Why New Gods

the Laetha met me when I was seventeen, in my bedroom at my father’s house. He didn’t physically appear. His presence filled the room, and I knew his shape without needing vision. He was a god of immolation and burning and song. He was a bird of flames.

A Firebird.

In that bedroom, with a balcony and plenty of storage for books, I made a deal with the god that had appeared before me. Not a moment did I consider he might not be a god. I knew: he was divine. He had a holy flame that would burn me were I to reach out and touch him.

So I reached out and touched him.

As a teenager I was exceptionally bold in my spiritual pursuits. Thanks to that arrogance, the Otherfaith exists today.

But there are plenty of gods of fire, and gods tied to phoenixes, and gods of inspiration and song. So we arrive at a simple question, with many implications:

Why a new god? Why new gods?

For me, it was inevitable. I consider my encounter with the Laetha a sort of homecoming. In my early teens I had a small group of spirits who taught me basic magical skills. These spirits are all tied to the Laetha, and many of the skills they taught me applied to my work developing the Otherfaith. Though I dislike the term ‘fate’, I do believe that it was only a matter of time before the Laetha and I met each other.

the Laetha, and the other Four+ Gods that make up the Other People’s pantheon, are not new gods – to me. I consider them the gods of my spirit family, my worship of them inescapable as death in this world.

But I could decide to worship them privately and pursue initiate or training in other well established traditions rather than create a new religious tradition. The Otherfaith itself exists because I wanted to create a new tradition, one that spoke of my religious and spirit experiences and reflected a more urban-centric life than the rural-focused traditions I knew of in Paganism.

Yet I could have created a magical or religious system and sourced gods from history and folklore, rather than introduce new gods to the Pagan community.

The simplest reason I did not put, say, Brighid into the blooming Otherfaith religion (back when it was first formed, in 2010-2011) was because I was uncomfortable doing so. I felt it would be ripping the gods from their culture, offensive to both living traditions that worshiped those gods and to the gods themselves. So we arrive at an easy, simple answer to the question, “Why new gods?”

Old gods would not have worked.

What are some of the deeper questions, as well as implications and assumptions, that come with new gods? Surely more than I can imagine! But I have encountered a fair amount.

Within polytheist dialog and community, new gods tend to be seen one of two ways: a normal occurrence or delusion. Depending on a polytheist’s theology, the idea of new gods may be a foregone conclusion. (The Four+ Gods are not the only group of modern gods to appear to humanity within the past decade.) Whether a polytheist views new gods as reasonable phenomena or assumes those who speak of new gods are ‘crazy’ comes down largely to their own religious assumptions.

When we move into the wider Pagan community, however, there are lot more belief structures to contend with. We have people who don’t believe in gods at all, or those who view them as archetypes, or who believe there is one unified divine being from which all others spring, and so on. I am very solidly a polytheist and don’t want to completely butcher others’ belief systems, so I will try to limit explaining systems I have little knowledge or experience of.

Some Pagans, when they hear about the Four+ Gods, will refer to them as my creation. Originally I found this offensive. I don’t believe the Four+ Gods were created by me. I think they have existed since before I was born. I think they are intimately tied up with humanity, but I do not think our minds created them. Nowadays, as I’ve gotten older, I don’t tend toward offense. I just try to explain that I believe the gods exist outside myself and that I do not consider them ‘created gods’.

Some people consider the Four+ Gods a blend of creation and ‘externally existing’ spirit. And yet others consider them to not be gods at all, to be delusion. I separate this from the polytheist dichotomy of delusion vs. norm because there is a difference between those who believe in many gods and simply don’t think new gods can exist and people who think, for example, anyone who speaks to gods is crazy.

Some people also think I, personally, am crazy, and as such think the gods I write about are not real. They may well think that someone else writing about new gods has had a ‘legitimate’ religious experience, just not me. Some people think that the Four+ Gods are spirits that I’ve simply elevated to the status of gods for some purpose or another.

And all of the above ties into another deeper question often underlying ‘why new gods’: what are new gods? This is tied to a more basic question.

What are gods, anyway?

That question must be answered by every individual and/or their religious tradition and background.

In the Otherfaith, divinity is akin to a job. A god has duties and obligations to their spirits and to the Other People. No matter how powerful a spirit may be, if they do not take up the mantle of divinity we do not consider them a god. This concept of divinity reflects my experiences with the spirits and the Four+ Gods.

In general, though, I think new gods are just gods that we haven’t heard of yet. They may be gods that preside over the same domains as many gods from the past, and they may also be gods that preside over technology. Mythically they may have been born this century or they may have existed since the dawn of time, simply unknown or unnamed until now.

Years ago I was very concerned with sussing out the ‘truth’, the ‘reality’, of new gods, especially those in the Otherfaith. As I write this article, however, I realize that my concern for whether the Four+ Gods can be ‘proven’ to be real gods – whatever that means – has faded. For all I know, there are dozens of gods of dozens of little aspects of our lives and the lives of animals and plants and bacteria. It is easy to get caught up in trying to prove new gods to people, to try to make a case for why someone who either doesn’t care about new gods or won’t ever believe them should be change their mind.

That matters far less than doing the work for those new gods. For the Four+ Gods, that work involves writing and storytelling as well as building a practice around them. Not every new god will want a religion built for them. Some may simply be personal gods, unspoken of or not advertised widely. Figuring out the work of new gods, as well as our own personal questions of ‘why us/why me’, is vital – and personal.

1 Comment

  1. Getting the language to ring true is a doozy, especially as with new gods and accompanying stigma…I find there simply isn’t much avenue for developing the right vocabulary?

    A digression: I’m reading up on Jungian psychology(sort of became psychospirituality; the pervasiveness of archetypes among incorrigible metapagans/metapolytheists are probably Carl Jung’s fault 😛 ) and Barbara Hannah wrote of the active imagination method of therapy was “discovered, not created”. My reaction was, “Piffle! Jung created it, coined the term—I refuse to say ‘shamanism’!” The word has problems, but there was this concept…made recognizable…by the word, ‘shamanism’. Besides that, imagination implies conscious deliberate control, which this active imagination methodically does away with, so…it takes so much contextualizing before understanding imagination as a medium—and for mysterious effects beyond the personal/emotional, as another one of Jung’s protégés kept fretting over accidental witchcraft achieved through this psychotherapy, necessarily redefining the broader implications of the word ‘imagination’. (And Hannah was awfully casual about having episodes of time travel. Jungians are marvelously loopy. I should know, I’m a patient.)

    The word ‘creator’ when it comes to mythic fiction…I understood it as a compromise between the experience of the creative process, which personally depend so much on the whims of the muses (that’s…not the right word) yet could practically only be communicated to pretty much everyone else in the realm of human civilization in terms of…attributable authorship, intellectual property, capitalism and entertainment. Contemporary society has these trappings.

    And then I consider another set of new gods from C.F. Cooper’s Metamythos, whose author remained diligent in keeping the concept of gods metaphorical, and then uncanny personal stuff seemed to happen upon this author regardless (of the implied ineffectiveness of metaphors and symbols) and in connection with these metamythos gods at least if I recall years-old forum posts correctly…? I might be misrepresenting the author here—My apologies if so!

    I’m glad you found spokesperson a comfortable(?) term; I cozied into liminalist, but I think my term’s noun-verbing and comprehensibility is hardly as easy as the woefully pervasive creator/create(s/d) that I’m always ready to resort to.

    Looking forward to the next entry!

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