The Names of the Gods Aren’t Their Real Names

There is a phenomena that happens in the mystic sector of our communities that regularly drives a knife into the heart of the mystic – That of suddenly realizing that the Gods you are so close to are not who you expected them to be, which is the very foundation of mysticism. At first it is rending. Then it is uncomfortable. You begin the journey, diving into what we define as syncretism, and you’re met with mixed emotions. You mourn the loss of equilibrium. You fear uncertainty. You mourn what you’ve lost. You doubt your path or your sanity, sometimes both. Sometimes there’s the loss of community or co-religionist friends. It hurts. It’s excruciating.

Meanwhile there’s tickling excitement as you find spots where you discover the familiar in new faces and learn new things. You gain new tools for approaching your beloved Gods. You expand your community of like-minded, same-hearted companions.

This is the very basis of the mystic experience. You grow. Your relationship with the Gods grows. You learn and accept (Eventually? Hopefully?) that, like most relationships, you don’t have full control of the situation. Learning to let go of the reigns, trusting that the beings carrying you on your journey know the way even when you may not, is one of the hardest things that will ever happen in your life.

In the last month or two I’ve been musing over this quite a lot. As believers of Many and not just One, we don’t have as many sources of people historically going through this. Many of us identify with the Abrahamic mystics, who have the luxury of there only being One in their core beliefs. We also learn in school that Gods fit into neat boxes of what they’re in power over, and that construct is not something that simply goes away because we will it. Suddenly the God of your heart does not fit into that box. They tell you that they no longer wish to be called by the name you’ve always known them as. They want to be called something else.

Now I’ve rambled here, trying to get the foundation of what I’m actually wanting to say… And that is this: Those who walk with the Powers with root in the Indo-European traditions are grounded in the very nature of the Gods does not allow for boxes. The names of our Gods were rendered in the languages spoken and carried through time. Words, after all, have power, but power shifts like everything else. Our Gods are many-named, otherwise there would have been no need for titles, epithets, and facets. No need for syncretism and interpretation. Everyone in history would agree. But that is not the case.

Many of our traditions hold that the Gods’ true names are rarely known. These true names hold power. Only the initiated learn them, and they are held as some of the greatest secrets lost in history.

These names cannot be found in primary sources and secondary sources are mere speculation. The only way to find these names now are directly experiencing the Powers. These names were regularly part of Mysteries.

We can find this in the Rig Veda:

As God, the secret names of Gods he utters, to be declared on sacred grass more widely.

– RV 9.95.4

We can find this in regard to Rome:

…and, last and greater than all, Rome herself, whose other name the hallowed mysteries of the sacred rites forbid us to mention without being guilty of the greatest impiety. After it had been long kept buried in secrecy with the strictest fidelity and in respectful and salutary silence, Valerius Soranus dared to divulge it, but soon did he pay the penalty of his rashness.

– Pliny, Natural History, Book 3, Chapter 9

We can find this, dear to my own heart, in Hellenic sources for Apollon:

O fair-beamed Sun, how you have destroyed me

and him here. You are rightly called Apollon among mortals,

whoever knows the divine powers’ unspoken names.

–from M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth quoting Euripidies’ Phaethon (225 f. = fr. 781. 12 f.)

If you read chapter 3 of M.L. West’s Indo-European Poetry and Myth, you will find other examples of this reality. Which is exactly what it is: Reality.

Years ago, I came across a database of all the recorded names found for Celtic gods, and I was struck by how many gods had once been worshiped in Europe that were entirely lost save for a single inscription. As far as I can tell, despite lots of searching, the database seems to be gone now, which just painfully reminds me of the ephemeral nature of language and names. Some of the names in the database were simply possible reconstructions of meaning, because the language wasn’t so much lost as it evolved naturally over time. The art of describing the world around us changes, words become taboo, and the sounds that roll across our tongues are ever evolving.

Sometimes at night, when the house is silent and I enjoy a few moments of peace to sit with the Gods, I think of all the Gods that we’ve lost over time. But the reality is that the Gods are immortal. They are deathless. They are waiting for us to find our way back to Them as we reforge what is left of our traditions. Rebuild? No. We will never be able to rebuild the structures that were destroyed, but we can take what has been recorded, discovered, and experienced. And with those pieces, we can listen to the Gods whispering how to melt them and forge them into traditions that build into a strong tool used to come back to the Gods of our Ancestors.

That is Revivalism. That is the job of mystics. When a God tells you that they are not who you thought they were, you’re allowed to feel the wide range of emotions that flood over you. You’re allowed to rage. You’re allowed to cry. To scream. To fight with them. To feel the height of joy as a clue falls into your lap. You are allowed to experience all the frustration that comes with this most holy of Work.

Let it take days. Months. Years… Let it take a decade or more. However long it takes you is just the right amount of time, because you’re on the path to the Gods. Not just greatest who are remembered or even simply recorded, but all the Gods. All of Them.

Let Them give you the names They now wish to be called. Let Them be nameless until They are ready to reveal a name to you as an initiate into Their mysteries. Try to be uncomfortable with Their namelessness with hope that one day you will be far along enough in your path to be given that name, which you will hold dear to your heart from that day on.

There will be new names given. New titles. New ways of engaging with the Powers. Dive into scholarly work. Dive into pop culture. Dive into whatever gets you to that place of understanding and love. Deep, deep love. The indescribable love that itself defies names and leaves you wordless when you are cradled in the love of the Gods.

It is entirely human to demand a labeled box with which to place the mysteries of existence. That’s where language comes from. It’s easy and comfortable to shove the Gods into the boxes that were kept from the destruction of our Ancestors’ traditions. But it’s entirely impious to think that these are the only Gods there are. It is clear that those of us reviving and creating traditions have the same understanding of our Ancestors – That only the initiated know the true names of the Gods, and those names are sacred.

