholarship in the circle of Neo-Pagan authors. From history to the proper methods and uses of magick, the student is sure to be besieged by information that is either worthless, or perhaps even detrimental to their personal goals. Any good book on the subject of modern magick will point out this fact to the seeker from page one, as likewise will a good teacher when warning his students away from the "fluff" material.
One such area that has been so abused by many authors is that of the old Gods. Where They came from, what They represent and embody, how to properly work with Them- too many modern texts have been blinded to history, anthropology, and archeology when dealing with these subjects. Instead, the Gods seem to have been forever banished to the realms of Jungian psychology- where They have lost Their depth and personalities; and, even worse, They have lost Their cultures.
Allow me, for a moment, to oversimplify Jungian psychological concepts- as most of us modern types seem to do. Jung believed that all of humanity shared a "collective" mind which rested just beneath our normal waking consciousness. While it does not allow for an ease of telepathic communication among humans, it is where our racial memories are stored, as well as the psychological forces that we know as "archetypes". According to my small New Concise Webster's Dictionary, an archetype is "the original type, pattern, or model of anything". The Jungian philosophy is of the opinion that most of what runs through our unconscious minds (and much of what runs through our conscious minds as well) is based upon certain simplified and archetypal images and racial memories.
Take for instance the Wiccan Horned God. This is a very vague "godform" whose description can not be narrowed down to any single named being. He is strong and masculine, with the horns of the stag or bull upon His brow. He is a huntsman and sometimes a warrior. He yearns ever after His Goddess- who is both His mother and lover- and subjects Himself to the process of death and re-birth for the joy of making love to Her. Of course, even a short look into the subject of comparative mythology will show that this basic formula applies to any number of ancient Gods and mythos patterns. Likewise, we can show how this archetype manifests itself in reality- in the rise and fall of the crops, the movements of livestock, and even in the interaction of the human male with the human female. This kind of philosophy has led to the common Wiccan concept of "All Gods are one God, and all Goddesses are one Goddess". This simply means that all of the old gods of the world can be traced back to certain very simple archetypal forces- an Ultimate Male, and an Ultimate Female whom we know only as God and Goddess, or Father and Mother.
This concept is fine when it comes to a transcendent theology. Any student of the Qabalah is well aware that everything on the Tree of Life can be traced back to the two spheres of creation known as Binah (also called "Aima"- Mother), and Chockmah (also called "Abba"- Father). Plus, even these two archetypes can be traced back directly to the original Singular Divine Source of All. However, where this concept falls short is when it comes to the Gods of the ancient pantheons and cultures Themselves. By the above philosophy, not only are all male Gods aspects of the singular Father, but so too are all things that are male in the universe. That includes myself and all other men; not to mention male animals, and all things that can be classified as masculine. And yet I have my own culture, my own personality, my own life, my own likes and dislikes, and my own True Will. I am certainly a part of the greater whole of creation, but to strip me of all of my individuality would be pointless and wrong.
Yet, we seem to fail to offer the Gods the same respect. Instead we have given rise to what is becoming known as "Plug n' Play" god work. A kind of Jungian / Socialistic view of the Gods where any one of Them will do for any particular purpose as long as He or She "represents" the right force. They are seen as nothing more than archetypal images- created by the mind of mankind over the centuries, and little more than convenient tools to be used by the mage at will.
In some cases, the faces of the Gods are worn as "astral masks" of a sort, which allows the mage to command spirits, or to invoke certain forces which that particular God is associated with. This- called the assumption of godforms- is not in itself a bad thing as far as it goes. However all too often students assume that the depth of the Gods stops there. Even worse, followers of the Wiccan path are often sent out "god-hunting" by their teachers, in an effort to find one God and one Goddess who they can claim as their Patrons; and this regardless of the time, place, or culture which gave rise to these Gods. Often I have seen people choose a God and Goddess from two entirely separate cultures!
If you are a believer in Jungian archetypes, then this practice won't offend your senses at all. However, with this essay, I am offering a more historically sound representation of the Gods. I will remind the reader that the ancient peoples did believe in the reality of the Gods- not as archetypes or as simple names and faces created by humans for ease of dealing with the Divine. Instead, they knew the Gods to be just as individual as you or I. At the same time, this is not restricted to the people of dead civilizations of past eras, but it still alive among many groups of modern day Pagans (such as Santeria, American Indian Shamanism, Rastafarianism, Hinduism, etc) which have legitimate claims to great historical antiquity.
The Reality of the Spiritual
Before I can hope to proceed, I will need to begin with some of the very basics of our assumptions about the spiritual realm. The idea that all of magick is, in fact, nothing more than a kind of super-psychology is nearly all-pervading in the areas of both ceremonial magick and neo-paganism.
I once had a letter from a seeker who had attended his first Neo-Pagan ceremony, which he described to me as being more like an encounter group than a rite of worship. Perhaps the best example of this kind of thinking appears in Aleister Crowley's Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magick available as a preface in The Goetia by Weiser Publications. It is also suggested often in such works by Robert Anton Wilson in Prometheus Rising and Ishtar Rising. Both of these are wonderful books in their own right, but treat of the Gods in an extremely psychological manner. Such popularized works as Margot Alder's Drawing Down the Moon stress to an almost neurotic extent that there is no such thing as the supernatural, and freely toss around the terms "archetype", "Jungian psychology", and "metaphor". Are we, as Neo-Pagans, missing the point? Have we stripped the spiritual realm of it's character and vitality? The answer from this author is simply, "Yes".
Regardless of what we may believe, or think we believe, there are facts which can not be denied. One of these facts is that mages throughout history have honestly believed in the forces and entities they worked with. All of the classic grimoires, and ancient religious and magickal texts, are all written from that world-view. Another fact is that, sometime between then and now, we stopped believing these things.
My experience has shown me that there are two factors involved at the heart of this matter; and both of them narrow down to fear. On the one hand, I have noted that modern occultists are terrified of sounding like "whackos". Understandably, we wish to be accepted as true scientists in our own right, and to distance ourselves from spiritists, fortune tellers, and all other frauds and wannabes. Sadly, these usurpers of the mystical traditions have stolen the world view and terminology of the classical texts and teachings. They speak freely of spirits, Angels, "the spirit realm", and many other occult concepts that can easily be found in such works as Agrippa's The Three Books of Occult Philosophy. The reaction among serious occultists (many of whom draw from those very same old sources) is to leave those terms and world view behind, so that we are not mistaken for the usurpers and "whackos".
The other factor seems to be set deeper within the psyche; and it is the fear that man is not, after all, the highest and most divinely powerful being in the cosmos. The philosophy rests upon the basic premise that there is no universe outside of the mind of man. "Man", in this case, is also frequently understood to be specifically the person speaking at the time. The very idea that there might be Something out there which dwarfs him in size and power will send this type of person into an angry frenzy of techno-babble and Jungian concepts. It's not that he believes a tree falling in the woods makes no sound. Quite the contrary, he refuses to accept that the tree, or even the woods, can possibly exist without his being there to perceive them.
