Pagan Statuary: Complementary Representations of Deity

When I was just a baby pagan dreaming of what life would be like when I was grown and could have a house of my own and practice openly (instead of carefully squirreling all my tools and altar items in dozens of hidey holes), I fantasized about having a whole large room in my house to be my temple.  The centerpiece of that temple was, of course, the altar where a pair of matching statues that would represent my God and Goddess would proudly rest.

Obviously, anyone with half a brain knows that you don’t have to have your ideal temple to practice effectively.  You don’t even need much in the way of deity representations.  In fact, I did really, really well for the longest time using two different colored pillar candles to stand as physical tokens of deity…but there is something nice about minimizing the divide between abstract and concrete with closer representations to the image you hold in your mind of your God.

In Wicca–particularly that of a more British Traditional Flavor–we primarily split the divine into complementary male and female halves.  Different groups generalize or specify these halves in different ways, of course.  For example, the God could be more like a generalized Horned God or Sun God, or he could specifically be Pan or Apollo.  Similarly, the Goddess could be an Ancient Earth mother or Triple Goddess, or she could be Gaia or Hecate.  When it comes to representing the Gods on the altar, though, I have found that unless a practitioner has a very strong personal relationship with a specific God/dess, the deity representations on their primary altar tend to be more generalized.  Even if a practitioner does have a relationship with specific deities, he or she often chooses to either maintain separate shrines for them and use more generalized representations on the main altar, or use the general representations in group work and specific in personal work.

Now, it isn’t too terribly hard to find Pagan artists who work to create representations of many deities within a particular pantheon, so if specificity is the name of your game and you’re just itching to lay statues of Isis and Osiris on your altar, your search will be quick and easy, and you’ll probably find beautiful work at just about every price point imaginable.  Funnily enough, though, I don’t find too many Pagan artists creating what I like to call “Matched Sets” of generalized divinity representations.

Abby Willowroot’s Spiral Lord and Spiral Goddess

Perhaps there’s not really much of a market for it, which seems a little paradoxical seeing as everyone has the potential to relate to the general.  However, it’s also incredibly easy for a person with little to no artistic skill to sculpt some polymer clay into more abstract, symbolic figures.  In two or three hours and maybe $20 of materials, you could end up with something  akin to what Abby Willowroot has created with her Spiral Lord, Spiral Goddess, and associated figurines.  When done, you have something that could stand “in aspect” for any specific deity you could imagine.  And, perhaps, one could consider these the most appropriate representations of deity, which will always be at least a little abstract to us.

Paul Borda of Dryad Design is pretty prolific. His Sun God and Moon Goddess are meant to be a complementary set, as are the seated god and goddess on the far right. The middle statue, Brigid, also works well with the Sun God (which also functions as Lugh), for those who prefer a triple goddess figure.

Another route would obviously be to add a little more detail to a general concept.  The pagan artist Paul Borda has certainly done so with his company, Dryad Design.  Paul is a wood carver, and he and his wife turned his skill into devotion in 1994 when they launched their business.  Over the past 18 years, they’ve offered beautiful representations of the gods and today offer many specific offerings from the Celtic and Nordic pantheons.  They do, however, also offer two very thoughtful generic options, though.  For those who prefer a more solar/lunar emphasis, Paul offers his matched set of Lugh (or Sun God) and Moon Goddess sculptures in both a small and large size (one 5-6 inches high, the other 8-10).  For those that prefer a more Wiccan-flavored bent, he also offers a horned forest god, which he calls Seated God, and a lunar goddess, Seated Goddess, each about 8 inches high.  All in all, Borda’s work is stunning and it is clearly evident that each of his creations comes from a deeply meditative, loving place.  For years, I lusted over the Seated Gods in particular, and almost rued the fact that I’d fallen in love with another Goddess sculpture instead.

On the left, Maxine Miller’s “God and Goddess Altar Set”. Authors Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor gave the artist some input in this set. On the right, Neil Sim’s busts of Danu and Cernunnos, which he created to be a pair. He also has a bust of the Morrigan, for what it’s worth.

Very recently I’ve also been introduced to the work of two other pagan artists, Maxine Miller and Neil Sims, each of whom produce brilliant work.  My high priest and priestess brought back Miller’s Horned God and Goddess pentagram plaque from Pantheacon in 2011, and her Queen Maeve has been the coven’s primary goddess representation for about as long as I can remember.  When I was at Pantheacon this year, I had a chance to see the rest of her creations close-up, and I fell madly for her Brigid and her Hecate.  Though the gods don’t have much of a presence in her three-dimensional work thus far, Miller does offer two very nice options for the “matched set” crowd:  her God and Goddess Altar Set and wall plaques of the Triple Goddess and Cernunnos (pictured below).

I–quite literally–can’t stop looking at the wall plaques.  If I had any need for them in my personal practice, I would snap them up this very second, I adore them that much.  Maybe when my finances get a little better, I’ll purchase them anyway.  I can really see using them as the deity representations in a group BTW practice, though not perhaps my own personal work.  I am less enthusiastic about Miller’s altar set, which the authors Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor co-designed (their names are prominently written on the backs of each sculpture’s base).  While they would be lovely focal points for an altar, I personally find something off-putting about them.  I kind of want to give the Goddess a snack–something about her eyes makes her look anorexic and haunted–and the God kind of looks incredibly worried and ineffectual.

Neil Sims’ busts, on the other hand, I find as drool-worthy as Miller’s plaques.  The level of detail is extraordinary, and I see a masterful sense of movement in both that I find lacking in most statues, which–frankly–are posed and stiff.  Sims is a British artist who, according to one rather sketchy looking site, chose to pursue a full-time artistic career after hearing the Sabbat song “Horned is the Hunter.”  From what I can tell, he’s known for his level of high detail and close realism no matter what he turns his attention to–even Doctor Who figurines!  His pagan offerings include these matched busts of “Earth Mother” or Danu and Cernunnos busts as well as smaller busts of the Morrigan and Hecate and a “full sculpture” of Cerunnos.  Sim’s work can be found in a number of places with careful googling, but it looks like in America, two good sites for his (and others) work are Unique Gifts and Decor and Magical Omaha.

Maxine Miller’s Triple Goddess and Cernunnos plaques. The level of detail on these is captivating. I could totally see staring at them for hours and piecing together the legends behind them, much as illiterate Christians in the past used the stained glass windows in cathedrals to learn the stories of their religion. Absolutely inspired work.

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One thought on “Pagan Statuary: Complementary Representations of Deity

  1. Pingback: A New Wiccan Altar Set « Three Hundred and Sixty-Six

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