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?
- 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.)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.