“My Gods” – How We Refer to the Holy

Lately I’ve seen some egregiously bad advice percolating around tumblr (no surprise). The most recent is the idea, articulated as though it was historical fact, that to refer to the Gods as ‘my God’ or ‘my Goddess’ is hubris.(1) I’m not sure where this nonsense is coming from but it’s just that: utter, misguided bullshit.(2)

Each devotional relationship with a Deity is unique. To indicate ownership of that relationship by using the possessive acknowledges that reality. It articulates responsibility for one’s role in that relationship. It acknowledges that someone else may have a very different relationship with the same Deity, that the Gods are independent Beings, capable of relating to Their devotees as individuals, unrestricted by the narrow confines of anything written about Them.

To say “my God …” also articulates an essential difference between one’s own tradition and that of whatever interlocutor with whom one might be speaking. It expresses uniqueness, as each Deity is unique and each devotional relationship is unique, while at the same time giving voice to the tremendous power of such relationships. It is indeed possible to engage with the Gods in significant ways. One’s own engagement does not impinge upon someone else also having an equally significant devotional reality. Language is often problematic when it comes to discussing spiritual reality, the Gods, or indeed anything Holy but I do not believe that this is a situation that falls under that particular rubric.

If we rule out such intimate language than we are tacitly agreeing with the idea, promulgated so frequently in academic circles, that polytheists in the ancient world had no personal devotional relationships with their Gods. This is, of course, also nonsense. Use of the possessive acknowledges the unique nature of each devotional relationship and the rich complexity such relationships bring to one’s devotional and religious life. The only hubris lies in not acknowledging that.

  1. Not only is it anything but hubris, in many indigenous religions, particularly certain ATR, it is common parlance to refer to “my [insert Deity name here]” precisely as a matter of respect, and a reference to certain initiatory realities. If using such language is “hubris” in one tradition, then the implication is that it is “hubris” in every tradition, which I’m sure was not the intent of the original tumblr post. Still, language is a precise instrument, a tool to foster clarity of expression and sentiments like this matter. Now the main focus of the tumblr in question is a rather narrow type of progressive politics, and I cannot help but wonder if the idea of articulating distinctions in one’s devotional and religious worlds bothers the poster because it is creating a border, distinguishing clearly between your tradition and mine, your Gods and mine, your praxis and mine. I don’t think such distinctions are bad things. I think, for the integrity of traditions, they’re necessary. It also brings clarity to any conversation about these topics; after all, one is not by such possessive usage speaking for the Gods, which would indeed be ethically problematic.
  2. So is the same poster’s advice on miasma. Katharmos (cleansing) is NOT just for murder/killing. There are many, many reasons that some type of cleansing might be required. I would suggest R. Parker’s classic text “Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion” or “Inner Purity and Pollution in Greek Religion” by A. Petrovic and I. Petrovic. My Gods, I wish people would read and critically consider what they read. Also, maybe go beyond Homer, ffs.

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 October 30, 2019, in Bacchic Things, hellenic things, Roman Things, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Edward P. Butler

    It’s ironic, of course, that they should be claiming to make a *historical* argument, while using the term “hubris” in a blatantly unhistorical fashion.

    Liked by 5 people

    • right? there’s generally just bad information on this particular site, but this and the bit about purification was so potentially damaging to devotional practice that I felt I had to respond.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I have always spoken about My Gods this way & not once has any of My Beloved Deities taken issue. They call me theirs as I call them mine.

    I have not once thought it was hubris. This is why, unless I find something sensible(?) I avoid tumblr! But then again the only way to give proper advice out is to know what is being peddled online!

    Liked by 1 person

    • tumblr is a shit show. I wouldn’t have seen this if one of my readers hadn’t sent it my way with questions. I think tumblr more than anything else shows that all opinions are not actually equal. some of us read, study, have devoted years to both devotion and study. And those of us with long term relationships with the Gods, deeply rooted in devotion can just brush off the garbage but a new comer, without that experience can be misled in ways that can cause damage spiritually and to their ability to develop or even recognize healthy devotional life. it’s really disgusting to see someone like the blog in question, which I won’t name here, twist devotion to serve their pathetic political ends, which is precisely what I think is happening.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I agree – the damage to a newcomer could potentially stop a personal relationship with Gods if they are unable to look past what they have read online. I’m lucky that I always look for information to back things up! Loki has always enjoyed how I don’t just read something & accept it – I am a pain in the ass but I get my facts straight & admit when I’ve got it wrong.

