Deity Concepts - Your Own Tradition

Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Scott Cunningham 1993

Deity Concepts
Your Own Tradition

WITHOUT DEITIES, THERE would be no religions of any kind. How do you, personally, define the deity concepts of your tradition? Every Wiccan possesses her or his own conceptions of the Goddess and God. We built these up through personal experience and interactions with them as well as through research. Such images will, naturally, form the basis of your new tradition’s deity concepts. Research will also provide assistance. (See suggested reading at the end of this chapter.) The nature of your tradition’s deities is of great importance, as we’ll see.

The Goddess and the God

Worship is at the heart of any religion, and it’s important to form your conceptions of the Goddess and God. If, up to this point, they’ve been like astral grandparents, or powerful but misty beings, it might be time to mentally bring them down to earth.

The following notes can be used in sharpening your conceptions of the Goddess and God. These, combined with the readings listed at the end of this chapter and your own spiritual experiences, should allow you to gain a greater understanding of the Goddess and God.1

The Goddess

The Goddess is, truly, all things. She’s all power, all wisdom, all love, all fertility, all creativity; the nurturing as well as destructive force who created our universe and who shapes our lives.

This may be your concept of the Goddess: She who is all. Even so, you’ll probably need to determine her symbols and some of her specific manifestations to adequately connect with her. In other words, you’ll have to discover her private telephone number; her personal portrait of power which, through ritual, will facilitate communication.

The list below is merely a short catalog of a few of the Goddess’s attributes. Please understand that these are aspects of the same being, the Goddess, and this is far from a complete listing. Here are some clues to determining her nature:

• Goddess of outer space.

Goddess of the stars.

Goddess of galaxies.

Goddess of the universe.

• Goddess of the moon.

Goddess of the waxing moon.

Goddess of the full moon.

Goddess of the waning moon.

• Goddess of the earth.

Goddess of earth fertility and of plants.

Goddess of the animals.

Goddess of storms, earthquakes, and volcanic activity.

Goddess of gentle rain, wells, rivers, lakes, sea, and oceans.

• Goddess of freshness, renewal, beginnings, promise, and potential.

• Goddess of childbirth, mothers, and mothering.

• Goddess of love, beauty, and compassion.

• Goddess of healing.

• Goddess of prophecy.

• Goddess of magic.

• Goddess of wisdom.

• Goddess of power.

• Goddess of destruction, retribution, and war.2

Indeed, most Wiccan conceptions of the Goddess are built upon the many combinations possible between these aspects. This signifies a Goddess related to everything, whose closest symbols are the moon and the earth beneath our feet. Everything on the earth and of the earth is under her domain. Most Wiccans also acknowledge the Goddess’s role in childbirth, healing, love; as the provider of wisdom and the sender of magical energy in times of need.

One conception of the Goddess has become quite popular. As the triple Goddess (related to the phases of the moon), she’s most closely linked with the new moon and with freshness (in her maiden aspect); the full moon, mothers, and childbirth (as the mother); and the waning moon with wisdom, prophecy, magic, destruction, and retribution (the Crone; source of all wisdom). What I might be forgiven for terming the “Goddess of the three aspects” is directly linked with women’s lives and cycles and, thus, has become enormously popular both within and without Wicca proper. (See suggested reading.) Some Wiccans seem to believe that this is the only conception of the Goddess that has ever existed. It certainly isn’t, but is currently a quite popular Wiccan model.

Most Wiccans acknowledge that the Goddess possesses a dark side. This is evident from nature itself: storms and earthquakes immediately come to mind. However, we’ve chosen not to focus on these aspects, and never invoke her for such purposes. Let’s face it: the last thing we need is to bring more destruction and violence into the world. If she sees fit to do so, fine; the same isn’t true for humans.

