In pagan practice, the use of images is common, recommended, sometimes even mandatory. It’s a big difference from my Quaker background – in which there are no images used in worship, and often very few in the whole Meeting House. In Buddhism, the images vary between the traditions; in Tibetan traditions, there are usually many, while the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hahn (with whom I spent a retreat recently) uses very few – they are allowed, but not needed.
Images, though, especially images of Goddesses, are one of the things which drew me to Paganism. (Not to Druidry – where they are allowed but do not especially abound – but to Wiccan and Celtic Neo-Paganism more generally.) Goddess worship usually uses either an image or a symbol for the Goddess, and I find that very attractive. I can, now, visualise my Goddesses when I wish to, but when I started out, symbols were very important to me.
I began with images which simply represented the deities in whom I was interested – a horse for Epona, a seal for Sedna. I began to collect more specific images – cheap reproductions of Bast were most easily found, and now I own several. Eventually I began to be able to afford modern, well-made, purpose-made images – I vividly remember the day in Glastonbury when I bought a Dryad Design Seated Goddess. She is on my altar still.
Why images, though? Flat images are beautiful, attract the eye, and help me to switch out of the wordy, thinky mode in which I usually work. Statues are all that and more; they add a sensual aspect, something which can be touched and held, something which can be lovingly dusted or washed, arranged on an altar and presented with offerings. Of course, I can also wash my dishes as if I’m bathing a baby Buddha – and in many ways, I think the two have the same spiritual virtues – but sometimes you need something shiny to attract the monkey mind and encourage you to enjoy your practice (a key part of actually getting on and practicing said practice!). For me, images of Goddesses and Gods are an important part of that.