Below is a repose of a response that I sent to one of the mailing lists that I am on. It is a list about traditional Stregheria. One of the members raised two questions and this was my (long winded) response. I hope you enjoy!
The question asked in the forums:
1) Do you percieve our Deities as monogomous? I mean I have a feeling the Greeks weren't much in monogamy... the Romans then absorbed much of their mythology....
And 2) “what would you call the major God and Goddess in Stregheria”
Mind you, I can only offer my own perspective – and that hinges on your description of hard polytheism versus soft polytheism. I believe that you and I may view hard and soft polytheism very differently and that colors how each of us perceives and interacts with the gods.
I believe that it was Dion Fortune in her novel Sea Priestess who said, “all goddesses are one goddess, and all gods are one god and there is one initiator”. I don’t believe that she meant that to be taken literally, especially after reading her novel dozens of times. I take that phrase to be true “metaphorically” but not literally. The best way to explain that might be to describe how I see the gods.
Hard Polytheism – Hard Polytheists believe that gods are distinct, separate real divine beings not psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one God". (From Wikipedia)
Soft Polytheism – Soft Polytheism is prevalent in New Age and syncretic currents of Neopaganism, as are psychological interpretations of deities as archetypes of the human psyche. English occultist Dion Fortune was a major populizer of soft polytheism. In her novel, The Sea Priestess, she wrote, "All gods are one god, and all goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator. This phrase is very popular among some Neopagans (notably, Wiccans) and incorrectly often believed to be just a recent work of fiction. However, Fortune indeed quoted from an ancient source, the Latin novel The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Fortune's soft polytheist compromise between monotheism and polytheism has been described as "pantheism" (Greek: πάν pan 'all' and θεός theos 'god'). However, "Pantheism" has a longer history of usage to refer to a view of an all-encompassing immanent divine. (From Wikipedia)
On the whole, I find myself somewhere in the middle of the two. I believe that the gods are individual entities or consciousnesses albeit far removed from how we normally think of human consciousness – they are individual consciousnesses of a different order than human consciousnesses. Many gods or goddesses may share traits and be similar but they are NOT the same. For instance, Mary (mother of Jesus) is NOT Hera (mother of the Greek Gods) even though they are both “divine mothers”. They are distinct and separate entities even though they may share certain qualities and characteristics.
However, I think that the “gods of myths” aren’t the actual gods. The “gods of myths” are characters in the teaching stories of particular cultures, the purpose of which was/is to help the average person make sense of the universe and their place in it. The myths (ancient and modern!) are teaching stories at best and soap operas of the ancient world at worst. They were the stories of the gods for the common people, not the Initiates or the people in direct communion with the divine forces as Priests and Priestesses. For the average person, the myths were there to help the common person understand the world and their place in it and they were by necessity tied to the culture in which they were told. For the Initiates (the Priests and Priestesses of the goddesses), the myths were/are signposts (not to be taken literally) to the Mysteries and helped people connect to the divine.
Gods and Goddesses such as Aphrodite or Venus may both be Goddesses of Love but I see them as separate individual entities each with their own rites, rituals, personalities, etc. Although separate and distinct, they “share a job description” if you will. They are individuals but are both individual divine emanations of “LOVE,” yet as individuals they are not indiscriminately interchangeable.
This might help – think of all women as emanations of the divine concept of “WOMAN” and of all men as emanations of the divine concept of “MAN”. Yet each woman and each man are distinct individuals and are not interchangeable. Refer that back to the Dion Fortune phrase and you get the concept that all Goddesses are manifestation of the divine “GODDESS” and all Gods and manifestations of the divine “GOD”. The phrase “one initiator” then means that GODDESS and GOD are the first individual manifest separations of the ineffable – that level of the divine which, as manifest beings, humans can’t comprehend without putting a face, name, attribute, or ritual to.
So, this is my personal cosmology. The totality of ALL THINGS (knowable and unknown) is the ineffable divine and by its nature (and the limitation of ours), can’t be easily grasped in words, deeds, and concepts by the human, manifest mind. GOD and GODDESS are the first conscious manifestations of the inedible that we can easily grasp and interact with. Individual Gods and Goddesses are the specific *individual* divine entities that are often culturally specific – each with their own rites and rituals associated with them. Witches deal with paradoxes all the time and the nature of the Gods is a paradox but it works. So, for me, the gods are BOTH individual entities as well as manifestations of the unknowable.
Now, on to your questions –
1) the monogamy of the gods, specifically as expressed in Greco-Roman mythology. Remember that these are myths – teaching stories that are culturally driven – not recorded factual activities of the entities known as Zeus, Hera, Apollo, etc. They are the signposts to help someone find Zeus, Hera, Apollo, etc. The specifics matter less than the underlying message (or mystery) of the myths.
And 2) “what would you call the major God and Goddess in Stregheria”. That will vary depending on the specific tradition. Once again, this is just my opinion and what I teach and isn’t what either Leo Martello or Lori Bruno taught me. We (the Sheaves of Demeter) call on Great Apollo and Great Diana as the “celestial divinities” – Sun & Moon, Mother & Father, Light & Illumination. The individual God named Apollo and the individual Goddess named Diana and their respective myths point us toward knowledge and communion with Great Apollo and Great Diana (Father & Mother, Lord & Lady). We also have Demeter as our patron and through the individual Goddess Demeter, we seek contact with the living growing life of the world. Hades and Persephone are the individual Gods that are the guardians of our beloved dead and through them and their interactions (Demeter, Persephone, and Hades), we seek the mysteries of life, death, and rebirth. Additionally, we have specific secret names for “the Lord” and “the Lady” as well as an oathbound name for “the mother of the Craft” which we do not use outside of the Family.
In a way, for us, the individual divine entities of the Greco-Roman pantheon becomes a touchstone to interact with the ineffable via familiar names, faces, and rites so that we can understand and connect with them in order to explore the Mysteries.
I hope that answered your questions and I didn’t stray too far off topic. Perhaps I should repost this response as a blog entry!