I don’t often rant on this blog, as those of you who have been following along well know. But you are about to read one. Sorry. But it’s a tiny one. And kindly meant.
You see, every now and then, this little rant gets kicked off by me reading the work of other writers. I don’t mean scholars. I mean people who have a genuine, living relationship with their Deities. And yet, they often do not use the present tense when speaking or writing about their Deities. Now you see where this is going.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that, in my books and on this blog—except when something actually is in the past—I refer to the Goddess in present tense. In fact, I have been very conscious of doing so. (And it goes without saying that I am imperfect in this endeavor.)
Why so important? Because, you see, She IS.
She’s is not a Being Who was but is no more. She is not “just a myth,” an old story deserving of the past tense. Indeed, She is All that Is, and Was, and Ever Shall Be. She existed then, She exists now, and She will exist when the rugged, snowcapped mountain that, on a clear day, I can see from my rooftop has become a gentle, green hill.
And I know you know that. Which is why I am so puzzled when I sometimes see modern Pagans, Polytheists, Wiccans, Witches, and insert-your-self-definition-of-choice-here using the past tense about their Deities. The most recent one I saw, and which sparked this little rant, was a witch writing that “Hekate was…”
It happens most often when we’re telling Their sacred stories, trying to offer a brief “definition” of the Deity, or describing Their relationships with other Deities: “Isis was the Goddess of Magic.” Osiris was the husband of Isis.” Isn’t She still the Goddess of Magic? Isn’t He still Her husband? Now if we said, “To the ancient Egyptians, Isis was the Goddess of Magic and Osiris was Her husband,” that would work. No ancient Egyptians around today, so their formulations about their Deities are history. But to me and to others—perhaps like you?—who know Her, Isis IS the Goddess of Magic and Osiris IS Her beloved husband.
In writing of the history of the Isis religion and the many aspects in which She has appeared to humanity, I have always kept in mind that, to the people who worshiped Her then, as well as to those of us who do so today, Isis was and is a Living Goddess. She is not a historical curiosity. She is not a metaphor for our times. She is not feminist wish fulfillment. She is not merely a psychological archetype. She is Divine Love, Life, Magic, Mystery. She is Goddess and She is.Isis Magic
And speaking of myths, a myth isn’t something that is false, though people certainly use it that way. But no. A myth is a sacred story meant to tell us something about the Deity or Deities of the myth. Myths are “things that never happened but always are,” in the words of the 4th century CE Roman writer Sallustius. Or maybe myths are things that never happened historically, but are eternally true. And while I’m ranting, just because a story belongs to the corpus of the dominant monotheisms doesn’t mean it’s not mythology. Egyptian mythology is. Christian mythology is. Jewish mythology is. They are all sacred stories and they are all mythology.
I think most of the problem comes from early and ongoing conditioning. Except for those of you young enough to have been born of Pagan parents, most of us were taught in school, from early on, that the ancient Deities were and mythology was. But let’s get over that, shall we? Can we all just mind our tenses and our mythic terms, please?
The Is-ness of Isis
But how do we know that Isis is? How do we know that She’s “real”? Must we simply “have faith”? Do we just choose to “believe in” Her? Can we prove Her is-ness?
We can prove Isis’ is-ness—Her reality—exactly as much as any human being can prove the reality of any Deity, which is to say, we cannot. There is no scientific proof for the Divine. There is no infallible book or teacher that holds all the answers to all the questions, though many will so claim. Yet happily, this means exactly nothing when it comes to the truth of Isis’ existence.
This question of belief and faith is much more vexed for those of us in non-mainstream (O how I dislike that designation!) religions. How often have you been asked by some friend or family member or hopefully-well-meaning stranger, “Well, then, what do Isians—or Pagans or Polytheists or Wiccans or Witches or insert-your-self-definition-of-choice-here—believe?”
And how have you answered?
Many of us involved in alternative spirituality today (at least in the west) were reared in one monotheistic religion or another, most often, Christianity. From early on, we were taught to “believe in” God and Jesus. We were told that a particular book is the Word of God, “proves” that God is real, and explains precisely what He wants us to do with our lives. In terms of religion, the clergy are to be our role models—they whose faith is strong, whose belief is true; we should have faith and believe as they do.
We got used to using those words, faith and belief, when speaking about religion. But perhaps those are not the right words.
For me, what proves that Isis is real is my experience of Her, not my faith or belief in Her. No single book is the touchstone for my spirituality, though I find spiritual truths in many, many books written by many, many wise human beings. I can’t transfer my deep knowing of Her reality to anyone else (though I admit that the exercises and rituals I share with others are attempts to at least set up the conditions that will enable others to discover their own experiences of Her).
Nevertheless, experience of the Divine is an individual thing; each one of us must experience Isis for ourselves. Groups and teachers can help. Clergy can facilitate. Books can point out a path. Talking with others and listening to what they say about their experiences can strengthen us in our desire for our own experience of the Goddess. But, in the end, we will not truly know the is-ness of Isis for ourselves until we have our own experience of Her.
When that experience comes for the first time, it may bring awe, tears, joy, pain. When it comes again and again, throughout the many years, I can tell you that it may still bring all those things. But repeated and ongoing experience of the Goddess will also bring a deep knowing, a personal gnosis, of Her. No longer operating just “on faith,” now we know Her reality because we have experienced it. No longer just believing, we have discovered Her truth for ourselves and it has become our truth—the truth that She IS.
I’ve caught myself using the past tense when refering to the Goddess or a God and have had to tell myself to “get a grip.”
As you said, I think we do it because we are thinking about them in relation to the myths that were told about them in the past.
And, yes, I have a problem with the word belief as well. Most pagans I’ve talked to about this don’t believe in the Gods, they KNOW they exist from personal experience. Some of us are pagan because of our personal experience of the Goddess or God, but some of us had enough faith to continue doing the rites until the experience came. I was one of the latter. I began practicing Wicca because I wanted Her to exist and then, eventually, experienced her.
A good portion of our work as Polytheists in the contemporary era is to de-colonize our brains. Language is a big part of that because if you control the language then you control how thoughts are formed. If we always talk about the Gods being in the past then that’s exactly what becomes of Them in our heads. I too have the same pet peeve with others. The Gods ARE. They are not a “were”. If anything, you pointed out by quoting Sallustius, we especially have the privilege of worshipping Gods that eternally are. Because our myths tend to be deity-centric, there is no pressure to insist on their historicity. No young punk trying to be the next Ben Shapiro or Bill Maher can debate away the truth of our myths because our myths play out in the world every day. Who is foolish enough to attempt to debate away the Sun and Moon? Or the tides or fields? The shifts in society and within our own lives? The Gods animate these things. The forces of nature and the cosmos are ones that always have been and always will be long after we are gone. And when we look at Gods like Isis, we see a perfect example since She is all-encompassing.
Hail Isis! Hail to the Goddess of the Cosmos!
When we see a ghostly figure, a flicker of the light, all of the crows flying at once, we do not jump into fear as if something evil or dangerous is happening. We understand it as a symbol or sign that should be embraced and studied, explored and gathered to us as a friend. As long as she keeps throwing signs at me, it’ll be Present Tense.
Ahh. Signs and symbols. Sythemata. Beautiful.
I do agree with this post that we should get our own experience with our goddess our mother and id like to add this post was posted on my birthday
Happy (belated) birthday!
Thanks Isidora(to add my name in my native language also means ausets hand)
Thanks Isidora(to add your name in my native language also means ausets hand)