I really, really, really do not want to be blogging about astral experiences, especially not my own. I need to get a story off my chest. I hope I only have to do this once.
Polytheist Clergy fucked me. Listening to their advice, and following their lead, fucked me. It fucked up my relationship with Dionysos. It fucked up my relationship with Ariadne. It fucked up my relationship with Artemis. It nearly fucked up my relationship with Hermes, too.
[Edit: I am not suggesting that all Polytheist clergy are this way. However, the people about whom I am speaking are part of a subset of Polytheist clergy, large enough to be problematic in the wider community]
No one meant badly. These aren’t bad people. They were just people who had a fucked up way of dealing with deities, and divine relationships are infectious. Their relationship with deity was a disease, and I caught it.
From October to March of a particular year, I was doing a thing with Dionysos. I was young, I was seeking, and I set up an altar to him in my bedroom which I tended every night. One day, in early March, a holy symbol of mine broke, and I knew, in my bones, that whatever I had been doing was over.
Winter, in Greece, is the gentle season. It is mild and rainy, as it is throughout the mediterra. It is the season for growing grapes. Summer is harsh, hot and deadly. I have heard it said, more recently, that Summer is a piss poor time to work with the wine god unless you are his clergy person.
My instincts were not wrong. March was a good time to give my relationship with Dionysos a break. In an alternate universe, the following conversation occurred:
Thenea: I’m not working with Dionysos anymore.
Clergy: Oh, because Summer is coming?
Thenea: No, it just does’t feel right anymore. I think maybe I need to just go back to what I was doing before.
Clergy: Oh, well, try not to be too hasty. It might just feel wrong because of the season. You’re a very nature-oriented person, and I notice that the seasons whisper in your ears. Maybe you’ll feel differently about it come Autumn.
Thenea: Oh, that makes sense. Ok, I’ll give it a break. And then I’ll look him up in the Autumn. You don’t think he’ll be mad?
Clergy: Don’t be absurd. Dionysos is a god of freedom. If there is one thing you can be perfectly certain about, it is that he will always respect your choices, as long as you are being true to yourself.
In that alternate universe, I have some fairly balanced relationship with the god, where I work with him in the Winter, and Apollon in the Summer, and everyone is happy. In this universe, here is (in brief) how that conversation went:
Thenea: I’m not working with Dionysos anymore.
Clergy: You can’t say no to a god. He has chosen you, and if you reject him, he will curse you, and me, and your family, and everyone around you, and a part of your soul will die.
Thenea: … You know what. Fuck you, fuck Dionysos, and fuck your tyrannical deities. If you deities need to threaten people to keep their following, they don’t deserve to have a following.
At the back of my head, however, I wondered if I was wrong. I was, though not quite in the way that the clergy-person in question thought. I was wrong to cut a deity I actually wanted to work with, who I shared values with, out of my life because of what boiled down to personal gnosis. I should have applied logic and reason, rather than going with my gut. That’s who I am. That’s how I work. Using logic is how I am true to myself.
The clergy person was understandably shocked that I didn’t play into the drama they had set up, where they, as a clergy person, got to tell me that I had no choice about worshipping their gods, and I lamented how I had been “chosen” and “claimed” and wailed lots about my metaphysical knackers. In their mind, that was the appropriate response to being told, through a clergy person, that a deity had claimed you.
There is something to that. Polytheist culture and theology in the United States is uniquely anti-choice. I don’t know if it is the influence of Evangelical Christianity or what it is. Divine relationships play out in certain patterns, and clergy gain approval from other clergy for playing out those patterns. Being “claimed” (chosen by a deity, human’s opinion irrelevant) is a part of the clergying process in Polytheism. The clergy person did not expect, not in their wildest dreams, that telling me that their deity had taken away my choices would elicit such anger. I think they rather thought that I’d feel flattered.
Let me be blunt. All deities manifest in a variety of ways. In no tradition is this more blatantly obvious than in the Greek tradition. They manifest in ways that are congruent with the values and beliefs of the time and place. If deities are apparently forcing themselves on humans in various ways, it is because that is what the local culture believes about deities.
Having been told, flatly, to go fuck themselves, the clergy person carried tales about me to all of their friends who would listen. They, in turn, kept hammering on the you are destroying yourself spiritually point.
My doubts and their gossip coagulated into a Not-Dionysos, a tyrannical god, a selfish god, a self-absorbed fellow who had no concerns in the world other than gratifying his own base desires.
Eventually, I destroyed this manifestation, and re-purposed the stuffings. For a while, however, I believed that it was the god. So much passion, so much anger and fear had been poured into it that it radiated power like a god. I let it torment me, because I believed that I didn’t have the power to fight back. I let it hurt me because I doubted that I had the right to choose my own religion.
When I saw how easy that Not-Dionysos was to dismantle, I also realized how pointless my suffering had been, how utterly unnecessary. My tormenter was neither a deity, nor even truly sentient. And now it is dead.
My relationship with the actual god never fully recovered, not because the god is angry with me, but because, every time I see him, I have flashbacks of something that looked like him, doing horrific things to me. I suffer from PTSD because I made the mistake of turning to Polytheist clergy for help and advice. I would have been happier and healthier today if I had instead turned to an atheist for help.
Being chosen, or marked, or “claimed” by a deity shouldn’t really be the prime requisite for becoming clergy. If deities think that this is the only way their clergy will be taken seriously, then of course that is what they will do. Wouldn’t it be so much better, so much healthier, for people to choose their deity, and for connections to be built organically through devotion, rather than being forced? Would it not be so much better for the deity if the prime requisite was having an in-depth understanding and enduring respect for what a deity stands for?
Our culture doesn’t support that. Say to someone, “I want to be a priestess of (fill in deity)” and they’ll just roll their eyes at you. Tell them you are having a spiritual crisis because the deity has claimed you, people start to sit up and take notice. All of a sudden, they feel important because they need to swoop in and save you. And of course, no one is going to tell a deity that they can’t have their way. Our response, culturally, to people’s experiences is manufacturing a problem that does not need to exist.
As the rest of Pagan culture is slowly moving toward a realization that bodily autonomy is important, that consent is required for intimacy, that consent must be enthusiastic, and that people who do not respect these ideas are basically troglodytes, Polytheism remains in a place where, theologically, forced intimacy is treated as sacred. You guys, that is messed up. And that was all. I hope that having said this, I can move forward to talk about other things.