An idea about divine relationships

This post will be brief. I am thinking of the various ways that I have heard practitioners describe their relationships to God, Goddess, Gods, or sacred figures across trads. I notice that there are two basic axises… at least as far as I can tell.

One spectrum runs from Self to Distant Other, with Other somewhere in the middle. On one end of that spectrum, you have people who see deity as shaping their identity in some way. They want to emulate that deity, live up to their ideals, dress in their sacred symbols, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, you have practitioners who see deities as abstract forces of nature.

The other spectrum runs from Independence to Servitude, with Dependency of some kind in the middle. On the one end of the spectrum, you have witches who relate to deities like the postman, those who relate to deity as friend (or other similar relationship), and on the other end, you have Godslaves. Somewhere in the middle are those who see deity as teacher or parent.

I made up this graphic to show the relationship between these ways of relating to deity. The bias here, of course, is that I expect most people to be in the middle of the square and to relate to deity as Parent, Teacher, Guide or Protector. The corners represent various sorts of extreme, though well within the gamut of what you will see in any given tradition.

Deity_Relations_Square All of these are valid, and none is more valid than any other. You will notice that I do not order these in terms of intensity. Intensity can happen with any of these relationship types. Being a Godslave is not more intense or fulfilling than being a deity’s lover, or finding your deity within.

A person can have a strong and impossible to understand relationship with a force of nature that leaves them feeling baffled. That is pretty intense, too.

You can also relate to the same deity in multiple ways. A person might sometimes relate to their deity as spouse, or as master, depending on the interaction. You might both emulate your deity and see them as a friend or lover. Heck, Christians and Jews might have all of these relationships at once with their deity. I think though, that we tend to settle on one or another of these roles as a default or favorite.

As an aside, you might argue that Buddha is not a deity. For most variants of Buddhism, you would be correct. I have family members who are Cambodian and practice Buddhism, however, and do find that they say things like, “Thank Buddha.” While he may not have the status of a god, the relationship that *some* Buddhists have with him looks and smells remarkably similar to the relationship that a theist might have with a god. It happens to be these Buddhists that I have the most interactions with.

31 comments

  1. EmberVoices

    Oooh, very useful conceptualization, thank you!

    Hmm, looking at this chart, I very much don’t experience deity as lover/spouse as more independent than deity as parent/teacher. On the contrary, that is far more entwined, in my experience, than anything else in the first two boxes of that column. (I can’t speak to the difference between consort relationships and master/owner relationships, as I don’t have any examples of the latter in my life.)

    Contemplating this, I realize this chart doesn’t differentiate between independent and interdependent. It’s equating balanced power exchange with independence, which I think is a mistake, but an understandable one. I would want to see what happens when the vertical axis is measuring level of entanglement rather than level of obedience.

    -E-

    • Thenea

      Thanks!

      Entanglement seems to be to be a function of intensity. Or maybe intensity a function of entanglement. I must have been thinking about that at least a little bit, as I unintentionally tiered that co-worker/friend/spouse relationships. One of my goals in laying out this chart was to try to conceptualize various distinct but equal paths to deity. [Like ability trees in a role playing game].

      I’ve known people who were godslaves, and have a consort-ish sort of relationship myself, so this was one of the first things on my mind as I was conceptualizing.

      I’m sure there is much in the way of variation, but the godslave I am thinking of in particular wouldn’t have given pushback against her deity for any reason. She allowed him to make decisions for most relevant aspects of her life, and obeyed him without question. She very much viewed herself as property.

      I can’t even imagine having that sort of relationship with Hermes. If I told Hermes that I would follow his next set of orders without question, I’d probably wind up in a bank holding a banana up at a teller with a pancake on my head. But that is a function of who he is, who I am, and how those two things mesh.

      Much of my relationship with Hermes is about him testing boundaries (because Hermes) and expecting pushback. To me, the consort dynamic is less about following, and more about wrestling. This has always been true for me. I initially encountered him as other, and as external, and it never occurred to me, in my pagan infancy, that I should feel anything other than affection. Subservience did not cross my mind, emotionally. As we became more entangled, the relationship grew more intimate, transitioning from acquaintence, to friend, to close friend, to “friends with benefits,” and finally, a more committed relationship.

      Each of these represented an increased level of entanglement, but were natural progressions due to the fact that we approach each other in the way that we did, and that I view him as another person, rather than a facet of myself (or me being a facet of himself).

      By contrast, the godslave, who I watched over a number of years, went from devoted, to identifying as servant, to identifying as slave. Again, this was a result of her interacting with deity as another person, but one whom she had no inherent right to question or push back against. As the level of entanglement increased, the intensity of her feelings of subservience likewise increased.

