You may have noticed that in my previous post, even though it was about the gods, I have not spoken much about things like reading their stories or studying their lore. The reason for that is because I wanted to encourage you to live in the here and now first, and to approach this with an open mind, rather than as an academic study.
For where did these stories start? Many of them began as encounters with a god, with a place, as a dream that wanted to be shared. Not as something for which you need to dig deep in old and dusty tomes to make sure that you get all details exactly right. It began as something that was very much a living thing.
And so I would like to argue that if we want to get to know the gods of the lands we live in, the first thing to do is to get to know that land. Get out there and listen, and allow it to speak to you. Make up your own stories. And even if you encounter statues, then don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the fact that you don’t know who they are ‘officially’. But take time to imagine them. Speak to them. Dream of them. Ask if they will tell you their tales. If we want to revive the old gods, we need to allow them to become alive in our minds once again. Allow the stories to continue.
I do believe this is what the old peoples of Europe did, with the advent of Christianity, when they were no longer allowed to worship their familiar gods by the missionaries.
They disobeyed. They did it anyway, but just got creative, and used new names and invented new stories that would allow them to continue honoring the sacred in ways that felt appropriate. The only difference was that now they called them saints, or angels. And this must especially have been true for the gods that were most precious to the people: those that spoke of the connection to their lands, and to their ancestors.
And so, for a very long time, the old was not all that different from the new, except for an added layer of paint. The gods had adapted, and they had survived. The bigger threat to them came much later, with the advent of modern science, and the invention of the notion of ‘superstition’. That is when we truly began to lose the magic of connection…
So then, what are we, modern pagans to do, if we seek to reconnect? Do we look to distant lands, and to gods far, far removed from us in time? Or do we also dare to reclaim our heritage, and reconnect to the gods underneath the layers of paint, even if we do not know what their original names where? I challenge you to try. For I believe these gods have much to teach us.
I would like to illustrate this by telling of my own encounters with the local Goddess of the land. Her name is Mary.
I do not have the luxury of living in a country that is full of standing stones. And the sacred places that exist, like sacred wells and other places where the power of the land is strong, have been Christianized, and often churches or little chapels have been built on these locations. And so it is quite impossible to simply pretend that the past 2000 years have not happened, and that I can simply take a time machine back in time, to connect with what used to be there before.
And I have begun to think that this is probably not such a bad situation. I have often heard pagans lament about how all of this is a disgrace, and that they stole ‘our’ sacred places. And yes, to a certain extent, this is true, and I am not trying to defend the missionaries. On the other hand, things could have been far, far worse. For most of these places are still held as sacred now, so many centuries later. Compared that to how the sacred places of the Native Americans were and are still being treated: many of them ended up being paved over to build a parking lot.
And so I began to look deeper. And it is interesting to notice how many of these places like sacred wells have chapels that are not devoted to the Christian god, but to the virgin Mary or to an (often female!) saint. Could it be that the connection between sacred wells and the divine feminine was just too strong, and that even a male-dominated church couldn’t afford to ignore that? Or… was it that maybe the deities were the ones who had the final word, and continued to claim these places as theirs?
I live in a landscape that is littered with little chapels, most of them devoted to the virgin Mary. Many of these are placed in the last remaining spots of natural beauty. And so I began to frequent them, and honor the divine one that was present there, in much the same way as I would pray to Cernunnos or to Artemis at my home altar.
And she responded. Over time I have come to know her as one that uses many names. Or more importantly, one that does not really care so much what name you call Her, as long as you listen. As long as you honour what is sacred. For she is the Land. She is the Mother that feeds us all. And in giving us life, She is Us.
I do not consider myself a Christian, but connecting to Mary has lead to some of my strongest experiences of the Goddess. If this is the mask that she has chosen to put on in the place where I live, why should I turn my back on that? But make no mistake, for honey-sweet though the traditional church-depictions of her may be, that is far from the whole story…
Using the ‘automatic writing’-method I explained in my post on Awen, I asked her to speak to me. What came out was not exactly a gentle message, but more like a stern warning from an angry mother. Yet it does ring true…
I am you. Your essence is my essence. Your body is my body. All that you are and ever have been, you owe to me. I am the one who has fed you and nurtured you, ever since you were born. And I am the one who will one day claim your death.
This is a message to you. Remember that you are earth. Remember that your life has been gifted to you and should not be taken for granted. For it is a gift that I can take back when I deem your time on this earth has reached its natural conclusion.
Do not think of me as unkind or cruel for pointing this out to you. This is merely a reminder that you are no more special than any other creature living on the face of this planet. If you think it normal that plants die when winter starts, or that the lamb is eaten by the wolf, why do you think that you are the one exception that needs not give up his own place when your time has come?
I tell you, you are no more special to me than any other being. I will willingly nourish you and feed you, but I will not yield you preferential treatment.
And right now you have sorely tested my patience. Why are you ignoring all my gentle calls to remind you of your place? Why are you treating me as if I were just a thing, a commodity that can be used and abused at will? When will you ever give me the gratitude I deserve for all the many things I give you without ever asking anything in return? When?
For it is high time that you learn. That you remember. For if you refuse to learn of your own accord, then I will teach you. As your mother, I will interfere and correct your bad behavior. I will not do this because I hate you. I do not hate, I will do this out of love. But you may not like the lesson.
You are my children, and all I want is for you to grow up and become beautiful and wise and wonderful. But I am talking now of you as a species. I cannot continue to sustain every single one of you. The way you are living and abusing me now, is smothering me. And at some point I will need to take action. That time is nearer than you may think. Think about this. I beg you. Allow me to show you the way we can reconnect. I beg you. Even while threatening you, I would much prefer to be soft, but I can only do this if you agree to listen and learn from soft teaching methods.
Please. For I do love you all, and that will never change. But sometimes a mother has to discipline her children and tell them to play nice.
(Note: it is my belief that this method makes it possible for the gods to speak to us, much like we can also encounter them through shamanic journeying techniques and other methods. But I do acknowledge that ultimately I have no way to check the source of this, or how much this was influenced by my own thinking and my own subconscious. So believe what you want to believe, and see this as a message the earth might have sent to us, if she had a voice to speak with. )