By Arthur T. Estrawn
[ Written 2001 – Updated 2004]
One day a Christian who is very close to me confronted me about my beliefs in mythology and many gods. His inquiring went along the lines of, "Why do you believe these 'stories' to be true" and "Why do you believe in and 'worship' more then one god?" along with "Why do you 'make up a religion' from it?" He could not understand that he to adheres to a belief in mythology with his own bible, instead he displayed the common knee jerk reaction monotheists have towards the word mythology. It was in this conversation that I became inspired to write an article that describes the way I see mythology, divinity and deity from the standpoint as Spiritual Kelticist. (It is now that I feel I should issue a disclaimer for the reader. The viewpoints of this article are my own based on study inspiration and intuition although they are similar if not identical to the beliefs of other Spiritual Kelticists they are not inclusive of all forms of Spiritual Kelticism.)
I am a polytheist, or one who believes in polytheism. The root of the word polytheism comes down to us through ancient Greek ‘polus/polle/polu’ meaning many and theos meaning god (or deity). The simplified definition found in dictionaries is the belief in or worship of many gods.
The encyclopedias break it down even more and defining it in a more in-depth manner. They say that polytheism is found the world over and is quite wide spread. Besides their connection with ancient pre-Christian religions in regions now dominated by Christianity, they exist even to day in other parts of the world. Some examples of modem polytheism are found in the Far Eastern religions and spiritual systems of Hinduism, Shinto and Taoism.
The encyclopedias continue to break it down in to many forms or sub-philosophies and sub-beliefs of polytheism. The most common is the division of three forms of deity or a trinity of deities if you like. This trinity is that of celestial, atmospheric and earthly, a trinity found often in Gaelic Keltic culture as earth, sky and sea. Another attribute that polytheism can take is that of anthropomorphism, this is when the deities take on human form such as in Greek and Roman mythology (and to some extent Keltic mythology). In many cultures the decay of time has shown a leaning toward archetype-theism in modern polytheistic religions. An example is found in Hindu-Vedic religions of the many gods being complete and independent unto themselves, slowly turning into the trinity of Vishnu Shiva and Brahma. (A similarity to the Catholic Trinity I might add).
Another example of this archetype-theism tendency in polytheism is that of Wicca and many forms of neo-paganism. In Wicca and other forms of neo-paganism this is reflected in the quote often given by the practitioners "All gods are one god, all goddesses are one goddess." I dare declare this is a more modern adaptation and does not come from ancient roots. When one reads the mythology of the ancients you see they are most definitely individual, and not aspects of one. However there is an illusion to this in the complex family trees of different mythologies but I believe this is not conclusive to the archetype-theist tendencies of neo-paganism.
Yet another theological and philosophical school of thought that is absorbed by my spiritual system is pantheism. Again we will look at its Greek origin, 'pan' meaning 'all' and 'theos' meaning 'god'. There are many sub schools of thought encompassed by the umbrella term pantheism. The generalized inclusive definition is the belief or identification of everything in the universe and nature being god or divinity. There is acosmic pantheism that sees nature and the universe as being manifestations or reflections of god or divinity. Cosmic pantheism sees all totality (universe and nature) as being god or divinity in itself. I my self would roughly fit into the category of Cosmic pantheism, where as other forms of pantheism such as the Vedic schools of thought (Hinduism) would be acosmic pantheism, both of which share the elements of polytheism.
It is within pantheism that some of my theological and philosophical thought diverges greatly with neo-paganism. I make a differential distinction between deity and divinity. I do not classify divinity in the orthodox Christian-Judaic definition as a synonym for god. This would allow one to roughly categorize me in a third division of pantheism that being panentheism, which shares similar distinctions as I just described. Where as panentheism dictates that all is within god, as opposed to general pantheism, which dictates all is god.
