Trees and Water
I’ve tried to describe, in other posts here, how one being can be in a million places at the same time, and how there can be a million faces of somebody but still be that same being at the core. I’ve used a tree metaphor, where each face is a leaf on a branch, which is connected to the individual tree.
I struggle with the concept of the multiplicity of the Gods. That They are many and not one is simple enough. But how do we wrap our minds around the idea that while Athena is an individual being, Athena Parthenos is not the same as Athena Polias, and neither is the same as Our Lady of Nashville?
Open a bottle of water (a reusable bottle you filled yourself, of course) and pour it into two glasses. Each glass is identical. Now, put one in the refrigerator and leave one sitting out. Immediately they begin to differentiate, first by temperature and later by the microscopic substances that fall into them. Take one of them outside and it begins to change even more. While the essence of water remains H2O, tap water is different from pond water is different from ocean water.
For me this is the most helpful aspect of this metaphor. When a God is worshipped or otherwise experienced in a place or by a particular group of people, that interaction affects the God just as it affects the people. Those who encounter that God in that place or through that tradition will have a different experience – perhaps slightly different, perhaps very different – from those who do so otherwise.
Water can be liquid, or solid (ice), or gas (steam). Its properties and especially the ways in which we interact with it differ based on its state, but it is still water… and it is still the particular differentiation of water it was when it was liquid.
Likewise, we can interact with a God in an ecstatic encounter, or in a natural phenomenon, or in a human-made object. All of them are the God in question.