So this is my 100th post on this blog… Woohoo!
I am really hesitant to weigh in on this one, let me put that out there. It is really entangled with a lot of other topics, and untangling them can be hard. But I honestly feel I have something constructive to add of to this conversation.
First off, to come clean on my biases. I consider myself to be an animist first, and a polytheist by proxy. I believe in spirits as real independent persons, with their own wills, personalities and agendas. I believe they vary greatly in power and influence, from high gods, down to the smallest local spirits. I consider myself amongst the northern sphere of communities, though “heathen” is of course up for debate.
I am among the non-Deity-centric folks. Now, I will tell you why.
As I have discussed before, gods are not center to my spirituality because I do not have a strong working relationships with the gods, with one exception. I honor them, give them offerings, and keep a place for them on my various altars. It is not a highly populated place, nor what I would consider to be a “central” place. Once again, as I have said before, generally speaking I lack the “god-phone”, and I have tried for many years to build a meaning relationship with the gods. To this point, I have generally been unsuccessful. I have invited, I have prayed, I have left offerings. Nada, zilch, nothing. Let me be clear, it is not from a lack of trying, devotion, or honest belief. It is more of a matter that it is not one of my particular talents. I would defer to others when it comes to the gods.
Sarenth put it well, in my opinion.
“When someone puts the Gods first, does that mean the needs of one’s family are ignored? That the ties that bound a community are ignored? Absolutely not. What it means is that my family recognizes the Gods at the center of our lives. It is not an either/or thing, here. I do not love the Gods and ignore my family. In loving and serving my Gods, I love and serve my family as well. In separating one from the other is where error comes from. If the Gods are in (or are) the Air, the Water, the Fire, the Ice, etc., then it is impossible to escape Them and foolish, if not hubris, to ignore Them. Far better to partner with Them in good Gebo than to pretend we are somehow separate from Them.”
Some will hammer on against/for lore and/or UPG. On that topic. I am a moderate when it comes to the lore and UPG. It serves as a great check and balance system, in my opinion. One practice that I have learned from one of my mentors is spiritual accounting. Spirit Y told me to do X. Does that mean I run off to do X? Not at all. I verify the spirit is legit. I check the lore to see if it has any guidance. I get outside confirmations. I check it against my own beliefs and ideals. Sometimes spirits ask things that I AM NOT OK with. I have a will and identity of my own. Once all that is done, then I will consider what to do next. The point is balance, and mitigating the respective flaws of each approach.
But I digress a little.
As Krasskova points out, this is not a black/white topic. This is a multifacted topic, multispectrum, a topic with many roots and branches. Let’s run with that metaphor for a bit.
Now, this is not a literal interpretation of the Norse cosmology. But consider for a moment the roots that hold up the world tree. There is more than one, and there is more than one root to all of this. Perhaps one root is the gods, another the ancestors, a third the spirits. The roots all feed the trunk, which crosses through the middle world of the living, which includes family and living beings. They are part of the tree too.
Personally, I love the ideas expressed at Patheos by John Beckett, about the big tent and the four centers of paganism. I think these ideas are applicable to these discussions in heathenry and related spheres as well. It is a very pluralistic, and I do enjoy that sort of thing. What would the poles of Heathenry be? The gods, the ancestors, and the spirits for sure. Perhaps one pole for each. But family and community as well. Perhaps lore and experiential practices are other poles. The fact is that each of us aligns with each “pole” a little bit differently. However, there is overlap. We are not isolated spheres floating without connections.
So yes, I do come at all of this from a non-Deity-centric person. That does not mean I have no concern for my living family, even if there are just the two of us. This does not mean I do not honor the gods, because I do. I am just closer to the ancestors/spirit poles then I am the god-poles (haha, see what I did there?!)
So no, the gods are not the “center” of my practice. But it is a mistake to assume there is only one “center” in all this.
That is just my two cents.