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.

Post-Cons debrief: PantheaCon, part 1

Hi everybody, I’m back!

/waves

Con was one big long blur this time ‘around, and not in a good way, unfortunately. I started the week of PantheaCon with a bad sinus infection, which, despite a round and a half of antibiotics, lasted past PCon and into ConVocation as well. Then, at ConVocation, I picked up the classic flu and a stomach bug of some kind, which lasted until several days after I got back home. By the time I was feeling well again, it was just in time to pull an all-nighter to get my most recent article done for Patheos. I finished out that first week back by leading a Runes ‘n Lore class for the local UU.

While out of town, I recruited to blog at another heathen site (info on that to come soon!) which I’m working on a new article for…. so I’m only just now getting a chance to catch my breath and become part of the human race again.

Aside from sicknesses, here’s how PCon went. (ConVocation will be its own post.)

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Minor Convocation update

I had hoped to spend this evening at a Hel devotional by H. P. Pattskyn. I honor Hel on a daily basis, mainly out of respect for my beau who is a devotee of Hela’s, and because a chance to honor Her in public ritual doesn’t come up very often. Instead I am sitting in bed typing this, and hoping to Hel that the chills and aches I’m currently experiencing are not actually the flu that apparently many others got at PCon last weekend. I had a flu shot, Universe. This shouldn’t be happening. All of the swear words in the world….

Convocation is considerably smaller than PCon–say maybe 1/3 of the size–but it still somehow has 10 programs running in any one time slot. I think this is because the “guest presenters” are all offering four panels each. Even with sleeping away much of Con, I was able to get to two of Sarenth Odinsson’s presentations (both on polytheism) and then have a nice chat with him afterwards. I also got to be on a panel this morning with a variety of Patheos bloggers: the Rev. Melissa Hill (“Dandelion Seeds”) whose Swan Maidens ritual I hope to attend tomorrow night; Annika Mongan (“Born Again Witch”); Shauna Aura Knight (“Seeking the Grail”), pagan author and blogger; and Jenya Turner Beachy (“Dirt Heart Witch”), who runs the Feri Tent Revival rituals at PCon.

On Friday, I did get attend the Opening ritual and one other new ritual. It was something completely different from my style and tradition, a kind of Kabbalah-based break-open-your-mind-and-let-in-Keter thing, which, while interesting from a ritual design perspective, ran almost two and a half hours long, much of which was spent quietly holding space and shuffling around the edges of the room in a line. It reminded me why I don’t attend many other peoples’ rituals.

Tomorrow, should I feel up for it, I hope to spend some time at the ADF suite; attend anything put on by Shauna, Ian Corrigan, or Raven Kaldera, and attend the Swan maidens ritual. Wish me luck!

 

A Rant From Njord

This was the basis for my Njord blot at PCon this year. Though sparsely attended, those who did attend really seemed to get it. Also, they got to see me cry, which is a rare thing for me in general, and an even rarer thing for me in public. The downside to being so strongly connected to the Vanir Gods is that when They hurt, I feel it too.

Now let’s get this straight:

I am wise and generous and giving.

The seashells are mine. The gulls and the waves and the seashore are mine. Mine is the current and the undercurrent, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the riches they bring forth.

Mine are those who adventure, who lust for renown and riches, who set plans and see them through. Mine is the coin in the coin box and the gold at the bottom of the ocean when plans go awry. The sweet salt wind, the flow of commerce, to and fro. These are the gifts I can give. These are the gifts I have given, and will continue to give when asked. Yet there is no acknowledgement of this.

Where are the ancestors of your community? Why are they not honored and remembered?

Why is your community not wealthy? Where are their riches? Where are their numbers? Where is their fame? Why don’t those who need come to me for gifts?! Why do those who are not in need, but who wish to gain respect in the eyes of the Gods, not flock to me like the gulls who catch the scent of fish in the wind?

Kin of my kin, why are you not answering me? Why have you lost your faith in me?

Blood of my blood, come back to me!

–So ranteth Njord, generous god of the Sea.