Working with multiple pantheons: A beginner’s guide

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Oculus at the Pantheon, photo by Mark McQuittyThere are many gods and goddesses across many different cultures. As we learn more and more about the world around us, it’s no surprise that we feel drawn to multiple pantheons, because after all, we contain multitudes.

When I first started working with different pantheons, I had questions about whether it was okay, or if I was “cheating” on my gods. This seems silly now but when I started, I was nervous about it! What if I did something wrong and offended them? Working with different pantheons can be confusing and seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be.

Multiple pantheons may come naturally; many people say that they are “drawn” to gods and goddesses from various belief systems, but this isn’t to say that this process doesn’t take some preparation and work from the practitioner. Working with multiple pantheons can open the practitioner up to accidental cultural appropriation, or even offending the very deities that they wish to honour. Still, it is not impossible to do and may help to further a practitioner down their path or open up whole new view of magick for them.

Why work with different pantheons?

People work with different pantheons for any number of reasons. Some people come from mixed heritages and want to honour the gods from their own bloodlines. Some started their path under one pantheon but as they learned more about themselves, realized they fit better with gods of another, but still worship the former out of respect and to thank them for their early guidance. Other people just feel greatly drawn to a number of gods right from the outset.

Working with different gods and goddesses allows people to tailor their spiritual experience to suit their own needs, as well as explore various aspects of their magical selves. Gods provide a sense of protection and care to the people who work with them.

Before you start

If you are thinking about working with multiple pantheons, it is likely that you already work with at least one. Before you begin invoking gods from another pantheon, you must first make sure that it’s alright to do so!

Obviously, polytheism doesn’t have a “no god but me” clause, but it may have a “no god before me” clause. It is important to ensure that your current pantheon and the new one you’re taking up allows you to worship across lines, and if so, how that worship must be conducted.

Are they ok with sharing feast days? Will they be upset about sharing altar space? Is it alright to wear another’s symbols when you call on them? These little details must be looked into when adding a new pantheon.

The best way to find this out is to read up on the gods you work with. Although there may be nothing that explicitly says they do not like something, pay attention to similar stories and how they handled similar situations. If a god became jealous over sharing a temple, the probably won’t be happy sharing altar space, for example.

Some pantheons are much more open to working with other deities. For example, the Egyptian pantheon has a long history of being invoked with other gods and even adopted by other belief systems. For example the cult of Isis ((Tyldesley, Joyce. “Isis.” Encyclopedia Brittanica. Accessed on November 15 2016. )) spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Europe  and she was worshiped along with the local gods. Obviously, they are well suited for working with many different deities.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is something like Shinto, a Japanese practice, which doesn’t have that same history. Although Shinto is practiced along with Buddhism and Christianity in Japan, it does not have the same history of working with other, similar, pantheons.1 This isn’t to say that these gods would not welcome company, it is only to say that one should be sure before they start inviting people over.

Avoid appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a big deal and working with different pantheons leaves the practitioner open to making the mistakes that lead to this. As always, I urge people to practice mindfully. If you are invoking a god from a pantheon that is very different from your own background, you must fully devote yourself to this.

Simply having an idol or a charm without the work of worship (leaving offerings, giving prayer, rituals) is appropriation. Do not claim to follow a god or goddess if you are not dedicated to properly honouring them.

It is fine to start slowly but keep it in your mind that you are working to fully embrace them, and all that it means.

Educate yourself

If you plan to work with gods from various pantheons, it is very important that you take the time to learn about them. It is not enough simply to buy a figure for your altar, you must be diligent in your study of the deities you plan on working with, even if they are supplementary to your main practice.

When dealing with popular gods, such as the Greek ones, for example, people may mistakenly think they know all there is to know about them. Zeus 2 throws the lightning bolts, Aphrodite3 is all about the love, and so on. This is a mistake. Knowing just the general stories and history isn’t enough and may lead to a fruitless practice. Get deep. 

Taking the time to read up on the gods, in depth, will help you build proper altars and pay worthwhile tribute to them. By knowing them in depth, you will be able to offer thoughtful prayers and know when it is best to call on them.

Statue of Hera, photo by KBE

Learn about the whole pantheon, even if you just worship one deity

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Many people only learn about the one god or goddess they plan on working with because the other deities do not speak to them. This may be true and this is not to say that you must adopt an entire pantheon in your practice, it is fine to only worship a single deity from a pantheon (provided you do not disavow the rest). Even so, it is important to devote at least some time to learning about the culture and history that your god came to fruition in so that you can better understand them.

Gods all have their own purposes and influences but they also operate in a greater culture. They are related to one another, sometimes through blood, but other times just through history. By learning these various stories, it will give you a better picture of where your god or gods fit in the order of their world.

