The Bane of Casual Irreverence

Last night in one of my classes, two students were giving a joint presentation on what they called “the figure known as Asherah, Anat, Ishtar, and Aphrodite.” Obviously right away, a polytheist is going to have trouble with the compression of these Deities into one cross-cultural, trans-national figure. It’s dismissive and disrespectful but that is actually not what bothered me, or at least not what bothered me the most. (Given the class parameters, and the academic articles we’ve been reading in kind, I didn’t expect anything else). What irked me, like a lash across the back, was the casual disrespect with which these women discussed these Goddesses, all powerful, mighty, fierce Beings.

Each time one of the women presenting talked about the anger and fury of Ishtar, for instance, she would describe it (and I mean no disrespect here to Ishtar), as Ishtar ‘being whiny and having a temper tantrum.’ The language was tremendously dismissive and disrespectful (though whether it was because they were female Deities or because they were Pagan Deities, I don’t know). The women presenting didn’t give any thought at all to that disrespect. It was completely unthinking and casual. I cringed every time one of our Goddesses was described as ’emotional’ or “petty’ or ‘whiny’ or ‘vain.’ I felt unclean, as though I had taken in miasma through my ears.

I really couldn’t suss out whether these Goddesses were being dismissed because of Their gender or not. It was disheartening to see Anat, who defeated and slaughtered Death himself to save Her brother Ba’al, being dismissed as having had a temper tantrum. Would a male God have been dismissed so easily? Would Jesus or Yahweh? I almost covered my ears when Ishtar, who was once described by a worshipper as stalking the battlefield and feasting on the bodies of her enemies like a dog devouring a corpse, was dismissed as ‘whiny,’ and Aphrodite as ‘vain and feminine.’ It had never once occurred to these students that they were talking about someone’s Deities and perhaps a little respect might be warranted.

That level of casual disrespect isn’t limited to academe. I see it all the time in Paganisim and Polytheism. Every time we dismiss our Gods as petty, we reduce them to something less in the hierarchical scale of things than humans. We lower Them in our estimation. We show Them disrespect. That we may not grasp the inherent wisdom in Their sacred tales or actions does not automatically equate to pettiness or vanity or cruelty or any other human failing. Until we start respecting the Gods as Gods we’re going to have trouble, in our personal devotions, in community restoration, in everything. Where there is contempt and disrespect, especially casual disrespect for the Gods, there cannot be devotion.

I think reducing the drama and potency of the Gods’ interactions to “pettiness” and “squabbling” is a way of reducing Their place in our lives, of rendering Them less “evolved” in our estimation than humans. It’s bullshit, of course, but we’ve been so out of right relationship with the Powers for so many generations that we simply as a group struggle excessively because of it. This brings to mind something my colleague Kenaz Filan said to me when we were talking briefly about piety last week . Kenaz was sharing an incident he’d had to deal with recently and brought up something quite important about the nature of piety and contagion:

“That is the great danger of Impietas: it works like the AIDS virus and erodes your defenses.  These people have been wallowing in filth for so long that they find cleanliness distasteful: their noses are so inured to foulness that every stench gets treated like perfume.  The deeper Impietas gets into the community,  the more difficult it is to dislodge.  Ultimately it eats the group alive like a parasite: right-thinking people shun the impiety like the plague it is so you get nothing but the dregs.  With them running the show the end is inevitable and generally messy.”

We have been wallowing in filth for far too long. Irreverence has become the cherished law of the land. Casual disrespect is so common in our treatment of our Gods that no one even seems to notice anymore, instead it is reverence and respect that draw hostility. Well, casual disrespect is impiety. Ultimately, it patterns us to perceive of the Gods as less than They are. It reduces Them to our level, which is perhaps convenient when we are struggling to accept our place in this work. After all, if a God is asking something difficult of us, instead of examining how much of our own hurts and baggage we may be projecting onto that interaction, it’s so much easier to dismiss the God all together as mean, or cruel, or petty. Instead of dealing with our own discomfort and resistance, it’s easier to condemn the Deity in question with our words, creating pathways in our minds that only reinforce the imbalance within ourselves with which we’re already being confronted. More than anything else, I think this casual disrespect (in ourselves, in the media — another colleague mentioned to me today how much more hostile media — movies –portrayal of our Gods is now than 50 years ago. I suppose as restorations progress, They’re more of an active threat to the mono-religious establishment now) is one of the most damning and damaging things that I’ve seen in contemporary Paganisms and Polytheisms today. Our Gods are not petty. They are not whiny. They are not having temper tantrums. They are GODS and it’s about time we treated Them as such.

