Trying to understand deities, or a pantheon (a group, or a number of deities, venerated in a single spirituality or religion) of deities, is a very confusing and complex matter. This is because the rational, linear mind can only take us so far. In addition, the vast majority of us are not sufficiently evolved to understand them. We assign names and gender to deities, but to some extent this is an artificial device to enable us to identify with them. However, this works very well, as many people know by experience. The apparent functions of deities in a pantheon can overlap or vary, and the same deity can have more than one name, and they’re often connected. Also, some deities were adopted; for example the Romans adopted and renamed some ancient Greek deities. In addition, the Sun may be considered feminine and the Moon masculine in a few circumstances.
Pantheons are never as well defined as they may at first appear. In the Celtic pantheon, local deities are interrelated aspects or facets of the deities of the land, and Earth (the “mother goddess”), more generally. In venerating a local deity, the “greater” aspect of deity is also being honoured.
To begin, one can do some research on the deity in question. Myths, legends, old texts and scriptures are popular and can provide insight and inspiration. Owing to the complexity (and often ambiguity) of such material, I only dip my toes in these waters. Generally my preference is for modern books on spirituality written in plain, modern English. Good books of this kind inspire and can be read with both mind and heart.
I start by finding out some of the “attributes” for the deity in question. This is, broadly speaking, a rather simplified approach to working formally with deity as archetype. (The subject of archetypes is complex and is not discussed here). For example, the attributes for the goddess Brighid (Brigit or Brigid) include crafts (particularly smithing), healing, poetry and she’s associated with fire. This is only a starting point as one may discover other attributes of a particular deity over time. For example I feel that Brighid has a warrior aspect, although this isn’t normally attributed to her. It’s best not to try to overly define or limit things, especially as all this is potentially part of the process of self-realisation. Self-realisation is, broadly and simplistically speaking, the discovery of the boundlessness of the self, of one’s humanity; and development of connection with the Higher Self/Great Spirit. Our temporal existence as perceived by the conscious mind and physical senses is only the tip of the iceberg as regards the fullness, beauty and breadth of one’s being.
A search can be undertaken to see if there’s any known archaeological or historical evidence. Internet searches are perhaps the quickest way to find such information. As always with the net, cross-check a number of sites for the sake of accuracy. There are also accounts of people’s experiences with deities to be found.
It has been said that the deity finds you rather than the other way round. There’s truth in this, but it can work both ways; it takes two to develop relationship. Be guided by what deity attracts you, by intuition, feeling, and synchronistic events (coincidences with meaning) which are often small but can lead to greater things. The call of a bird, a gust of wind or the sudden movement of a wild animal may be a nature deity speaking. An open and loving approach is a great help. Patience is also an asset; developing relationship can take time. Remember to enjoy the journey and not regard it as a means to an end! In my practice (which is really an integral part of daily life) love, meditation and inner journeying are of greatest importance.