Thoughts on Mixing Deities
Author: Ignacio Ceja
I grew up reading mythology. Greek, Roman, Aztec, Egyptian, it didn’t matter where it came from. Nearly every afternoon could find me in the school library. The head librarian came to the practice of setting books out just for me.
When I became Pagan, and the choice of deity was mine to make, I assumed I’d pick a pantheon and go with it. The idea seemed simple enough. I had background lore in several pantheons; all I had to do was make a choice. This proved easier said than done. I was a solitary, with no Pagan friends with whom to discuss this. Even having friends, I realize in retrospect, would have only further complicated my choice. The affinity I felt for various figures and Gods was too strong for me to be content with a single pantheon. There was also my all to critical Gemini nature, which lead, and leads, me to boredom quickly. I imagined it must be easier for someone who is brought up, brought into, or finds his/her way into a coven or practice where the choice of deity is already made. There was also the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable with all the Gods of any particular pantheon. I wasn’t ready then to accept every aspect of myself. I certainly couldn’t accept every aspect of a pantheon. I know that if I had been a whole person, it wouldn’t have mattered. But what teenager is a whole person? I’ve never known one. I also didn’t want to be devoted to only one deity, I’d had enough of that already.
It seemed pretty obvious to me that if I liked specific deities, I should honor them, despite their origins. Initially I felt guilty about this. A part of what I felt stemmed from not having a personal touchstone to what I was reaching for. I am not Egyptian, for instance, so although I can relate to Egyptian Gods, I feel no personal connection. The same could be said of just about any pantheon. The only one I had a personal link to was Aztec. My biggest drawback with relation to this pantheon was my lack of ability to relate. The first thing I thought of when I considered Aztec mythology was human sacrifice. Hearts offered up to Huitzilopochtli, the Sun and War God. I simply couldn’t relate to a culture and a time period where and when such a practice would have been necessary. So I dismissed the feelings of guilt. After all, I’d left organized guilt behind me; it would be harmful to dredge it up and attach it to my new beliefs.
In mixing Gods from different pantheons, I suppose the first order of business is, “Will these Gods get along and play nicely together?” There are legends of Gods within a particular pantheon who don’t get along. In Santeria, Yemaya tricked Oya into swapping the cemetary, which was Yemaya’s, for the oceans. The resulting bitterness between these two Goddesses is so strong that they will not socialize, and cannot be honored together1 . Mt Olympus is filled to overflowing with stories of Gods with grudges against one another because of a love affair here, a stolen treasure there. Take a trip down to Egypt and look at the intense competition between Set and Horus for the throne after the fall of Osiris. That particular conflict involves more than just these two Gods. I’ve never read about inter-pantheonic rivalries, where the Gods of one culture have grievences with the Gods of another, say Norse vs. Egyptian. Each culture seems to have quasi-isolated beliefs in regard to “their” deities. I’ve never seen anything about the Gods of different cultures interacting, except on TV’s Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess.
In my early years, I just worked with God and Goddess using the terms “Lord” and “Lady”. As time passed and I learned new concepts, I honored new deities. After a while, I began to want my own personal approach to deity. To establish this, I turned to my family heritage. My mother is a German woman, half German actually, and since she raised me, I felt my strongest family connection through her. I began reading about the Norse Gods. It took a while before I felt anything personal though. It must be something about actually having to do the work involved, so I took a year to work with them. Ritual took on a whole new feel after that. Having a personal link to the deities I was reaching out to allowed me to feel like I belonged, like I was a child of the powers I was addressing. This experience had been lacking, noticeably, up to that time. It was the first time since I was a child that I actually felt fulfilled by an act of faith. To say that this really worked for me would be an understatement, so I did the same with my father’s Mexican heritage. In doing so, I came to know Guadalupe. This proved to be a much more difficult task, because there is a strong bias in the information that is available. Although one could argue that every face is her “true” face, I found that I had to sift through both church and historical myth to find her most “complete” face.
I found that Guadalupe is the current incarnation of Tonanzin, an Aztec mother Goddess. I use the term “current” lightly, as Guadalupe made her first recorded appearance in the mid 1500s. She appeared to a young Indian named Juan Diego, and asked him to carry a message to the local priests. She wanted a temple built to her on Tepayac Hill. Juan Diego did as she asked, but the priests didn’t believe him. Tepayac Hill was a site sacred to Tonanzin. The priests avoided it. Besides, why would the Mother of God reveal herself to a common person when they were always listening for her will? Twice more, Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, and twice more he carried out her wishes. The last time, however, she caused roses to grow from the desert floor. If he carried her roses to the local priests, they would believe him. Juan Diego gathered Guadalupe’s roses into his blanket and set off. Again, the priests didn’t believe him, but when he showed them the roses, they all saw that his blanket had been imprinted with the image of Guadalupe. The temple was built, and the blanket was kept there as a sacred object. It can still be seen there today. Although I still have more research to do on Guadalupe, I’ve kept a shrine to her in my room for the last four years.
I began reading about various Afro-Carribean faiths a year before I went to Mississippi to study weather. The ones I spent the most time with were Voudo, Santeria and Condomble. My only link to these faiths is my Hispanic heritage. Santeria has flourished in Latin America, and although it is recognized for its African roots, Santeria and the Yoruba faith practiced in Nigeria are marked in their differences. I’m not saying that Santeria belongs to Latin America. I don’t believe that any faith belongs to any particular group; however, I do believe that Santeria has become ingrained in the background of Latin American culture.
While I was in weather school, I made two altars. One I erected to Chango and Oya, and the second to Yemaya. Chango and Oya each rule fire. Oya, additionally, has charge of the winds. Yemaya rules the oceans. As heating, moisture and air are all necessary for weather, these three Gods were ideally suited to assist me in my course of learning.2
I have three main altars in my room now. My Goddess altar has a shrine to Guadalupe, surrounded by Goddess images from various cultures. My God altar has a statue of Pan, with a few different Green Man/Horned God images. The third altar is to my ancestors, as the dead hold a special place in my beliefs. I have created my own pantheon. They are my personally selected support group of deities and spirits. I worship a Greek God and a Meso-American Goddess. Can mixing deities work? I suppose it’s a very personal thing. As I feel that I’m doing just fine, I’m inclined to a resounding “Yes.” You know the saying, “You can’t pick you family, but you can pick your friends.” I’m happy to say that you can also pick your Gods.
1Oya and Yemaya are both important Orishas in the Yoruba pantheon. Both will be honored in a practitioner’s home, but their sacred objects are kept separate.
2The bitterness referred to above is the reason why I created separate altars. I also honored them on different days.