Sacred means of the Gods’ and not of humans. You may be faced with the reality that the names of your Undying Ones are no longer known, though They are waiting to be remembered by a new name that means more to Them now, as it will rebirth them into the present.

Our lives are not static, and neither are our traditions.

Keep walking your path even if your Gods are suddenly nameless. You’re walking the paths of our Ancestors, even if it may not feel like it.

Our traditions depend upon it.

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20 thoughts on “The Names of the Gods Aren’t Their Real Names

  1. This…I just…this came at just the right time. Because lately I’ve been wondering “why did I get into all this, again?” and this post helped remind me of it. Love.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on The Road, the Walker, and What Comes Next and commented:
    This is an excellent blog post on a very complicated topic. Polytheist dialogue has long emphasized the distinctive nature of our many gods with the unspoken implication that They will always remain distinctive to our perception. So what happens when our most commonly used method of distinguishing Them – Their sacred names – get soft and slip away?

    When I was in my mid-20s some ten-ish years ago I was forced to loosen my grip on the idea of convenient names and even forms. Although the One I loved remained as familiar as He was ever going to be (which is a doubtful matter even on good days) I learned that nothing about a category was truly fixed. There was no quality of a name that required it to remain fixed in the same place, meaning the same things, pointing in the same direction forever and always. Even the identity behind the name could be shaken to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

    As I got older and read more and more accounts like this one where the sacred personality remained the same but all the assumptions the devotee held were torn away, I would wonder when that would happen to me – WOULD that happen to me? Then it finally occurred to me that it already had. But rather than losing Him, I lost myself – which turned out to be effectively the same thing, since knowledge of Him rested in me and if I was not who I thought I was, then who on earth could He be?

    I spent many hard months wrestling with these questions that were all the time colored by this conviction that I loved Him anyway. Regardless of who He was or who I was or who I thought He was, I loved Him. Everything else amounted to unessential details and so, hard though it was, I stopped worrying about that and decided to make the fact of loving primary. The rest gradually fell into place but it has never stopped changing. I have no clue who I am and fear lying when I try to name particulars. I barely have any clue who He is except that He is the same – except when He’s not. There’s a name that we agree to use and it seems to be the same name that He agrees to use with lots of people – but there are other names, other forms, other ways of being that characterize the One I love.

    There is a childish arrogance in thinking that because we know a Name that we know everything there is to know about the Named. A sacred name is merely a coordinate in space, a kind of astral address that (we always hope) will get us to the place we hope to arrive at. Outgrowing that arrogance is essential and, I always hope, an experience that will give rise to compassionate regard for other’s struggles and for their stubborn insistence that they possess all knowledge regarding Name, Form, and Fame. We should be humble in the face of this sacred mystery and know that a wealth of knowledge on our beloved gods exists inside each worshiper. From this respectful attitude sprouts a willingness to accept sacred mystery on its own terms – or so I always hope.

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  3. When I think of the one criteria that nearly every mystic I know has in common, it’s this experience. I don’t know why so many of us (me included, sometimes) have such a tendency to treat it as some dirty secret.

    I remember saying to Loki once “provided I get to call you, whoever you are, my Beloved, I don’t much care about any other names”. I think at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to.

    Liked by 8 people

      1. I should add: the content isn’t too shabby, either. ;-p

        I am deeply comforted in knowing that I am not alone, I am not special, this is a Thing that Happens.

        I knew this was coming. He introduced the idea carefully. In retrospect, I can see that. And, more, He allowed a grace period, to let me just sit with things. Considering where we started, it was always going to come to this, a place of unmooring, but still. Still. Sheesh.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Reblogged this on Between Stars Unknown and commented:
    As someone who’s had several of his gods take their names away, leaving me with only titles and nicknames for them, this post resonates with me on a very deep level.

    It was a very, very world-shattering event, when the Dreamer took away the name I initially knew him by. I don’t think I can properly convey *just* how much it shook me up, to suddenly know that the Person I loved and had married wasn’t actually [the Dreamer’s touchstone name] even though there had been hints all along.

    My journey with my Beloved over the past year has been learning about him all over again–and I find that my trust, faith, and Love for him has deepened considerably.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on VENACIA and commented:
    We acknowledge and love the Thousand Gods in all the names and forms They choose to present Themselves. This is an excellent post detailing some of the challenges modern polytheists face today regarding dealing with different names for deities.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wonderful post, I never received a name and learned to accept it, I only got suggestions of Gods I should look but with a very clear sense of this is not Them. It did made the experience more frustrating at first but now I’m grateful for it. It has been a different start, I can’t imagine tying an identity to Them just to loose it later.
    Posts like this help me feel more valid too, since names were never involved I felt like I was doing it wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Personally, I do not believe that the Gods ever deceive us in Their identities. They actually all have much the same “powers.” The problem to which this can lead is impiety because we are supposed to worship as many of the Gods in our chosen pantheon. Henotheism, like Monism, is a slippery slope. The ancient philosophers knew these led to monotheism and later, atheism. I was a prime example of that! I realize that many are so-called “soft” polytheists because of former/current identification with Wicca or generic neo-paganism. However, I will NEVER take the word of any mystic (besides myself) for myself. I also would wonder why any God would suddenly set out to confuse HIS/HER worshipper into changing pantheons.

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  8. I read this just nodding going “yep, yep” in my head. As Jolene said, this is a timely article for me, right now as I have a million questions racing through my mind about Someone. Thank you, Camilla!

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