        It’s sad & disappointing how many people are on tumblr just to cause trouble. For everyone person who has something worth reading there are a hundred tumblr accounts that make a mockery of our spirituality. I can’t see how so many people can proclaim loyalty & love to a God & then try to stop others knowing them? To me it is very sad. I would never try & stop others from getting to know Loki or Hekate – this is why I say My Loki or My Hekate as everyone sees a different side/face of the Gods & I would never dream of getting between a God & their person!

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  3. the poster also says that theophorics (i might be misspelling this) are hubristic. this is also incorrect, which is something she should take up with the VAST majority of ancient peoples, since that was a very common, very popular naming convention. There’s a big difference between naming your child, “Apollo” and “giftofApollo”. Again, reading and education matter. Maybe stfu until you have some.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I don’t even know how they figure with that one. Literally everyone and their mother had some kind of theophoric name. Herodotus, Apollodorus, Hermogenes, Diogenes, Diodorus, Hermione, Isidorus, etc. I mean, for fuck’s sake, one of the most worshipped Gods used to be a guy nicknamed Herakles. He was still a human when He was given that name. Granted, lots of things are true of Herakles that are not true of other men because of His divine nature but the Gods Themselves through the Pythia gave Him the name when He was still just a man. So if that person has an issue with theophoric names, I wish them well because this means they have a bone to pick with the Gatekeeper of Olympus! And I hear that those who picks fights with the Lion-hearted Son of Zeus do not live long to tell about it…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Clearly this person does not understand the nature of hubris. Hubris essentially is disrespect for rank. Saying “my Gods” in the same way as saying “my lord” or “my liege” is the exact opposite of hubris since you are acknowledging that the Gods are your superiors. They are your Gods and you are Their worshipper. That is the way it should be therefore the person who has an issue with that phrase does not know what they are talking about.

    A part of me wonders if they said what they said because they thought this was related to the actual hubris of saying Gods belong to certain cultures (like say, the idea that it is cultural appropriation for a White person to worship Ganesh because Ganesh is a Hindu God). There is a difference between saying “My Gods” and “These are my Gods and mine alone”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One Latin word utterly refutes their argument:

    Mecastor

    It literally means “My Castor!” (or perhaps “Castor to me!”), and was a very common expletive in Ancient Rome. As the Romans revered Castor even more than Pollux, which is unusual since He was the “mortal” twin of the Dioskouroi, this shows how much they felt He was a part of their lives, heritage, and culture.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. So, I’m betting that this is a very typical case of grammatical hyper-correction — it’s just more noticeable than it used to be. I mean, if you’re a Tumblr user, you worship the Gods, and you see someone caution against possessive determiner hubris, why wouldn’t you pay attention and (maybe) reblog a position like this even if you haven’t checked it?

    Most people think of possessive pronouns as signifying only possession. I don’t think this is a specifically religious misconception — as a secular example, people have been fighting about whether or not a room can own a wall (due to “the room’s wall” as a phrase construction) since the days of listservs. My/our/your/&c. are multi-tools, and linguists are still studying how they’re used. That said, most of this stuff isn’t even in the paywalled literature, so I hope the OP self-corrects.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Random aside- it occurred to me that Homer might have been to the Ancient Athenians what Michael Bay is to Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes–as all poets have been since the beginning…they were giving out poetic licenses back then, too! But, I think we take Homer a bit too much at his word, as if all he says about Greek religion or theology was “true” in some fashion that anything later-than-Homer was not, which simply doesn’t make sense. He didn’t seem to have much of a positive opinion about Hero cultus, as evidenced by the part of the Odyssey in which many Heroes are in Hades and are basically gibbering wrecks, and just before going there, Elpenor dies in a manner that would have given him Hero cultus in many other circumstances…and yet, we know some Hero cultus shrines and practices were at least as old as Homer, if not older…so…!?! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What I have noticed in those tmblr blogs is how Christian values lurk just below the surface. Hubris from what I can see has been interpreted as the Christian sin of pride. Not the idea of putting yourself above the Gods.

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    • Yes, they don’t seem to get the nuance. In our religion, pride is totally fine. You are supposed to be proud when you do things worth noting. It’s actually a sign of disrespect to not be acknowledged for your contribution to the community. Hence why Achilles became angry with Agamemnon. He felt that Agamemnon was dissing his contributions to the Achaean army. And Agamemnon learned to regret it when Achilles pulled out for a time!

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a positive, life and community affirming type of pride and then a far more destructive kind. The Christians weren’t wrong to be concerned about that.

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      • Oh sure. But that’s where moderation comes in. That’s what I love about our virtue system. It’s true to the human spirit but it allows for ressonable and mature actions to be taken. It’s just a good system

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