These psychological factors are not at all hard to define. Both of them are the very driving forces behind the modern scientific communities. We have all met self-styled Neo-Pagans who claim a total severance from Judeo-Christian concepts, and yet sound like typical Southern Baptists when they speak. Only the names have changed for them- from Jesus to the Goddess- yet the basic mental groundwork is exactly the same. I offer that the exact same process is apparent in many mages and witches who claim to practice the old ways, and yet refuse to let go of modern scientific rationalism and Jungian psychology. I further offer that the world would not be a living hell if man turned out to be somewhat lower on the food-chain than we would like to believe.
So, if many of our most basic assumptions about the spiritual are opposed to the world views of those from whom we claim to descend, and it is possible that our assumptions are further based on fear and neuroses on our own part- where does that leave us? Can we believe in non-physical beings that exist objectively from our Selves? Perhaps the simple process of logic hasn't failed us just yet. Let us attempt to gain some common ground, and work from there.
Proving the Existence of the Spiritual
The one practice that is nearly universal among occultists is the use of practical Magick. It is by no means used or accepted by all- especially those who are entrenched most deeply into the psychological aspects of Magick. However, I find it to be extremely rare to come across a mage who will not admit to at least a few instances where his magickal work met with successes that simply can not be explained rationally or psychologically. Their underlying explanation is not far-fetched at all. They simply admit that the full extent of the human mind are not yet known, and perhaps it is indeed possible to transcend physical limitations to affect the world around us through occult means.
In other words: "magick works". This revelation is not usually met with until the mage finds himself in dire straights. Magickal operations undertaken during emergencies are- in my experience- some of the most powerful. The urgency of emotion that pushes these spells along seems to be the deciding factor; and when that little bit of extra cash comes your way, or that job you needed so badly is finally offered you from out of nowhere, or the intended healing takes hold and saves a loved one, the belief in real magick is easily grasped.
Of course, this is still safely within the realm of the human mind, and it's omnipotence in the universe. We may grudgingly admit that something we did magickally had unexplainable results upon the physical. However, what call do we have to believe that this has anything to do with spirits or Gods? There is no hard and fast evidence that they exist, nor that they are anything more than images and astral constructs of our own making. This I willingly grant- if I'm so forced to define my stance by the terms of modern science. However, I have to retort that there is an equal lack of evidence toward the non-existence of these beings.
The question is simple and straightforward: If you believe that the Human Being is composed of both body and spirit, and that it is possible for that spirit to extend past the limitations of the physical without dispersing like steam; if you believe in spell casting or astral travel, thought forms or the creation of artificial elementals; then how far a leap is it to accept that some beings in this universe may have evolved to exist in a purely non-physical state? It smacks only of egotism to claim that no creature in all of creation has the ability to operate upon the astral planes besides the human animal.
This is in no way offered as "proof" that spirits, Angels, and Gods exist. Such a thing simply can not be proven by our modern concepts of scientific evidence. They are non-physical, intangible, and can only be proven through the direct experience of the individual. However, an individual who firmly believes in Their existence will simply never experience Them. Not unless he can adopt enough agnosticism in his practices to open the door for new and unexpected possibilities and experiences.
On the other hand, I have offered the above for a different reason. As I stated earlier- we simply have to accept that the ancient and classical peoples did believe in these beings, and that their systems of magick and spirituality were based wholly on those beliefs. In order to understand these systems, we have to let go of our modern personal views. We have to either accept that these ancients just might have been right all along, or at the very least suspend our disbelief long enough to come to an understanding of how they operated, and why. Therefore, for the remainder of this essay, I will assume the reality of the spiritual realms and those beings that exist there. The reader may (or may not) choose to accept this section of the essay as a disclaimer toward that fact.
The Modern World view
Accepting without question that spiritual entities exist, the shamans and priests of ancient civilizations went from there to experiment with the astral realm. Over time, they developed some extremely sophisticated systems of interacting with these energies and intelligences. Today we, quite ignorantly, dismiss these systems as superstitious non-sense. If you wish to test your reactions to these concepts, I invite you to read book one of Agrippa's Three Books… This is the book which deals with earth-magick; what we might today call Witchcraft or Folk Magick. As an example, I quote from book one, chapter fifty one, "Of certain observations producing wonderful virtues":"Also they say that a man's eyes that are washed three times with the water wherein he hath washed his feet, shall never be sore or blear. It is said that some do cure diseases of the groin with thread taken out of the weaver's loom, being tied in nine, or seven knots, the name of some widow being named at every knot. Also the spleen of cattle extended upon pained spleens, cures them, if he that applies it, saith that he is applying a medicine to the spleen to cure, and east it: after this, they say, the patient must be shut into a sleeping room, the door being sealed up with a ring, and some verse repeated over nineteen times."
A modern mind can not be expected to see in the above anything even remotely useful. In fact, these things may or may not have any applicability to our present day and practices. What students of magick fail to understand (both those who spurn such as the above, and even those who would attempt to make some kind of use of it) is that each and every instruction above is linked in some way to spirits. These are shamanic techniques which are designed specifically to work only with the aid of certain intelligences. They are either human created, or (more likely) they are the instructions given to shamans by their own spiritual Guides. Within the framework of that shaman's culture and magickal practice, the above methods probably worked miracles. To us, they seem to be superstitious ramblings.
This is the very basis of everything that we call "witchcraft" today (this not including those who mistake "Wicca" for the concept of witchcraft). Any dictionary, as biased as they may be against the concept, will affirm that the art of a witch is that of interacting with spirits. My Webster's defines the word rather typically:Witch (wich), n. a woman supposed to be in contact with evil spirits and to possess supernatural powers; a sorceress.
If we subtract the general misinformation and bigotry from the above, we are left with the description of a person who works with spirits (and, also, may have certain natural abilities of their own, and who is an herbologist). I think that rather aptly covers exactly what a witch, and witchcraft, is all about. Further, it covers the facts behind shamanism as well, and the basic practices of the "witch-doctors" of old.
I have personally had very direct contact with one such pagan tradition that extends from the present day backward for thousands of years. Of course I'm not speaking of Wicca here- but of the practice known as "Santeria". As fate would have it, my first copy of Agrippa's three books came into my hands at the very same time as I was observing the methods of my friends and loved ones in the Santerian religion, and the related Path called "Palo". Further, my overall study of the grimoiric traditions- from the Goetia to The Key of Solomon the King to The Sacred Book of Abramelin The Mage and even to the works of John Dee- were in full swing at the time. I was nothing less than shocked and enraptured at the unending similarities between what I was studying, and what the Santeros were doing.
Santeria is perhaps my main sounding board when it comes to comparing our modern ideas and assumptions about the old ways, and the texts actually written in those times. However, I must also stress that there are a limited number of separate traditions that bear looking into in this field. American Indian Shamanism, Rastafarianism, Hinduism, Voodoo, Palo, Sufism, and even many of the more obscure (and some not so obscure) traditions to be found in Judaism, Islam, and many Orthodox Christianities. Add to this, as well, a solid study of anthropology and archeology to see what we know of the methods of long dead civilizations and how they fit into the overall picture. If you are attempting to make use of ancient or classical texts in your Magickal practice, and you are not also studying these other traditions, then you are selling yourself short and can not hope to understand the texts themselves. These traditions of ancient descent preserve not only many of the practices to be found in the old texts, but also the reasons behind those practices.
