Searching for local gods

I was born at home, in the very house where I’m writing this post. This is where I first opened my eyes, cried and laughed – and my mother says that laughing was one of the first things I did. I was raised in this city and lived here until I was 18 years old. Often I went and stayed in other places nearby and those sites too became a part of me. This is especially true for a coastal town where my grandparents had a vacation house: year after year during my childhood, I spent one or two Summer months there. I walked to the beach, climbed up the sand dunes, fished and played in the local river, watched the trains pass by almost every day and never missed an episode of Games without Borders.

Loving those places and being a spiritual person, I have a tendency to convert my feelings into a religious expression. Whatever beings, forces and spirits dwell here, I grew up with them. I may have come into contact with them in the past; I may have walked, travelled, cried and played with them without being aware of it. And now that I’m making a full overhaul and organizing my religious practices, I’m wondering about the place my origins have in my spiritual life. Part of the answer is pretty obvious: my ancestors, my housewights, the genii loci, national or personal heroes. They are part of my identity and the focus of annual celebrations, monthly devotionals and daily practices, all of which I want to deepen. But there is one category – for lack of a better word – that remains appealing, yet elusive: local gods.

Though I was born and grew up in a place where human presence is thousands of years old, there is very little information on what deities people worshipped. Phoenicians may have installed a local cult of Astarte, though the evidence is not without controversy; Minerva appears to have been worshiped by the Romans who lived here. Lunar religion seems to be a very old spiritual continuum in the region, but there is little else. There are virtually no names, no legends, no iconography. A few years ago, someone suggested that if you take a bird’s eye view of the region and draw lines connecting several ancient monuments, you end up with a human figure holding up a sun-wheel – which is fascinating, though speculative (see here for images).

GarçaSince I’m not a shaman nor any type of spirit worker, I’m left with whatever information I can gather from my own experience and readings. If there’s any local deity that stands out from the host of genii loci, I’d say it’s probably connected to the aquatic element. This region is, after all, located between the sea and spring-rich mountains. My own home city is crossed by two rivers and one of the most common birds around here is the heron, which can be found even inside urban areas. And if lunar religion really is a millennia-old local tradition, that too hints at an aquatic deity.

This is pretty much what I have and, though limited, it nonetheless gives me several options. I can start a basic cult to one or more unnamed and undepicted deities, focusing on two natural symbols – the moon and the heron. I could identify a known goddess with the local Powers; say, for instance, a Nabia Alcobacensis, fusing the Iberian deity with the Latin demonym of my home city. This, however, has the problem of assuming a gender and number – and the possibility of divine twins should not be outright excluded. The same goes for the intermediate solution of calling the local deity Dea Alcobacensis.

So the most sensible thing to do is to start a basic cult and take it from there. It will be going back to the origins of religion, to a time when the Gods had not yet been named and had little iconography. Let the local Powers reveal Themselves if and how They wish to; let common worship, divination and dreams be my tools. And if there’s any spirit worker reading this, feel free to make suggestions.

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9 thoughts on “Searching for local gods

  1. Pingback: Local Gods, Part 1 | Heathen Chinese

  2. Pingback: Audi alteram partem | The House of Vines

  3. I wonder if it would be helpful to search for Their “shintai” or physical “seats” as a step towards establishing contact.

    • I’ve been on the lookout for that. The nearby mountains sometimes hide one or two of its peaks behind dense clouds, which got me wondering about it, and places that combine a spring with a recurrent number of herons might be another indication. Will have to remain watchful.

  4. Pingback: Searching for Local Gods « WiccanWeb

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