This is will help you better fit them into your own practice and avoid pitfalls with gods that are not well aligned. Their stories tell us what they hold dominion over and it would not be prudent to put two gods together who may conflict. This will not support your practice. Without knowing how they work in their own pantheons, it is easy to make mistakes.

For example, Hera4, the Greek goddess, has dominion over all things feminine so it may seem like a good idea to pair her with Lakshmi,5 a Hindu goddess and mother archetype, but this would likely be a mistake. Although Hera is well known for her support of women, she is also known for her jealously towards other mothers. These two goddesses would likely clash because of Hera’s background.

All gods aren’t the same even if their archetype is

There’s one school of thought that takes up working with different pantheons that suggests that all gods are just aspects of the same archetype. All water based gods are the same, all love gods, all harvest gods, regardless of where they come from or the other aspects of their being. For example, Zeus and Shango6 would be similar due to being gods of thunder. Or Isis and Pomona,7 as they are both associated with the harvest. Although Zeus and Shango have a good deal in common, it would be foolish to see Isis and Pomona as comparable as they just share that one trait, and in fact Isis would likely be very insulted. This is the problem with viewing gods as the same when they share similar archetypes.

When working with different pantheons, it is important to remember that in many cases, these gods are not interchangeable. You cannot just swap them in and out as you please. You can’t substitute them. If you are working with different pantheons, you are doing so for a reason.

Although Oshun8 deals with aspects of love and sexuality, she is not Aphrodite and vice versa. It is fine to feel drawn to certain archetypes, and build your practice around different representations of that. It is important to remember as you call on or invoke these separate gods and goddesses that they are separate gods and goddesses and must be honoured as such.

Personally, I work with one god or goddess per archetype. In this way, I avoid conflict and ensure that everyone is properly honoured, but this is my practice. Some people honour multiple gods as aspects of a single archetype, paying them each their honour without diminishing their individual nature. Although they may believe they are all part of a greater whole, they still maintain that they are each separate. So it is not, “I call on you goddesses of love” it is “I call on you Oshun, Aphrodite, Hathor…”

Alter your practice for them, not the other way ’round

Everyone’s practice is unique and individual but not all gods respond to the same things. If you are used to worshiping in a certain manner but a you feel drawn to a god that would not respond to that, then you must alter your practice to suit them.

This doesn’t mean that you have to change everything that you do. Think of it this way. If someone from another country is coming to live with you, you wouldn’t redecorate your whole house for them. But you would make up a nice room for them to stay and try to get some familiar snacks and drinks, so they feel more welcome, right? That’s what working with different gods is like.

You don’t have to strip down the decorations every time you want to talk to a different god but you need to make your space accommodating to them. This is so they will be more willing to work with you and show you favour.

Altar candles, photo by distelfliege

Shared altars or separate rooms?

Altar space is important in some practices. This can feel very tricky when working with different pantheons, but it doesn’t have to be. Some people do like to keep separate altars for their various gods, I have even seen people who have altars set up in various rooms for different gods from different pantheons. You do not have to do this however.

If you prefer to keep your altar spaces separate then by all means, please do! Just be sure that you are spending equal time at each one, not just preforming rituals or mediating but also in maintaining the space as well as making offerings. An altar that just collects dust is no good.

If you choose not to do this, you can certainly have one altar but then placement becomes very important. Spend some time planning your space so that all the gods are properly placed. Also, ensure that there is enough room to leave offerings.

Your placement depends on who you are working with. Some deities like a good deal of light, some live in darkness. Others must be higher up, others must touch earth. Some need to be near water, others can’t stand it. If you are going to share altar space, you must make sure that all of these needs are accounted for. You can’t just stick everyone between two candles and call it done.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, who you choose to work with is up to you. No one can pick your gods for you, and once you are open to that energy, you will feel called to certain ones. Take your time to learn and build a practice that is comfortable for you.

Image creditsMark McQuitty, KBE, and distelfliege  

Footnotes:

  1. Shinto.” BBC. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  2. Zeus.” Theoi. Accesssed on November 15 2016. []
  3. Aphrodite.” Theoi. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  4. Hera.” Theoi. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  5. Das, Subahoy. “Lakshimi.” Hinduism. About. com. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  6. Shango.” Yoruba Religion. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  7. Pomona.” Goddessguide.com. Accessed on November 15 2016. []
  8. Oshun.” Ancient Origins. Accessed on November 15 2016. []

6 COMMENTS

  1. I found this article to be very helpful and informative. I have had certain deities call to me and recently I came across a depiction of Earth Mother Gaia that I feel drawn to while Bast is still my main deity. Ive been learning to adjust so that I dont dishonor either but showing respect equally. Trying to feel out if they should share my main altar together or if they should be separated. Ive seen many others who have altars with mutiple deities from different pantheons. I just dont want the two of them to clash or feel disrespected as I wish to worship and honor both.

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