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How do I develop a relationship with a Power?

Every so often I see someone asking – or have someone ask me directly – for advice on how to get to know a Power better.

This is a thing that I do.

First of all, I let my research impulses run a little wild. I collect all the bibs and bobs of information I can find that relate to the Power in question. The more I know about the context from which the Power emerges, the richer this is, but it’s something I’ve done about gods from cultures where I’m not adept.

I make a big pile of this stuff. Into the pile go:

  • Any mythology pieces I know.
  • Any titles, epithets, kennings, or similar references that I can find.
  • Any symbols that I can locate, including associated animals and plants (and ideally some of what the roles those animals and plants had within the cultural understanding associated with that Power originally).
  • Information about relationships with other Powers – who is whose child, whose spouse, whose sibling, what the feuds are (and how they are resolved), where the friendships are; if the Power is commonly associated with or syncretised with others, which ones.
  • Information about major festivals or celebrations.
  • Anything else I can locate.

The end result of this is a pile of stuff. In the case of a better known and well-attested Power, the pile is probably gargantuan and full of things that appear, on first glance, to be contradictory. A lesser-known Power will of course have a smaller pile, and that pile may be biased to have more consistent elements.

Contradictory elements are a good thing here. One may want to weight the significance of those elements somewhat depending on time or place – for example, I was doing some research on Bast at one point and found that the actual information I piled up at the time was about evenly split between “Bast as solar” and “Bast as lunar”, which surprised me, but the lunar stuff was largely later and Greek-influenced stuff, which means I tend to put more weight, obviously, on the purer Egyptian – and thus solar – associations.

Once the research is done, it’s time to start playing. Wallow in the pile of symbols. Tinker with them. See how they relate to each other. Contemplate them. The point, here, is in getting to know the tools by which the ancient peoples who honored that Power pointed at that Power. Sometimes rolling around in the giant bed of symbols will lead to “I don’t know what this means” and the need to climb out of the play space and do a little research to get a little more context, but always, after finding out what the widget does, bring it back into the playground and get back to feeling out how the symbols work together.

Given enough time, an interesting thing tends to happen: the contradictions don’t seem so contradictory anymore. Each of these things is an arrow pointing at the Power from a particular perspective, and the more one plays with the symbols, the more understanding one can develop of where each of them is pointing. It is no longer “How can this god be both east and west?” but rather “Oh, if you stand on the western mountains, the valley is east, and if you stand on the eastern mountains, the valley is west. I’m looking for the valley.”

Sometimes, when I’ve gotten to this point, I try to come up with a short phrase – a new epithet, as it were – to express the understanding I come to. Sometimes these are intentionally funny (“unified field theory”), other times they are poetic (“bright fire on water”), other times they are practical (“knotwork: binding and unbinding”). Each of these is a little expression of my understanding of the essence of the Power I’m observing; they’re personal.

Every so often, of course, I come across something that should go in the pile, something I haven’t seen before. It’s good to roll around in the pile of symbols again every so often; I’ve found as my knowledge-base grows and develops, I get even more and even deeper understandings every time I do. Also, it’s fun to take a bit and just wallow in art.

This post was originally published on the Suns blog as My Cup of Tea: Learning Ways to the Gods and can be commented upon there.