Re-evaluating relationships with the Gods

I had a great conversation at PCon this year with a friend in the Hellenic community. (By “conversation”, I mean that she talked and I hacked away and occasionally inserted comments as a could. Damn strep throat, ruining most of my Con.)  Anyway, I came away from that conversation with a few ideas that I’ve been chewing on.

Much of the conversation centered around my under-employed status, and my continuing frustration with my primary Gods, who are ostensibly  deities of prosperity and abundance. Now, I know that my Gods love me. They tell me this, and people who can hear Them also tell me that they say this. So, Their love is not in doubt. And I have in fact received numerous (usually short-term or one-off) gifts of abundance throughout my life, many of which I can ascribe to Their influence. The reality of my current situation, however, is that They have apparently not come through in a big, sustaining way for me yet, and this insecurity has really been wearing down my belief in Then as well as in myself.

My friend brought up two main points relevant to this issue:

  1. If they Gods want to be known and loved, honored, and worshiped, a good way to do it is to give their devotees blessings, so that all in the physical world can see the good results of their dedication.

The AA program, being at heart a very spiritual program, has a similar concept. Their third step prayer sets this out clearly. (The third step, if you are unfamiliar with 2-step programs, is the step in which members turn their will and their life over to the care of a deity as they understand that deity–italics in the original text.) The prayer goes:

God, I offer myself to Thee To build with me & to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life.
May I do Thy will always.

“Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, The love, and They way of life.” To me, this reads just like any prayer to any deity anywhere, particularly in pre-Christian times. Give me something, so that other people can see how wonderful You are, and will give You praise and honor. It seems simple, but if so, where are all of the wealthy (or at least financially secure) Pagans and Polytheists? I knew a few, but honestly, I can only point to about 20-30% of the pagans I know who have a safe, secure job that pays a decent rate. It doesn’t speak well for the strength of our deities, nor make us look good to the wider spiritual communities. Many of us also have physical or emotional disabilities of one kind or another as well, and, if so, having a God or Goddess or spirit to help us to overcome part or all of these disabilities would also be a great way for Them to show Their strength as well. (And yes, I know a number of people for whom the intervention of their Gods is what keeps them as safe and healthy as they are.)

Since I joined a 12-step program over 8 years ago, my perspective on this issue has shifted considerably. Now, when bad things happen, I don’t blame my Gods for hurting or punishing me (or otherwise not being on the ball). Now I try to see it as, “Bad things happen, and my Gods will help me get through it”. I know deities do intentionally send us challenging circumstances occasionally, but I don’t believe my deities are sadistic enough to send down all of the difficulties I’ve had to go through, particularly since many were results of my own decisions, not theirs. What the Gods want us to endure or go through is not always what actually happens in our lives.

But even so–what gives with my long underemployed/unemployed patch? My friend’s gentle suggestion–and Hekate’s not-at-all gentle rant earlier at Con–was to look to other deities who will get the job done for me. If my Gods are not getting the job done, turn to Someone who will. None of our deities are omnipotent; each has His, Her, or Their own area of strength and expertise–true. But it’s a painful realization none-the-less.

(And yes, lest someone goes on a rant about how people in 12-step programs or in certain religions just pray for their problems to be resolved instead of actually doing anything to help themselves, let me point out that in 12-step programs, the idea is to “Pray to your Higher Power, and do the footwork. Pray to your HP, and do the footwork.” Etc. And for Heathens, it’s common to hear “The Gods help those who help themselves.” Meaning that there’s a part that we humans do have power over, but there’s a part that we have to take it on faith and hope that the Gods will see us through.)

2. Another suggestion that was brought up (by my friend, not by Hekate) was to “follow the love”. See Who’s active in your life now. If you feel love, follow that love, and find out where it’s coming from–it may not be from who you think it is. Maybe some of the Gods or spirits that you thought were always there for you may be on a break; and new ones may have joined whom you’re ignoring, or whom or haven’t made their presence known yet. If you hang out with  polytheists from other trads, or do spiritual work in the public sphere, or really spent time digging into your ancestry, it’s quite possible that you’ve caught the eye of deities and spirits other than your usual ones. Find their love (or other influence), and follow it. See who’s sending it to you and why. Maybe there’s gifts, blessings, or challenges to be found that you did not see. We usually only see what we expect to see.

So, for me, that means to follow the love. Who’s giving me enough to help me get financial stability?

Anyone? Bueller?

Wish me luck.


