Cosmology and Concepts of the Divine

When I first hit the C’s during my pre-PBP brainstorming session, I originally meant to write on Creation Myths the second week; however, upon hitting last Friday, I felt that I needed more time and a bigger scope to write about what I meant. As I was walking to the grocery store on Sunday, I had a thought regarding how I viewed the Universe and thought I should touch on that a bit for this week’s PBP.

Years ago when I first began writing fiction seriously, I thought on how the fantasy world I was writing in was formed. The gods I imagined were dragons, each in control of their own elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, and Dark), having manifested after a time of nothingness in their cosmos. They unraveled from one another, stretching their long, lithe bodies and growing aware of their astro-physical forms. They could shape-shift, but defaulted to a few simple forms, preferring their primary draconian selves to the others.

Their bodies formed this world, the one I wrote about, creating land and sea and sky. The Water dragon strode through the countryside, his long tail carving rivers and streams into the earth, his heavily clawed hands making furrows that would become valleys and lakes. The Fire dragon burnt the desert with her molten scales, the heat rolling off her and creating the great desert that spanned the midst of the continent. The Earth dragon breathed upon the soil and flowers and trees and plants of many kinds sprang forth. When the Air dragon had exhaled and created the sky, the Light and Dark dragons argued over who would rule: day or night. They eventually balanced their powers, though Light snuck her stars and her moon into the night sky so she could always keep an eye on her siblings.

And so this world was created. There’s more to this tale, such as where the lesser gods came from and why the swa’vera (shape-shifters formed at the creation of the world) turned to demons, all but one. But that’s a tale for a different day, a different time.

This tale is akin to how I view the creation of our world, the manifestation of the elements becoming the building blocks of the world and creating its foundation. I suppose this is not very far from how science aims to explain how the world was born. A big bang, of sorts, and the creation of the basic building blocks (elements a la the periodic table) and a slow build-up from there. Being as I am a polytheist, however, I see more power in deity and that they’ve helped create the worlds, not unlike the various mythologies we see throughout time and culture.

Related to this, however, is how we conceptualize deity. Or, rather, how I conceptualize deity.

My gods are not tame. They do not always come when they are called. This is not a failure of ritual or a weakness of belief. It is the nature of my gods. I would no more expect a god to “show up” in my ritual space than I would expect to be able to call a mountain into my living room. That is simply not the nature of mountains. If I want to meet a mountain, I am the one who must move.

Because I do not believe that humans are the only beings with agency in the world, I do not expect my gods to express their agency in the same ways that human beings do. There are gods who forever remain elusive, whose identities shift with the landscape, the seasons and the stars. And there are gods so intimate that they are never really absent at all, and meeting them is not a matter of inviting their presence but rather of quieting my own expectations and learning how to listen. There are gods whose presence looms like a mountain range on the horizon, and gods with(in) whom I walk with grace, my footsteps just one more melody in the great pattern of their being. What does hospitality look like to a mountain? How does a forest speak its mind? What does it mean to invoke a god of mist and sea on a mist-strewn shore?

-Alison Leigh Lilly, “Gods Like Mountains, Gods Like Mist

I have a wishy-washy concept of the divine. Usually I refer to my personal viewpoint as “Sleep Number Polytheism” as the levels of hardness or softness change as time and experience requires. Overall, though, I view my deities in an abstract sense. Anubis is both the jackal-headed figure seen on pyramid walls and the sense of a cold desert night. He is the taste of seared gold upon my tongue and the comforting arm around my shoulders in times of weakness. Persephone is the bloody fingered maiden who claws her way up from the Underworld in the spring, her arrival hinted at in the daffodils before my building. She is both the maiden and the flowers. Thor comes to me as Thursday rains; I do not see him as the red-bearded man so many other describe. He is the rolling laughter of thunder and the flashing grin of lightning. Odin is the grey breeze of winter and the old man at the crossroads in a wide-brimmed hat I stumbled upon one cold evening. Hekate is the lantern I light upon my altar, the baying of hounds in the darkness, the wind that pushes me to the three-way crossroad in the park a mile from my apartment. The Stag Queen appears as the androgynous figure I see time to time overlapping my visions of reality, bedecked in silver and white or bare from the waist down, a wide rack of antlers splaying from her crown, and she is the sense of prey behind me. The Morrigan is the triad of crows that I see from time to time or the whole flock behind my building, their early morning caws waking me at dawn; she is the sense of trepidation in my gut when I board a plane, kiss my fingers, and press them to the hard plastic above me, a quiet prayer upon my lips for safety.

My gods come to me as wind and rain, they come to me as anthropomorphic figures. I see them in the yellow daffodils and the rosy cherry blossoms of spring and the harsh heat in summer. Cold winter snows to my ankles chill me, reminding me of divine power. I see them in the natural world as surely as I see them in the faces they present to me from time to time. They are mountain and they are man; I walk within them and beside them in this life. For the gods have many faces, not all human and not all seen by me, only those they deem me worthy of.

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