      So… that was kind of what was cooking at the back of my head anyway.

      Obviously, this was very off-the-cuff, and more thought will be put into this.

      • EmberVoices

        That all makes total sense, and I figured that’s more or less the *kind* of stuff that went into it. I’m not trying to correct it so much as add to it from another angle?

        Or perhaps just to say… from my perspective, although it’s not perfectly linear, that axis of dependency goes Independent – Interdependent – Dependent, with Codependent being one that doesn’t much come up with gods, I hope. As such, I’d have placed any relationships that can be equivalent to household or immediate family, be they child/parent, partner/partner, or mentor/disciple in the middle category, where the more arms-length client/pro, colleague, friend relationships, which parallel those you’d consider extended-family at most, are very much independent.

        I do think intensity is actually a separate axis to entanglement as well, but it does often correlate, yes. The thing is, one can have a once-off strong, dramatic interaction with a deity that is VERY intense, and then… move on. Not be entangled at all. In my experience, that’s pretty common, actually, especially when people are still on their way to finding where they belong, and various Powers step in to help them in the search, or when they have a hard lesson to learn that the ones they are most entangled with are too close to teach them.

        -E-

      • EmberVoices

        In other words, the idea that partners and spouses are independent of each other seems to defeat the purpose of forming partnerships in the first place?

        -E-

      • Thenea

        I guess I was thinking about it like countries or nations. A nation is considered independent if it is under its own government, rather than being governed by a parent nation. It remains independent even if it has alliances or trade agreements with other nations.

  2. Sable Aradia

    I like your chart. I like your idea and I want to help expand on it. Not sure what I would define this axis as but perhaps you could help me put a finger on it. Essentially, I feel like there should be a fourth column, one that is much less personal, but not “abstract force of nature” level distance. For instance, in the “Independence” row, there are those who see deities neither as oneself nor as a personal relationship, but perhaps as a personal protector, like a saint or a guardian angel perhaps. In the “dependence” row, there are those for whom deities are personal “guardians,” as it were, that they connect with because they share similar elements that the deity wishes to enhance or support. For example, I work with Diana in this way; I have a lot of personality traits and goals that She shares, so sometimes when I work towards those goals, I am “more” than I otherwise would be because I believe She lends her divine “oomph” to that; though I would hardly describe myself as an “emanation of deity!” It certainly doesn’t happen all the time and it’s at Her will, not mine. And in the last row, I would add those who channel or “draw down” deity, probably somewhere between “seeing oneself as existing to embody deity” and “deity as master/owner,” since it’s not all the time. What do you think? Or did you intend to include those relationships within the chart already and I have misunderstood the broader implications? Either way, good stuff, and with your permission, I’d like to work with it and quite probably discuss it at length on my blog.

      • Sable Aradia

        I just read EmberVoices’ comments . . . she might be getting closer to what I was driving at, actually. “Entanglement” as a factor makes sense. 🙂 I look forward to your future conclusions on this; I think you really have something here, something that might well evolve into an anthropological look at deity that could replace the current “evolution towards monotheism” paradigm; which I agree is present in modern anthropology, and which I agree is prejudicial and demeaning towards non-monotheistic faiths.

  3. Magpie Mason

    Reblogged this on Amidst Fires and commented:
    Reblogging this largely for the selfish reason that i want to refer back to it later. I’ve been intending for a while now to talk about what i see as the most common varieties of relationship with Divinity, and some of the pros and cons of each. This chart is giving me lots of thinky-thoughts about how to structure that.

  4. Ipomoea

    Reblogged this on Sacred Liminality and commented:
    A lovely post, with an easy-to-read chart. For myself, I very rarely interact with any divinity in a “servitude” capacity, I most often interact with my gods “as other”, and my interactions with Source energy itself are simultaneously “as self” and “as distant other” (hence, I’m both polythiestic and panentheistic). I think it would be interesting to try to place different belief structures along this spectrum also, or to create a new graphic for them (maybe a venn diagram?) to include beliefs like panentheism which encompass two different polarities.

    • Thenea

      Indeed. Occupying different roles with respect to you at different times. Jewish liturgy actually described the Jewish people as having most, if not all, of these relationships (it’s missing a couple on the “distant other” column). Hekate is a similar sort of deity, in some ways, because she stands for so many different things, being, as she is, a Goddess of three realms. Boxes are terrible because they are limiting… but I think it’s better than a schema that assumes that some of these relationships are naturally more evolved than others.

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