In your exploration of Wicca, you may have come across the ideas that ‘all gods are one god’ and ‘all paths lead to the same place’. I had read these many times, in many places, and never really given them more than a passing thought. It was Kaatryn MacMorgan-Douglas that made me start to think more deeply on them when she addresses them in her book Wicca 333: Advanced Topics in Wiccan Belief.
In her book, Kaatryn objects quite strongly to both ideas. She says this;
…the concept of all gods being one God is not only incorrect, but also offensive, often flying in the face of personal experiences of the divine. To the follower of Apollo, there is no question that Apollo and Zeus are discrete entities, and the insistence that both are, for example, mere facets of the god of Abraham, not only makes no sense, but may be seen as offensive, attributing acts committed by one god to another.
I never once interpreted the phrase ‘all gods are one god’ as meaning that all the different deities people have worshipped are just one single, individual deity. It is not saying that all gods are one god, and he is Jeff, right over there.
I see it more as liberal polytheism; the idea that all deities ever worshipped do indeed exist as separate, distinct entities. There is no one individual among these gods that is the One True God – although the people worshipping them may believe that theirs is the correct one. The ability to acknowledge the existence of many different gods, possibly from opposing pantheons, is one of the beauties of Wicca in my opinion.
This does not mean that these gods become interchangable, a random pick and mix selection. Instead you have the opportunity to study the cultures that worshipped these deities initially, and gain a much fuller, richer understanding of their gods and goddesses.
When I say then that all gods are one god, I do not mean that Apollo is Zeus wearing a mask, or that Isis is Aphrodite in disguise. Instead I see the Lord and Lady as being composed of all those different gods, and sharing in their different traits. More simply, all gods share the same spark of divinity and are connected by it, just as all humans share the spark of life and are connected to each other through it. One human is not the same as another, and one is not inherently better than any other. We all have different skills and qualities, but when we come together we can pool our skills and knowledge; together we can do more and be more than we can alone.
The idea of all paths leading to the same place is slightly different. To explain it simply, I will say that I do not believe this is literally true. Kaatryn says this;
All religious and spiritual paths cannot lead to the same place not because, as we might fear at first, one destination is better than the other, but because few religious or spiritual paths claim the same, or similar, ends.
This I agree with, which would seem to invalidate the idea that ‘all paths lead to the same place’. Taken literally, this cannot possibly be true, however you try to twist people’s personal beliefs. If there is one single place which many paths lead to, then it cannot be a true and accurate representation of the place each different path believes in. It cannot be the Christian heaven at the same time that it is reincarnation on Earth.
Just as Kaatryn says that the notion of all gods being one god is offensive, so too could this way of understanding the ‘same place’ be thought of as objectionable. It seems to suggest that one of the currently – or historically – held beliefs is the right one, and the others need to be twisted in form and meaning in order to fit with it.
This is not a problem if you reject the idea that the ‘same place’ referred to is an actual, single, all-encompassing place. I’ve always understood the phrase to be more supportive of individual beliefs than detrimental or offensive to them. To me, this phrase says that although we may practise our faiths in many different ways, walking many different paths, we are still walking side by side with one another. Although I may see the route and the destination as completely different to anyone else, I don’t have to fight against them.
I’ll try to make a real-world comparison. My friend and I could be travelling together to the same city. I might be visiting it for the first time, while my friend might be returning home after many years away. We would probably experience many different emotions while approaching our destination. I might be feeling excitement, a happy anticipation of the things I plan to do. My friend might be much more emotional, possibly nervous about the reception they will receive. We will experience our journey in very different ways, because our perception of our destination will be different. I will be thinking of a holiday, going sight-seeing and sunbathing. My friend will be thinking about returning to their family, seeing familiar places and faces again. We will make the same journey, but experience it according to our own beliefs. We will reach the same destination, and my impression of it will be different from, but just as valid as, my friend’s impression of it.
I can reach my own personal idea of what comes at the end of my path, while walking hand in hand with someone on a different path. That is how I interpret the phrase ‘all paths lead to the same place’. All personal paths lead to a personal truth. What is true for me, does not have to be true for anyone else in order for us to coexist peacefully together.