“There is an approach that sees the God or Goddess as “out there”; present in nature and manifest, for example, as a horned entity, or as a woman clothed in stars. There is another approach that sees the God or Goddess as wholly within nature and within ourselves. A third approach perceives the Deity as representational, as symbolic. For most witches, it is possible to believe in all three at once.”Ann-Marie Gallagher, “The Wicca Bible”
If you ask three Wiccans what their views are on who the Goddess and the God are, you will probably get six answers, as the quote above illustrates. This article will discuss Wiccan views on who precisely the Goddess and the God are.
This article has gone a complete and total re-write, as I researched the topic and evaluated my own beliefs on the issue. Mostly, however, based on my research. I still do not claim that this article is unbiased nor that it is a complete expression of Wiccan thought, but I believe it is much closer than what I had posted before. Still, this is an important topic to discuss, especially when discussing our spirituality with those from Western spiritual traditions. Many do not believe that you can have a belief in or a relationship with the Divine outside of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions.
The three major Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) emphasize God’s transcendence. There are several definitions of transcendence, but I think the easiest one to understand is this one:
Transcendence: “Being above and independent of the material universe. Used of the Deity.” (Dictionary.com)
Most definitions then send you to immanence, which is: “Existing or remaining within; inherent.” (Dictionary.com)
However, despite the criticism of many Wiccans, the truth is that the major Western religions do have immanence as part of their spirituality. I am not going to speak to Judaism and Islam, being much less familiar with them, but in Christianity, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. You invite Jesus into your heart. God is everywhere. It is true he is separate from his natural creation, but he also cares for it- he says not a sparrow falls to the ground that he is not aware of it. The indwelling of the Holy Trinity is the basis of much of Christian mysticism. While transcendence may be the stronger bent of the religion, it is inaccurate to say that Christianity believes in a God that is solely “out there”; that he has made the world and then left it.
Why am I bringing this up? Because transcendence and immanence are often placed in complete opposition to each other, with the idea that Western religions only believe in transcendence but Wicca, along with some other religions, believes in immanence only, and that immanence is “better”. Whether one or the other is better is a matter of personal opinion- there are some benefits to having a deity that is transcendent that you do not have when a deity is solely immanent, and vice versa. I hope to address below why I don’t believe we have to make this choice, and that in Wicca we can experience both immanence and transcendence in our experience with the Divine.
“So are the gods real, sentient, independent entities? Are they masks that humans put on the deity to understand it better, as Joseph Campbell suggests? Are they archetypes- symbols for universal themes that tend to pop up in the same way across cultures? Are they thoughtforms that have taken on energy as people have revered them over the years? Are they simply facets of our own psyches? Many Wiccans would tell you that the gods are all of these things- which are by no means mutually exclusive- and more.”Thea Sabin, “Wicca for Beginners”
“There are Wiccans for whom deities are entities with a literal existence and other Wiccans who view deities as Jungian archetypes or as symbols of the underlying forces of Creation. And many Wiccans share a pantheistic perspective, viewing Goddesses and Gods as personifications of the life force manifested in creation, as embodiments of the forces of Nature and anthropomorphic manifestations of a particular type of energy and power…When I’m asked which view I take, my answer is always ‘Yes’.”Phyllis Curott, “Wicca Made Easy”
So we have this idea of an Ultimate Deity, an incomprehensible power, and in trying to relate to it we have split it into two main entities, a male and a female. To these aspects we have given names. It would seem that by so doing we are limiting what is, by definition, limitless. But so long as you know, and keep always in the back of your mind, that “It” is limitless, you will find that this is the easiest path to follow. After all, it is pretty difficult to pray to a “Thing,” a Supreme Power, without being able to picture someone in your mind.Raymond Buckland, “Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft”
Obviously, the Goddess and God are present in nature. That is a given for Wiccans. But Wiccans also don’t worship animals (despite what my cat believes!), trees, and rocks. So what do we mean when we say that the God and the Goddess are present in nature? Many Wiccans embrace some form or another of animism, which believes that “objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence (Wikipedia).” This essence comes from the Divine and is part of it. This does not equal identity, but a similarity of the source. This belief is often very misunderstood by people from monotheistic religions who believe that spiritual essence only resides in humans.
There are also true polytheists, who believe that the different gods and goddesses are real, sentient, independent beings instead of manifestations of a whole. Devotional polytheist John Beckett describes his experience on his blog Under the Ancient Oaks.
