Worship the Gods
by John Beckett
Under the Ancient Oaks
One of the maxims of the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi is Θεους σεβου – worship the gods. When asked, I usually give a rather generic definition of “worship” – acknowledging what we find of greatest worth. That definition accommodates polytheists, monotheists, and non-theists, and it accurately reflects the practices of our mainstream culture that worships money, power, entertainment and celebrities.
But I prefer to take this maxim in its original context and actually worship the gods and goddesses of our ancestors.
I worship the gods by learning who they are. The Greeks have a wonderful collection of stories well-preserved from antiquity. The Norse and Celtic stories are less certain (they weren’t written down till well into the Christian era), but they’re more than adequate for telling us who the gods are and what they value. Other cultures and other gods have even less, but even if all we have is a name or an image, it’s some place to start. Modern scholarship may be largely done by non-theistic academics, but their work can be helpful as well.
I worship the gods by talking to them. Prayer is a very old spiritual practice, and the fact that some people pray like a four year old visiting Santa Claus is no reason for us to abandon it. If there are ancient prayers to your gods, use them. If not, write your own. Or simply stand under the sky and speak the yearnings of your heart. Not sure what to say? Start with what you’re thankful for. Gratitude alone isn’t enough, but it’s a good place to start.
I worship the gods by listening to them. Sit in meditation and listen with more than your ears. It helps to have a statue or a picture or a candle as a focus for your intention, but rocks and flowers and trees work well too. Listen. I’ve yet to hear an audible voice, but I’ve experienced thoughts coming out of nowhere, feelings of peace, and calls to righteous action. I’ve seen signs and omens in the natural world. None of that will convince an atheist I’ve actually heard a goddess, but it’s more than enough for me.
I worship the gods through hospitality. I greet them daily. I burn incense. I offer them food and drink. The gods are neither our servants nor our masters. They are our most honored guests – I try to treat them appropriately.
I worship the gods by embodying their virtues. I worship Cernunnos by caring for the natural world. I worship Morrigan by reclaiming sovereignty for myself and for others. I worship Danu by working to create a new and better world. I will never have all their strength and wisdom, but through diligent effort I can become more like them.
I worship the gods by telling their stories. Even the old goddesses and gods whose names are part of our mainstream culture (such as Apollo, Jupiter and Isis) are rarely known as anything more than caricatures, as “the god of somethingorother.” When we tell their ancient stories, we present them as the full, complex beings they are. When we tell their modern stories, we remind people they did not die with the coming of monotheism but are still active in this world... and still looking for people to help with their work.
There are many ways to worship the gods. These are a few that have been helpful to me and to other modern polytheists. Because of our worship, divine boredom is growing smaller and smaller.
And that’s a very good thing.