You’ll see references to “the Animal Father” throughout this blog. This is my personal conception of deity that I work with in Therioshamanism right now. Allow me to explain.
I believe that the Divine is infinite, or about as close to infinite as it gets. As a pantheist, I believe that the Divine is within all things, and that all things (physical and otherwise) compose the Divine just as cells compose a body. I also believe, as a polytheist, that there are numerous individual deities from pantheons around the world, and that they are individual, independent beings that reflect qualities of the cultures they come from*. Finally, I am an animist, and I believe that everything has a spirit of sorts (including deities); that spirit (or soul, if you will) is the spark of the Divine manifest in each thing.
I don’t believe the Divine can be limited to one human perception of it. We “create” or “discover” (depending on how you view mythology) individual deities that represent a very small facet of the Divine. We gravitate towards deities that resonate with our values, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world. Likewise, deities may call to people they resonate with. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all religion–or a one-size-fits-all view of the Divine.
I also have no problem with UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis). While I think it needs to be treated with care and a lick of salt, I do not believe that the only people who can converse with the Divine and have Divine revelations are clergy. I am a pantheist–everything is Divine–and the Divine is imminent, which means we all can talk with “God/dess”. IMO, the idea that Divine revelations are rare and reserved only for the holiest people is something that has been used to control the masses for centuries–if you don’t let people think for themselves (even if it’s to decide they want to stay within the parameters of a given religion) they’re much more malleable. As with anything, I think it’s important to question our perceptions, but I apply that to anything, from religion to politics to love to determining whether we want to live in a certain place or not.
I do think that Unverified PERSONAL Gnosis is, well, *personal*. It’s not about huge proclamations for everyone in the world, or even everyone in your apartment building. It’s a personal message from the Divine, and it’s important to question what we think we’ve perceived to make sure there wasn’t an error in communication somewhere along the line. So therefore my personal mythology about the Animal Father is something I limit to my worldview alone.
I do still, of course, acknowledge the Divine overall, and it is my relationship to the Divine (basically, everything that is) that determines things such as ethics. All people decide what their personal ethics are–even if it is a *choice* to follow a particular set of rules laid out by someone else. I simply take more into account than what one particular sliver of the Divine says.
So, anyway, the Animal Father–who is he? Well, this particular cave painting has always struck a very deep chord with me. It’s been speculated, by Joseph Campbell and others, that this is a representation of a paleolithic deity, the Animal Master (to use one of Campbell’s terms). He is the keeper of the animals, the deity that paleolithic hunters and/or shamans appealed to in order to have a successful hunt. You can still see this concept in various indigenous religions; a well-known example is Sedna from Inuit mythology. The shaman must travel down to her home deep in the ocean and comb her hair to convince her to release the whales, seals and fish to live on. So the concept of a deity that watches over the wild creatures isn’t so far-off, and while there’s no proof that such a deity existed all the way back to Paleolithic times**, my experiences say otherwise. The deity I speak to, whether he actually is a remnant of an older time, or simply a new mask of God that has been given to me by the Divine using ancient imagery, speaks to me on a fundamental level. Alternately known by people as the Sorceror, the Antler Shaman, Animal Master, etc., the name he gave me to use is the Animal Father.
“So aren’t you just making up a deity?” Maybe I am, though I prefer to think, as I mentioned above, that the Divine has simply given me a particular mask to understand it through. People have been “making up” deities for millenia. Again, allow me to remind readers of the correlation between the personalities of deities, and the cultures they come from. You can learn a lot about a culture by observing its pantheon, as well as its religious precepts. Anyway, I believe that this is an aspect of the Divine I have been given, rather than creating it myself, a process that has hardly originated with me.
Beyond that yes, I’m aware of the pitfalls of creating own’s own religion primarily from scratch. Yes, I’m aware of the possibility of self-delusion. Yes, I do keep close tabs on myself. No, I don’t think that my religion has to apply to other people. It is, after all, *personal*. However, this is something I’ve been actively working with for over a decade. I may not be perfect, but I’m not just leaping into this, either. I’m basically organizing things I have discovered are true for me, and this is a recent revelation that works in nicely with the rest. I don’t think I’m the first person to go through this process, though many people do so via committees. I’m not a committee kind of person.
This is what works for me, and while it may be incomprehensible to a lot of people, it makes perfect sense in my mind. (Reading Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell may help you understand my mind a little more, by the way.)
So enough of that–back to the Animal Father himself; he is personified by that particular cave painting, though he is NOT the cave painting itself, any more than Jesus *is* the cross with a statue of a person on it. There’s a difference between deity, and representation of deity. My primary focus in my spiritual path is with animal totems; I’ll explain my conception of them in more detail in a later post, but the short version is that totems are archetypal beings that represent all the qualities of a particular species–both the natural history, and the human mythology and lore created around the animals. I work with other animal spirits as well, but that’s the main group. So it’s not surprising that I ended up with a(nother***) deity that has a strong influence over wildlife in general.
From talking with him, I’ve found that the four animals that compose his image are: red stag, dire wolf, cave bear and cave lion, all paleolithic animals contemporary to his original time period. I’ve assigned each one to a solstice or equinox for the purpose of celebrating the turning of the seasons. Stag is Autumn, Wolf is Winter, Bear is Spring and Lion is Summer.
Our relationship is to mutual benefit. He’ll teach me what he has to share about working with totems and other animal spirits, as well as spiritual/shamanic practices in conjunction with a closer relationship with the land, and I provide him a connection in this world. As the wild has slowly declined (particularly in France, his place of origin), so has his influence over the physical realm. While I don’t see myself as some great propher or guru of the Nature God, I’m not adverse to a relationship with a deity that includes practical ways of helping this world as well as other layers of reality (without having to go around and tell other people that their religious beliefs are wrong/evil/etc.).
So that’s a very basic rundown of what’s probably one of the more (relatively) far-fetched parts of my religion. When it comes to deities, most people are comfortable going with one crowd or another–safety in numbers and collective consensus. I don’t believe that my quest to seek my own version of “truth”, to include my personal view of the Divine, is any less valid. Unorthodox in several ways, to be sure, but in the end, the best determinant of whether something is true for a person or not is how well it meshes with a *healthy* perspective. This view of the Divine supports my assertion that Nature (along with everything else) is sacred, and that it’s important to be aware of the impact I have on other living beings, to include nonhuman animals. In fact, being pagan in general has taught me that everything *is* interconnected, and that there needs to be a balance between my own needs and the needs of others. It’s also demonstrated that the connections others have with me can be harmful or helpful, and that just because I’m connected to a person, it doesn’t mean that I can’t weaken a harmful connection to lessen the damage.
* To repeat an anonymous quote, “You know you have created God in your own image when your God hates the same people you do”.
** Recent speculation about Neanderthal burial sites, in which specific items such as flowers were buried with the dead, indicates a very possible belief in the afterlife even that early.
*** My matron Goddess for the past decade has been Artemis; however, she has temporarily lessened her influence to allow the Animal Father to come in and work with me more.