In Wiccan workings, we look to the more uplifting aspects of the Goddess. To do otherwise would lead to misery and despair. If our religion is to provide us with spiritual refreshment, hope, and love, we should focus on the Goddess as a being of love, compassion, nurturing, and wonder. I’d rather worship her in this guise than as a warrior queen, for I’m not a warrior, we’ve had far too many wars, and I have no wish to indirectly encourage any others.3

One of the aspects missing from my list is the Goddess of fate. Wiccans rarely invoke her in this way, simply because we don’t believe in predestination. If we did, we wouldn’t practice magic to alter our lives, for it wouldn’t be effective. However, some Wiccans may argue that the Goddess does, indeed, have plans for us, and that she can set up situations that will gently or harshly remind us of our lessons, or that will sway us to make correct decisions in times of stress. In this way, perhaps, the Goddess can indeed be seen as a Goddess of fate, but not in the normally understood sense of the word. We don’t do the Goddess’s will; she always gives us options, and allows us to fall on our faces if or when we take the wrong course.

As the Goddess of healing, love, beauty, compassion, and prophecy, she’s worshipped by nearly all Wiccans. Some emphasize these attributes, at least when in need of them. However, she’s always a goddess of love and concern, and healing rituals directed to or through her will receive her blessing.

It’s time to discuss the many forms that the Goddess may assume. You may have already seen her in meditations, dreams, and during rituals. If so, think about how she appeared to you. She is the one with the thousand forms, and that which she revealed to you is a valuable tool in contacting her at later times.

If you haven’t physically seen the Goddess yet (and many Wiccans have never seen her), don’t despair. It may occur. While waiting, build up your own image of the Goddess, using your feelings, intuitions, and perceptions of her. (Remember that she may secretly assist in this process.) Some Wiccans see her in quite specific ways:

“I see the Goddess as a rounded, earthy goddess-woman with hair the color of wheat, eyes as blue as the ocean, skin as dark as the rich black soil; naked, holding flowers in her outstretched hands, standing beneath a tree and smiling.”

“I see the Goddess as a celestial, lunar being. Her skin is milky white (as it would appear by moonlight); she wears a white, diaphanous robe that doesn’t conceal her body, which changes its shape with the moon’s phase; a necklace of pearls and moonstones encircles her neck and an upturned crescent rests on her forehead. Her hair is white (or silver or blonde) and she tosses the glowing moon between her hands.”

“I see the Goddess as my late grandmother: dressed in old-fashioned clothes that she’s made with her hands, seated in a rocking chair by a fire of willow branches in a house without walls. She’s slowly stitching a design of the universe on a dark blue cloth and tells me all the secrets as I sit near her feet on a rag rug. She is the Crone.”

These are highly personal visions of the Goddess. None are incorrect; these and many others are accepted by Wiccans.

Some Wiccans’ conceptions may be closer to those formed in other cultures: “I see the Goddess as Athena, of the hunt.” “I see the Goddess as Spider Grandmother.” “As Diana.” “Isis.” “Hecate.” (Photos of statues and other images of the Goddess can be found in a number of books; see suggested reading at the end of this chapter.)

Again, it may be enough for you to feel her presence. If you’ve already formed an image of the Goddess (or, putting it another way, if she has already revealed her form to you), fine. If not, you may wish to discover her form through ritual work, prayer, and, perhaps, dreams.

One word of warning: if you’ve already developed a clear picture of the Goddess, and have already determined her aspects, don’t let the above information alter this. Hold fast to that which you discover; it’s of the highest rarity and value.

Divine symbolism is another aspect of your personal conception of the Goddess. These include both those used in her worship and those directly or indirectly related to her. This is in part determined by your understanding of the Goddess. If she’s primarily linked with the moon, symbols representing the earth wouldn’t speak of her. Here are some suggested symbols of the types of goddesses listed above, to be used in ritual design, poems, chants, and invocations:

• Goddess of outer space. (Darkness; black cloth; stars; the night; the void; cauldron; nocturnal flowers and owls.)

