In ADF we work with a three world cosmology. The underworld is often seen as the realm of the ancestors, the middle world (where we dwell) is the world of the nature spirits, and the upper world is the place of the Divinities. The image often employed for this structure is that of a huge tree. The roots being the underworld, the trunk the middle world, and the branches the upper world. The tree is seen as order surrounded by the ocean of chaos. The roots of the tree are watered from the chaos, the tree then takes in the chaos and turns it into structured order within itself. Each of the three realms support the other two and in turn create an ordered universe.
The roots of the cosmic tree are the place where the ancestors dwell. Just as the roots provide the base for the rest of the tree to sit atop, the ancestors provide our personal base for who we are in this world. They are also a base for our spiritual work. They continue a connection to us in our blood, DNA, and in habits passed down through generations which we conveniently call culture. As we work with our ancestors, we can develop a closer relationship to who we truly are. That discovery can help an individual to be more authentic in how they relate to the other two worlds. We can also help to act as memory keepers of the ways of old. The ancestors have a vested interest in their descendants. As we act to remember them, we feed them. We give them a connection to this middle world and just like the trunk of the tree, we give the ancestors a connection to the upper world as well. As the trunk of a tree dies without connection to the roots, we wither without a connection to those roots that produced who we are. So by honoring them we also feed ourselves, and we create a connection to the power of knowing.
My personal work with the ancestors of my line has proven rather interesting. I know very little about my ancestors. My current living family tends to be extremely disconnected and this has led to a disconnection from those who hold me up. I found that at the end of the day I needed a guide to help me find a connection with my line. I turned to a book called, “Weaving Memory: A Guide to Honoring the Ancestors,” by Laura Patsouris. The book provided a range of ways to connect to my people as well as ways to work with them to continue that connection. She suggests starting with an ancestor altar and then using it to elevate those souls that were rather nasty in the living world. Thankfully I do not have any “Restless or Angry Dead,” that I know of yet, but she also provides tips on how to deal with them, should they ever reveal themselves. I have used a great deal of what she has to say in the book to connect with my female line. In the process of reaching out to the women about whom history records very little, often relegating them to the shadows of the men in their lives in so many ways, I began to understand what had been missing from my life both spiritually as well as physically. I have not yet been brave enough to try connecting with the men of my line. My physical life has left some strange shaped scars from the men around me, so this has been a daunting part of the practice for me. As I have connected to the women, I am beginning to find the strength of will to start the work with the men folk.
The middle world is where we humans exist, but we are not alone. We share this space with the nature spirits. Many people I have known have viewed nature spirits as simply nothing more than dead pets, but I disagree with this being the case. In my experience, Nature Spirits are more like the ultimate idea of a species. Nature Spirits are the combination of all the dead of a single species into a singular spirit form, kind of like an over soul. The Native Kansa, here in Kansas, often prayed to Elk, Coyote, Rabbit, and others. These were the local nature spirits that the corresponding animals were in tune with, as well as a small part of, just as I am part of the human spirit, even though I am not the total, but instead a small part of that whole. Nature spirits seem to be not just of the animal variety. They can also be the spirits of rocks, mountains, boulders, trees, grasses, and any form of creation that might be met with here in the middle world. This would also include weather such as thunder, clouds, and winds.
My experience of starting to create a connection with the spirits who share this space with me has been profound and so beneficial to my well being that I am surprised how I got along without it for so long. I have started my day by lighting a wick on my three wick candle for the spirits for almost two years now, and when that is done I go outside. I recently bought chickens as a push, a reason to go out into the yard once a day. After feeding them I take a moment to just stand and send my mind down into the land. I say a short prayer to the spirits of the land, thanking them for sharing the space with me. In the process of doing this daily I have found a deep feeling of connection to the world that I live in. I see the squirrels as they make their nests, and as small bundles of baby squirrels emerge I see myself with my children. I see the birds as they pull seeds off the heads of the echinacea I planted in my labyrinth, and I feel such profound love for these small beings. I feel centered and whole, no matter how hot or cold it is.
At the top of the tree we find the Gods. For some time I have been struggling with the idea of how the Gods work, exist, and interact with us fleshy things (I don’t think humans have an exclusive on interaction with the divine, but since I don’t speak cat so well as I would like, I have yet to get the fuzzy felines in my house to tell for sure one way or the other), and in an effort to figure things out I had a rather strange notion, why not ask the Gods themselves? Was there ultimately only one deity that showed many faces to different cultures (like the many times used example of the diamond who’s multiple faces reflect a culture back to itself but are still part of the whole)? Was the Divine a duality in which, again, two entities are ultimately the one source for all other Gods and Goddesses in the World? Were the Gods, thought forms from our own inner deep psyche? Lastly, were they many separate individuals, just as there are many separate individual humans?
