It probably seems pretty contradictory for a polytheist to be talking about having a polytheistic practice without any main deities in it, but it’s not as confusing as it first seems. Just because our religious practices have a tenet that states that multiple deities exist in some capacity or another doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to be the focal point of your practice.
And just because you don’t have a patron deity doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have a viable polytheistic/pagan practice that functions well.
For this post, I’d like to discuss having a deity-free practice and what that might look like.
Why write about this?
The blog-o-sphere is filled to the gills with posts about talking with gods and working with gods and patron this and main squeeze deity that. I think that many people who don’t have focal deities are sometimes at a loss as to how they can even approach their practices without gods in place. This is my attempt to give people some ideas about how to practice their religion without gods being at the forefront. This is not me saying that you can’t have deities in your practice, or that you shouldn’t have deities in your practice. This is me giving people ideas on how they can make their practice work when they don’t have gods for whatever reason (whether that be that you haven’t found a main deity yet, or you don’t have a working god phone, or you don’t have a patron, etc).
What is the foundation of a deity-less practice?
The foundation of your religious or spiritual practice is going to vary. While there tends to be some unifying factors amongst people (such as the concept of ma’at for Kemetics), how these concepts play a role in your practice and how you perceive them is going to be different from how someone else does. For Kemetics, the foundation of the religion is ma’at- order, truth, balance. For a Shintoist, the foundation is kannagara which is to work together with Kami or with Great Nature. Additionally, Shinto has a large emphasis on gratitude and purification. None of these concepts- ma’at, kannagara, gratitude, purification- require deities to be enacted. They are orthopraxic in nature, which means its about what you do and less about what you believe, or who you believe in.
Before I became a Kemetic and started to work with deities heavily, my foundation was centered around elemental work and learning about myself. I placed a heavy emphasis on staying grounded and stable while I plowed through my college finals and looked for a job. For that time in my life, I needed to take the center stage, and so it became the foundation of everything I did in my practice. When I performed rituals, I called upon local spirits or elementals instead of gods. Or I just fueled my rites with my own energies instead of relying on the juju of others (my practice was heavily influenced by Wicca at the time).
In all of these situations, the way of living takes the center stage of the religion or the spiritual practice. Deities may or may not play a role in this- it’s really up to you. Don’t let the lack of deities scare you away from figuring out what you need out of your religious practice and how it will effect how you live.
What about rites or holidays? Don’t you need gods for those?
My answer would be- not necessarily. Most Kemetic holidays are about the seasons, ancestors or mythological events that are occurring. In truth, I don’t celebrate many Kemetic holidays because they aren’t tied to the gods I work with. So you don’t have to worship the deity in order to celebrate the holiday. For Shinto, most of the holidays are about purification and cleansing everything around you- no kami are required to make that happen.
So depending on what the focus of your religion is- you may not need to worry about gods in order to have a good time. Celebrate the seasons and the changing of the weather and world around you. Mark important times in your life with a holiday. Celebrate yourself or the universe as a holiday. Any day can become an important event if you deem it so. Get creative in deciding what works best for your religious calendar- if you even need a religious calendar at all.
Rituals can be more tricky, and will depend heavily upon what types of rites you perform. As I mentioned above, many Kemetic rituals and holidays call upon specific deities. However, you don’t have to worship these deities to call upon them in a ritual format (many Kemetic rites have specific deities you call upon- regardless of your relationship with them). And in some rituals, you can swap out deities for other entities, or a ritual can be formatted to omit the necessity of a deity all together. Remember that a religious practice needn’t be set in stone. You can work with things, try things and experiment to see what gives you the best results.
And when in doubt, I always turn to local spirits for ritual work. I figure if I help the local land spirits then they might be more willing to help me. They show up and help me in a ritual, so I leave them a pile of goodies afterwards- so that they are more willing to help me the next time that I ask for help. It’s all reciprocal.