• Goddess of the moon. (Crescents; pearls; moonstones; mirror; silver; labrys.)

• Goddess of the earth. (Fruits; plants, especially grains; fertilizing nature; corn dollies; animals such as cats, dolphins, lions, horses, dogs, bees; pure water; a shell collected on a beach; cups, chalices, cauldrons; emeralds.)

• Goddess of freshness, renewal, beginnings, promise, and potential. (Unplowed fields; eggs; spring; new moon.)

• Goddess of childbirth, mothers, and mothering. (Full moon; holed stones; round or oval-shaped objects; a baby.)

• Goddess of love, beauty, and compassion. (Mirrors; hearts; flowers; honey.)

• Goddess of healing. (Purifying waters; power-streaming hands.)

• Goddess of prophecy. (Quartz crystal; psychic awareness; caves; nudity; pools of water.)

• Goddess of magic. (All magical tools; sword; athame; spindle; fire; cauldron.)

• Goddess of wisdom. (Fires; books; owls; waning moon.)

Keep in mind that such symbols may not be actually used in ritual, but can be utilized when writing ritual invocations. The mention of these tools immediately and directly connects your invocation with the Goddess. Many other symbols and tools are connected with the Goddess in general and in her particular aspects.

The God

The God shares an equal place in the hearts of most Wiccans, for without him, our world would be cold, desolate of fertility and all life. Though most Wiccans don’t experience as emotional a response to the God as they do to the Goddess, he’s certainly called upon in times of need (particularly for protection). Here are some attributes of the God in Wiccan thought:

• God of the sun.

• God of human fertility (and, thus, sex).

• God of the earth.

God of wild animals.

God of crops.

God of deserts, plains, valleys.

• God of summer.

• God of hunting.

• God of death and rebirth.

• God of retribution, war, and conflicts.

This list pretty well sums up the main aspects of the God in Wiccan thought. The God simply hasn’t accumulated as many Wiccan-acknowledged aspects as has the Goddess. There are certainly many other aspects of the God (for example, as the inventor of tools; overseer of competitions, and so on) that haven’t been adopted by Wiccans. This has resulted in a dearth of Wiccan mythic material involving the God.

Some authors (see suggested reading) have tried to fill this void with rituals and myths concerning the Oak King and the Ivy King. This concept is now quite common, at least at public rituals and among some solitary Wiccans. However, I know little of it, and direct the interested reader to the appropriate book by the Farrars (see suggested reading).

Let’s speak frankly here. The Goddess appears to be more loving, more understanding, and more caring than the God. The God, through no fault of his own, may appear to be unapproachable except in Wiccan ritual, and even then, formalized prayers are necessary. This is a natural human reaction, even among Wiccans, and easily explains the lack of material regarding him.

One of the underlying reasons for this problem isn’t difficult to discover. Many new Wiccans have difficulty in approaching the God. For their entire lives, they’ve been taught that there’s only one God. He’s jealous, angry, and promises we’ll all end up in a place of darkness and suffering after death. Vivid portraits of his wrath were firmly imprinted in many children’s minds at a quite impressionable age, and it can be difficult for some of these persons, now grown and entering Wicca, to remove such lingering conceptions of male deity.

Then again, some feminists wish to direct their worship solely to the Goddess. Many of them have, quite frankly, had enough of male spiritual conceptions and have no desire to attune with them in Wicca. For them, worship of the Goddess is completely fulfilling and, except when trying to adapt Goddess-God rituals to strictly Goddess rites, they find few challenges in solely honoring the Goddess in Wiccan rites.

The God has been given a bad name by two thousand years of patriarchal hyperbole that has strayed far off the path that Jesus allegedly once preached. Religious institutions have transformed the male conception of deity into a wrathful being whose followers have wiped out entire civilizations and destroyed hundreds of cultures; a god in whose name millions of persons have been killed in holy wars; a god whose representatives have repeatedly stated that deity is not female and that women cannot possibly achieve a rapport with the divine to the extent that they should be allowed to be priests; a male deity ruling over a male-oriented world in which men have long used religion as an excuse to dominate, subdue, and abuse women.