Here is the vision given to me. Let us start with a thunder storm. There are Storm Gods in almost every Pantheon (if not all of them, but since I personally do not know all the pantheons by heart, I’ll give myself some wiggle room here). These Storm Gods have a great deal in common, but there are differences. Some are heads and leaders of their particular Pantheon (think Zeus or Ba’al), but in other Pantheons they are not. Storm systems are effected by many different things, the energy of the storm itself can affect how powerful the system grows, but what is important is the landscape of where the storm is taking place as it shapes what is produceable. The Plains here in Kansas are such that tornadoes are possible on a fairly regular basis, but they are not so regular in California, where the landscape make them much harder to form. A storm in the desert of Egypt is going to have a much different connotation from a storm in the rain forests of the Amazon. Although these storms are ultimately caused by pressure and energy in the atmosphere, they change with the geographic location, as do the various Gods that represent storms. Just like these storms being the by product of the same energy, the different Storm Gods can be said to be the by product of the same energy as it is shaped by both the landscape and the culture that comes across these storms as they play out in that region of the Earth.
We can also see this with Fire Gods. The presence, power, and energy of Fire will be looked at differently in the Steppes of Russia as opposed to Ancient Greece. Fires in both cultures are caused by the production of carbon from heat and chemical reactions, but in Russia there exists the idea of never letting a hearth fire go out, and to treat the spirit of the fire with a great deal of respect (if you don’t, your house just might burn down). This is much different from how fire is treated in less drastically cold regions of the world. There are fires in Greece that were not supposed to go out (Hestia’s comes to mind), but these were hardly an every household occurrence. We can see the influence of how fire works in real life and cultures by way of the idea of Fire God as Trickster (as seen in Loki). This concept of trickster makes complete and perfect sense to anyone who is, or has ever know a fire fighter. Fire is and can be indeed very tricky, just when you think it is out, it reemerges to take on new life. We see in Loki a God who is destructive in his trickery but who also gives the most precious of gifts when all is said and done; just as fire can burn us or help to create works of metal and culinary art (plus a million other wonderful things).
Now, how does this relate to the nature of the Gods, and if they are many, or one, or what not? Here is where I steal something from a Christian theologian (hey, the Christians stole a lot of Pagan stuff, so fairs fair) in the idea from Hugh Ross in which we make ourselves into two dimensional stick drawing on a piece of paper in which a hand is sticking three fingers through. The stick people cannot see out side of the paper, and so see 3 separate circles that are the cross section of each finger as it passes through the paper. Ultimately the fingers are attached to the hand and so connected, just as our Storm Gods are connected by the same energy, but what we see and experience are separate individuals, and I would argue that they should indeed be treated as such. Just as I and my brother are by products of the same source, but still individuals, I would argue that Storm Gods as encountered by various cultures within an environment that shapes the way a Storm can occur, are indeed unique to that environment and thus separate individual Gods. The Power and Energy of that storm will shape and effect the culture of that particular region, just as the culture will shape and define the God of the storms as the people wrestle and come to understand that energy in the Storm.
While the individual Storm Gods are indeed connected through one powerful and overlapping dimension (the atmosphere and the energy that shapes the weather), Rivers are not the same thing at all. Allow me for a moment to play the role of bard and tell you a story that is true just as much as it is fiction.
Long ago Mother Earth and Father Storm felt a need to feed one another. Mother Earth gave water to Father Storm, and he in turn rained upon her face, filling the many deep caverns in her belly, as well as covering her mountain tops in soft white snow. From this love of giving was their Daughter River born.
The Earth and weather affect what types of water bodies can be shaped in any region of the world, but those bodies have a life and power all their own. I would argue that would make them very separate and individual types of Divinity from the Storm Gods. River, Lake, and Sea Deities all have their characteristics, because so do the bodies of water for which their energy help shape and form.
As we look to nature as the ultimate revelation about the nature of the divine, what is shown is amazing diversity of various sexual types (Male/Female/both/neither), this is why I think it is right and proper to understand the deities in these terms, even though they are not at the end of the day, in any way shape or form, human (we only picture them as such, so as to make it easier for us to interact with them, and understand their individual personalities on a more person level), and I believe it is to nature as well as myths of the past (and hopefully soon, present)n to help us come to an understanding of what and who the Gods are.
The energy of storms and of region geography are not the only types of powerful energy in our world. We can simple look inside to find other types that are from various different sources from the nature Divinities. Let us take for example Love and War. these are two divinities that in many cultures have some sort of connection either in the same Deity (think Freya), or as two lover deities, (think Aphrodite and Aries). Both are passionate pursuits that can influence each other, hence the connections in the mythology. Ultimately War and Love are a combination of social and emotional factors, which many times can take on a life of their own. These are energies that are shaped by culture, just as much as the Storms are shaped by the geography. Although Love is a universal emotion, the way in which it is acceptably expressed is confined within the boundaries of a culture and its taboos (public kissing and affection being a huge no-no in India). War is often reigned in by the “rules of war” such as they exist in a society.
The Gods do not seem to be limited to physical space though, the way nature spirits are. Different Gods can reach beyond the bounds of the land they originated in, to find new followers. I personally have experienced this with Athena. I was praying for a way to help my children as we began the process of homeschooling, and it was Athena who answered. She became a gateway for me to meet and come to know the Hellenic Gods of old. I have since become one of theirs, even though I live in the United States.
All three of the Kindreds have their place in my spiritual practice. They have helped shape and change how I see the world around me. I would now be lost without them. I hope that as we continue to grow our relationships, that I will be able to deepen my understanding of how the world tree shapes chaos into order.