On The Nature of Gods and Divinity I separate deity and divinity in this manner. Divinity is the all, it always has been and always will be everything that has came from and ultimately is a part of divinity, Divinity is the intellectual omnipresence of the universe. Nothing can exist outside of nature or the universe thus every thing is encompassed as being the divine. Now a deity is a separate and complete intellectual senescence of power and energy, perhaps the purest form of energy. Everything is comprised of energy - it is this energy that links us to the web of life and consciousness that is, at the end, shared by the entirety of the universe , nature and divinity. A deity or god is a title given to the more evolved energy based beings holding great authority, power and understanding of the universal laws we do not or cannot comprehend. Deities do hold particular functions and are aware and independent just as humans are, except they are more in tune and aware of the divinity of all things. I also believe that it is this innate nature of the universe and nature as ultimately being divinity, that makes unawakened deities out of every single living and conscience being that is aware of itself and/or surroundings.
It is in this respect that the gods are not all one god such as is indicated by the neo-pagan and wiccan movement. However, unlike some other Spiritual Kelticists I do not view humanity and gods being completely separate, but tied to gather by the fact that we are all separate parts of divinity each with our own unique function and personality. To go back to a subject mentioned early this is what I believe is symbolized by the confusing pedigree of deity genealogy. Now this brings me to another point that separates me from neo-pagan and wiccan school of thought. I do not believe that there is only a small handful of deities out there. Let me extrapolate a little further, just because a god from one culture is similar to or identical with a deity of another does not make that the same deity. For an example I will use one of my own experiences. I have had the pleasure to encounter people of all kinds of cultures and backgrounds both ethnically and spiritually. I recognize all faiths as holding at their core the same truths, but being explained through different perspectives. This does not mean that their gods are my gods. This simply means that even though the Hindu god Shiva is very similar in function, energy and aura to Kernunnos and the Indo-European Green Man they are not the same deity; It only means that Shiva and Kernunnos share a similar if not the same function to their respective cultures and people.
Furthermore, when I'm involved with celebrations and activities with people of different spiritual systems than mine, I respect their gods as being separate from mine and approach them in the customs and traditions that their followers do. (At least the traditions I am aware of.) A good example of this is that whenever I enter a home or building that displays a shrine to Buddha, I respectfully approach the shrine and leave a donation of respect, and depart in silence. You see even though I do not walk the Buddhist path I am aware to some degree of its kinship to my path and respect it in that manner. Another issue is that because I am a Spiritual Kelticist I do not exclude the presence and influence of other cultural deities outside the culture of the Kelts.
Another personal example is that all my life, no matter what path I was exploring, I have always felt an attraction to the Shinto god Hotei. Hotei is one of the seven gods of luck. Particularly he is the god of laughter, happiness, wisdom and contentment. He is usually portrayed as what people commonly call "The Fat Buddha or Laughing Buddha." Even though to me he shares similarities with the Irish god Dagda, they are not the same. (In fact I have a harder time relating to Dagda then Hotei.) Hotei has always been there when I have needed to be reminded of his lesson of happiness and contentment. (A few Figurines of him adorn my home).
Another example of the above stated is more recent. Not only do I have the blood of the Kelts coursing through my veins, I also carry Teutonic lineage. So I had searched for information about the Anglo-Saxon German, and Scandinavian runes, and stories about Woden in particular. There is evidence that does support that Kelts were not against the inclusion of other deities into their own pantheon. There has been Keltic remains found in Asia and even America. In fact they were Indo-European and I adhere to the speculation that they came from the same origin of many Hindu and oriental people and evolved dependently in their own unique fashion.
Now I would like to address a subject I had mentioned earlier and I don't want you to think I have forgotten about it. That is the subject of anthropomorphism. To an extent, a very minimal one at that, you could consider anthropomorphism into my spiritual system. As a reminder anthropomorphism is the view of deities in human forms.