In this long, bitter, and inexcusably violent period of our species’ short history, the male deity has been given a negative, frightening image. We know him only as the God of vengeance and war. True, this God is nice to his worshippers, but any who don’t worship him, or who don’t limit their worship to him, are doomed to spend eternity in a pit of fire and torture, with no hope of another life or escape.

It isn’t surprising, then, that many new Wiccans don’t feel comfortable with the Wiccan concept of God, at least during their first ventures into Wicca. Women may have a particularly difficult time. While they may be surprised and delighted to have found a religion that embraces women, that acknowledges their inner power and spiritual strength, that allows them to participate as leaders in ritual and that—incredibly—actually worships a goddess, they may not quite be able to bring the God into their rites. It can be difficult to forget twenty, thirty, or forty years of negative God imagery.

Some Wiccans eventually adjust and have no difficulty in worshipping both the Goddess and the God in Wiccan ritual. Others decide to worship only the Goddess. (These are personal decisions but, once again, I’ll state the party line: Wicca consists of the worship of the Goddess and the God.)

I’ve found in my own experience that those who come to Wicca having never truly believed in or practiced any other religion have no problems including the God in their rites. Additionally, even many who did emerge from conventional religious backgrounds experience no difficulty with the concept of the God.

To be old-fashioned, traditional Wicca, your rites should honor both. This may necessitate rediscovering the God by expanding your awareness of his presence and of his attributes. Below are some ideas.

Do you see the God as woman-hating? See him instead as a being that the Goddess has brought into her arms. Remember that thousands of priestesses worship him every day. Invoke him to assist in the furtherance of women’s rights. Ask yourself how any true conception of deity can hate its children.

Do you see the God as bringer of death? Remember that death is necessary at some point, and that the Goddess brings us rebirth.

Do you see the God as the bringer of war? Recall that men have simply exploited his dark side for this purpose. Remember, however, that war is rarely religious in nature: its main motivations are politics and money. Religion is often simply an excuse.

Do you see the God as a judge, as the caster-down of human souls into hell? Wiccans don’t accept the existence of hell; no one casts us down anywhere, and the God unconditionally loves us.

Do you see the God as a frightening, unknowable spirit hovering around the earth? See him, instead, in faces of your male friends and in the eyes of young boys. See him in freshly baked bread; in bunches of grapes; in towering, snowcapped mountains; in the sun that warms the earth and provides us our food and all of our tools for living.

I hope that these ideas provide some assistance to those who find it difficult to contact the God. This is a major problem and is one of the reasons why Goddess spirituality is so prevalent today: over the centuries, men have changed a gentle fertility God into a bloodthirsty monster. Erase such images and concentrate on the God’s other aspects.

Again, you may have already seen the God in a vision, dream, or meditation. He may have appeared in the incense smoke during ritual. If not, he may well yet make himself visible to you. Here are some Wiccans’ visualizations of the God:

“He stands on a hill, naked, his skin reddish-brown from sunlight. His hair is long and black, and no razor has touched his chin or cheeks. He holds a shimmering, golden knife; below him are heaped piles of grain and vegetables.”

“He’s dressed in a brown, rustic tunic, holding a baby in one hand and the hand of an aged woman in the other. Dried flowers—symbolic of both fertility and its end—are entwined in his beard. He stands between light and darkness.”

“The God is dressed in furs, but is barefoot. As I see him among a forest of trees, he wears horns on his head and a stag follows nearby. A bow is slung over one shoulder; a spear is in his hand. The aggressive expression on his face is softened by his caring eyes.”

Again, some see the God in the terms of cultural concepts: “I see him as Pan.” “The God appears to me as Grandfather.” “As Belinus.” “Osiris.” “Apollo.”

