We Don’t Own the Gods

I’m seeing a disturbing trend in certain polytheisms (for once, not Heathenry) of trying to close the door to any type of direct devotional experience or theophany. The idea that the Gods can call someone to Their worship, grant direct experience, communicate in various ways outside of divination is very threatening to some people. Well, tough titty said the kitty, it happens. All the time. It is the heart and soul of any licit tradition. You’d think these nay-sayers would learn from the mistakes Heathenry has made and not try to waltz merrily down the same rocky road.

I agree that there is a tremendous lack of discernment in certain dark corners of our communities (tumblr, lookin’ at you). I agree that too many people put their feelings, politics, sentimentalities, [insert obnoxious thing of choice here] before clean veneration of the Gods. I agree that many of those purporting to have fantastic devotional experiences are confused, lying, mentally ill, or what have you. Every community has this. But I part ways at the idea that such direct experience is antithetical to polytheism. The lack of discernment is the consequence of the attitudes of modernity and lack of good, intergenerational transmission of tradition, and lack of competent elders (or respect for elders).

Someone said to me in the course of these discussions: “I look at someone saying ‘the Gods called me to worship Them’ the same way I’d look at someone saying ‘I’m eating this ice cream because the vanilla ice cream called me to eat it.” All of which neglects or purposely ignores the key ontological difference between the two examples, namely that Gods have agency. They can and often do call us to veneration. We’re not always savvy or sensible about doing so, nor do we always respond to such inspiration as we should, but that doesn’t change that the Gods are quite willing to engage.

To rule that out is to betray the very tradition you’re trying to build. It’s spitting in the face of your ancestors who themselves had powerful devotional experiences – and how do we know this? Well, they had a powerful, intergenerational tradition that was rich, complex, and birthed some of the greatest thinkers in the Western world.

When you shit on a person for their experiences with the Gods, consider for a moment that you may in fact be shitting on those Gods too. There’s not really any coming back from that, especially not when it’s done because you want to be edgy or rule out liberal (or conservative)  contamination into your tradition.

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 July 23, 2019, in devotional work, hellenic things, Lived Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Having seen all of those Twitter discussions that I have stayed (mostly) away from: I agree about tradition providing a framework. What I know from experience matches Iamblichus in that contact with the gods will be jarring, but only good comes from them, so it will all ultimately be “okay” (that word is highly approximate and loaded). Contextualization and mentorship are important, which is why I take a middle position on a lot of this and tend to talk everyone’s ear off about easily-accessible baseline educational resources and how sorely they’re needed online.

    My experiences pre-Hellenism in Neopaganism were trial-and-error, partly due to the lack of framework. I am still deeply embarrassed by my teen self sometimes. People were really hands-off in mentoring us second gens for a long time, so it was very DIY. I interpreted some things incorrectly and then had some social alienation-fueled things that (thankfully) got course-corrected before I got too deep into them. When you’re 12-13 and doing ritual invocations in your bedroom with supplies that your parents bought for you, a lot can go wrong. That’s like giving a child a weapon without a safety training course.

    I usually take a deep breath and step away from my computer when I see things that I would consider egregious. However, I’m also in the camp of people who will rarely say anything detailed about my own meaningful religious experiences online, so I can get shocked by others’ lack of filter. I think that the negative conversations on Twitter are also reacting to this difference in oversharing limits sometimes. It can be very shocking and overwhelming.

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  2. If a God or other Power starts talking to me, I’m going to contact a shaman, diviner, or community elder and see what they think about my experiences. The Holy Powers come to us in dreams, speak through omens, oracles, and divination. Our Gods are not characters in a book like Protestants want their God to be. But I am a layperson, and should seek the expertise of an elder to determine if one of the Powers is talking to me or if something else is going on. This is just one more reason why having competent oracles, diviners, and elders is so critical for a community, and the people who resent that are courting disaster. If someone is uncomfortable with Gods that actually talk to people, they should go over to the Protestants and start worshiping a book instead.

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  3. ganglerisgrove

    I”d go so far as to say that the attitudes expressed in the second ping back by traditional polytheist are an easy way of relieving us from the obligation of veneration. It’s pseudo-piety that cares only for that which is human and nothing at all about actual Gods (as opposed to the idea of the Gods, the literary presence of the Gods, the Gods as a nice political idea to unify a group, etc). it’s hubris of the grossest kind.

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  4. ganglerisgrove

    Also, anyone venerating Gods because they think it will make their lives easier is …deluded. lol. i haven’t had a moment’s peace since I became devout and that is GOOD. it’s productive.

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  5. THIS. SO MUCH THIS. Fuck, are these people not looking at the history of their traditions, even in antiquity we see references to theophany, or the concept that the Divine called to an individual or group across so many traditions (monotheism, polytheism,, etc.), you might as well call it a universal concept.

    I think this ties so much into the backlashes we see with devotion as a whole. Damaged in part by what I will call the prima donna syndrome, and in part by their monotheistic baggage (especially from more evangelical forms of Christianity where people talk about Witnessing to others).

    When you begin developing a relationship with a God do so with the understanding that everyone’s experiences will vary. That isn’t because one person is more special than another, but rather that our Gods are opportunistic, they connect and communicate with us in the ways we are most receptive. Sometimes those messages are highly personalized and are meaningless to someone else.

    Remember that there is only a miniscule MINORITY that is called to a God/dess for ordeal, or shamanism, or as a fulltrui, or god spouse, or horse, or godphone, etc. Those are all important and difficult callings. But understand that most of us are never called in that way. It’s not a slight to anyone, no one’s more special, we’re just each individuals. Just as one person may be a gifted vocalist, and another have an uncanny knack with theoretical astrophysics. One person may be a skilled seamstress, and another a skilled detective. And anyone who tries to lord it over someone else that they’re more special or some such nonsense is missing the point.

    My friend may connect with Odin as Warrior, and I may connect with Him as a God of Wisdom and Poet, but we both connect with Odin. It’s like how in real life your best friend may be on the soccer team, and you’re on the chess team. You’re friends, but you connect with others on your own too. Or like how you may bond with your father for a shared love of B movies like Sharknado, but your sister bonds with him over their mutual love of classic cars.

    If you’re not hearing, sensing, feeling a God, are you sure that YOU are receptive to hearing them? All too often we let our mundane lives, issues, jealousies, insecurities, fears, and the other distractions life is teeming with interfere with our awareness of Them.

    You will know the true devotees not by how much they beat down others, but how they instead focus on worshiping and Honoring the deity in question. Some quietly, some a bit more publicly.

    We must learn to listen, to hear THEM when they speak. And even when we do decipher a part of the message, so much more is always lost in static, that there is always more that we must still yet uncover.

    But you can’t do that if you don’t approach Them as individual deities. What works with Frigga may not work for Thor, just as you may have a friend on Midgard that loves to read Biographies and another that prefers mystery novels with political intrigue. Adapt as necessary to cater to the individual deity.

    In ancient Greece, we had a plethora of MANY GODS (i.e. the very word Polytheism), but just because there were many, didn’t mean that everyone joined Demeter’s cultus of The Eleusinian Mysteries. Cicero talks about the agency of the Gods conversing with dreaming men in their sleep. Or like the recent post you had with the quote about the playwright Aiskhylos being called by Dionysos to write.

    It’s like they’re walking around as a horse with blinders on, only seeing a narrow scope of view based on where they want to point their own heads. 😒

    You of course know all this. But I feel that between the monotheistic baggage, the prima donnas trying to lord it over others, devotion just makes people damn uncomfortable and thus they want to discredit it, and make it somehow shameful so they can avoid it.

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