Shrines, Altars and Places to Worship
This can always be a little bit more difficult to address. A lot of stuff that discusses building shrines and altars usually does so with the notion of gods in mind. However, a shrine can be whatever you want it to be, and you don’t necessarily have to have a shrine in order to be a “legit” Pagan/polytheist. If you’re wanting to create a shrine space, I’d ask you to consider why it is that you’re wanting to create this space for yourself. Is it because you want to honor someone? Is it because you want a place to reflect? Or are you doing it because its what all of the books and websites say to do?
Once you’ve ascertained your reasoning, it becomes much easier to figure out what you need to do. When I first started, I had an altar space- I needed a location where I could work on magix and other projects and I wasn’t interested in venerating anyone, so I created a small corner shelf where I could have space to work as well as having lit candles and incense out and wouldn’t have to worry about them getting knocked over. My initial altar spaces had a lot of candles and rocks on them. That is what I connected with most at the time, and so that it what I went with. However, keep in mind your own needs when creating your own special spot.
If you’re aiming to venerate someone or something- try to put things that remind you of that someone or something in that space. For example, a Kemetic could create a generalized Kemetic shrine and include things like libations of water, candles, ankhs, an eye of Horus, the symbol for NTRW or something similar. You don’t necessarily need a deity icon in order to create a space that works well for you. For someone who is into Shinto and wants to create a space sans a specific Kami, I’d recommend an area that is clean and simple. Possibly include omamori or ema boards for the space. Or maybe something from your location- such as rocks, branches or flowers that help to bring the outside in.
Like always, get creative. Don’t be afraid to experiment (see my post on shrines for more ideas).
Sometimes we like to create a space that is for worship or self-reflection. In these situations, I recommend filling the space with things that remind you of your path and put your mind at ease. For myself, this always involves big fluffy pillows, nice scents, and calming music. You can also rely on imagery that helps remind you of your path or goals, or possibly items and books of people and practices you wish to emulate.
Basically, it comes down to figuring out what you need from your practice, and what your religion places an emphasis on, and making a space that enables you to live and walk with those tenets in mind.
So I’ve got some of the basics of my practice working. What do I do from here? How do I find my place in the community if I don’t have a deity to write about?
I think that this is probably the biggest problem that most people have. So many people are busy writing about their experiences with the gods, that a lot of folks aren’t sure what to write about or discuss in regards to their deity-less practice. I discussed some ideas in my post here, but let’s go over a few more possibilities for people to utilize in the community.
- Talk about your shadow work or personal growth.
- Talk about how your practice has helped you grow and improve, or how your methods could help someone else improve.
- Write about the community at large.
- Talk about that ritual you did last night.
- Take awesome pictures of your shrine space, or that cloud that reminded you of some religious thing, or maybe that piece of jewlery you found in a second-hand shop that was just what you were looking for.
- Write about your day to day life, and how your practice influences that- or doesn’t influence that.
- Talk about how you get through the day, through your life, without gods.
- Discuss historical aspects of your religious practice (if applicable).
- Talk about various moral structures or ethical structures that exist in your religious practice
- Talk about concepts that exist within your religious practice and how they do or don’t apply to your religion today.
- Talk about the mundane moments in your life that made you think of your spirituality/religion
- Talk about some awesome magix you are working on.
- Or how your fandom influenced your religion.
- Or maybe how that fanfic influenced your religion
- Or maybe write a
fanficmodern myth in regards to your religion.
- Or anything- I mean, really, anything is game.
- Answer questions about other people who are lost on their path. Even if you don’t have an answer, sometimes its good for people to realize that they aren’t alone in their situation. Sometimes a “I feel ya” is more than enough.
- Or you could collect resources, and help other people by directing them to those resources.
There are lots of options and ways to be active within the community and your religion without relying upon gods. It is my sincere hope that people will begin to write more about their “mundane” religious experiences. I would love to hear more about what other people do in their religious practices and love to see more day to day stuff discussed. Because even those of us with “woo” and gods do have our days when the phone is silent and our times when the practice is in a fallow season. The more we can discuss and the more we can learn from one another- the more we can begin to bridge that gap.
How would you practice your religion without gods? Did you see any areas that I missed? If you see any parts of this guide that need expanding, or if you’d like to discuss more ideas, hit me up in the comments section below!