I’m sure we can all think of someone, perhaps on a mailing list, perhaps in a coven, maybe even in our circle of friends, who has some truly absurd belief about their place among the gods. They think they are the last, the only, or truly the best in some regard, or even an incarnate deity, and everyone around them has just run out of face palm.
I’ve heard it said that these people are just looking for attention, but after this past couple of months, I no longer think so.
Examining The Issue Intellectually: Why There Is A Question
If we would be thorough, we would examine the possibility that their claims are true. Yeah, I heard the gasp and interrobang through my monitor, but my inner Apollonian can’t let the Socratic inquiry drop.
Firstly, considering the matter logically, why would someone who was “just looking for attention” do something that caused them to be ostracized from their community, and to be ruthlessly made fun of?
Secondly, examine your feelings on the subject. Do you, like me, feel a pang of shock, jealousy and indignation at the idea that someone whom you did not vote for might be shown favoritism by your deities? Might that inherent gut reaction cause you to turn your back on a real life Heracles or even an incarnation of a god, which our mythology tells us does, indeed, happen from time to time?
One of the most important facets of Hellenismos is the concept that anyone could be a deity in disguise, so you had best treat everyone well. If Demeter can wander the Earth after losing Persephone (Homeric Hymn to Demeter), or if Apollon can wander the Earth as a shepherd (Powell, 410; Apollodorus, 1.9.15.), or if Zeus can show up to a banquet in the disguise of a poor man(Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 481; Eratosth. Catest. 8), we had best be exacting about hospitality as well as kindness.
Why The Claims Are Probably False
Actually, believing that certain people are gods, or are from the gods is pretty important. Yet, consider WHY the gods bother going in disguise. They don’t usually go proclaiming themselves, or else there would be no point in going in a guise of any sort. The whole point behind this aspect of the religion is that you will either never know, or you must uncover the fact for yourself using your keen spiritual insight.
Thus, anyone who says, “I AM AN INCARNATION OF ATHENA” is most certainly not. Although, to be fair, I could see Dionysos showing up in the flesh and shouting, “I am Dionysos! Where are the mortal women at?”
But, then again, he might not have to say anything at all…
Anyway, I digress.
As for those who are chosen by deities, the matter is a little different. If we look at examples of those whom the gods have chosen, they are not simply elected to stand on a big mountain of specialness. They usually have some kind of quest.
This makes a great deal of sense, if we consider what human beings actually worship deities for.
In ancient times, when our mastery of nature was far inferior to what we have now, humans looked to the gods to take care of them.
In modern times, we choose religions based on what spiritual path helps our personal development to a greater degree.
In all ages, we look to deities for wisdom and comfort, even if sometimes we fear their authority.
A deity who takes care of us, comforts us and disciplines us is like a parent. A deity who helps us to grow spiritually is like a teacher.
Studies show that teachers choosing favorites damages not only those students who are left out, but the students who are shown favor. It increases friction in a classroom, is destructive to classroom management, reinforces negative self-concept among poorly behaved students, and leads to an increased incidence of bullying. If we view a classroom as being similar to a community of followers, then a deity who picks and chooses favorites is making their own job harder by actively sowing dissent among their flock. The result might be poor cooperation which, in turn, would lead to greater difficulty in building a following, or temples, or any of the other things which we naturally intuit that deities want.
In a study appearing in the journal Child Development, researchers led by Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto, it was reported that when parents choose favorites, the less favored children tended to show more attention and emotional problems than their more positively treated siblings by the end of the four-year study, but all children showed higher rates of these problems compared to families wherein no favoritism is shown. Adults are obviously more resilient than children, but favoritism, in any environment, leads to emotional issues. Is it hard to see why? The favored feel nervous about losing their favor, since it is inherently irrational. Those not favored feel worthless.
Could deities so profoundly fail to understand human psychology? No. Rather, sometimes, individuals have talents, and are given responsibilities, not to serve the gods by prostrating themselves and burning incense or whatever nonsense, but rather, by helping the entire community. Only these later group are worth the steep and high-maintenance cost of differential treatment. Those favored by the gods usually need those favors to accomplish the work they must do, which is seldom inconsiderable.
Clergy, take note. This is as true for you as it is for parents, teachers and gods. Do not, I repeat, do not encourage a system of favoritism. Do spend time helping those who are running major projects.
So, How Do These Problems Happen?
The gods need you. They need you now more than they have ever needed human beings in ancient times. I’m not even joking. If you are reading this, I mean you. They rely on believers to carry their blessings into the world. If you believe, then you are precious. If you listen, they will tell you that. If you open your heart, love enough for a hundred people will be yours.
We have difficulty, I think, imagining love THAT BIG to start with. When we consider a being that loves numerous people that much, the human imagination sputters, and clunks out. I once had someone tell me that her life would be over if her patron loved someone else as much as he loved her. I think she felt that way because she thought it meant sharing her particular portion of his love, or re-imagining his love for her as something less. She needed all of it.
It saddened me because we shared the same Patron, and I couldn’t really even tell her. We could have drawn strength from one another, and deepened our connection to that love. It would have made us both stronger, and it would have made him stronger, too, by deepening his connection to humanity.
If you perceive that your deity likes you more than their other followers, check yourself. If it is true, then your deity needs your help to rectify that matter. The cost to your deity is high. If you love them, help them to appreciate others. It really will benefit you both. Do your best to make sure no one gets wise to the situation. Connecting people to the gods is the first work of a priest or priestess.
When Manifestation Appears to Indicate Favoritism
In order to not show blatant favoritism, I must take into consideration individual needs and do my best to treat everyone the right way. This means NOT treating everyone the same way. But then, won’t I appear to be playing favorites to some outside observers?
Some people do seem to have better deific manifestation than others. It is evident to others that I have an uncanny tendency to fall into bowls of cream. Money shows up exactly when I need it. Cars I am in are less likely to get lost, and accidents I am in never seem to injure me.
If I were an arrogant douche, I might interpret this as meaning that Hermes loved me better than other people. If I were an outside observer, I might feel slighted that I didn’t get the same (apparently) preferential treatment.
What people around me (and, in fact, I) need to take into consideration is that I receive this consideration not because I am personally awesome, or because I give Hermes blow jobs every day. It is because I actually need that level of intervention in order to function, and me functioning actually produces some cool shit. Some of said shit might even be useful to the community some day, probably long after I am dead.
I need Hermes to help me because I put my foot in my mouth, and because I lose my wallet on a daily. Not once, but twice in my life, I have gotten lost without leaving the hallway. In my defense, one of those two times, it was really dark. Really, really, really dark.
When I open packages, I have a greater than 50% chance of opening the wrong end. I really am just that hapless, and if I had not received this astounding level of divine intervention, I would not be sitting here writing this. I would be in Abu Dhabi, baffled and alone, without internet, or maybe dead.
If you see another whom the gods seem to favor, it doesn’t mean that they love that person more. It might just mean that the person in question simply needs more help than you do. It might also mean that what they have to accomplish is a shit task that you’d never want to do. If you meet such a person, see if they need help. It could be that if you tape their wallet to their leg, or give them a ride somewhere, their deity will breathe a sigh of relief, and it will free up energy for miracles to happen elsewhere.
And To Those Incarnate Deities Out There…
If you are a deity, and your purpose was to be treated like a deity, you probably wouldn’t have incarnated. The purpose of being human is to be human (tautology). That means not getting to lord things over people, and having to do things the hard way, just like everyone else.
If you incarnated, it is not your job to tell people. It is their job to figure it out.
If you are an incarnate deity, do yourself a favor, and keep it under your hat. You’ll thank me for that advice when you die, trust me.