I study the history of my Gods and how They were worshipped by our ancestors. I tell Their stories and lead rituals in Their honor. I listen for Their wisdom and Their instructions, and I do my best to act accordingly. And I see Them as real, distinct, individual beings with Their own areas of interest and responsibility, Their own hopes and dreams and goals, and Their own sovereignty and agency. I am a devotional polytheist because I have experienced Gods who are real, distinct, and individual.”John Beckett, “Why I am a Devotional Polytheist“
“The Goddess is not separate from the world – She IS the world, and all things in it: moon, sun, earth, star, stone, seed, flowing river, wind, wave, leaf and branch, bud and blossom, fang and claw, woman and man.”Starhawk, “The Spiral Dance”
Wiccans believe in true free will. We don’t go around saying “The Goddess loves you and has a plan for your life.” We do not believe in pre-destiny- your destiny is being created now, moment by moment, by your own thoughts, actions, and words. However, to choose not to use power is not to deny its existence. Indeed, omnipresence is supposedly one of the benefits of a pantheistic or panentheistic view of deity. If the Goddess and God do not use their power to pre-mold the world, that doesn’t mean that They couldn’t. And it doesn’t mean that They never do. We practice divination, there are Gods and Goddesses of prophecy and fate- the Goddess Theia being just one example, along with Phoebe, Fauna, Dalia, and others. The future may not be pre-destined but it isn’t totally up in the air either.
But the above quote is a perfect example of the view of pantheism. Let us take a look at pantheism:
- the doctrine that God is the transcendent reality of which the material universe and human beings are only manifestations: it involves a denial of God’s personality and expresses a tendency to identify God and nature.
- any religious belief or philosophical doctrine that identifies God with the universe. (Dictionary.com, bolded part mine)
I find it interesting that even pantheism discusses the reality of the Divine’s transcendence. There is a theme here- real entities as well as archetypes; sentient deities, and also personifications of the life force. Transcendence and immanence. The doctrine of pantheism is that the God/s and Goddess/s are the transcendent reality and this universe, including human beings, are the manifestations of it. But what if They were both the transcendent reality and the immanent manifestations in the humans and the world that They manifested? If They “dwelt within” instead of having compete identity. Indeed, if you do believe in immanent divinity, that seems to make the most sense.
In her book “Philosophy of Wicca, Amber Laine Fisher expounds on this.
Although the Divine is immanent in nature via the manifestation of the Goddess, there is another vision of Deity that Wicca has long neglected, but one that nevertheless contains an invaluable truth. It is the notion that Divinity is not only immanent but transcendent as well. The idea of a transcendent Deity will likely make many pagans cringe. It brings to mind images of the patriarachal gods from the Abrahamic traditions, with which many pagans want nothing to do. And yet to understand the true nature of our Divine, we must look not only at nature, but beyond nature.Amber Laine Fisher, “Philosophy of Wicca”
Another movement beyond the strict definition of pantheism is described in Dianne Sylvan’s book “The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition”.
In the usual Wiccan world view, Deity exists in everything, around everything, and as everything. Nothing is outside of or away from the Divine; everything is sacred. Deity can’t be pigeonholed into inside or outside the universe, Deity is the universe. As such, Deity is both inside and outside, not wholly immanent, not wholly transcendent, yet more then both- manifest….Deity is all things, all places, and all times…Therefore, we create images for our gods to inhabit, and faces and names and natures that we can grasp. The Divine force that permeates the universe can then enter into those symbols and for us, they become real.Dianne Sylvan, “The Circle Within”
This is very similar to how Phyllis Currot describes the Goddess in her book “Witch Crafting.”
Every woman you meet is the Goddess…She is the infinite potential from which all existence emerges. She is the life force that gave birth to the galaxies, the stars, and we humans who are made from the stuff of the stars. She is the ground of all being, the “quantum energy field” and everything within it…the Goddess resides in the world. She IS the world, in all its myriad forms and expressions. You don’t “believe” in the Goddess, you experience Her.Phyllis Curott, “Witch Crafting”
Scott Cunningham talks about this too, when he says,
In Wiccan thought, the deities didn’t exist before our spiritual ancestors’ acknowledgment of them. However, the energies behind them did- they created us. Early worshippers recognized these forces as the Goddess and God, personifying them as an attempt to understand them.Scott Cunningham, “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner”
Raven Grimassi shares this view as well.