Loki and Skadi’s relationship, from another angle

From River Devora, a Loki dedicant (as well as many other roles). Speaking of Skadi’s revenge on Asgard from the POV of Loki Himself:

“She, standing in her fiercest, most male expression of her woman power, dominating the men in the room using their own tools and tricks. So it would take a gender bending god with his junk tied to a gender bending goat to exemplify and underline this binary gendered dynamic tension, til the one extreme becomes the other and we all dissolve in a fit of orgasmic giggling. Of course her father’s eyes had to be cast into the heavens at that point to become stars, he’d already seen more than he needed to see, don’t you think?”

For the full, NSFW description, check out River’s article here.

Patheos: Food for Thought–Heathen Polytheist Theology

My newest post is up at Patheos. It brings up some of the questions that I’ve wrestled with in developing my own Heathen polytheist theology.

Happily Heathen: Food for Thought – Heathen Polytheist Theology

The Top Ten Times You Should Not Publish A Blog Post

The top ten times you should not publish a blog post, based in no small part on the various polytheist dramas this past year.

(In no particular order)

  1. When you have been drinking (or are otherwise high or inebriated). (Two words: drunk dialing.)
  2. When you are hungry. “Hangry”–it’s a real thing, even if you don’t officially have low blood sugar. The Snickers commercials might be right.
  3. When you are grieving, be it the loss of a person or pet; the loss of a position; or the loss of a long-held belief system. It leaves a void. Don’t attempt to fill it with a post.
  4. When you are angry.
  5. When you haven’t posted in a while and just need to get a post out already.
  6. When you’re feeling lonely and are just trying to get some attention.
  7. When you’re in the middle of a bad cold, or any other temporarily-befuddling illness. (There is a reason why when you are sick you are said to be “compromised”.)
  8. When you are sure that Your Point of View Is The One True Way, And All Must Be Shown the Error of Their Ways. (Suggestion: if you start talking to yourself in all capital italics, something is wrong.)
  9. When you are feeling wounded or attacked, or even just slighted.
  10. When you’re feeling restless, irritable, and discontent. Posting will not fix this feeling (though clearly it can certainly distract you from it for a while).

This is not to say that you shouldn’t write blog posts at these times. (If so, many posts would never get written.) I’m just saying it might be a good idea to stop and wait a bit before actually publishing them.

Why would it be a good idea to hold off from posting at these times? In my opinion, these are some of the most likely times that people will say inaccurate, inflammatory, or just straight out dumb things that they will have to make amends for later. Truly. The reality of blogging on the internet is that a person’s post can possibly be seen by hundreds, even thousands of people long before he, she, or they have had a chance to sober up, get some sleep, or put some food in their belly. Depending on where and how a person blogs, they could be leaving a permanent, public, and easily searchable post on the Internet–forever. At which point, they might realize that maybe they didn’t actually mean all of those horrible things that they wrote about…. or, at least, they could have proofread the post all a bit better before publishing it. (I’m just as guilty of doing this as the next blogger, admittedly.) Unfortunately, at that point it’s a bit too late to take it all back.

I love reading blogs. I love hearing a person’s experience of their world and their thoughts about society at large. However, that sense of being in the moment leaves bloggers with a somewhat unnecessary sense of urgency, as if whatever the topic is must be addressed RIGHT! NOW! Generally, that’s just not the case. The internet will still be there a few hours or few days later. We’ll just have had more time to reflect on things before we respond to them.

So, before you publish your next post, check your state of your mind and body first. Are you HALTed? (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?) Stressed or sick? Feeling attacked? If the answer is yes, click “Save”, and publish your post later. You’ll be glad you did.

Breathe, and say it with me: The internet will still be here tomorrow.

How did you learn to trust your Gods?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a member of a 12 step program as well as a Heathen devotional polytheist. If you’re not familiar with 12 step programs, all 12 step programs follow AA’s 12 steps, with a change in wording in the first and twelfth steps. Otherwise, the program as written is identical across all groups.

My personal spirituality really matured quite a bit once I got into program. One of the main reasons for this is that the 12 steps is a spiritual program; the entire underlying concept is that a person’s best thinking and best efforts took them to rock bottom, so clearly something more than a person’s given resources is needed to get  out of it. While that “more” can include therapy, monetary support, support of family and friends, a rehab center, etc., the most important “more” is the guidance of and power from a non-corporeal figure of some kind (“Higher Power”). Being a Heathen devotional polytheist, that power for me are the Gods I’m devoted to.

Going through the steps really makes us think about the hows and whys of our relationships with our Higher Powers, Whoever They are. Here are a few of the prompts that I’ve come across in working my steps. I challenge you all to see what your answers to these questions are, as well. It can be good food for thought.

