A Thoughtful Guide to Pagan Gods and Goddesses —
Pagan religions are the fastest growing and most popular type of spirituality in the modern world, according to some sources. The concepts of divinity within Paganism are many and varied, so here is an overview of Pagan Gods, from a contemporary Pagan author and teacher, Lora O’Brien.
What is Paganism?
Our earliest religious observances and practices worldwide included animism, shamanism, ancestor veneration, totemism, pantheism, and polytheism. All of these systems and traditions could fall under the loose umbrella term ‘Paganism’.
The term Pagan is derived from the Latin word for ‘country dweller,’ referring to those who lived outside cities or towns. In ancient Rome, Pagans were considered a lower class, or ‘uncivilised’, because they did not live in houses or settlements with walls around them.
Ancient religions revered nature and – as far as we can tell – believed that all things had an innate spirit or essence, and that divine forces and entities were real.
Contemporary Pagan religions are based on these older national mythologies, and are in general also Polytheistic religions; which means Pagans worship (or at least acknowledge) many Gods.
Modern Paganism includes such groups, traditions, and belief systems as Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Norse Pagans, Celtic Pagans (of which Irish Pagans are a specific type), Germanic Pagans, Hellenic Pagans, Slavic pagans, Egyptian Pagans, Native American Pagans, African Traditionalists, and many others.
Many people today identify themselves as Pagan without being members of any organised religion or particular Pagan tradition. This usage has been criticised by those in monotheistic religions, however this is often based on a misunderstanding of what the term Pagan actually refers to. Some people seem to believe that ‘pagan’ means atheist, with no belief in a Higher Power.
In fact, the term Pagan, when used in reference to contemporary Paganism (which can include anything from the Nineteenth Century onward), does not mean that we do not believe in God; rather, it simply indicates that we do not believe there is only one ‘true’ God.
Our primary focus is on the natural world with its seasons and cycles, on ancient religions of various cultures and national mythologies, and their associated deities, spirits, and energies.
Most contemporary Pagans are polytheist, meaning that we believe there are multiple Pagan Gods, Goddesses, and other spiritual beings or entities. Many Pagans have a personal relationship with one or more of these entities.
Others may be interested in the study of comparative mythology, history, and folklore. Still others may prefer to practice their faith alone, without formal membership in a group or any of the modern Pagan traditions.
In ancient times, Pagan religions worshipped Goddesses such as Cybele, Isis, Demeter, Danú, Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Brigid, Hera, Juno, Bóann, Hestia, Vesta, Hecate, Asherah, Astarte, the Mórrígan, and other major deities from many different national mythologies.
These Pagan deities had different characteristics, but they were all essentially viewed as divinities embodying the sacred principles which were classified as ‘feminine’, or envisioned as most often embodying a female form.
They represented nature, fertility, love, war, wisdom, life, death, birth, motherhood, protection, healing, justice, peace, and many other things.
The sacred feminine has experienced a resurgence as a divine principle due to the rise of Feminism and a longing for a more balanced and equitable paradigm than has been allowed for within patriarchal, monotheistic culture and society.
In modern terms, we try to understand that gender essentialism is flawed, and do not reduce women to mere reproductive functions as embodied by the Neo-Pagan ‘maiden, mother and crone’ concepts.
We respect that gender is a spectrum, not a biological certainty, and accept all who identify as ‘woman’ or ‘man’ and wish to engage respectfully with the sacred feminine in any form (after all, many of our ancient Pagan Gods were shape-shifters!).
Pagan mythology is rich with Goddesses as well as Pagan Gods, so whether you feel drawn towards Norse Mythology, Irish Mythology, Hellenic Culture, or any other, you will find a wide variety of female Pagan deities to work with.
How to Choose a Pagan God to Work With?
There are thousands of different Gods and Goddesses out there, so who you choose to work with will depend on which pantheon or tradition you align with, but you should seek to work with one that feels right for you personally.
