Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Gods Are My Co-Workers

150,000 years of pagan history, and it took the so-called 20th century to reduce the gods to the level of co-workers.

“I work with [Name of Deity].”

How many times have you heard this expression?

Note who's the active agent. Note the nature of the partnership. Note the implied equivalence.

The ancestors would never have used the phrase “work with” to describe their relationship with their gods. They might have worshiped a particular god. They might have offered to a certain goddess. They might have made their prayers to said gods.

But—for the most part—modern pagans are afraid of worship. (Why? Another day, another post.) Mostly we don't offer to our gods. We're not particularly strong on prayer, either. I.e. we have rejected the spiritual technology of the ancestors.

So much the worse for us.

The notion of “working with” a god is yet another unfortunate inheritance from Ceremonial Magic which ought to be consigned to the compost heap of history. It simply isn't a good fit for who we were, who we are, or who, as pagans, we need to become.

“Work with” Deity X?

It isn't even a good metaphor. You're comparing your religious life to the office? Your gods to your co-workers, rather than to friends or family?

“Working with” gods?

Begone foul phrase: you have no business here.

I banish you.

I banish you.

I banish you.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Ben Gruagach
    Ben Gruagach Sunday, 11 November 2018

    I'm not so sure that the ancients didn't consider deities to be their coworkers in some sense. There are historical spells where deities are threatened by the spell-worker, which is definitely not something you would do if you were dealing with a being you worship.

  • Ben Gruagach
    Ben Gruagach Sunday, 11 November 2018

    Here's an example, with a link to a historical source to back it up (particularly in the paragraph where they mention the Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden):

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 11 November 2018

    Thanks for the thought and the link, Ben. Of course, I'm painting with a broad brush here; I can think of ways in which "working with" the gods makes perfect sense: e.g. organic agriculture.

    But as a primary metaphor of relationship, "working with" strikes me as both shallow and banal, not to mention taking up space that deserves deeper and more resonant metaphor. As pagans, we can do better than this.

  • Ben Gruagach
    Ben Gruagach Sunday, 11 November 2018

    "Working with" does not necessarily imply a shallow relationship. I agree wholeheartedly that we should encourage deeper relationships with our deities regardless if they are relationships of worship, of practicality, or whatever.

    For many people the deepest relationships they have are sexual-love relationships (often with people who we end up in spousal relationships with). We can also have intense and deep relationships with coworkers that might not have any element of love or even friendship yet still be profound. Relationships with deities are not necessarily less complex, nor less varied, than our relationships with other humans.

  • Morgen
    Morgen Sunday, 11 November 2018

    I honor and worship many deities but when I talk about "working with" what I mean is I'm developing a stronger bond/focusing on a relationship with a particular deity.

  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ Sunday, 11 November 2018

    Write on. I couldn't agree with you more about ceremonial magic being a wrong turn. Guess what, the world really does not revolve around me and thee. Nor is Goddess spirituality about getting what I think I want and need.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Sunday, 11 November 2018

    I have to agree strongly with everything Ben Gruagach shared & clarified, and Morgen, and would also like to add that my understanding of why many modern pagans are "afraid of worship" is because of the modes and definitions of worship by the Christian church (among others), which is hell bent on demeaning us all as subservient sinners from birth, that has left a pretty bad taste in our mouths.

    You seem to suggest that "working with" is not only mutually exclusive of "worship", but that it necessarily implies a level of arrogance (which indeed is still a hallmark of much ceremonial magic), i.e. the presumption that we are their equals, and of impersonal detachment.

    A level of equality, to an extent, needn't be insulting or even incorrect, particularly as it is and should be, I believe, something of a symbiotic relationship; we created them as much as they created us, particularly when you consider that almost all deities originated as non-anthropomorphized elemental beings, as our ancestors worshipped and venerated Nature itself, with whom we do share a Source.

    Despite that belief, I have to disagree and say that I, as well as many pagans of my acquaintance do indeed make offerings, pray, and have not rejected the spiritual technology of our ancestors. I have never met a pagan who uses the term "work with" and has also rejected those practices or forms of communion.

    Painting with broad brushes isn't exactly ideal when it comes to this kind of commentary and criticism.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Sunday, 11 November 2018

    Also, whether one uses the term "worship" or "work with", regardless of reasons or what either entails, is as personal a choice as which deities they honor. To nitpick such a choice in others kinda flies in the face of one of the biggest reasons why most of us are pagan anyway - we know we're entitled to march to the beat of our drum. Such criticism is not unlike a lot of the controlling attitudes that are the very reason why a lot of pagans shy away from "worship" to begin with.

