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.

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10 thoughts on “Do I Need Agreements or Contracts with the Gods?

  1. Silence says:

    I haven’t read the comments on your article (because I don’t read the comments) but I imagine some criticism might be that a formal or specific agreement hedges in potential growth and puts too many qualifications on a constantly-developing relationship. And yeah, it does – but we are entirely willing to expect human-human relationships to involve a certain degree of negotiation. What romantic relationship would be successful without negotiation and agreement? We call relationships with such conversation “healthy”, even. Sure, you don’t need agreements in your relationship but those relationships tend to burn hot and fast – not ideal if you’re trying to establish a long-term religious practice. (And to continue the analogy with human-human relationships, marriages in the US are essentially contracts, if I understand them correctly. They’re contracts that we usually hold very elaborate parties to celebrate, but a type of contract nonetheless.)

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    • EmberVoices says:

      > marriages in the US are essentially contracts, if I understand them correctly

      I am not a lawyer, but from my experience and research, yes marriage is a contract in the US, and thus a function of civil law. Each state has default terms for the contract (e.g. California’s common property and no-fault rules), and prenuptial agreements are documents which override those terms to make a unique marriage contract (within allowed parameters).

      Marriage *vows* don’t override the state contract, contrary to popular belief. You need a prenuptial document for that. But the aspects of the relationship vows usually cover aren’t the same as the aspects usually covered by the law, except to the degree that breaking one’s vows is culturally considered grounds for divorce, and in states that don’t have a no-fault rule for divorce, grounds for divorce ARE part of the state contract.

      If I understand correct, historically, the marriage contract, vows, bride price, dowry, etc. were all negotiated on a case-by-case basis in Europe until the Catholic church codified standard vows, separating that part out from the rest. But my understanding of this bit of history is pretty loose…

      -E-

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  2. leonaoigheag says:

    Thank you for both this article and the original one. I have set boundaries with both of the Norse gods that I work closely with – neither are written, but they are both explicitly stated along with the option to re-negotiate should it be needed.

    I think it’s always a good idea to know what you will, and will not, be okay with in any relationship – divine or otherwise.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jolene Poseidonae says:

    I rather enjoyed both this, and the other article. I’m not sure why you’d get shit for it. Some Powers are notorious for stirring shit up — hell, Some seem to search for loopholes just to make you realize that they need to be attended to.

    (Yes, sometimes, with some of Them, life can seem a bit like stepping into a fairytale of the ‘don’t eat the food unless you know it’s source, and don’t make agreements lightly’ variety.)

    Poseidon and I had agreements going in — I don’t think this is a bad thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cara Freyasdaughter says:

      As far as I know, it was just Galina and her followers who completely tore it apart on her FB. Apparently both the “idea” of a contract and also the details of my specific contract were offensive. I only saw a bit of the uproar, but within an hour or so like fifteen people had tore into the article, so I decided to let it go. I’m pretty sure most didn’t actually read it, but that’s nothing new on the internet. 😛 Eh, it is what it is.

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      • EmberVoices says:

        Strange. I would have thought Galina liked the kind of structure such agreements provide – and the codified obligations they often place on the humans who have them.

        But if they didn’t like your terms, I can see that being a source of controversy.

        Not that the terms of an individual’s contract is anyone’s business but the people directly involved, IMHO, but that doesn’t mean folks won’t have *opinions*.

        *sigh*
        –Ember–

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  4. Helio says:

    Not only do I agree with every word you wrote, I wholeheartedly support it! If one makes binding contracts with loved ones – i.e. marriage – for the exact purpose of establishing guidelines, goals, mutual assistance and a series of rights and obligations, I see no reason why it should be any different with a deity. Actually, the fact that one is dealing with a divine being is all the more reason why you should have a contract! There’s a disparity between us and Them that can lead to misunderstandings, so you need clear guidelines if you’re going into a deeper relationship. The only way that makes no sense is if you either think the Gods are just abstractions or absolute beings to whom you must grovel.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. EmberVoices says:

    With the gods, every vow is a contract. It’s thoroughly traditional, and Var is who oversees them. I’m sure enforcing them is a function of community pressure among the gods as it is among humans, but I also know from experience that enforcing a contract with any *given* god is often a function of contacting specific other gods whose influence They respect and/or fear for help.

    Need help with Odin? Call Frigga and Freyja. Yes, both.
    Need help with Frigga? Call a Handmaiden or two.
    Need help with Freyr? Call Gerd or Freyja.
    Need help with Freyja? Call Njordh.
    Need help with any of the Vanir and nothing else is working? Call Nerthus and Heide. And then get out of the blast radius.
    Need help with any of the Aesir? Call Forseti. Not enough? Call Tyr, but you’d better be damned right!

    Of course, these are always assuming that you tried talking with Them as directly as you’re able and it didn’t help.

    -E-

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