In defence of imagining the gods

I own the Celtic Wisdom Tarot. All the writing in the accompanying book is rubbish. The triple mother goddess of the Celts is often mentioned. And Brigantia en Brigid are declared to be really the same, even if they are portrayed on two different cards (which makes one wonder). The brief and shallow descriptions do no justice to the wealth of myth depicted and I so I ignore them. But the art … the art is wonderful and rich. The art – by Olivia Rayner, who is not even mentioned on the cover – stirs the imagination. And it is of imagination that I wish to speak.

Manannan mac Lir – The Imaginer, by Oliva Rayner

Manannán – a god at play

This card depicts Manannán mac Lir and takes the place of the common moon card within tarot. The moon is still there, big and luminous. The willow leaves do not make much sense, as it would not grow this near to the sea, but who cares. The world depicted here is not sensible.  There is a boat that may lead us to the god’s blessed islands in the west. But who wants to go there? It seems as if the god is present here, riding the waves. Is this a dream, a vision? The moon warns us that the rules are different here, and maybe even dangerous, but we are invited to come and play anyway.

Was Olivia Wilde inspired by the gods or was she imagining them?

Do I, through her art, connect with the playful side of Manannán or am I imagining a pleasant picture of what I would like him to be?

On discernment

Dver from A Forest Door, who I respect a great deal, has written frequently about the need for discernment when dealing with the gods. The quotes below form an attempt to summarize the point she is making, but I invite you to read the entire article and more.

It is important to discern between what a god might like, or do, or say, and what They actually do like, are doing, are saying. (…)

The gods are not just people who happen to be invisible and inaudible to most (despite our tendency toward anthropomorphism), and They are not limited to our ideas about Them.

I agree with almost everything she writes here. The gods are not limited to my ideas of them and there is a difference between practising visualization techniques and meeting the gods while in deep trance. Yet, I do struggle somewhat with how this realization applies to me and my understanding of the gods. Dver is a adapt spirit worker and most of her writing here is directed to those who aspire to be spirit workers themselves. I, on the other hand, am a self-professed layman with no knowledge of trance-work. Yet, on a certain level all pagans desire to experience the gods, so do I.

I am not pleading for equating myth with individual works of fan-fiction. I do hold high standards for self-professed spirit workers and others who wish to fulfil a priestly function. As a layman, I want to be able to turn to them, trust them en their abilities. I accept that I hear the gods less clearly at least partly because I haven’t put that effort. I accept it all. And furthermore, I agree that it often it is good to be silent, to try to listen to the gods without filling up the silence too quickly, and too easily. As I have stated before, I am not at all certain of the objective existence of the gods as Dver professes herself to be. Yet, I believe in them anyway. Somehow, in my reality at least, they are real. But even if they are part of my (sub)conscience, I believe there is a difference between my own worded thoughts, and the whispers of the gods. But if they do not speak to me (which has happened maybe two times), I imagine them.

I have stood on the Quirang on the Isle of Skye when the mists parted and then came rolling in again. I took in a last view and let the mist washed over me, cool and damp. The mists were real, I did not have to imagine them. And than I imagined Manannán playing hide and seek with me.

At the time I had not yet read the tale called Manannán at play. I imagined his playfulness without any great knowledge or experience of this god. I do not say this, because I want to show that lore proved my imaginings to be right. I do not use lore as evidence of the rightness of my views. But maybe, it is just hard for the imagination to run wild. They want to run to the gods. Or maybe the gods count on us to let our imagination run wild, so that we may find them.

Don’t just make stuff up, I am not pleading for controlled petty wish-full thinking. I invite all pagan laymen to imagine wildly, to imagine everything, to let the imagination run free. For we may just stumble upon the gods, and I believe Manannán likes it that way.

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