There are symbols that Wiccans use to represent the God in creating ritual and poetry. As you might imagine, there are fewer of these symbols than for the Goddess.

• God of the sun. (Sun; gold; brass; bonfires; candles.)

• God of human fertility. (Acorns; pinecones; wands.)

• God of the earth. (Grain; stones; valleys; seeds; forests; bull, snake, fish, wolf, eagle, lizard.)

• God of summer. (Blazing fires; daylight; the south.)

• God of hunting. (Horns; spears; quiver; bow; arrows.)

• God of death and rebirth. (Sunset; winter; pomegranates; dried leaves; sickle; night; the west.)

• God of retribution, war, and conflicts. (Best not to invoke this attribute.)

Remember: the God is just as much a part of contemporary Paganism as is the Goddess. He isn’t fearsome unless you decide to focus on his fearsome attributes. (This is also true of the Goddess.) He can be the epitome of compassion, caring, nurturing maleness, but only you can discover this.


I’ve got this nagging thought that my references to seeing the Goddess and God may make some of you feel left out. Don’t worry about it. By the word “see,” I don’t mean that, while completely awake, we look up and notice that the Goddess is physically standing in the room before us. Visitations of that magnitude are so rare that we needn’t wait around for them.

We have better opportunities for seeing the Goddess and God during alternate states of consciousness. In the circle, when we’re in ritual consciousness, we’re far more likely to see them. We may also get glimpses, as I’ve already said, during dreams and meditations.

The first time I saw the Goddess was in a circle. I was seated before the altar and was meditating on her. It can happen, but don’t expect to use your eyes to see the forms of the Goddess and God. Realize, too, that the forms in which they come to you may be quite different from those that they present to others.

Suggested Reading

(For additional publication information regarding these books, see the bibliography.)

The Goddess

There are simply too many books to list, and more are being released every day. Many of the new Goddess books aren’t Wiccan in nature. I’ve largely tried to restrict myself here to Wiccan Goddess writings (or to those that have most profoundly affected Wiccan thought). For a wide variety of other titles, check the women’s studies sections of virtually any new bookstore.

Farrar and Farrar,The Witches’ Goddess.

Graves,The White Goddess. (Goddess speculations, poetry, and mythic information that has had a tremendous impact on contemporary Wicca.)

Neumann,The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. (A Jungian-based look at the Goddess. Zillions of photos of Goddess images.)

Walker,The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. (Many of her research sources are highly questionable, but this remains a good encyclopedic look at women and goddesses.)

The God

Farrar and Farrar,Eight Sabbats for Witches. (Information concerning the Oak King and the Holly King is scattered throughout this book.)

Farrar and Farrar,The Witches’ God. (Oak King and Holly King information can be found on pages 35—38.)

Starhawk,The Spiral Dance(Pages 93—107 offer a somewhat feminist view of the God.)

Cunningham,Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. (Pages 12—14.)

1. Until recently, Wicca possessed few teachings concerning the Goddess and God. We gleaned what we could from the few myths (sacred stories) that were taught to us; from verbal teachings, personal experience, and the hints provided by other Wiccans, but we had little upon which to base our conceptions save for personal experience. Today, however, renewed research and interest in goddess worship and in pre-Christian religions in general has offered us much information, some of which we can utilize and frame within a Wiccan context. See the bibliography.

2. I’m aware that there are many other types of goddesses. However, I’m limited here by those that have been either worshipped or acknowledged in contemporary Wicca. Pagan isn’t necessarily Wiccan.

3. Many of you will disagree with me, especially those of you who work outside strict Wiccan practice. I’ll admit that, yes, there may come a time when we must invoke the Lady of Justice, but such worship can become disheartening and even dangerous. Only she or he who is innocent of wrongdoing should dare to invoke this aspect of the Goddess, for she’ll probably bring justice to the wrongdoer, even if it’s her worshipper. Think carefully concerning this.