There is a very specific distinction between a "superstition", and a practice for which the underlying reasoning is well known. To this end, I will quote from A. E. Waite's The Book of Ceremonial Magic:"...a vain observance, it should be remembered, is not necessarily superstitious. To assume that a virtue is resident in parchment prepared from the skin of an animal which has not engendered, and that such virtue is wanting in the skin of one which has reproduced it's species, may have no foundation in fact, and may be eminently foolish, but it is not superstitious assumption. It has been well pointed out by Eliphas Levi that the term superstition signifies survival; that is to say, it is the sign surviving the idea. Thus, the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, in it's open theological sense, may or may not be true doctrine, but in neither case can the worship of the consecrated elements be superstitious, because such worship draws directly from the idea which has created the outward sign. If a time could be supposed when the Elements should continue to be worshipped after the doctrine itself had passed away, that would be a superstitious observance. But, the etymological conception of superstition connects also with the idea of redundance. Thus, a double consecration of the Eucharistic elements would be a superstitious observance, as well as blasphemously absurd, because the first consecration is effectual by the theological hypothesis. But, the repetition of the Angelical Salutation in the devotion of the Holy Rosery is not superstitious, because the first recitation is not necessarily effectual by the devotional hypothesis. So also the magical practice which consists with the magical hypothesis will not be superstitious, though it may not consist with reason."
All in all, it boils down to the simple fact that the methods of the ancients were important to the goals of their spells, and that the world views that went along with them were just as crucial. They can not be cast aside as easily as we often wish to believe. There are plenty of systems of magick available that have arisen strictly from our modern cosmology- such as many Thelemic practices, and Chaos Magick. However, for those who wish to draw from the older sources, and to work with the entities described in these texts, the world view of the Chaos Mage is worthless.
The Ancient World view
So, what were the methods and cosmology of the ancients? Of course, such a study would take a lifetime (or more), and would fill many volumes of literature. Here, however, we will stick with the one major concept which concerns us the most: spirits and their interaction with the material world.
One of the first, and most important, lessons the ancients seem to have learned about non-corporal intelligences is that they can not "directly" interact with the physical world without a physical base to work from. This does not mean that spirits can not affect the world- as they most certainly can and do. However, they can not experience the physical. Everything that we humans love can be linked directly to our five senses and our bodies. Without a body you have no eyes to see beauty, or ears to hear music, or hands to create art. You can not feel pleasure or pain, or taste meats and wines, or smell the perfumes of the world around you. You can not laugh or cry, or know the rush of the drug called sex, or that of the hunt.
Perhaps the oldest form of religion on earth is that of ancestor worship. It is either older than, or at least parallel to, animal worship, and it far predates any belief in Gods or Angels. My studies of the ancient world have been centered mainly in the middle east. Though, I have had enough exposure to the ancient cultures of other areas of the world to know that certain concepts were nearly universal. There will, of course, be exceptions to this. However, I will forge onward with the knowledge that these concepts were ubiquitous in the areas from which humanity first sprang. In the ancient world view, when you passed on, you faced two options:
1) You could be left without a body, and thus forced to roam the earth hungry and thirsty and lost for all of eternity. Or, in some cultures, you might go to the underworld- a colorless place devoid of any action or pleasure. It was not a place of punishment, but simply a place of eternal and boring rest. Note here that the concept of heavenly reward after death did not arise until (apparently) the Egyptians created or discovered the idea. Further, at the time, even that was reserved for the royalty alone (a concept which remained as common belief even into the middle ages of the common era).
2) Your second option was for your family to immediately capture your spirit after it leaves the vessel of your body, and formally bond it to a new body- that is to say a new physical base. This might be a certain stone or wood, or a statue or other hand-made artifact. If you were of Egyptian or Aztec royalty, your old body would be specially preserved and you would be put right back into it! You would be a mummy.
In any case, from there you could be given food and drink. This is the origin of ritual sacrifice; where meat would be slaughtered and offered to you just as it would be used as food for the living . Plus, you would be granted certain tools to replace those physical gifts you had lost at death, and you could be given extra tools which made you much more versatile than you had been while alive. You might be given wings or claws, or hammers and building tools, or weapons, or boats and carts- the list goes on and on. Simply study the contents of King Tutankhamen's tomb for a good example. Thus did a family care for it's departed loved ones; these practices being primitive at first, but growing in complexity as time moved onward.
However this was only half of the story. In return for this care-taking on the part of your family, they could come to you in times of need. Being a spirit- no longer restricted by your physical senses- you could foretell the future. This, in fact, is the origin of the concept of "necromancy". Further, you could actively aid the family in daily matters (why else do you suppose the living were so eager to construct so many tools for you?). You might bring money and goods into the household, aid the growth of crops, offer assistance in battle, or protect the home from thieves; all by manipulating the astral currents as spirits are able to do as easily as the living move physical objects. This is also the origin of the "familiar spirit"- for is not the root of that word "family"?
However, none of this would have been possible if your spirit had not been captured after your death and bound to something physical. It was not believed that you could perform such powerful physical feats without the base to stand upon, or without the body you inhabit, or the tools you were granted to use. Those spirits that were left to roam free had only one option- and that was to possess the body of a hapless victim, and attempt to work from there. Is it any wonder, then, that exorcism is one of the first Magickal rites known to history; not to mention that it is the basis of much of the work we do today in the areas of summoning and spirit work? From full evocation rituals, to the Bornless Rite, to the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram- all of these and more come to us through the descent of extremely old rites of exorcism- meant to bind spirits who would molest the living out of jealously of what we have: bodies.
If you wish to test this premise yourself, here is a rather simple exercise: Perform your usual preparations for astral travel, with the addition of placing a pencil on the altar or a table in front of you. Perform your rites or other procedures to gain the astral, and then approach the pencil resting there upon the table. Now, simply attempt to pick it up and move it to another location. This can be somewhere else in the room, or even something as simple as moving it one inch to the right or left. I do believe that even the strongest among you will utterly fail at this endeavor.
If it is so hard for you to perform such an otherwise simple task- then we must ask ourselves how magick can be possible at all. I certainly can not budge that pencil unless my physical hands are upon it. Yet I willingly accept that I can "cast a spell" which can influence people and events in my favour- even on some rather grand scales. There is either a flaw in our logic, or we are missing something important.
I, of course, opt for the latter. The processes behind magick, and the interaction between the spiritual and physical, are far more subtle. They involve the manipulation of astral currents- one could say that the trick is to pull the strings behind the scenes, rather than attempt to manipulate the object directly. However, even here, we have to ask ourselves where the division lies. Where do those "strings" meet with the physical object, person, or situation they are attached to?
The fact is that anything which is spiritual needs some kind of physical base from which to operate. It needs some form of material body to anchor against in order to manipulate the physical. Without this base, the forces in question might as well try to push against a wall in zero gravity- which only results in sending the pusher helplessly across the room. This is the secret behind talismanic magick, and the summoning of spirits through their sigils. It is why genies were put into bottles, and angels were bound to rings. It is why ancient priesthoods invoked their Gods into statues. Not every spirit or Angel needs a working image to inhabit- but each and every one of them needs *some* method of getting from where they are, to where we are in order to work their miracles. And the more of a physical base you can grant them to stand upon, the more astounding those miracles will prove to be.
