General Deity Questions, Fandom Gone Wrong, and "Pray, Forrest, Pray!"
Well, the school term is finally, officially over, I've submitted my last essay exam, and now I am free and clear as a bird, almost. I'm at least free and clear enough that I can catch up on some of the Odin and/or Deity questions that have accrued while i've been battling through finals the last two weeks. As I know i've noted before, I'm really enjoying the questions that are coming in. I think these are conversations we need to be having. Moreover, I"m forced to really engage with my own practice, and think and analyze what I do and how i approach my practice much more consciously and I think that's a good thing. Nothing in devotion should ever become so rote that we forget why we're doing it!
I have a particularly thought-provoking question today, not just about Odin but about the way relationships between Gods and humanity work. I'm not sure there's any one, all around, always correct answer, but I'll speak from my own observations and experience both as a devotee and godatheow, and also as someone who has served as a priest and teacher for twenty years. I'll speak to the absolutes that I know in my own life to be true. They're mine. Hopefully they'll prove useful and serve as a guide for some of you, my readers. If however, what the Gods and ancestors are asking of you varies significantly from what I write, go with it. Your relationship with your Gods and dead is *your* relationship with your Gods and dead and each aspect of that engagement will be unique to you. So please don't let what i write, limit how you go to Them.
So that being said, let's get down to the questions. Today, M. asks:
In pagan circles I hear again and again that the gods need us and we to the gods. In what sense? Can you explain this relationship?
M. thank you for this question. it's a good one and i've been sitting with it for a few days now since you sent it. I want to thank you for challenging me to come up with an answer, and for sharing some of your own struggles. Also, I want to let you know right now, that in answering your question, I'm using it as a springboard to discuss something tangential but still (i believe) deeply relevant to polytheistic praxis and how we relate to the Gods, and I want you to know up front, when I grow a bit terse, it's not directed toward you at all. It's a response to some of the issues, that seem utterly incomprehensible to me, that are currently cropping up across communities. Your question was a good one, an honest one, and i'm happy to answer it but I might get a bit strident toward the end. That has nothing to do with you or what you asked. That being said, let me give it a go.
I believe that there is meant to be a balance to things, a harmony of interaction. There is a structure, a flow that constitutes right relationship and it's impossible to be truly in right relationship with the world around us and our ancestors (who are ancestors but are also here and now in the world around us working for us and walking with us, relatives who just happen to be non-corporeal) when we're not also in right relationship with the Gods. Now *what* that right relationship looks like may well be different for every person. I can't speak to how it's going to manifest or what it's going to look like; that's between each devotee and his or her Deities. What i can speak to is the goodness and rightness of engagement, and its necessity.
Right service, consistent offerings, joyful sacrifices these things are the language by which we communicate with our Gods, by which we build and maintain the threads of devotion that bind our world to Theirs. That's what devotion is at its heart: an ongoing conversation with the Gods. It's a means of communicating with Them, and of opening doors into our lives through which They can peek and reach and work. Proper offerings, proper celebration, prayer, ritual and all of the practices that nourish and fulfill us in our devotional urges, make sure that metaphorical door remains open and clean and welcome. Moreover, these things -- especially sacrifice--provide the Gods with the energy, the raw material by which They may better act in this world on our behalf. Perhaps think of it in terms of currency exchange. The exchange itself is a necessary filter rendering the energy of the Holy Powers into something safely transmitted into our oh so fragile human world. The protocols of sacrifice and ritual, offerings, and prayers are, in a way, the technology that allows that transfer to occur.
Besides, lest we think of right relationship as nothing more than a mercenary exchange, on a far, far more important note, let's be clear: we are not at the top of the cosmological food chain. We are not the apex predators of the universe. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not there are Beings out there that are bigger, older, and greater than we, and our job, our sacred task, our place in the hierarchy of life is to bow our heads and get on with the gift of devotion. It's spiritual lifeblood. There's a debate going on in various segments of the community over whether or not honoring fictional characters as ancestral heroes is valid (something that appalls me that I even have to write, mind you. I mean who argues this? Who is so disconnected from the idea of the holy that elevating fictional characters to equal status with Gods and ancestors seems correct behavior? To me, this is an indicator of a tremendous sickness and imbalance in our culture.). You can catch up on the debate here: http://krasskova.weebly.com/1/post/2013/05/heroes-vs-superheroes.html and here: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/05/15/kapow/ and here: http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/making-light-of-superhero-worship.html and here: http://thehouseofvines.com/2013/05/17/we-bleed-ink/. Each of these posts provides links to other blogs and articles discussing both sides of the issue. The comments in each are well worth reading as well.