I view it thus: in the sense that we think of it, the deities do not have form at all, and defiantly not human ones at that. However we see so liberally splattered across Keltic mythology the depiction of the gods in human form. This is not an inaccurate depiction, this is how I look at it: The deities have form because we give them form. They do not exist because we believe in them, but they have form because we preserve form for them.
Each one of us has an idea or image of what some deities look like. If that deity were to show him or her self to you (given they want you to know who they are.) they would probably access your Subliminal Gnosis and conscious mind and utilize that pre-created image so they could relate to you. Now if they wished to appear before you but conceal their identity they may choose a form that you would least suspect.
There is another tendency of deities to appear in animal form, usual of a totemic animal the deity holds dear. Morgan and Bran had the ravens, Cerridwen the sow or hen, Lieu the hawk and Rhiannon the white mare. There is a many a story about these deities being in the form of their totemic animal(s) or being accompanied by them. This displays shapeless yet infamous shaped appearance.
When laughter echoed from the walls of Delphi, it was by a Kelt. They had sacked the temple and there they found amusement for two reasons. First that the Greeks were foolish enough to adorn their deities so much with gifts, when the deities gave so freely to the humans. Secondly because they were foolish enough to think that the deities had human form. Another example of this Keltic attitude to the deities is from classical accounts of travels in Gaul. According to these accounts the Romans were terrified of the rough vague faces the Kelts carved into the trees. The Romans were so terrified of these forests with faces that they either avoided them, or burned them. These carvings were the Kelts' way of depicting their deities, for to the Kelts it was the wilderness that was the home and dwelling of their deities, not temples made of stone by human hands.
It was latter that through trade with the Scythians and Greeks that they became accustom to contributing deities with human forms from there own imaginations. They took up this new trade and created many a murals and statutes of their own design. Eventually the mythology began to reflect this trend but there was always the element of the shapeless yet boundless shaped energy of sentient beings. Since Keltic mythology was so preserved from oral tradition the myths we now know have this element of Anthropomorphism.
Now I will discuss the theological and philosophical school of thought technically known as animism. We get this word from the Latin anima meaning soul. Animism describes the belief of spiritual beings. Weather this is in the form of the faeries such is prevalent in Keltic folklore, but also in Christianity as angels. However that is only one of its definitions. The other definition is that all things in nature have a soul and are thus alive (in an unorthodox sense). It also indicates the belief that the soul is separate from matter.
To me animism takes its form in a very prominent way. I do believe in spiritual beings that come from a different plane of reality. The Welsh called this different plane of reality Annwfn, the Scottish called it the Land of Light and in Arthurian Tradition it is known as Avalon, another generic term for it is the Other-World. It is associated with hills, being underground and the sea. Many gods dwell in this Underworld as well as the Faeries. It should be known that Keltic Other-World is nothing like the Christian-Judaic Hell. Some of these beings are very involved with interactions with this world, and some with people who are in-tune with the Other-World and the faeries.
There is another side to animism beside the belief in spiritual beings, that is of all things in nature having a soul and or life. Animals most defiantly have souls and are alive - this should be most apparent, at least that they are alive. However there is the matter of such things as trees, plants, stones, mountains, and rivers. Many people cannot argue that plants are not a live, but most will argue they have no soul. I declare simply because we do not relate to their form of existence does not exclude the possibility and or fact that they do have souls. I myself, have found trees to be valued allies, friends and teachers. It is in the basic above statement that I cannot adhere to the practice of vegetarianism. For being Kelt and believing in total equality and trying to live such a life style I cannot morally or ethically decide that the soul and life of an animal is more important then that of a plant. Thusly if I was to take upon the spiritual mentality of a vegetarian there would be nothing I could eat, given everything has a soul and is alive, I would starve to death.
Rivers, lakes and other such bodies, I believe are aware. It has been my experience that all places of nature are aware and have a personality of their own indicating a soul. The same goes for the mountains, stones and any other natural phenomenon you could possibly think of. All of this links our souls to gather to one network of souls all fed by the same primordial energy that is the Universe, Nature and Divinity.
