De Natura Deorum is a monthly column where we explore the beliefs of Naturalistic Pagans about the nature of deity. Today’s essay essay was originally published at Garden of the Blue Apple: Musings About Aphrodite.
You know, I don’t have a good answer to that question above, and if I claimed to in all seriousness, you should probably just walk away now. Still, I figure that if you are going to be a regular reader of this blog and are interested in how I work, it’s probably best to get this out of the way at the outset: Despite the fact that I have had a 25 year relationship with Aphrodite it may be of interest to know that I don’t actually consider her to be an “entity” or being, or power outside of my own existence, although it’s not quite that simple either. I know this position is troubling for some people. I also do not see her as an archetype or psychological projection. In fact, I think that many of the archetypical constructions of deity are extremely confining and prescriptive and don’t allow for revelation or long term growth. I think that seeing Aphrodite as an archetype is very limiting, and I think that except for some rare, short term circumstances, working with her that way can do more harm than good, especially given the pitfalls I outlined I my last post.
I identify as an atheist/pantheist. Both are true for me. I tend to see the world and everything in it as sacred to the core and made of sacred stuff. That includes me and you! So why do I choose to identify as an atheist? First, I think it can be an important thing to do culturally and politically. I was raised an atheist, and my ideas about deity (or lack thereof) are perfectly compatible with many forms of historical atheism. There are many different types of atheist. For instance, I identify as a “soft metaphysical” atheist, that’s just one form, there are many others. I’m frequently frustrated with Pagans and other folks who are merely informing their ideas about atheism based on Christian discourses. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of prominent atheists who also do this, and who seem to be operating purely from a reactive space. While I admit I am not wholly unsympathetic to their cause politically, I find their world view just too reductive. The fact is, in the great big world of religious practice and spiritual experience there is a whole bunch of cool stuff that happens and many different ways to talk about those experiences. I have found that in the West we are pretty limited in our spiritual vocabulary, and tend to filter our experiences through the monotheistic, Abrahamic, generally Protestant lens.
So, how do I see and work with Aphrodite then, and why would I choose to do something that seems so contradictory to many people? Well, I choose a deity practice because it is awesome, fun, beautiful, challenging and rewarding. It allows me a wonderful vehicle for making real change in my life. How that happens will be the source of much of what I write here, both the pleasures and the perils.
But how do I conceive of her? What is my reality? As I stated, I don’t see Aphrodite as a projection of my own mind, not exactly anyway. I had this wonderful conversation with a dear and respected friend one night, where we spoke of deity experience rather like tuning a radio dial into a frequency. When you tighten that focus, you hear things, you see things. The relationship is really about connection and awareness. To be perfectly honest, in my work with Aphrodite, she is rather an outer layer to wider contemplations and practices designed to cultivate awareness of love, compassion, desire, change and action. She is a form that we can see, understand and work with, very effectively too, and for a lot of work having an external form to work with is essential in helping to articulate your process. But the deeper you go with a deity practice, the more the form gets in the way (especially with Aphrodite), but I’m getting ahead of myself…
For a lot of work, the form is important. Sure, we are all made of sacred stuff, but sometimes you need an external Other in order to get the message you need to hear and do the work you need to do. Aphrodite has a huge, rich history throughout the centuries of myth, devotion, cult, relic and practice. For me, these things help to bring form and focus to a wonderful, beautiful Other, made of sacred stuff that is also me. Sometimes I need to take her form out of myself and then I have her “out there” to listen to, learn from, contemplate, enjoy, yet always with the awareness that I am she, and she is all, and I am all.
Ok, so I guess that part is a bit hard to explain. It’s complicated, but you know, the multiverse is rather complex and there are a lot of experiences, resonances and worldviews that don’t fit neatly into any box and that simply don’t lend themselves to particularly coherent, linear explanation. Life is filled with fuzzy lines, not neat, clean ones, and I’m pretty comfortable with that, although a lot of people genuinely aren’t. I think Tantric understandings of deity and deity yoga practices which focus on the union with deity tend to resonate best with me and best approach my perspectives on how this all works. Historically in the West we have done this with theurgy, which suggests that we have mostly just forgotten that we are made as the same stuff as the Gods, we just need to remember (although that is somewhat simplistic). Theurgy gives us the techniques for doing that, which I’ll also get into on my site because I find theurgic practices so essential to modern deity work. Ultimately, though, over time, every breath becomes a prayer to your own divine self and you don’t need the reminders quite so much. Until you do.
Blue is, in no particular order, an atheist, Thelemite, Chaote and magic(k)ian, who has been building a relationship with Aphrodite and her series for 25 years. Practice and labels need not be congruent. You can read more of Blue’s writing at Garden of the Blue Apple: Musings About Aphrodite.