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My Distant Gods

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

At the healing ritual, held one night in a mountainside lodge, scores of people paced, swayed, chanted, lay on the floor, laid their hands on others. I too paced and swayed, watched and lay down. It was overwhelming to see so many vulnerable, so many moved to a caring beyond words. Filled to overflowing, I walked out to the open lawn, leaving the longing and tears behind me.

 

 

In the sudden quiet, the sounds of the chant fading behind me, I looked up into the vast night sky, studded with a thick scatter of stars. My heart was full of something unnameable. How I loved that sky and the echoing deities I had always imagined up there—the Greek gods or older ones, worshipped for millennia, looking down on us. 

 

Gods to be admired rather than emulated. Beautiful, powerful, but not the arbiters of our morality or even our fate. The gods of childhood stories, of myths whose meanings remain obscure and veiled by the centuries. In their ruined temples we can only see the remnants of the worship they commanded, in the scraps of literature left behind we can see only a portion of what they meant to those who, like me, looked up at the sky or out to the sea and wondered and longed and loved what they could never know, but could only feel.

 

I have always loved the most distant gods the best: Artemis, sending her arrows through space, and Apollo, piercing the veil of time with a prophetic gaze. Hermes who races round the edges. Hestia who sits alone at the centre and says nothing—a different form of distance. For what is deep within, beneath the surface of words, is as much a mystery as what awaits beyond the horizon. I favour Hermes and Hestia especially, because they are gods without an agenda, gods of witnessing, their openness leaving room for a wider perspective.

 

But in the end they are only intimations and images of the gods I truly adore: the gods beyond the gods. Beyond the horizon, beyond the sea, over the distant mountains they reside, distant and calm, open and infinite, all-knowing and all-forgiving but not all-powerful—because like me they are bound by necessity, by the laws of the universe, mysterious as they may be. These gods watch and understand. And when they can, they move to inspire me, to help me find compassion, the root of all good action.

 

Of course in the foreground are the colourful stories of gods and heroes that mirror our human concerns, and the rituals that I’ve come to love. By firelight and candlelight, with incense and song, Pagans can tap beyond thought to wells of feeling and inspiration. We can delve into and work out the dramas of our lives among the rites and symbols of a sacred universe. We can dance and chant to the core of suffering and the root of healing and find our way out again, washed out, washed clean.

 

But it is in the aftermath of that, in the long gaze out to the horizon and up to the zenith, that I find my renewal and strangely, my safety. If there is something bigger than me, then I am not trapped within the tiny round of my ego and its fears and concerns. Stepping beyond, seeing through the the stories, I find the overlooked background of life—which is the very ground of being. It holds us all. It is that which answers our gaze from beyond the stars.

 

Yet what we see beyond the stars is also what lies within— the window of the night sky is also a mirror showing us the deeper, broader part of ourselves. There is a back door in the mind that we can step through, into a soul that extends out beyond the personality. When I am reminded that I am bigger than my feelings, bigger than what happens to me, I remember I am free to play in the spaces of a universe that is at once both external and internal— and miraculously one.

 

My prayer is to spaciousness and mystery. My prayer is to the distant gods.

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills 

From whence comes my help

Help from the wise ones

Who sleep not nor stumble

Who hedge my soul round with their care 

 

I am tangled in this universe

Swaddled in its bonds

Cradled tween earth and sky

Carried over dark water

 

Surely grace attends my going forth

And my return

Now and forevermore 

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 
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