Invented Gods


By Katy Jennison


All Gods are invented, for certain values of "invented".  They are human constructions: they may be archetypes, or projections, or metaphors, or personifications.  They may even be reflections of real (for certain values of "real"), independent, supernatural, transcendent beings, but if they are it's impossible for us to get a firm handle on their properties, let alone their personalities if they have any.  So the best we can do is to attribute human characteristics to the somethings with which we sometimes feel we are communicating, or on to which we project what we think of as divine properties.


The trap to avoid, and into which various populous and influential religions have fallen, is to make your invented God personify only your perceived best impulses, your ideal self.  This lands you in the quagmire of dualism: whether it's Johnny Mercer singing "Accentuate the Positive", or the Christian Church believing in a God of Goodness, or a New-Agey Pagan thinking in terms of universal love and white light, the negativity, evil or darkness which is the inevitable by-product of your manufactured dualism has to go somewhere too. 


This means that if you project only your ideal self on to the Gods you invent, you have also to invent demons or anti-Gods on to which to project your Shadow, including everything you dislike about or deny in yourself and which you project outwards on to other people.  The Problem of Evil is a very tricky one, for the "God is Love" Christians and the fluffy-bunny Pagans alike: if God or the Universe is love, why do thoroughly bad things keep happening all the time, especially to apparently-good people?  If you define your God as Good - and as Good in purely human terms, at that: good for people - your God can't cope with earthquakes, accidents, the death of children, cancer.  Making demons responsible for "evil", however, brings its own problems, particularly if you've unwisely also attributed All-Powerfulness to your God.  Some varieties of religion get round this by calling the nasty things which happen "tests".  They then have to explain why an all-loving, good God would test you by killing your child, and why you should be expected to worship him (it usually is him) afterwards. 


Moral: invent your Gods in the same way that hedgehogs make love: very carefully.


Pagans, on the whole, manage to avoid these pitfalls, by inventing Gods who don't have "Good" as their USP - indeed, usually by rejecting this artificial duality altogether.  If the Divine is manifest in the natural world (which includes its human inhabitants), then a tsunami and indeed a cancer is just as much a manifestation of the Divine as cherry-blossom and moonlight.  So Pagan Gods are not all human-friendly sweetness and light, because the world they and we live in is not all human-friendly sweetness and light. 


If Gods are a human invention, the likelihood is that they started out as personifications of natural forces which then crystallised into specific named deities, characters which, as writers of fiction will confirm frequently occurs, escaped from their authors' imaginations and started behaving in independent and unexpected and sometimes inconvenient ways.  By this stage of the game, there are enough deities out there for every Pagan to choose, if they want to, the Gods which best fit their needs.  Most of us select our Gods from the extensive off-the-peg range rather than putting together a bespoke version of our very own. Even if we did, our inventions would always include some of the attributes of Gods or heroes or magical characters we'd come across at various points during our lives, including the fictional ones from novels and films.  But even when we take up with a deity who is already well-recorded, well-defined, popular and recognisable - even then we reinvent them and make them special to us, even if what we think we're doing is making ourselves special to them. 


There is a great deal to be said for the practice of picking a different God every now and then, and working with them over a period of time (months or years, rather than days or weeks), and seeing what aspects of one's personality are expanded or challenged.  If I have a tendency towards benign, peaceful and friendly deities, it can be salutary to see what lessons I can learn from Gods of death or war or destruction.  And in a spirit of experiment, it might be valuable to deliberately set out to invent a God or Goddess, give them a name and a realistic set of attributes, and work with them in this way.