Images of the Gods as Transpersonal Gifts from Humanity
I've been known for believing humans give the deities their form. This belief is met with mixed reactions from other polytheists. Granted, I am cautious about anthropomorphizing the divine, but this doesn't mean I reject it entirely. It is useful when dealing with specific aspects of humanity. For example, representing musical, literary, and artistic creativity in human form. What I mean when I say we give deities form, is that these forms are gifts, offerings, of ourselves and culture to the deities. These gifts of form symbolize the intimate and interconnected relationship humans have with the living world. I find these forms are useful conduits to the transpersonal through ceremony, meditation, trance, and prayer. The deities are not these forms themselves.
Instead, these forms are the guide to experience the divine in the living world through transpersonal means. Imagine, a young disciple asks his mentor “what is the moon?” and the mentor silently point to the moon with her finger. The disciple doesn't understand and mistakes the mentor's finger for being the moon. The disciple’s mistake is discovered one day when his mentor asks him to paint the moon. he is then left to himself. When his mentor returns and sees a painting of her finger. “What is this?” she asks. He replies, “It is the moon, is it not?.” The mentor laughs, “No, it isn't. That is my finger. Foolish man!”
I do not to think of a deity as the god of this or that, but for being this or that. For example, Thor is the thunder of Northern Europe. The images of Thor as human are gifts from a place and people given to thunder. Through narrative, a relationship of thunder to the people and the rest of the living world is described through human form as a metaphor which allows us to transpersonal the human experience to better understand thunder's role in the living world. I also think of them as map markers of our human relationship with the vast aspects of the living world. The map is not the living world but a representation of it created by humans to understand their surroundings (think of this map as religion or cultural traditions) and the markers indicating landmarks (the deities) are not the landmarks themselves.
Giving the deities form, or accessing forms given to them in different times and places to communicate and connect with deities is a sacred act which facilitates the transpersonal in our lives. This is what forms religious and cultural traditions surrounding the deities. In this regard, the deities are not supernatural. In our post-modern times, science is another tool to allow us to understand the deities. If one studies the weather patterns of Northern Europe and how they are formed from its distinctive ecology, one can gain a new understanding of Thor.
The naturalistic polytheism I practice is an alternative to the literalism of hard polytheism. Such as liberal Christians view Biblical narratives as contextual metaphor contrasts with the strict literalism of Christian fundamentalism. Where fundamentalism is ridged and resists change, liberal religion is flexible and fluid continuing to grow with the needs of time, place, and people. For polytheism to continue to be relevant it has to adapt a fluid and flexible interpretation to meet the needs of our time, the places we live, and the cultural environment that influence us daily.