    Not only do we choose and follow our own path & deities but we can describe that path and our personal relationship to those deities however we like.

    If there is a way in which "we can do better" as pagans, I don't think it has anything to do with something as hair-splitting as a distinction between those two terms.

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 11 November 2018

    I'm actually quite comfortable with the gods as co-workers metaphor. I pray every day and I usually work 5 days a week. My relatives are either dead or far away and don't usually respond to my e-mails so the gods as co-workers has a more intimate implication than a familial expression does.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 12 November 2018

    I can't hear Sappho saying, "I work with Aphrodite."
    I can't hear Erik the Red saying: "I work with Thor."
    As a primary descriptor of our relationship with our gods, the metaphor of "working-with" seems to me greasy, glib, and unworthy.
    As a word-worker/bard, it's part of my job to model usage and to get us thinking about the language that we use to describe the important things of life. Agree or disagree with my conclusions, if the conversation gets us to speak more consciously and intentionally, then we all come out the wiser (and, I hope, the better) for it.
    Thanks to you all for your thoughtful and considered replies.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Monday, 12 November 2018

    Times change, Steve. People change, spirituality changes and, again, people have every right to define their spiritual relationships however they choose. You seem to still be willfully ignoring a lot of important factors here.

    Not to be too cheeky but I can't hear Sappho or Erik the Red saying anything because they are long dead, and they were flawed humans too who probably said and did a lot you wouldn't agree with or admire.

    It's not part of anyone's job to tell people how to define their own very personal spiritual practice or relationships. There are perfectly valid reasons that have been explained as to why people use certain terms over others.

    You are hair-splitting and arguing simple semantics again, but more importantly just criticising something that is harmless and ought not be criticised. We are not Christians here, none of us has to define or follow our faith as dictated by another. If that's not what you intend then I apologise but clearly that is how it is coming across.

    I can't help but feel even a small degree of personal offense at your description of our choice of words being "greasy, glib and unworthy". By extension you dismiss us as greasy, glib and unworthy.

    I banish that. We know. We dare. We will. We keep silent. Especially certain opinions.

  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Monday, 12 November 2018

    I don't much like the terms "pray" or "praying." Praying for God(ess) to do something is a lot like acknowledging we don't have our own divine power to do it ourselves. That other religion does it (praying) all the time and its largely ineffective. Better that we to do our own magic.

    I also don't much like the term "worship." I look it up in a dictionary and get:

    1 : to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
    2 : to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion

    My view is that the astral beings including Gods are natural, not supernatural. And, my respect and honor of the Gods is not that extravagant, no kneeling, no constant adoration. Wiccans don't kneel before our Gods.

    Both terms also smack of practices used by that other religion. I still get a visceral reaction to using any of their terms or practices. Maybe "working with" comes from Ceremonial Magic and isn't the best for Witches, but praying and worshiping are contaminated by big religion usage. Some other term better than "working with" may be needed. Something else.

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Monday, 12 November 2018

    Well said, Greybeard, the negative associations with "that other religion" were all a big part of my points.

    I also agree with you about "prayer", which is often technically little more than one-sided supplication, at best. I do sometimes use that though to simply describe communicating with or meditating with/upon a deity, sometimes for want of a better term or within this context as it was already used.

    I still think the term "working with" is perfectly fair and acceptable and, again, a personal choice. One doesn't like it? Then one needn't use it! And one also needn't judge or berate others for using it and expect them to use some different term just because they don't like it. That also smacks of that other religion.

    I can't help but be surprised by and disappointed that, of all things, and among pagans no less, it is even up for debate.

    If I wanna say I do the hokey pokey with my gods, then the fact is I'd be entitled to that! Who's business is it? Seriously, how or why does it even affect someone or their practice how someone else describes their own? It doesn't. Especially if you're Wiccan or at least value or adhere to the Wiccan rede in the slightest..."an it harm none, do what ye will." who is it harming to say "work with" instead of "worship"?

  • tehomet
    tehomet Sunday, 18 November 2018

    "Note who's the active agent. Note the nature of the partnership. Note the implied equivalence."

    Hear, hear!

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