This is my first participation in the Gaelic Roundtable, despite intentions to participate previously and participating in other iterations. I’m really hoping to make this somethin I continue monthly. But this month’s topic is Divinity in Gaelic Polytheism.
This is question I’ve struggled with since the first encountered it as an idea. My first into to the idea of polytheism was through Egyptology. Bein from Memphis, TN, there are a lot of cultural ties, at least in the mind of the city, to Egypt. We have the Pyramid downtown, once a museum and athletic space (and now tragically a Bass Pro – I have feels), that had large statues of Rameses II and was covered in hieroglyphics. We also have a permanent Egyptian exhibit in The Pink Palace, a children’s museum in a former mansion. While there are definitely aspects of permanent Egypt exhibits that warrant discussion, my viewing of it as a child ignited a love that’s never ceased. To be quite honest, if it hadn’t been for such a strong pull to the gods of the Gaels, I’d likely have been a Kemetic (or Hellenistic) Polytheist.
My next exposure was in reading Greek mythology. And I was fascinated. Just like Egyptian history and myths, I soaked it up, reading everything I could on it. Of course, I predate the Percy Jackson series, so that wasn’t on my list, but I can guarantee that I’d have snatched that up in a heartbeat. I thought about the Theoi all the time, constantly wondering what they were like and what other gods existed. Then I went through a “Cowboys and Indians” phase, but I recognize in retrospect that what I was really fascinated by were the religious practices of Native American and First Nations peoples. Stories of the Sky Father and Spider Woman absolutely fascinated me. And they felt real in a way that Christian narratives just never did.
All that is to say that, without me even realizing it, I already had a fairly solid worldview of polytheism even as a practicing Christian. I think in some ways I even had a phase of subconscious henotheism. In my mind, the stories we have of na Dé are the stories our ancestors told to make sense of somethin they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around. Do I think it’s possible that there are apotheosized ancestors in the lore? Humans mixed into the stories for various reasons? Sure. It’s likely even. But I simply do not ascribe to the idea that the entirety of Irish lore is comprised of apotheosized characters. Even the Book if Invasions, which seems to be what so many people cite as an argument for pure apotheosis, doesn’t prove this to me because why would deities not be allowed movement? Especially as tied to the land as so many of na Dé are, if they chose to leave a previous land, they could and would. This, frankly, also factors into my ideas of how and why so many in the US connect with our divinities. So, in that way, I guess I largely do view the Irish deities as “traditional” or “classical” divinity. We are of them, they are of us, but there’s a distinction there more than when we inhabited this plane of existence.
As for other deities, spirits, or entities, I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone who IDs as GP and doesn’t. In my opinion, na Aos Sidhe clearly bridge some kind of gap between this world, the Otherworld, and other worlds, and na Dé. There’s a reason we use the term “na Dé ocus Andé.” And when I say “clearly bridges a gap,” it’s somewhat tongue in cheek considering the amorphous and ephemeral boundaries of pretty well everything in Gaelic Polytheism, the idea simply being that there’s still some sense of “glue” between points on a spectrum. As someone that considers themselves a “hard polytheist” and then who also comes from a pluralistic society and culture, it would be both arrogant and asinine not to recognize the plethora of deities, spirits, energies, ghost, and ancestors that travel with and among us. We’re not only influenced by what we experience around around our individual selves, we’re acted upon by unseen forces and I see no point in denying that.