Many modern Witches believe that the Divine Source is comprised of masculine and feminine aspects or polarities. In an attempt to better understand the Divine Source. In an attempt to better understand the Divine Source, the polarities are labeled “Goddess” and “God” and each one is further divided into the various aspects and natures attriuted to a variety of gods and goddesses. This is designed to reveal a better understanding of the whole by examining the parts.Raven Grimassi, “Spirit of the Witch”
Arin Murphy-Hiscock discusses this belief in her book.
This belief is commonly stated as a belief in God and Goddess. Sometimes this tenet is explained as the Divine being a spiritual force composed of both masculine and feminine energy, which in turn manifests in cultural perceptions as various gods and goddesses…Perhaps it is most accurate to say that humanity creates the gods out of the raw stuff of the Divine.”Arin Murphy-Hiscock, “Solitary Wicca for Life”
In a later chapter, she states something that is very important to differentiate in this discussion. “We are of the gods, but we are not the gods. We reflect the Divine, but we are not Divinity itself.” She then goes on to quote Dilys Dana Pierson who says,
I am frustrated, and yes, sometimes angry. Popular authors tell me that ‘I am the Goddess’. No, I am not. She is immortal, She is everlasting, She is the source from whom I seek solace and inspiration and guidance. All too familiar with my faults and weaknesses, I am aware that I, unlike the Goddess, am mortal. I seek the Divine, I pray to the Divine, I aspire to the Divine, and while […] I recognize that of the Divine in every being, I am not the Divine. I am of Her, but I am not Her.Dilys Dana Pierson, “Forsaking Wicca?”, SageWoman magazine, issue #48
Believing that God interpenetrates every part of nature but is not one with nature is called panentheism. Another definition of it is “the doctrine that God includes the world as a part though not the whole of his being” (Merrian-Webster dictionary). To do justice to it is beyond the scope of this article, so I urge you to read here for a good beginner’s explanation. Panentheism is not as well known as pantheism, but unlike pantheism, panentheism neither denies the personality of the Divine nor limits the Divine to this world, this Universe. Panentheism is not incompatible with believing that Wiccans work with deities. There is no contradiction between believing the Divine manifests in nature and also manifests outside of nature. Indeed, if we believe Goddess and God created the Universe, it is necessary that they manifest outside of us, outside of just this one planet. The Goddess is Gaia, yes, but she is also Shakti and Tara and Asteria; goddesses of the stars and the primal energy that creates the universe. In one sense, this is nature as well. On the other hand, it extends beyond our world and into the Infinite. Aeternitas, Devi, and Hauhet are just a few of the goddesses that specifically are manifestations of the Infinite, of all creation, not just our earth or even our universe. The Goddess and the God are manifestations of the Divine, and yet on the other hand they are eternal. Again, this is a mystery that you could meditate on your whole life and yet nowhere near explore it.
An imperfect analogy might help make this clearer. I have a lantern that has six sides. If you have light in the center, it shines out equally out of all the panes. The same amount of light goes through each pane. And each pane is both fully the lantern light and yet is part of a greater whole.
Picture the Goddess as the lantern. The Divine Light, the Source, is the light in the middle. The various panes of the lantern are the various goddesses and yet they are both individual and identical as part of a larger whole. Or, rather, picture a lantern that is circular, with two halves, the God and the Goddess. The same would be true- each is a full expression of the light, and yet they are part of a larger whole.
Here is one attempt to express what I have certainly failed to express in this article. The reason I have so many quotes is to try to give different explanations so that if one fails, another one might help. Also, I am trying to show the near-universal view of these views (as much as anything in Wicca can be said to be so). What is below is not an expression of dogma or any more than a weak attempt to put this in an understandable format.
In the beginning, there was the Divine. It was there before time was and will remain when time is no more. The Divine Source is all-powerful, omnipresent, all-knowing, genderless, changeless, and eternal.
This Divine Source desired to love as it IS love, and so it manifested itself as the God and the Goddess- begotten by the Source and not created from it. The God and the Goddess loved, and were united, and out of that union came creation. They formed the universe and the planets and the sky and the earth itself. They instigated the process of evolution. And so the human race began. All of creation has the Divine Source, its creator, within ourselves. It is entwined in our DNA. It interpermeates all of nature. We are not the Source, but we are of the Source, as is all.
As soon as we were developed enough to have abstract consciousness, we searched for the God and the Goddess in the mysteries of creation and humanity, and they were found. They were given shape and name. The God and the Goddess have infinite facets, which were named as individual entities and worshipped. They willingly poured themselves into those thought forms as well, and they became real.
So those who say that Divinity is the great Source are correct. Those who say the Divine is the God and the Goddess are also correct. And those who say that the individual Gods and Goddesses are real entities are also correct. For all comes from the Source, and all shall be forever.
Then there is the issue of how Wiccans see the interaction between themselves and their deities. I’m sure many of you have seen this meme:
Many Wiccans see Western religious worship as unnecessarily subordinate on the part of the worshipper, that the gods neither need nor want us to beat our breasts and confess our sins and tell them how we are unworthy without them. It is true that without the doctrine of original sin, we are not seen as inherently corrupted in God’s sight, and our gods are not jealous gods. There is no need to beat our breasts and beg for mercy. Nor are we useless slaves or even unworthy children, but we are co-workers, albeit in a somewhat lopsided arrangement (if I’m moving furniture with a bodybuilder, chances are the amount of weight they carry versus what I carry will be a little different. Same kind of thing with the gods).
However, this knowledge can be carried too far into an unwillingness to pray and a lack of humility towards the God and the Goddess, whichever belief we take towards who they are. Indeed, I’ve heard and read some almost mocking towards those who pray, as if it’s an act of weakness. Spells have many elements of prayer, as many Wiccans will point out. A ritual is a form of prayer. Participatory prayer. When I perform a spell and I invoke the God and the Goddess, and I raise and direct energy towards my goal, I am partnering with them in the co-creation of reality. But that doesn’t mean that prayer isn’t a vital part of our spiritual life at other times.
Prayer doesn’t have to be groveling or overly formal. But just talking to the God and the Goddess outside of ritual can only improve your relationship with them, which will, in turn, have the side effect of improving your rituals and spells. And it’s not wrong to ask them to help you with your needs and wants, especially ones that are either too minor to cast a spell for, too major to do anything about personally, or when you don’t know if you should be working magick at all in that situation. If you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery, sending up a prayer to the Goddess is not only appropriate, it’s a sign of a healthy relationship with the Divine. “The Circle Within” by Dianne Sylvan is an excellent book for developing a devotional life within Wicca. The book “Living Wicca” by Scott Cunningham has some good prayers if you are looking to dip your toes into praying but don’t know where to start. There are also books on formalized prayer, like for former Catholics who might miss praying the Divine Office or the Rosary, or for Anglicans and Lutherans who miss the readings and such of a liturgical-based service.
Then there is the issue of a lack of humility. Again, not humility in the “I’m really nothing” way, but humility in a recognization of who you are and what your strengths and limits are. Humility is simply recognizing truth, no matter if it means you were right, wrong, or somewhere in between. And this is why humility comes into play in this discussion. Even for those Wiccans who don’t believe our gods have any of the “omni” traits, they are still gods. They are immortal. They have experience, beauty, power…all sorts of traits to a degree that we can’t picture. They are the force behind the creation of the Universe. Everyone likes being praised. Why wouldn’t gods and goddesses like it? And praising the gods is good for our humility- it keeps us grounded. We acknowledge this in our invocations of the God and the Goddess; we’re just simply taking it outside of a purely ritual setting and engaging in it occasionally at other times. There are lots of ways you can do it; maybe you have a morning prayer dedicated to God and the Goddess. Perhaps once a month you do a ritual just for them. Maybe you read or write out an invocation to them. Maybe you paint their picture with an intention of praise. Praise can take many forms, what is important is that we do it, preferably on a consistent basis. Better a small daily practice than an infrequent huge one.
I’m sure for some of you, reading about the differing views that Wiccans have, the question has come to mind, “Is any of this real? However I see the Goddess and the God, how do I know They’re real?” You don’t believe in the sun. You feel it on your face, you see it in the sky. Belief is reserved for things you cannot experience. Knowledge, on the other hand, is what we gain through experience and information. Knowledge involves a collection of data and arises out of self-experience. Belief, on the other hand, is a firmly held conviction based on the opinion of an individual. It can be based on information but it doesn’t have to be. Wicca does not encourage blind belief- instead, you are encouraged to have your own experiences, to meet the Goddess and God for yourself, and decide which of these categories of belief you fall into. This is one of the reasons Wicca is a practice-based religion. We don’t believe in belief; we believe in experience.