You might want to start by looking at your own beliefs and values, then exploring the myths and legends of the deities which may align with those, or personally appeal to you, your nature, or your stage in life. You could also ask yourself questions about how you would like to live your life, and see if any of the Gods match up with those ideals.
If you’re having trouble choosing, you could try asking a friend or family member who knows you well, or someone you respect. They may know of a particular deity that speaks to them, or they may have an idea of which god or goddess would be good for you.
Join some of the dedicated online groups or communities that interest you (for example, the Irish Pagan School hosts a FB Group dedicated to the Mórrígan Here, and a similar one for the Dagda Here). Use the search function within these groups to see if any questions you have may already have been answered, or check the group posting rules and ask your own questions if they fall within the guidelines there. Or just spend some time there once a day, or once a week, and get a feel for the community and they type of person who is attracted to this deity.
It might also be worth looking back through your past; review old journals, revisit books you loved as a child, your favourite places in the world, films or TV shows that particularly struck you, and so on. These may provide some inspiration or insight into which Pagan God you will best align with, or who may already have been calling to you in your lifetime.
You can also take some time to meditate on the question, allowing yourself quiet time and space to open up and see if there are any whispers or nudges that may be trying to point you in the right direction. Sometimes we are so busy, and our world is so loud, we can miss the signs that are already there.
If you are not sure how to meditate, we provide extensive Guided Meditation and Journeying Training at the Irish Pagan School, and there is even a Membership Library Here, which contains a whole section of Guided Journeys dedicated to meeting and interacting (safely!) with specific Irish Gods and Goddesses such as Lugh, Brigid, Ogma, Nuada, the Mórrígan, and the Dagda, with more being added each month.
As you begin, it is important to really figure out which of the many Pagan Gods you may do best with (though of course it can and probably will change over time!), and ideally choose just one, from a single culture or pantheon, to focus on and build a proper relationship with.
Many Neo-Pagans identify as eclectic, which means that they may honor a God or Goddess of one tradition alongside a deity of another. This can lead to confusion, and cherry picking the shiniest and shallowest parts of a Pagan tradition without doing the real work that is required for a fulfilling spiritual practice.
Appropriate Worship (and Why It Matters) for Pagan Gods
When thinking about what is appropriate in the worship of or working with Pagan Gods, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t about someone telling us what’s right or correct, as such. Rather, it’s about taking the time to do things, including rituals and offerings, in ways that are appropriate to the cultural traditions, demands and requirements of the deities in question.
Some cultures are considered ‘closed’ to people from outside, and some are ‘semi-closed’ (so to learn it authentically you must engage with teachers directly rooted in that culture), and this should always be respected. Please do not speak over native or indigenous voices, or presume that this does not apply to you. It absolutely does apply to you.
When you first become interested in a particular Pagan God or Goddess, and know that their source culture is open to you, you might begin by looking to see if there is any archaeological evidence to be found relating to them.
For a popular deity such the Egyptian Isis or the Greek Zeus, this may simply be found through a quick Google search. Norse mythology, for example, has many great resources available to study, as does Hellenic culture (Greek) and Roman culture.
For a more obscure Pagan God, such as the Celtic God Manannán Mac Lír, we will need to move beyond archaeological evidence and begin to also look at the textual sources that are available which mention them, looking for firm evidence from scholarly resources as far as possible.
In either case, an online database such as Academia.edu, or JSTOR, should yield some search results in the form of academic papers and articles, or you can go to Google Scholar to begin the search for quality books and papers to study.
Wherever your search begins, appropriate worship should always begin with paying attention to and respecting those teachers, scholars and authors who are within the source culture from which these Pagan Gods have come.
Even if you can’t find anyone who is native to that culture and specifically identifies as a contemporary Pagan, it is very important to get to know as much as you can about the culture (ancient and modern), and to immerse yourself in the language and traditions – so you can begin to understand the essential nature of these deities rather than some Neo-Pagan perspective or outsiders’ misconceptions of that God.
Unfortunately, there is a whole mess of cultural appropriation happening within Neo-Paganism, and it is up to us to be respectful of these cultures, and attempt to genuinely connect with the Pagan Gods and their religious connotations as they truly are, rather than as we wish them to be in some fantasy simulation.