Allow me once more to quote Agrippa's thoughts on this very subject. It comes from book one, chapter thirty-nine, "That We May by Some Certain Matters of the World Stir Up the Gods of the World, and Their Ministering Spirits.":"So we read that the ancient priests made statues, and images, foretelling things to come, and infused into them the spirits of the stars, which were not kept there by constraint in some certain matters, but rejoicing in them, viz. as acknowledging such kinds of matter to be suitable to them, they do always, and willingly, abide in them, and speak, and do wonderful things by them: no otherwise than evil spirits are wont to do, when they possess men's bodies."
The Origins of the Old Ones
At this point, we have come to three specific understandings of the cosmology and methods of these elder cultures. One is that just about all magick was done through the aid, or at the direction, of spiritual entities. Two is that these same entities were regularly given physical bodies of a sort to inhabit and use as their very own "base of operations"- just as you do with your own physical body. Finally, number three is that these spirits were not seen as being from "out there" somewhere, but were in fact the spirits of departed family members. The concepts of nature spirits and other non-human intelligences seem to have developed after these most primitive and pre-historic times. One is left to wonder how many of the traditions which speak of non-human spirits and jinn can actually be traced right back to ancestor worship itself. (Perhaps this will sit well with those who feel the human spirit is the only real spirit).
Here, then, is where we finally reach the realm of the Gods. Where did They come from? At what point did humanity jump from ancestral observance to the great Temple Faiths that we know from the early historical period onward? The answer, as any good historian might tell you, is that there was no "jump" at all. In fact, everything evolved at a pretty steady pace, and in it's own time.
After the innovations of agriculture took hold upon the heretofore nomadic species of humans, various families began to settle into areas called "nations"- which we today would call cities or states. Some of these co-operative families were larger than others, and so the familial spirits of these clans had wider and more powerful spheres of influence than others. Likewise, the sheer size of these peoples allowed them to indulge their mammalian dominance instincts at the expense of their neighbors.
The neighbors, too, were not so willing to stand against this. In return for a general subservience, as well as liberal tributes, these small clans were offered physical protection from raiders from other cities, as well as from the still-nomadic tribes, that would rather often sweep through the land. No less important, the larger families also promised astral protection via their own familial spirits. Tributes from the dominated clans were paid in crops and livestock, and therefore the ruling families had an interest in making sure the general prosperity of the city flourished.
This was the birth of the "kingdom". The spirits who had once been mere humans were now elevated to the status of godhood. They fed on the offerings and prayers of not just a small number of close relatives, but instead upon those of an entire nation of people. The stronger these spirits became, the more they demanded of their families to maintain that level of power. Some may perhaps see this as greed, but I have to disagree. It's a simple technicality that a God is going to need a lot more nourishment than a familiar spirit. Especially if it is to go into battle against the Gods of other nations. The life of the ancient was one of survival. And thus arose the old Gods, and the cults that surrounded Them.
Gods Are People Too
This has got to be the littlest known fact about the old Gods: That most of Them were originally living and breathing human beings. The sacred mythologies the world over stress this fact- though it is rarely taken seriously. Osiris was nothing less than the first Pharaoh of Egypt. The Celtic Tuatha de Danan were never said to have come from the stars, but were incarnate- if superhuman- beings Themselves. In fact, most of the old mythologies speak of Gods as if They were physical, and walking upon the earth. Even in the Old Testament, the Angels are only rarely granted non-physical status. Take for example the meeting between Abram (Abraham) and the three Angels who delivered him the message that he would father a Nation. In the story they are described simply as "three men". This theme runs through all of the old legends- from Inanna who was violated in Her sleep by a mortal man, to Zeus to fathered many children with human women, and so on and so forth.
In most cases, the humans who would be Gods are said to have been translated in some way from one state to another. It was usually in an instant of religious ecstasy- such as Enoch who became the Archangel Metetron. In other cases, They are said to have been Gods to begin with, but became incarnate for a short time- such as Elijah who was said to be Sandalphon, or even Jesus Christ who was the Logos. Although, even in these cases, if one is willing to trace the history far enough, it is possible to surmise that even They may have had human origin. A good example is the Egyptian Ammon- the one Deity who transcended all other Deities in the Egyptian cosmology. There are no instances what-so-ever in the mythos of Ammon's having been, or ever incarnated as, a human. Yet, outside of the written mythos, Ammon can be traced back to primitive cults who honored Him as a lesser Deity. He was a God associated with rams, and could probably be traced further to ancestor worship Himself.
Of course, I could also mention the most obvious example: Jesus Himself. We all know that this Deity descends from a once-living man who attempted to re-establish the Hebrew Monarchy. For his efforts he was murdered by the Roman government, and thus became the world's most famous martyr. His moment of transfiguration was his crucifixion. There is also another well known, and perhaps entirely unexpected, example which is even closer to us in the present day. I will foxus on this Deity later in this essay.
The Patron God and the Priesthood
Now that we have at least scratched the surface of what- and who- the Gods really are, we can continue onward with the subject of how these Gods interacted with the humans who became Their priests and priestesses. Of course, I must stress the existence of a priesthood in this regard. It is a very common mistake among Neo-Pagans to assume that (for instance) everyone in Egypt worshipped Isis or Osiris, or Hathor or Horus. Or, perhaps, that everyone in Babylon worshipped Marduk or Ishtar. What is not considered in these cases is the fact that it was the priests who were also the scribes in that day and time. What little we know of these past civilizations come directly from the Temples of the royal families, and the history itself is colored thereby.
In fact, the common man of the ancient world had little to do with the Gods of the Temples. He would honour Them at festivals, and pay his tribute for Their protection of the city and surrounding farmlands. However, he had his own house familial spirits that took the majority of his attention. These were the ones who aided him day to day, and protected him in the world at large. They were his personal Gods- whose names would not have been recorded in the long lists handed down to us by the high priests of the national cults. Sadly, there is much we do not know about how the people worked with their personal household Gods. We have some clues- and at least an idea that it paralleled- in a much lesser scale- the manner in which the national Gods were dealt with. Therefore, I will at least temporarily return to a focus on these better known Deities- the very same Deities with whom many of you as Mages and Neo-Pagans are attempting to establish contact.
First of all, realize that no ancient Priest or Prestress simply chose a God at random to whom they would dedicate themselves, nor did they choose even a God that they "liked a lot". Also, keep in mind that once one did dedicate to a God or Goddess, it was a full-time job that became the specific focus for the rest of their lives. Contrast this to the "Plug N. Play" methods that we see toward the Gods today, and the general nonchalance that goes along with most of our attitudes toward Them. Perhaps the more sincere among us at least make sure that we feel called by a certain God before we work with Him or Her, but many more of us simply grab a copy of such books as The Witches' God or The Witches' Goddess and go searching for one that seems to appeal to us.
On the other hand, consider the tradition of Santeria. There are any number of Gods (called Orishas) whom one may freely choose to work with (a subject that will be covered below). However, when it comes time to work with your own personal patron Orisha, it is not up to you to choose. You must search out a proper Priest, fully initiated into certain mysteries, who will perform a divination upon you. The Orisha that this priest has contact with will be able to tell you which Orisha is to be put to your head (that is- bonded with you as your Patron). It is a very intricate and subtle process that has to do with you who truly are inside, and what occult forces resonate with you the strongest. This will determine which Orisha to whom you are specifically a child.
Searching out a properly initiated priest or priestess for divination is a very wide-spread idea. Christians do this all the time by going to their priest to speak with Jesus for them. The Old Testament itself is filled with instances where Kings or common men will search out "the Prophet" and ask him what Yahweh has to say on any given matter. The same has been true of every religion the world over, and can be found in most of the mythologies, up to the modern day.
Of course, I am well aware that one of the main goals of Neo-Paganism is to do away with any kind of priesthood who would stand between us and the Divine. However, there are some serious points we have to consider if we hope to reach this goal. Our rebellion on this subject is centered around the corruption that exists within the structure of the Judeo-Christian theology- in which so-called "priests" make up their own stories- for their own agendas- and claim that it is the God who has delivered the message or commandment. Not surprisingly, this has been occurring for thousands of years. Corruption of the priesthood has been the greatest danger in religion from the very beginning when the shamans learned to communicate with the spirits around them.
It's not so surprising, then, that after about six thousand years at this, we as a majority have decided to make our own contact. Again, this is nothing new. The Gnostics, who existed from just before the dawn of the common era, and until their final destruction by the Inquisitions of the dark ages, also believed in a one-on-one contact between man and Divinity. The same basic philosophy existed in other cultures, and was a major driving force behind the formation of the Qabalah itself (a word which means "To Receive" and is sometimes indicated to mean "reception of information directly from God.") The difference between these philosophies and the modern Neo-Pagan view is that we, today, most often just assume a direct link from day one. The Gnostics, Qabalists, (et al) understood that if they were to have a contact with the Gods, it was up to them to dedicate their lives toward gaining that contact. It was considered a birth-right to have this contact, but it came only after many years of work and labor toward the goal. They were, in essence, simply working to become Priests themselves.
There are modern systems that work in this same manner. The Golden Dawn does this, as does Traditional Wicca, and other systems besides. They have very specific levels of initiation and training courses which strive to transform the individual into a Priest or Priestess. Unfortunately, this simple fact is overlooked and ignored by the majority of books about Magick and Neo-Paganism- whose main focus is to make money, and tell the student that it's all as easy as breathing, with no real work expected on the part of the aspirant.
Once one has undertaken these initiations, one is granted the ability to speak with the God in question. This isn't simply a lot of mystical "red tape" that one has to endure before being granted an audience. In fact, one must be bonded quite directly to the God in order to have such an intimate contact. The initiations themselves are focused on this kind of bonding. For instance, Santeria accomplishes this with a very involved and intricate procedure known as the "Ocha" Ceremony. This is where the God is- as I have mentioned before- "put to your head". Modern ceremonial magick speaks very often of gaining "Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel". This concept arises from a very old grimoire known as the Book of the Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage. It contains a process by which one may become bonded directly to his own Guardian Angel- which is one and the same with the concept of the Patron God. It's similarities to the Santerian Ocha ceremony are astounding, and I have no doubts what-so-ever that the book of Abramelin itself was written from an author's knowledge of the general procedure for making one a Priest for a particular God. Only, in these cases, the God in question is simply a personal Patron, rather than someone else's God (such as Marduk, or Isis, or any other God of the ancient Temples).
Although, there is more involved in the overall process. If you wish to regularly contact a God, you need to become initiated into His or Her specific tradition. It's more than simply a matter of gaining the initiations and the "authority" to speak to the God; there are also many subtle mysteries that are taught to a student along his way. These are the practical "how tos" behind the art- such as how to actually call the God when you need to speak with Him or Her, what to avoid, what to strive for, secret signs and words of power, dances and drum beats, etc, etc. These kinds of procedures will be covered at length below. In the case of the Holy Guardian Angel (or: the person God of the common man as described above) it would seem to be up to the Deity (or Angel) to teach the aspirant the how-tos after the fact of the initiations. This is valid enough, and the concept will also be discussed below.
Working with the Gods
So we have returned to the subject of the personal God. Is it possible to work with the old Gods in this manner? Or, are we limited (if one could call it such) to the aspirations toward the Holy Guardian Angel? The easy answer is that one should be focused on the personal Guardian. However, I will attempt to cover all angles, and allow the reader to decide which direction he wishes to focus.
The overall societies of the elder cultures were divided into numerous city-states, or tribes, and each one had it's own patron God. Similar to Marduk who ruled in Babylon, or Yahweh who ruled in Israel, or Baal who ruled in Canaan. All of these pagan cities had their own National Gods to whom the king and the priesthood were dedicated. However, thanks to the rise of monotheism, the crusades, and the inquisitions, this particular structure of the world is no more.
The concept survived for quite some time. Both Agrippa and Dr. John Dee describe Angelic systems of magick in which geographical location is extremely important. Certain Angels and Gods are said to have power in certain places, and very little to none in other areas. This concept dates back to the ancient city states and the patron Deities. It has only been recently that we have assumed a spiritual entity can be invoked for aid no matter the location- and I personally believe that there is still some question about this assumption. It is something that has yet to be seriously looked into and studied.
In any case, the majority of the localized gods were put to rest over time, and Their priesthoods were destroyed. What occurs within the cults in this kind of situation seems to vary. When the Israelites were defeated by the Babylonians, their response was to put aside the traditional cult of Yahweh until such time as the Temple could be re-established and the job could be done correctly. In the stead of priests, rabbis (teachers) arose, whose main focus is simply to keep the knowledge of the old ways alive, and the focus of the people in the right direction, so that the old ways can be put back into use when the time is right.
The tradition of Santeria arose when the tribal peoples were brought by force to North America, which in it's own way put an end to the priesthoods of the Orishas. Rather than set aside the old ways, however, they opted to modify their traditions to meet their new circumstances. Now, each and every practitioner of Santeria has the option to open his home to any Orisha that he wishes, as well as to any number of different Orishas. It would seem that the idea of the household god was combined with the cults of the Orishas in order to save Them. Of course, one still only has the option to bond with a single Orisha, and thus effectively become an initiated priest or priestess of that God.
It is thanks to the efforts of the first people who were brought over seas to this area of the world that the Orishas overall are still alive and powerful. Remember, now, the above discussion about how familial spirits became Gods, and what it takes for such an intelligence to remain in God-like status. When a God looses it's priesthood, and it's sacred rites and ceremonies (the specific instructions that the God itself gave to it's worshippers) are forgotten, the God will slowly loose it's power and slip into a kind of sleep. They can not be killed, but They can certainly lose Their status as Gods. One must wonder if They are not Themselves wandering the earth hungry and thirsty, just as the ancients believed would happen to any spirit who was no longer nourished by the efforts of the living.
On the other hand, the African Orishas were not subjected to this danger. Their priests kept possession of their sacred objects, and the information concerning Their specific rites, holy days, sacrifices, and other mysteries that surrounded each God. Further, the sacred objects that were retained were, in fact, the very objects into which the Orishas Themselves had been invoked. The Gods had been brought by Their worshippers to the new world, and by succession of initiation They are still here. Each time a Santero brings a new Orisha into his house, it must come directly from his godparents (those who initiated him into the tradition). It can not be bought in any store, nor made by the Santero on his own. The new sacred object must be obtained under extremely specific circumstances and procedures, properly consecrated, and the Orisha must be invoked into the object directly from the Orisha already in the possession of the godparent. It is a process much akin to lighting one candle from another- the flame can move and expand from one candle to another, while never diminishing the original flame. This line of succession- in Santeria- extends back to ancient times and the Orishas from Their African homeland
There are also other options when it comes to establishing contact with these Deities. Those who founded Santeria were extremely fortunate to squeak by with the sacred objects still in their possession. Other slaves were not so fortunate, and were stripped of everything except what was contained in their own heads. The material objects were gone, but most of the rites and traditions were remembered. Sadly, even this took a blow when the slaves were separated from their families and sold in various places.
They were not willing to give up so easily, however. With what little they had left, they began to attempt to establish new contacts with their Gods. After all, the Orishas Themselves were in the new world thanks to those who managed to keep Them, and so they figured it should be possible to contact Them even without Their material bases. They developed specific sigils which they would inscribe upon the ground, and then use the remembered dances, chants, and sacred musical instruments to call the Deities through the sigils like gateways. The contact is only temporary- lasting as long as the rite itself- but it was enough to evolve an entirely new tradition known to us as Voodoo.
It may surprise many of you to know that we western mages have developed an almost identical system. Just like the Voodoo priests, we lack the physical bases for the entities we deal with. Therefore, we have developed a system of sigils and gateways through which we, by certain rites, can evoke Them to appearance. Given this contact, we might even decide to bind that being into a ring, or brass vessel, or talisman- thus giving them that needed physical basis to work from. Just like with the book of Abramelin, I remain convinced that these methods were borrowed- by way of the authors of the grimoires- from older pagan methods. Of course, we should only attempt this with our familiar spirits (as did even the ancients). Remember that even Agrippa admits that the Gods are never bound into anything- but are only invited (or "born") into substances which They find agreeable. In any case, it should be readily apparent how our procedures parallel the older pagan ways. Where they use dance and musical instruments to call forth their Gods, we simply use the vibration of Names and invocations of certain energies. It all boils down to the same thing, after all.
There is also a third option available; one which is becoming more and more popular as Santeria is gaining a more public existence. In that tradition, there is a technical separation between the physical and spiritual (which I have mentioned above). According to the Santeros, it is indeed possible to work without all of the physical bases and construct what is known as a "spiritual altar" to any Orisha. It is not the preferred, and certainly not the most powerful, method. However it is an option for those who can not gain, or are otherwise awaiting, proper initiation and the acquisition of the Orishas for real.
The spiritual altar will strike a cord with many of you. It is far from "Plug N Play" god work, however there are Neo-Pagans out there who make much more honest attempts to establish connections to the old Gods. They take the time and effort to learn each and every thing they can about the God or Goddess they have dedicated to, and work hard to construct an Altar, and general system of operation, that the God in question will find pleasing and acceptable. It does not result in the same kind of physical presence as the Santeros get with their properly consecrated and enlivened Orishas. However, it can indeed result in a very real and workable contact with the entity.
It works much like the above explained use of sigils and gateways: by constructing the altar and methods of invocation as perfectly (ie- as historically accurate) as possible, the aspirant is creating an astral resonance that will tend to attract and please that Intelligence. Further, by it's being a physical altar, it grants the God something to hold onto; so that the connection is less temporary. One of the major differences is that He or She is not ceremonially born into the objects on the altar- which is a vital difference to be kept in mind by the modern Neo-Pagan who might construct their own "spiritual altar" to an old God.
Another difference to be held firmly in mind is that the Santerian Orishas are still alive and well in the world today. This is not so with the majority of the ancient Gods. As I said above, these Beings are asleep or (better put) very far away. Their rites have not been observed, we have none of the original sacred objects which They assumed as bodies, They have received no sacrifice or other sustenance for hundreds or thousands of years, and They have lost Their original status as National Gods. To put it into perspective, a Santero friend of mine once suggested that most of the old Gods were now of the same "level" or status as spirit guides. The majority of Neo-Pagan material available on the subject, when one compares modern experiences of the Gods to ancient accounts, would tend to confirm this.
For the record, I have indeed performed the construction and use of such a spiritual altar- for the Canaanite Goddess Asherah. In Her case, I was lucky- because I was learning much about the Santerian Goddess Yemaya at the time. These two Goddess are very probably directly historically linked. They are both Goddesses of the Sea- both are referred to as "The Treader upon the Sea". Plus, there is a marked similarity between "Yemaya" and "Asherah bat Yammi". Therefore, I was able to take some general information from Santeria and use it to aid my own work. I also added my own knowledge of the land of ancient Canaan and the Middle East. I made sure that cedar wood was there, and even offered a jar of olives in olive oil as a gift for Her. I hung an Image of Her above the pot which held cedar chips and lapis and carnelian stones. And every Saturday evening I would leave bread and honey, and a blue chalice of cool milk on Her alter. At the same time standing before the altar to pray (I would have kneeled at least to one knee, had the altar not been a high bookshelf)- invoking Her presence and Her protection.
I can affirm that this worked. It was nothing like what a Santero has with an Orisha, but it was a start. We connected, and it would have been fascinating to see what might have developed had I continued the process for years. To see if the presence of Asherah would finally become strong enough to begin giving me instruction. However, it was not long after that when I began to focus instead on my own Holy Guardian Angel and other magickal work. I let Asherah go because I did not want to dishonour Her by not doing my best toward Her.
At any rate, the point is that all is not lost. There are still Gods in the world. The Orishas are only one pantheon that are alive and well. And, thanks to the ancient Egyptian focus on funerary rites, we have many objects which embody Egyptian Deities from the pharonic tombs. The rise of the Golden Dawn itself- a major occult force in this world, not to mention one which focuses largely on Egyptian Gods and imagery- came about at nearly the same time as the opening of the tombs in Egypt. The Celtic Gods, too, have found hiding places in the Catholic pantheon of Saints- as have the Gods of other cultures. We can re-establish contact with the Old Ones- but it can only come through an understanding of everything I have said above.
With this in mind, I will now attempt to grant the reader some aid in this endeavor. Knowing the history of the Gods, and finally accepting how important all the details of the old priesthoods really are, how does one move onward from there? It is no easy task- not even one that might be expected to complete in one generation. But there is a convenient place from which we might start.
Feel free to laugh. It is an idea from left field. However, it will surely amaze you to find out that Santa Claus is a modern Deity who fits each and every requirement that I have discussed at length above. The manner in which we moderns deal with Santa Claus, and Christmas in general, is exactly how rites to Gods were performed in ancient times. Knowing this, it can provide an awesome sounding board against which to test our methods of dealing with any God we choose. At the very least, it offers us a glaring contrast to our normal Neo-Pagan methods.
Now, this is not going to be an essay on the birth and history of the Santa Clause myth. It is well enough known that Santa- or Kristopher Kringle- has a very old and distinguished (and, I might add, pagan)- heritage. Now I shall show how he (or He) is actually a God.
To begin with, He is certainly old enough. He is not young enough to be a new thought-form creation (like- say- Cthulhu). Nor could he be the soul of someone recently dead. He was, however, a once living human. He made such an impression on the people around Him that he was still honoured after His death. In essence, Kristopher Kringle's very spirit was captured after His death, and never allowed to escape. Honouring this spirit, the people gave it strength and nourishment. Now He is known and worshipped round the world- so He is surely of the status of a God.
How do we worship this Deity today? We start by having a Holy Day for Him- every Christmas. Oh, I know they say that it is to honour the time of the Birth of the Son of God. Or, as some know it, the Sun God. But, think way back to your childhood: Jesus might have been the Sun of God… But God's Name at that time of year was "Santa Clause". His Image was everywhere. You yearned for His coming. You wrote Him letters and even offered prayers. I would hazard to say that not one of us children ever cared about some guy that was supposedly born this day two thousand years ago. It was Santa we were focused upon.
But we weren't alone! Our God here is not lacking in priesthood anymore than He lacks worshippers! He certainly had Prophets; men who would assume His form and have full authority to speak on behalf of the God. We saw them on street corners, we saw them in malls. The malls were where we could gain audience to the Prophet and ask him what the God had to say about our wishes. It was a divination plane and simple. We all knew that it wasn't the real Santa, but we all played our roles for the divination so that the Prophet could properly invoke Santa's essence and speak with His voice. Even the insane amounts of sugar we ate on those days helped in altering our consciousness.
Yet Santa has other Priests as well. They are faceless- just like monks who always wear robes over their heads. Today we know they were there, but as young children we didn't. We still thought that the God Himself was manifesting bodily and performing the miracles of Christmas morning. We did not know that there were priests who could invoke the essence of Santa so that He could use their bodies to perform the miracles. These nameless ones were, of course, our parents. Each Christmas Eve they would usher us off to bed, and claim to go to bed themselves. Then, they would enter the Temple and perform Santa's role. They would lay out the presents, and eat the milk and cookies. Sometimes they leave "evidence" that "Santa" had been there.
Why, I was once mystified by the sound of sleigh bells outside my window on Christmas Eve as I tried to go to sleep. I lived in Florida, so of course these were not among the usual sounds of wintertime. I knew that no car was driving by, and that no one was walking or running by with them, for the sound had been too brief. Yet it had been long enough to be obvious- it was sleigh bells. I was only mystified for a time of course. Just from about six or nine to eighteen or nineteen! The only reason I am not to this very day mystified by that unexplained memory, is that one Christmas when I was home, I saw my mother do this to the children in the house (among them my own son). I only pray that it effected those children like it did me.
These are the priests of Santa- both those of the inner sanctuary and the outer prophets. The Temple I spoke of above is probably obvious now. It was your living room. It was decorated in very specific colors, with trimmings of specific kinds and shapes. Holly was sacred to Him, as was mistletoe, and the mistletoe had important rites associated with it. Santa's image was to be there, as well as His sacred tree. Every decoration hung on that tree, and in the Temple, had a reason for being there. Each had it's own rituals and tradition, which reflected family history and culture. They had to be "just so"; the instructions for that were no less involved than what one might find in Exodus ch. 30, where the Tabernacle of Worship was outlined.
Santa was even to be nourished. Not by just anything, but specifically by the purest milk and the sweet pastries known as "cookies". Or at least some variation thereon. These were consumed by one or both of the inner sanctum priests of your specific cult (family). It is a Eucharist for them. A Eucharist for the worshippers in general is the same cookies, and eggnog.
We even sang songs to Him in the Temple for the rather specific purpose of invoking and strengthening His presence into the room. This increased steadily all season until it hit it's peak on the twenty-fourth, where the invocations would be accompanied by very specific rites on the holiest of nights. There were very intricate rituals that had to be enacted on Christmas Eve, finally ending in the worshippers laying down to sleep. More than sleep- entranced into having visionary dreams. The sacred literature instructs that we should envision sugarplums if we do it right. We never could. Even more intricate and specific rites had to be performed the following morning and day. A description of that could fill chapters!
Not only this, but Santa could be offended and driven away. Bad behavior from children was at the top of that list. Although, anyone could offend Him enough with an attitude that we have termed "Scrooge" or "Grinch". We even had it in our sacred literature about those kinds of attitudes. They always made one into a person who would be alone and sad, and far from what Santa has to offer. But those stories always ended with the villain being converted and made a holy man at last! Of course, our sacred scripture incorporated much more than that. It also contained our whole Mythos concerning our sacred heroes- Frosty and Rudolph for example. And the instructions for the visions of sugarplums.
As children during Christmas season, every day and in every way we lived, loved, and worshipped Kristopher Kringle. We gave ourselves to Him in pure faith, in perfect love, and in perfect trust. It was that simple. There were no circles. There were no "correspondence charts". The rituals throughout the holy season weren't technical, they were devotional. And they were so much a part of you that you never even thought much about them. This is what it was like for the pagans of the ancient world as they honoured their Gods. We Neo-Pagans have so very very far to go. I will take another hazard and say that I would eat my word processor if I ever found any evidence that our modern observance of Yule or Christmas is any different than the manner in which the ancient cults operated.
Therefore, I accept the above to be what I term the "Santa Template". Anytime you feel you have a need to honour a specific God or Goddess, you might first wish to lay the Santa Template over Them first. See how your own knowledge of the God in question lacks before you even get started. I will give an example. First, let me highlight the Template. Santa posseses all of the following:
- Sacred Images
- Holy Days
- Numerous and very specific rites and rituals.
- Specific Eucharist (for other Gods, this would include such as Baptism and related operations as well).
- Sacred foods, plants, colors, trees as well as;
- Specific temple lay out and sacred objects as decoration. Traditions, mythos, and rites associated with all. Each to be properly maintained.
- Specific dances and music. Even specific musical instruments.
- Divinations, Visions, and petitions for the God's aid or blessing.
- Sacred scripture and Mythology.
- Very certain "sins" and offenses against the commandments of the God. Or, making yourself ritually unclean.
- An organized priesthood who take care of most of the above details, perform the important and most secret rites, and are also our direct link to the God by invocation of Him.
- Altered consciousness.
- Total and faithful dedication and love toward the Deity. If the God's holy day doesn't feel like Christmas, then you're doing it wrong.
I do not believe that even one of the above points was missing from the temples of the old Gods. Not only the above, but even more that I'm sure we'll never even guess at. Imagine a person five thousand years from now trying to observe Christmas from what he reads in maybe four or five surviving copies of our modern books on Christmas. Or even only commentary and short quotes about our Christmas from people who came after us. Or maybe (worse yet!) from old television commercials that have been recovered! Do you think he would capture what our children feel today? Not a chance- and that is what you are up against in attempting to re-establish contact with one of the ancient Gods.
When dealing with a God other than Kristopher Kringle, we have to ask ourselves how many of the above points are we capable of fulfilling? How much information did we recover from those eras and the God's cult (to be found in archeology books), and how many points of our Template will be left empty?
Let us assume that we wish to honour Marduk of Babylon. How many points can you fill out? What does our current knowledge of Marduk contain? Holy days? Yes, a few of those have been figured out. Certain rites and rituals? No- we can only connect Marduk to the opening recitations of some exorcism rites, and that's all. Very specific foods, plants, sacrifices, and other materials? Aside from Lapis Lazuli (which Marduk is often associated with), none. We, at least, know what He looks like in one of His forms. Do we know what he was directly averse to; that is, what He considered sin against his commandments? Do we have any of those commands? Do we know the proper ways of gaining contact- the music, the dances, the particular tools used? We know none of this. And, to top it all off, can you speak to Him in His native tongue? I would bet the majority would have to say no on that point as well. This doesn't even cover the entire list above, but it sure does put things into perspective. When it comes to comparing Marduk to Santa- we see how little we really know about Marduk!
What can change this is hard work and life-long dedication. Hours spent in the libraries scanning and re-scanning archeological and anthropological texts; both books on the shelves and articles from archeology journals. Do everything in your power to fill in each and every point in the Template before you even begin. Consider the ones you could not fulfill, and what might be done in their stead.
I should also, at this point, allow that there are other templates that can be used other than the Santa Template. You might also put a deep study into the history of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Trace him from the time he was a mortal man, to the time his spirit was elevated to Godhood by His followers. Take note of the traditions that arose around that ascention. It might be fun to lay the Santa Template itself over this when you are done.
In fact, there is indeed another Template out there fully developed, written down for you, and available anywhere. Simply study the last four books of the Torah (that being the first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible). Keep in mind the entire time that what you are reading was written by perfectly pagan people (well before the time of monotheism), and that the procedures they are describing are typical of any God or Goddess cult in the ancient Middle East, which was itself pretty much the same as anywhere in the world. Can you measure up to those kinds of procedures, at least to some degree?
By Names and Images
Interestingly enough, we seem to have an ally in this endeavor: the Qabalah. A little known fact today, the Qabalah was one of the last repositories and refuges for the knowledge of the ancients before the Medieval Christian Church stomped them out forever. This includes the pagans, for the Qabalah is not the "Jewish" creation that most claim it to be. It contains Roman and Greek, Egyptian and Babylonian, ancient Israelite and Canaanite, and Arabic, and dozens of other influences. In one way or another, it seems to have connected itself to every major Tradition in the world, and even to those archetypal energies we all love to talk about.
We have been using the Qabalah to contact the old Gods for decades. We are able to use the correspondences and techniques at our disposal to construct atmospheres which will resonate at least close to a particular God. We will then shape the astral energy into the shape of that God, and grant it the Name of the Deity. This is similar to the method of making gateways of sigils, only the sigil is much more dynamic. It serves as both gateway for the God, and as an astral vessel for the God to inhabit. It is called a "godform", and it is what is to be assumed by the mage in the method I described at the beginning of this essay. However, it is not always assumed by the mage. If he is lucky, the God Himself will be attracted and assume the astral form thus constructed.
This does take time, however. The Golden Dawn contains these kinds of godforms in it's main ritual hall- the entire court of Osiris in the Judgement Chamber (see the Egyptian Book of the Dead). By all rights, those Gods are really there after some fashion. As the Golden Dawn literature says in their main opening rite: "By Names and Images are all forces awakened and re-awakened".
It was once my basic practice to invoke the Babylonian Gods in place of Archangels in my planetary magick. For instance, I would call Marduk rather than Zadkiel for Jupiter, and Ishtar rather than Hanael for Venus. I was getting a response, but I finally decided that it simply wasn't enough. I was cheating myself by ignoring the entities who would be the most powerful when used in a Qabalistic Ceremonial framework- the Archangels. So I changed my methods- and left behind the Babylonian Gods just as I had done Asherah, also out of respect. Though I still love Them all.
However, if used in the opposite direction, the Qabalah can be quite an aid. That is to say, rather than attempting to apply the old Gods to the Qabalah, simply use basic Qabalistic techniques in treating the old Gods. And don't allow it to limit you, either. The modern idea that any one God can be forced into one Sphere of the Tree is wrong. A God is just as complex as a human, and can fit into any sphere just as easily as your or I. What we know of Ishtar (the Babylonian love Goddess and Venus star) extends past Netzach. She was also Goddess of war, and delivered civilization to mankind. That is Gevurah and Hod right there, and She can be fit into all of the others in different aspects. Only allow the Qabalah to be your foundation, not a brick wall.
Believe it or not, there is are systems around today that work in this manner. The Golden Dawn Journal: Book Three: The Art of Hermes (Llewellyn) contains a very nice essay by Donald Tyson called God Making. It is all about how to go about making and consecrating a sacred image and spiritual altar to a God.
There has also long been on the market another book which contains great information on working with a God overall. It provides a template to use, and takes into consideration a lot of what I have said in this essay. It still insists on treating the Gods as less than "real", but the instruction it gives is wonderful. It is the appendix called "Liber Astarte" in Aleister Crowley's Magick In Theory and Practice. It outlines a procedure for deep (and proper) aspiration toward a God, using Astarte as an example. Although, it presents it as an extended operation for a goal rather than a life-long routine of worship. Somewhat like the Abramelin Operation. Although, anyone who has succeeded in that rite can tell you that it's a life-long deal after all. Doing these things, and passing them down to our children, might just re-establish a strong connection with an ancient God in a few generations.
And, don't forget the Abramelin Operation itself! If all else fails, there is certainly nothing wrong with leaving the old Gods at Their rest and aspiring instead to your own personal Patron God. One question I have been asked is whether or not one might modify the Abramelin Rite so that one can bond with a known pagan God- like Astarte or Marduk. This done in the same spirit as the Santeros who have specific Orishas put to their heads, as opposed to the otherwise unknown entity known as the "Guardian Angel". I would hesitate to say yes. You would certainly have had to fill in nearly the entire Santa Template beforehand, and then to put a deep study into not only the Abramelin Rite, but related operations such as the Ocha ceremony. Then you would have to modify the Abramelin-style rite accordingly to call upon the God rather than the Angel. However, such things as Abramelin or Ocha are extremely delicate and dangerous procedures. I, for one, would not wish to be the first to test the "new" operation out.
So, the final question is left to you. Now we have scratched the very surface of the Gods of our world and our history. We have examined Them from the eyes of those who first worshipped and loved Them, and we have contrasted that to common Neo-Pagan and ceremonial procedures. For those who wish still to strive for the Elder Gods, I hope I have granted you a glimpse of the depth and mystery within the Gods of which you may have been unaware. I have certainly enjoyed sharing this information and these concepts with you. Blessed Be.
Copyright © 1998 C. "Aaron Jason" Leitch
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