I'm going to go off on a tear for a moment, and i might get a little peppery so I hope you'll trust me when I say it's relevant to your question. Religion is not fandom. Devotion is not equivalent to writing a fanfiction and fictional characters are not ancestors or Gods. That the polytheistic community is even having this discussion -- and quite heatedly too--argues for such a paucity of connection, engagement, and devotion, such a new age influenced cultus of the self, such disconnection and need for self-aggrandizement that I really, truly hardly know where to begin.
I think for starters I'll go with "we do not invent the Gods.'
This article http://dreamsbeforeflowers.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/j-is-for-justification-for-being-shitty/ talks about the idea of entity creation and the power of the human mind/imagination to create non-corporeal beings. Yes. Thoughtforms are real or can become so. As a magician, I'll give you that one. They are not however, Gods. I think there is a real discomfort in large swaths of the community with the idea of the Holy Powers as elder, independent, sentient Beings over which we have no control. I think there is a real discomfort with the idea that we may have come from Them rather than the other way around. You know what else I think? I think it's high time we got over ourselves and grew the hell up. Religion is not fanfiction gone wild. Deal with it.
Part of what's going on, you know, with this fixation and fandom is that too many Pagans today are coming from a place of attention seeking. Their whole ritual praxis, their whole notion of the Gods is solely about making them feel better and buffering already overly sensitive and insecure egos. (Much of this, I might add, maybe laid at the feet of the New Age Self help movements, which have leaked wholesale into contemporary Paganism). The whole tumblr community of erstwhile Loki's wives is a perfect example. Any time i look at someone's practice and see everything being about them and their needs, their emotions, their drama I pause. Because that's not what devotion is about. Devotion is about stepping away from our egos and giving something outside of ourselves a little attention. It's about centering our thoughts and emotions on something other than our own need to feel special. I can well see why a certain subsection of the communities equates fictional characters to their Gods and ancestors. It's easy. I mean if one can raise the pernicious droppings of one's own mind, i.e. fanfiction, or fiction as the collective outpouring of human imagination, to the status of Gods then one raises, by extension, oneself too. It goes right back to the incredible self centeredness of way too many of us in relation to the sacred.
My colleague Dver posted this: http://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/a-saora-shamanin/ today. It's an account of what it's like becoming a God or spirit spouse in a particular indigenous culture. Unlike what one finds on tumblr, this account, drawn from an intact indigenous practice, is grueling. It dramatically and yet succinctly highlights what I think many moderns miss when they start blathering about spirit engagement: it's not about us. It's not about us. As I commented to Dver's post: It's not about our entertainment. it’s not about engaging with the sock puppets in our god damned heads so we can bolster our self esteem and garner attention from the community. It's about being taken up and taken apart and maybe if you’re lucky put back together and riveted by your relationship with your Spirit Husband to some semblance of functionality because there is work to be done and it’s more important than me or you or even the spirits themselves. There’s work to be done and the poor schmuck taken up by the Gods is the one best suited and best wired to do it.
As Dver also says here: http://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/hitting-a-nerve/
"We human beings are not the center of the universe. We did not create the world, and we did not create the gods. The thing with fandoms, when it comes down to it, is that they're really more about the fans than the art. They are a social phenomenon. And therefore this sort of fandom paganism we're seeing ends up, not surprisingly, being more about the pagans than the gods.
If we are the ultimate creators of the gods, then religion, like everything else, gets to be about us! We're essentially just worshipping ourselves. Don't we do enough of that?"
You know, if i had a Desiderata of devotion, that would pretty much be it, or at least part of it anyway. I"m not sure why this is so difficult for people, but it is. The Gods are real. We did not invent Them. They would be just as real if we did not exist. That They seem to want to interact and engage with us is one of the greatest, most profound, most amazing of mysteries in the world; and they *do* want interaction. That is one of the few things that I can say with utter and complete surety. If you go to Them with an open and accepting heart, and root yourself in the discipline of devotion --whatever that means for you---then They and your ancestors will absolutely show you how to build and nourish that relationship.
Plus, why do we need to know what the Gods get out of it? That's not our place. No Deity is going to be so easily definable as we would like Them to be, because we always, inevitably attempt to control by our definitions. Gods just don't work that way. In the end, we can only say what we ourselves get out of it and that is going to differ for each and every person.
To return to your question, M, you also added a bit more about your situation:
Just two years ago I was reclaimed by Dionysus. His presence in my life was before I realized it. He recently has required more dedication from me, not only to spend the holy days, but a rigorous daily devotion. The friendly and seductive Dionysus has become a severe God who takes me beyond what is comfortable. He instructs me to do my devotions in the morning and night, regardless of whether or not I feel his presence. I do, but sometimes it's hard, because it is what I should do. But sometimes I wonder why, where does all this lead me. I feel like a tool that is being forged without knowing what it will be used.
Yes. There's nothing more that I can really say to this than yes. This is often how things go when one becomes claimed by a Deity, which is a different thing really than simply developing and maintaining a devotional relationship. It's not better or worse, but it comes with a different set of expectations and responsibilities, even obligations. These relationships, in any of their permutations, do not remain stagnant. Just like our relationships with the people in our lives, devotional relationships with Gods evolve and deepen. This is a normal part of any relationship cycle. there's a getting to know each other, a honey moon phase, if you will, and then once the devotional equivalent of limerance has worn off, the more difficult and demanding but oh so much more spiritually rewarding part of things often begins. It doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong, but means essentially that you have been taken in hand by a most glorious God and that is very, very right.
My advice would be to center yourself in the prayer and devotional practices that Dionysos is suggesting for you and try very hard not to have expectations about what your relationship with Him can and will and most of all should be. Just let it evolve and grow and trust Him to guide it and yourself to withstand the guidance.
My partner belongs to Dionysos and one of the things he told me recently about this God is that He is about change. That's a terrifying thing. I know i don't handle change well. As much as I equally dislike stagnation, I don't handle change well that I myself don't control! Yet we are not in control of our Gods and those that breathe change with Their very presence can cause our lives to unfold in amazing and unexpected ways. It can be painful too: sometimes change leads to a clearing out of old wounds, old fractures, old ways of being and that is good and necessary too. The important thing is to trust Him. That is the core piece of the devotional relationship and it's that which is strengthened and developed over time. Trust Him and do your best not to hold back.
On the other hand in my house Holda was installed as Protector of our home, and this disturbs me even more, since I've never felt an affinity for the Norse gods. Holda also requests that I make daily offerings. And if that were not enough (for me it is a lot), sometimes Odin appears, usually with messages for others, and this just baffles me. My life is changing dramatically, and sometimes I will not deny, I have fear in the same way I feel joy. Therefore I ask about how gods need us and we need them.
Fear is just part of the process. I'm not dismissing your fear out of hand, please don't think that. It really is a natural and probably inevitable part of the process though. I have it too more often than not some days. Nor can we expect to understand every part of the process as it occurs. Looking at the differences between Holda and Dionysos and having a tiny devotional practice to Both, i would posit --and i could be wrong, mind you---that devotion to Her may help ground you with a measure of stability in the human world. That's important, even for spiritworkers. As much as we may resent or resist this, we're meant to be functional in the human world (functional spiritworkers, mind you, but functional). That means we need to be grounded here at least some of the time. My gut also says that Holda has much to teach about self-care, both of yourself but also the space in which you move. Just because you don't have a strong affinity for Her now, doesn't mean that, through devotion and prayer, one might not develop. Nor will our relationship with all the Gods be the same, or feel the same. They are individuals just like we are. Some relationships might be warm and nurturing, some challenging, some ecstatic, some …well, there are a thousand upon thousand other ways a relationship might turn. For now, do your daily offerings and try not to fret.
The thing to remember with the Norse Gods --and I can't speak for other pantheons but this holds strongly true for many of the Norse---is that it's a tribal, family tradition. Honor One and sooner or later nine times out of ten His or Her kin will come calling. If you're open enough for the type of engagement you describe with both Dionysos and Holda, than you're surely open enough for Odin and He is the quintessential opportunist. All Gods, I think, are opportunists, but Odin really takes the cake there. I would suggest going to Holda for support and advice on how to best cope in the before, during, and after of those periods where He comes around. If you don't have a practice of honoring your ancestors, you may also want to start and ask them too for help. They can assist in sorting things out for you spiritually and in making sure your interactions are clean. Beyond that, be sure that you know how to center and ground because dealing with a Deity and then coming back into purely human space can be a difficult transition. I recommend "Spiritual Protection" by Sophie Reicher for the basic exercises. This is more of the technology I talked about earlier in the article that is essential to navigating not only the ways of the sacred but, for those engaged with the sacred, Midgard as well. Good luck.
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