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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A Polytheistic Dark Night of the Soul

In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing. – from Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s journal, 1959

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m in period of what the Christian mystics refer to as the dark night of the soul. For a monotheist, this turns into a period of what appears to be at the very least atheist leanings, as expressed in the quote above from St Teresa of Calcutta (Love her or leave her). For a polytheist mystic, I guess this is taking on a little bit of a weird turn I didn’t see coming…

I believe in the Gods without a doubt. I even believe in Apollon.

This is where it takes a turn and perhaps get a little weird…

While I believe in Apollon, I’m not exactly sure the God I honor and have been married to for years is Apollon. Seven years later and after a vow renewal, I find myself going “I don’t know who You are.”

This has been playing out for months now. Save for 1 or 2 posts, it’s been playing out almost silently except to a few close, patient friends that I’m entirely too thankful for.

Am I married or divorced from this God? Who is He?

Is this God Apollon? Yes/no.

Is this God Odin? Yes/no.

Is this God Freyr? Yes/no.

Is this God Dionysos? Yes/no.

Dis? Yes/no.

Soranus? Yes/no…

This God isn’t an archtype, but He is all of these Gods and none of Them at the same time… That’s what He tells me.

This isn’t a case of an awkward attempt at syncretism. This is a God coming forth to step out of the shadows, which has left me feeling all too raw and wobbly. Who the fuck am I to think a God is talking to me? Who the fuck am I to think some newborn/forgotten God is messing with my brain?

Am I sure I’m not simply unstable?

This, my friends, is decidedly a dark night of the soul. I never thought I’d find myself doubting my faith in my own beliefs, nor did I think that it would play out as a space of doubting every part of myself at the same time. This is deeper than an existential crisis. This darkness is something that I feel down to my bones, and I find myself too choked by the grim reality of it all to put into perfect words. This alone frustrates me. I’m never for a lack of written word.

I’m not alone with this God. I know there are others out there who are experiencing Him, who have even experienced this change and shift.  I know, because of the delightful moments of getting personal gnosis confirmed.  This space where one God ends and Another begins, I’m not the only one who has experienced it. But is He a God I know? Or am I off in the recesses of my own mind working through some liminality issue that I wasn’t completely aware I had?  Perhaps looking for synchronicity of experience and finding it simply because I’m looking for it.

It’s been a strange, painful experience. One of the first lessons this God taught me, as Apollon, was to stop doubting myself. Stop doubting His voice. Just say what it was He was telling me, and slowly over the course of a year I discovered that He was using me as a bit of a mouth piece.

This was a decade ago. This was when I started to listen to the information I was getting constantly, because if I didn’t I was in danger of stepping into the void and never coming back if I didn’t get it under control. A marriage of 7 years was had, and I don’t believe it’s over…

But it was with Apollon.  Despite what everyone keeps telling me, I’m not sure this God wants to be called Apollon anymore.  Not by me, at least.  I’m no longer married to Apollon.

Which seems to not only be throwing people off when I say this, but it seems like my own discernment and judgment of the situation is wrong.  Do I trust myself, which is what He taught me to do?  Or do I listen to literally everyone else I’ve talked to about this?

I say “Apollon left me.”

I hear from others, who I trust hear Him, say, “He would never leave you, and He wants you to understand that.”

And the words that keep falling into my mind, like leaves from a tree, say, “When the Romans took Apollo’s hand, He swallowed a dozen Gods as he moved through the known world. He became Them. They became Him. But that is never truly the case.”

Syncretism is something a lot of people are talking about these days… And here I am, over in my corner, feeling as if I’m on the brink of un-syncretizing Apollon.

He told me a few years ago to go north. Now He tells me to carve Him from the side of the rocks.

Now I’m slowly getting comfortable with the thought that perhaps this is Something new and different to us. I’ve said for years that He is wanting me to build a new tradition for him, a new cult. I glean images and symbols. I find a way to explain something. I doubt. I distrust. I feel like my insides are filled with glass, and I can’t tell if it’s Truth or not.

That’s hard to understand if you’ve not been there. I hear, over and over again, that I should stop worrying about who He is…

As He whispers in my ear Find me. Create me. Birth me, my bride.

Three evenings ago, on the front of a cold spring rain, He returned into my world in the form I’ve known as Apollon. At first it was a mere hint as I was cooking dinner. I felt the vibration in my lumbar spine that I usually feel when He’s trying to get my attention, a place aligned with the solar plexus (or I’ve been told the Gaster in Plato’s work, though I’ve yet to dig into this). As I cleaned up, He started to talk to me. By bedtime, mid-conversation with a friend online, I had to stop to meditate. I wrote a lot of stuff down that He wanted me to understand and spent some time sitting with the visions I was getting.

I’d been so happy, so relieved He was home that I found myself crying. But His return only brought me more questions and no answers…

I’m admittedly terrified of what stands before me. Not the God, but the implications of what I believe my future holds if I’m on the right track. The weight. The responsibility. It was all there before, but for some reason it was easier when He was Apollon. Safer, somehow…

So I have sent out questions to others who are God-touched. Am I on the right path? Can they untangle what I can only describe as a God-knot?

And underneath it all is this alienation, both from Him and others, who both understand and don’t understand at the same time.

This place is ambiguous and uncomfortable, liminal and immense.

My God is ambiguous and uncomfortable, liminal and immense.

I feel moved to talk about it here if only for the hope that someday this journey will help someone else thrown onto this path.

Welcome home, my Love, welcome home… Whoever You are.  Welcome home.  I’m angry, but I’m sure we’ll get through this eventually together.  (I hope.)