  • Do I trust my God(s)? If so, to what extent?
  • How was I able to come to trust my God(s)?
  • What keeps me from trusting my God(s)?
  • What role does the support of my family, friends, or spiritual community play in me coming to trust my God(s)?
  • How do I distinguish my God(s)’ will (or voice) from my own?
  • Do I continue to struggle with trusting my God(s); or is a decision that, once made, has stuck ever since?
  • Which aspects of my life do I trust my God(s) with?
  • When have I seen others trust their God(s)? How did that work out?
  • How has my understanding of my God(s) changed over time?
  • How has my relationship with my God(s) changed over time?
  • Do I trust Them more or less than I did previously? Why?

Do I Need Agreements or Contracts with the Gods?

My most recent article on Patheos, “Happily Heathen: Heathen Polytheism – A Deity Dedication Contract“, ended up causing a bit more of a discussion that I had anticipated. There were a few people who had Very Strong Feelings about this, and honestly, I was very taken aback by it all. So it seems like now would be a good time to go more in-depth into what I mean when I talk about a “deity contract” and how or why I find it to be a useful polytheist practice.

As a hard polytheist, I experience the Gods as being unique, independent entities with different interests and goals. They have “agency”. They interact with humans for a variety of reasons, some of which I will never fully understand. They need neither my permission, nor my approval, nor my comprehension in order to act in this world, because They would be off doing Their thing whether I was here or not. Me being here and being a reverent polytheist who has my ears open (for the most part) is just icing on the cake.

So what are some reasons someone would create a contract with any of Them?

  1. Boundaries are healthy. It helps to be explicit and up-front with what you want and what you’re willing to do. Having some kind of vague or non-verbal agreement with a deity might work for some people with some deities, but I’ve found that it helps to have a clear idea of what you are willing to do and to accept from a deity. And just like relationships with other humans, it’s best to have that clearly laid out and not hidden away passive-aggressively. With the Norse gods, at least, They respect a plan and they respect when a person lays down boundaries. (Depending on who you work with, the deity may happily skip over your boundaries, but at least they are there to begin with.)
  2. Deities don’t know everything. These beings are big and powerful but they are not omniscient or omnipotent. None of them are all-seeing Gods (except maybe Odin) and They don’t have infinite resources to keep tabs on all of their devotees plus deal with whatever godly shenanigans are going on. Therefore, They might not know if you’re overwhelmed. They might not know that you hate PR work, or that you need a new job, or that you really just want the Gods’ help to start your own business (or whatever).
  3. Relationships are idiosyncratic. Different people, different deities, and different types of relationships will all have different needs. A gardener who works privately in her yard with Ceres once a year, for example, will have different needs than someone who leads large rituals and does tranceposession at large public events in Her name.
  4. Don’t like the word “contract”? Don’t use it. Call it an “agreement”, or a “guideline”, or a “wish list”, or what have you. The term that you use is honestly not that important.
  5. Contracts aren’t necessarily permanent. Don’t expect that if you do make a contract of some kind with a deity, that it will last forever. People change. Situations change. Deities change too, in my opinion.
  6. Some deities are dicks. If you end up in a relationship with a deity in which the deity is asking you to swear to extreme conditions–say, give profuse amounts of blood as a sacrifice every week, or exercise three hours a day regardless of your physical limitations–get a second or third opinion. Just because the entity you’re interacting with is a deity doesn’t mean that He, She, or They is not also an abusive asshole. Not all Gods have your best interest at heart. They may be divine, but you also have rights.

I initially felt that I needed a contract with Freya because I had just gone through an intense initiation with Her, and I was feeling overwhelmed. (It’s not like Heathenry has some kind of training program for dealing with deities in such an intimate way.) I did not expect some kind of divine policeman to come along and “enforce” either of our ends of it. (Who would even be able to do that? Seriously.) My creating the contract was a great way for me to feel like I had some power in the situation and also to make sure my boundaries and needs were clearly stated and respected. Freya is a powerful, strong-willed goddess, but above all things She respects the need for people to own their bodies and enforce their own boundaries.

As it turned out, most of that effort was for me. It helped me nail down areas where I was feeling anxious about my relationship with Her. It helped me get to the point where I realized I was not relying on faith nearly enough. By the time I did write the contract, it felt more like a love letter to Freya than some kind of legal contract. It displayed the love and trust I had for Her. It essentially said, here’s my heart on a plate. I that you  know that you could smash it into pieces pretty easily if you wanted, but I still love you and am willing to take the risks. I also still have the right to make requests; here they are. I wrote it up over two years ago, and yearly renegotiations with Freya have changed the terms up a bit since then, but the essence of the contract stays true. It’s a statement of love and trust, and each time I read it it makes me cry.

(Considering Who the contract was with, this isn’t too surprising. Our Lady of the Runny Mascara, indeed.)

So is a contract needed? It’s totally up to you.