I think some of the most important work we can do when we catch this behavior in ourselves is to stop right then and there, apologize to both the listeners and to the Deity in question, and reframe it. Correct oneself on the spot. When I was dancing, we were told that for every time we did a movement incorrectly, it took between three and ten perfectly correct repetitions to train the right form into the body. I suspect this is much the same. We’ve all inherited a bad habit and it’s up to us to correct this. It’s not going to change itself after all. When we find ourselves being so casually disrespectful to the Gods, I think we’d be better served by stepping back and considering what we’re feeling and why and looking within ourselves rather than dragging the Gods down onto our own level. I try to choose the words with which I describe the Gods — be it in academia, devotional work, my writing, anywhere – very carefully. With each word we utter we’re working an enchantment on our psyche. We are imprinting ideas and attitudes that can serve us or make the work ever so much harder. I think it really behooves us individually to check ourselves, and develop a pattern of mindfulness until we can rid ourselves of this particular bad habit all together. Our Gods deserve as much and frankly, so do we.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on April 22, 2015, in Polytheism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. For weal or woe, our Wyrd-weaving words shape us. I’m personally very tired of the degrading, neat little package–it’s bubble-gum pink in color, of course–Aphrodite gets stuffed into as a “Love Goddess.” Aphrodite the Airhead–the Dumb Blonde of the Hosts of Olympos, Her Attic Greek spoken with a pronounced Valley Girl accent. This 20th century/21st century Pagan and pop culture-at-large attitude speaks volumes about internalized misogyny–the wholesale demeaning of the totality of women’s experience. Did your classmates mention that Aphrodite is also a Goddess of War? It’s helpful to always try and step back objectively to assess one’s beliefs and assumptions and trace their origins. So many stem from the patriarchal monotheist weltanschauung many of us thought we’d escaped when we turned our backs on the Abrahamic faiths in which we’d been raised.

    I don’t know what I would have done more had I been in your class and I was subjected to this egregious conflation of distinct, separate female Powers: winced or laughed bitterly. Prolly a bit o’ both.

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  2. Virginia carper

    Yes, I agree. In writing my prayer to Marduk, I needed first to find out His traditional names and prayers. As you know each God has their own preference in being addressed. An aspect of piety is learning all the addresses They require.

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  3. You clearly have more restraint than I have. I have little patience for inappropriate irreverence. Satire and irreverence have their place, but academic work is not one of those places. I would have marked them down just for that alone. You are not presenting a satire but a piece of your scholarship..point deduction for failure for treating your subject with dignity and due seriousness. But you have a good question raised here…is it because it is about goddesses (because I rarely hear about gods presented that way unless it is by certain movements in paganism who like to tack on rapist, woman-hating, womanizing etc to some gods) or because it is a deity that they are not taking it seriously? Possibly a mixture of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ganglerisgrove

      had i been teaching teh class, I would have given them a very poor mark, but then I also would have made it clear from the beginning that such a thing wasn’t acceptable. I’m a student in the class though. I did bring up the warrior side of these various Goddesses, and quoted some Babylonian poetry about Ishtar to off set but their presentation was pretty egregious. Still, I’ve seen stuff just as bad in our communities.:(

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There is only ONE deity that I will be “Casually Irreverent” about and that is Eris. However, as someone who is both a more “traditional” Hellenic Polytheist and a Discordian, being “irreverent” about Eris is actually serious worship in its own way.

    Other Gods and Spirits are NOT subject to casual behavior — they are not my “besties” they are GODS, Ancestral Spirits and Spirits of Place.

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  5. The disrespect of Aphrodite was already present in Homer, and the criticism of the portrayal of the Gods as soap-opera characters started with Xenophanes (there’s a paper in there, for sure, along the lines of why so many later authors ignored him). Anyway, it’s not like these vices started with the emergence of Neopaganism. We have to develop our own applications of balance, propriety, and piety.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      Possibly why Heraclitus (I think it was Heraclitus) said Homer should be throttled.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      and nothing you see amongst ancient writers approaches the level of casual contempt that we show the Gods today.

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  6. I feel you. The major problem about assumptions is that they can and will “make an ass out of you and me.” This was the professor’s first mistake: to allow any assumptions other than the ontologic reality of the divinities being studied. KISS is the appropriate term here, Keep It Simple, Stupid. I never make fun of another person’s pantheon. If one of the deities in the pantheon I worship has made known to me that I can share a funny moment, well, that’s all right. (Hermes occasionally allows this. He likes good press.) Hera, Athena, Ares, and Poseidon are just too formal and I would never want to upset them.

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  7. Okay, whiny and petty I get, but neither “Emotional” nor “Feminine” should be construed as diminishing epithets in the first place. -E-

    Liked by 2 people

    • ganglerisgrove

      i don’t think feminine should be diminishing either, but the way the girls said it, it was. emotional i do consider a negative. It implies lack of personal control.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whereas I think considering “emotional” to imply a lack of self control is itself a problematic statement that reinforces patriarchal roles that require both women and men to act like they don’t have emotions in order to prove they’re sufficiently rational and strong.

        It is more than possible to have emotions, and even express them, and still exhibit self control in your decisions and actions.

        -E-

        Liked by 3 people

  8. ganglerisgrove

    Ember, we’re going to have to agree to disagree here. male or female, excessive emotionality is not a good thing in my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I suppose we’ll have to. For a deity whose domains include Love and Passion, being motivated by emotion is totally appropriate, and I think it’s deeply insulting to Them to say that it’s a flaw for Them to be so. But you don’t belong to a goddess of Love and Passion.

      I admit, I understand Odin as a god of Ecstasy, which is very much about losing control to an emotional experience being a positive thing, so I’m actually kind of surprised to hear that you find that unacceptable.

      But as with most places where you and I disagree, I imagine it’s a function of interpretation.

      -E-

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  9. ganglerisgrove

    Ecstasy isn’t emotion. It has nothing to do with being emotional. I think you’re conflating two things that are dramatically different. Ecstasy is experiential, but it’s not emotional, nor do I necessarily think that Odin loses control in the midst of ecstasy. If anything, senses are heightened…though not always to the mundane world.

    One can have emotions. that’s normal and healthy. We are at times emotional. that’s also inevitable. But to say that someone is (as the essential nature of their character) emotional is to me one of the worst insults one could lay.

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  10. ganglerisgrove

    Ember Voices is continuing the conversation on irreverence on her own blog here: https://embervoices.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/respecting-flawed-gods/ It’s a good read, and I think that these are important and necessary conversations to be having.

    Ember highlights a very, very important difference in the way we approach the Gods: I believe it is potentially disrespectful to think that it is our place to point out what we perceive as ‘flaws’ in the Gods. I don’t even think it’s our place to categorize Them that way. it diminishes the very real hierarchy that exists and places us in a position of pseudo-judgement over our Gods…something that is against the natural order of things.

    To say that the Gods are subject to our correction is to place ourselves above the Gods and that is not something that should ever stand. These are not people that we’re talking about. We’re talking about Gods and They are not subject to our approval, disapproval, or correction. It is said that over the oracle of Delphi there were two words inscribed: “Know Thyself.” Many scholars both ancient and modern interpret that as know yourself and know your place, i.e. know that you are not in fact equal to the Gods.

    That being said, yes, there’s a difference between irreverence and disrespect…..maybe two kinds of irreverence: the playful kind that comes from decades of interaction and that’s rooted in deep affection and respect…and the type that is just disrespectful in the extreme. The women giving the presentation were the latter, but it wasn’t even thoughtful …they never considered that these figures they were writing about were worthy of respect. It wasn’t part and parcel of their world view.

    Anyhow, we’ll never agree on emotion. lol. but that’s ok. i’m glad you joined in the discussion. Even if we don’t agree, it’s making me think more about piety and respect, and how I approach the Gods and that’s good.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Respecting Flawed Gods | EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir

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