Why We Work With Deities
When you have established a working relationship with a God or Goddess, that is mutually respectful and authentically engaged with their national mythologies, they will often become a useful ally to your life.
A deity may be a good friend to have by your side, or a true teacher who has got your back in times of trouble, and your best interests at heart (for the most part, as they do have their own agendas too!).
You can ask them for support, request their guidance to help you make decisions, and seek advice on how to handle certain situations which may feel overwhelming to tackle alone.
They may be inspirational to your creative endeavors, or provide you with ideas and solutions for problems – either directly in communication, or through the established stories and texts within their culture’s manuscript tradition.
If you are struggling with something, you can pray to them, and formally ask them to help you resolve whatever issue you are dealing with during a ritual or a spell. Or, you can simply tell them about your problem, and see what happens.
You might receive communication instructing you to try another path, or to take action in another way. Or you may receive a message back telling you that they cannot help you at this time. In either case, you will learn something new about your own situation, and you will gain insight into how to proceed.
How to Work with Pagan Gods?
Once you’ve done all of the above, you’ll want to consider how best to begin practically working with these Pagan Gods. There are many different approaches to working with deities, as Paganism is a very personal spiritual path.
You might prefer the traditional approach, which involves building relationships with specific Pagan Gods over time, and then working closely with them for guidance and support during life events, or when you’re facing challenges.
It is not uncommon for people to seek out a specific Pagan God or Goddess, and then spend years and even decades trying to develop a personal relationship with them. Often, this sort of work develops into a Priesthood calling, or a lifetime of dedication and devotion to one deity (though it doesn’t have to be taken that far).
This thoughtful, respectful and dedicated path is the approach we most often recommend at the Irish Pagan School, and you can learn how to go about that in our online class – Meeting Irish Gods.
In brief, this involves:
- Learning the names and stories of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a group or tribe of Irish Pagan deities, from the manuscript tradition and archaeological evidence which is so richly preserved in Ireland.
- Engaging in regular relationship building practices for a particular deity, such as setting up an altar, making offerings, or prayers.
- Following the guided journey provided with the class to specifically meet this deity and communicate (both ways) in person.
There is a common approach in Neo-Paganism however, which teaches that you can work with multiple Pagan Gods on a case by case basis, piling different ones from different pantheons and cultures side by side on teeming altars.
Each of these Pagan deities has unique qualities and abilities, and some authors or teachers will encourage you to simply pick a name from a list, conveniently and simply labelled (often without firm evidence for such simplified labels, it must be noted). They will assure you that this is the God or Goddess of XYZ – and encourage you to ‘use’ them in a spell or a ritual to try and get whatever you want, on demand.
Now, I don’t know about you, but growing we were taught it would be rude and socially unacceptable to simply stroll up to a complete stranger and demand something from them, just because we happen to want or need it and they seem to have access to it.
It is worth considering why your relationship with any of the Pagan Gods would not be afforded the same social politeness and respect as you would normally show to another human being. At least.
However, it is ultimately up to you which approach you take, or even if you can come to a reasonable balance between the two methods.
Contemporary Paganism is a personal spiritual path, and how to work with Pagan Gods along that path is entirely up to you (and to them, in whether they choose to respond to you, or not). As stated above, this is not an attempt to tell you definitively what’s right or correct, or imply that there is any ‘one true way’. You must make those choices and decisions for yourself.
Whatever your choice of methods and approaches, as you walk your personal spiritual path you may at certain times seek divine guidance through a formal ritual or spell work. At other times, you may simply want help with a personal issue as a simple part of your daily or weekly devotions.
Whatever your needs, or the type of relationship you are engaging with, it’s important to remember that you are asking a God or Goddess for something. You’re making a request, and in return, it would be wise to give prayers, offerings, gifts, gratitude, or whatever else we think might please the Pagan Deities you have asked for help.
Where To Now?
If you think that Pagan Gods are interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: