Choosing Metaphors: theistic language in non-theistic spiritual practice

looking over the bay

Metaphoric deities representing a faceless divine

In recent posts I have discussed my pantheism versus my atheism or non-theism. As I noted in a previous post, my practice does include divinity, but “my divine is not deity”. My divinity is Cosmos, is existence. It is not a deity in the sense of a conscious or separate entity.

However, I do naturally lean towards utilising anthropomorphism in my rituals and devotionals, and generally in my day-to-day spirituality. The central example of this is my connecting to the Cosmos as Gaia. I take this concept of Gaia and break it into concepts that I can meditate on, dedicate words to, light candles for. Some of these are metaphors of physical phenomenon or abstract concepts, but with the most central or overarching of them I have tended to utilise the language of deity.

I do feel comfortable with using theistic language. For me, it adds meaning to my rituals and my feeling of connectedness with what I consider to be the divine. The strange thing about a naturalistic or pantheistic practice is that the theism evoked can be quite fluid. Because I utilise specific deity-like figures in a metaphoric context, I am left free to pick and choose my wording as I please.

Virgin and crone as aspects of the mother

For the last nine months, I’ve been using a goddess metaphor largely based on that outlined by Glenys Livingstone’s Pagaian Cosmology. She utilises the archetype of the triple goddess within the context of Gaian naturalism. In this model, the three aspect are maintained in their original balance with each as important as the other.

But for me, the virgin and crone aspects of the triple goddess have come to represent a yin-yang metaphor of light and dark, manifest and unmanifest. It represents to me the great paradox of our individuality and uniqueness, contrasted with our ultimate connectedness and sameness. The mother aspect has become more overarching to me, and the virgin and crone aspects have come to be the two forces acting within this one force of the mother or changing creative force, Gaia.

The terms “virgin” and “crone” have never sat particularly well with me, however, as the concept of the triple goddess in its usual form has never been particularly meaningful to me. But I find it difficult to find any better way of defining those forces.

At the moment, I am moving away from personifying them. As interesting as I find personal deities within the context of the theory of archetypes, I do feel slightly uncomfortable or dissatisfied with equating these archetypes with aspects of the overarching tendency of the Cosmos. In some way, perhaps, the Cosmos is just too big for me to feel comfortable personifying it.

From metaphors to archetypes

Despite a naturalistic-pantheistic view of the divine, and my possible moving away from the anthropomorphic triple goddess, I am fascinated by anthropomorphic deity, and it will always be an aspect of my practice.

Deity as archetypes is something I’m becoming increasingly interested in, and my next chunk of reading on my list is a whole heap of Jung. Archetypes are very strong concepts to me – I believe they have a very real potential to represent or tap into some extremely basic instincts and aspects of humanity and our connection to the divine.

I’m interested in incorporating these into my practice in a different way to simply using them as metaphors for physical phenomenon – perhaps as a means of self-analysis and exploration. I definitely want to experiment more with my perception of archetypes and of deity, and maybe break out of the mould of metaphor I’ve been using so far.

I think the fluid nature of my perception of the divine is very freeing and potentially exciting. It leaves me open to trying out completely new ways of thinking about and practicing my spirituality.

14 thoughts on “Choosing Metaphors: theistic language in non-theistic spiritual practice

  1. Sounds like an interesting practice. I tend not to use deity-language much myself, but I am considering whether some anthropomorphism might be useful as a tool to relate to the wider cosmos. Something to think about!

  2. Another interesting read :) I too have been ambivilent about the maiden/mother/crone thing, for many reasons. I like your idea of the yin/yang, the unmanifest and manifest. The way I have been thinking of it, at least for now, is that the virgin for me represents the unknown, the untested, the potential of the unmanifested, and the optimism/enthusiasm of youth, the realization that there is a puzzle to be built, with all the pieces dumped out on the table. Oh, and there is no picture on the box top. The crone to me is not necessarily old age, but experience – what has been seen and done (manifest) is now reflected upon, evaluated, pieces of the puzzle being fit into place. For me there definitely is a middle though – not mother, really, but the “doing” – the being caught up in the action, the daily rythm, going with the gut and hoping its all working out – separating the edge pieces, making different piles of the sky, the forest, the grass, and the tiger. We bounce back and forth between evaluating and doing (oh look, what I thought was sky is really water). I never agreed with the age thing, because I know young people who can get to the reflective place quickly, and elder people who never do find their wisdom. Thank you for giving me a reason to try to put my thoughts to words!

    • So glad you enjoyed it! You have a very interesting and slightly different take on it than I do, which I love! I can see why your model has a middle – the action that causes the shift from virgin to crone. I guess my view is more focused on the macro rather than the micro – the shifting of the entire universe rather than within humans specifically.

      But yes, it’s a concept that is more interesting the more thought you put into it, I think – there are quite a lot of gender-based spiritual concepts in modern Paganism and/or Wicca that can be pulled apart and delved into in new ways, despite them seeming a bit problematically binary or gendered at first glance.

      • I gave some more thought to the concept of “middle,” because good conversation gets me to thinking :) I remembered back to my chemistry class days, of the “delta” symbol, for “change” – the breaking of bonds and the resulting new compound, with the release of heat/energy, nothing lost just different. So I feel, in a way, it does fit the macro as well as the micro – the universe is going through this change continually, the “shifting.” So of course then I start wondering if our “middle,” our “action” phase, our “finding ourselves,” is really more about our need to become a more stable element? LOL

        • Some great thoughts here, I like that a lot! I think for me that shifting “middle” is actually Gaia, as I call it. I see Gaia, or god, or the All, or whatever you want to call it, as being both the Cosmos and its shifting energy, its inherent changing. But within the triple goddess, yes it definitely makes sense in that way too. Sorry, I’m not very coherent today, but I wanted to reply to this anyway! :)

  3. I loved this post. Thank your for sharing it.

    I too am more comfortable with “divinity” than “deity”; but like you I am also drawn to a certain amount of personification. Like you, I feel that some theistic language adds a a new level of connection to by rituals.

    Your subtitle “From metaphors to archetypes” caught my attention. Many people don’t treat these as distinct, but I think they are (as I have written about many times on my blog and on HP about “re-godding the archetypes”: http://humanisticpaganism.com/2011/09/18/the-archetypes-are-gods-re-godding-the-archetypes-by-john-h-halstead/ ).

    I loved your re-characterization of the Triple Goddess motif. I agree that “there are quite a lot of gender-based spiritual concepts in modern Paganism and/or Wicca that can be pulled apart and delved into in new ways, despite them seeming a bit problematically binary or gendered at first glance.” It’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. The gender essentialism in a lot of Neo-Paganism, as well is Jungianism, is off-putting to many, but I tend to look at the gods less as role models or gender stereotypes as powerful forces at work in our unconscious. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this topic.

    • Yes, exactly – I feel that the gendering of the archetypes is inevitable, as gender is so basic to our interpretation of others and our understanding of ourselves. But yes, I think they are much more useful when viewed as unconscious forces. Gender may be inevitable in personification, but I don’t lay too much importance on that aspect of it.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, and it’s great to see people agreeing or at least understanding what I’m getting at! I’ve read that post of yours a few times and loved it – it was one of the things that got me thinking about the gods as archetypes in the first place. :)

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