On The Use of Totems
Totems are a way of relating to and identifying with natural objects and man made ones alike, along with natural phenomena. A totem can be a tree you really connect with, a stone you found or feather you have found. It can be a figurine, a tool, a weapon or so forth. It can be an animal you are fascinated with and in the end tied to spiritually. It can be a spiritual being such as dragons or angels. A totem can be anything that you draw power from spiritually, something that helps you connect with the absolute of the Universe, Nature and Divinity. I do not use tools to aid or accomplish 'magic'. I use totems however as reminders of the things I share with nature and humanity. A totem could be symbolic or as plain in its meaning. A few totems I hold close to me are a collection of rocks and feathers, a staff from a lightning struck aspen tree I made myself, a sword I purchased on discount and etched symbolize on the hilt. All of these things have specific meaning to me. A totem should be a very personal thing. Making or using a totem should be a privet and spiritual undergoing.
On Ethics and Morals
I do not share any of the ethical or moral tenets of neo-paganism and Wicca. Some of these tenets I am sure, are well known to the reader if they have ever looked for pagan and Wicca information on the Internet or picked up a book about neo-paganism and Wicca. I do not follow the wiccan rede or the law of three fold. First off I believe that you should function respectfully in society only because it is the respectable thing to do, not because you fear retribution from an angry deity or from "Karma". Ethics and Morals are not something that should be forced upon you. they are not absolute. There are many instances were the ethical or moral thing to do is not so easy or visible. I believe ethics and morals are subjective matters, not objective ones. Just because someone's morals and ethics are different from yours, and you have a hard time understanding them, does not make that person immoral or wrong. Ethics and morals are a personal mater, compiled by an individual in order to successfully function in a society and maintain his individual values in doings so. They are not something some one else wrote down in a book, or on slabs of stone. They are not commandments from any higher being. They are your tools to help you survive, function, and get a long in society. If one is to find themselves in judicial, civil, or financial trouble often, this suggests their ethics and morals are not successfully fulfilling their function and should be revised. It is in these respects that I would be classified as an Existentialist, a fact in which I am proud of.
Mythology is not a synonym for falsehood, it is not something that is the property of scholars, it belongs to everyone, everyone shapes it, and it has life and form because we so lovingly give it to mythology. It is the symbolism of religion, every religion has a mythology. It is just that most do not use the term. Mythology's definition has been distorted by the Christian-Judaic religions to indicate a silly primitive belief. This is not so, for their bibles are nothing but primitive stories to tell of the nature of everything, a nature they cannot fully comprehend. It is the mystical, esoteric, and spiritual history of a people. Keltic mythology is a keystone to my spiritual system. It is from this study that I get glimpses into the land of the ancients. It is from where the ancients and deities speak to my soul. It is mythology that tells me what once was and still is, it tells me what is applicable to modern day, and what is not and to be remembered but not damned or forgotten. It is mythology that gave birth to the fairy tales and legends which at their root are still a preservation tool of an ancient knowledge, a map to the higher knowledge and secrets of the Universe, Nature and Divinity.
If you do not understand this viewpoint that is fine, many people do have a difficulty with this school of thought. However I am not the only one involved with such a school of thought. Others who subscribe similar theories have had the same difficulty I have in describing it to people outside the school of thought. It seems that when encountering others of like mind, that when an exchange of theory has taken place they can recognize it and acknowledge that they share the same school of thought. It is in this that there is no real applicable word I can use to describe my spiritual system.
I have grappled with a definition for these things I
and hold so dear. A system I have evolved over many years of
pondering, meditation and study of the world around me both physical
mystical (an evolution that will never end, neither in this life or the
next). In the end there is a saying that does not stem from
and Wicca, this is: "To those who understand, no explanation is needed;
to those who don't understand, no explanation will suffice".