Against Their Will: Our Duty to Respond to Fellow Polytheists in Distress

11140123_10153135382268705_6716534346276535975_nAs I am watching people crawl out of the woodworks, voicing their support for a theology of consent in the Polytheist community, a question has come up.

“This is all well and good, but how do we make the gods participate?”

For those of us, who, like me, certainly couldn’t just will  a harmful manifestation of deity away with positive-thinking and pixie-dust, what is the actual path forward?

It’s hard to say for sure. While there are a sizable number of people with experiences similar to mine, where a deity was simply intent on grinding the mortal in question into the dirt until they relented, there is precious little, right now, being said about how to compassionately respond to the suffering of people going through something like this. There is even less being said about how to make it stop. I can’t answer this question all by myself, but I have some personal experience, and some ideas about what we might do. 

Accusing these people of making it up to get attention hasn’t solved the problem. Telling people not to give up their power hasn’t solved it, either. An individual cannot simply decide to hit the “abort” button once a drama like this one has started.

This experience has sometimes been framed as a good thing, a sign that a person is very, very attuned to the deity.  It should not be framed as a good thing. Having one’s will abrogated and autonomy taken away is not fun or cool. It does incredible psychological damage in some cases. The role of clergy, in a community, is often to help others to experience the divine as they experience it. The way in which these people experience the divine causes suffering. Is that really how we want to experience deity?

We need to stop excusing the abuse, or looking at what the sufferers are doing wrong. We need, instead, to start looking at what communities could be doing to improve the situation.

The goal isn’t just to stop this from happening to a single person. The goal is to reduce the rate of occurrence within a community. I don’t have an answer. As far as I know, I’m wandering into fairly uncharted territory when I bring up the question of “How can we help people to stop experiencing the gods in this way?” I have a few solid hunches, however.

[An aside, and this is extremely important: being forced into a relationship with a deity against one’s will is NOT the same as being a godslave. Consensual D/s and Master/slave relationships can be healthy and fulfilling, if that is the way a person is oriented. To understand power exchange in relationships, please see The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book.

By the same token “we” are not “just” slaves before the gods. Just because you are a godslave doesn’t mean that everyone is. Each person relates to deity differently. It’s all good. All of it. So long as it’s consensual on both sides of the mortal-deity equation.]

Believe That It Is Possible

The way in which we experience deities is not absolute, objective truth. Deities exist on a much higher level than us, dealing primarily in ideals, virtues and values. A footprint is not a boot. A footprint doesn’t even particularly look like a boot, when you hold them up side-by-side. Depending on how a boot strikes a surface, it can leave a variety of different imprints.

The surface can be an individual person, but more often, it is a group of people who think similarly, and whose beliefs enforce one another’s. That ground can be so hard and so impervious that the boot leaves no print at all. It can also be so soft, like water, that impressions are made and nothing is left behind. It can be like sand, taking an imprint which then gets smeared and distorted as the boot is lifted. It can be like wet concrete, where evidence of the contact can be seen for years to come. I have seen, in my time, people migrate from mystical communities to non-mystical ones, and in the process not only stop having mystical experiences, but discount the previous experiences as invalid. Moreover, I have noticed that even Hermes, who I work with extensively, manifests for me slightly differently on the West Coast than on the East Coast, in no small part because I have separate working groups on the two coasts who view him somewhat differently. Even more dramatic is how Odin manifests when I am in proximity to those respective groups: on the East Coast, he is more intelligent, substantially less powerful, and considerably more polite.

It’s not a different boot, just a different substrate for the boot-print. Your unconscious mind is constantly in conversation with certain other humans. This creates that substrate and this changes how you perceive deity.

I know I keep saying this, but look at the mythology! Look how it contradicts itself! If this is not evidence to you that different communities experience deities differently from one another, and that the reason is a difference in how they think about those deities, I do not know what is.

Believe that it is possible to intentionally choose theological ideas for your community. Believe that the community’s beliefs and theological opinions will make a difference in how your deities manifest. 

Believe That The Gods Want This Too

Hard to understand, for some, is the idea that deities do not benefit from behaving in ways that hurt humans. This probably stems from an ignorance of history, which is taught very poorly in most places. I’m not about to open with a history lesson, but it boils down to this: all it takes is for one person of import to convert to another religion, and for a simple majority of everyone else to simply say, “Meh,” and go along with it, to lay their cults completely to wasteOwning the souls of six very special individuals does not help you raise an army to lead a rebellion against Theodosius. You need popular support to successfully run a religion, and to see it through the inevitable tribulations of human history. 

If just Constantine had converted to Christianity, and literally everyone else around him truly loved and honored the Roman deities, we would not have Christianity as it exists today. Constantine would have been assassinated, and would have wound up a curious footnote, a mere blip in the religious history of Europe. People had grown weary and unsatisfied with Roman religion, and it is for that reason that Christianity won Rome.

People who are not godhounded, not chosen against their will, look in from the outside on this peculiar phenomenon, and they have one of two reactions. They either feel ignored and left out (the minority) or they kind of make a face, and decide that maybe Polytheism isn’t for them (the majority). For gods who want followers, this phenomenon is costly.  

Deities are not the forces of nature. The actual forces of nature give exactly zero fucks about you, your offerings, or your opinion. They don’t need clergy. They don’t need or want your service. They don’t need cults. They might talk to you, if you are so attuned, but when the topic turns to useless human things, you may as well be prattling on about the migratory patterns of swallows. Indeed, they might find that more interesting. We’ll call these Primordial Forces. They, and the lesser powers that obey them, animate the physical universe. They are physical beings. There are ins and outs to working with them, but that is beyond the scope of this article. A being like this will never claim a human against their will, because they don’t need humans to do their job. Of course, if you are a certain kind of Otherkin, the landscape is a little different, but this is, again, not the focus of this article.

Deities, by contrast, are spiritual beings. By that, I mean that they are beings tied up in the business of specifically human spirituality. We can argue until we are blue in the face about what they are, but it is a nearly universal doxa that they desire relationships with humans. If they claim humans, then they desire relationships with humans. If they care about our offerings, then they want relationships with humans. They want devotional rituals because they want relationships with humans. If they can be mad about the things that you think and say, or care about how your rituals are done, then that is pretty solid evidence that they are paying close attention, and that their concerns are firmly bound up with human goings and doings.

Put yourself in Their shoes. What would you pick? Would you choose to behave in a way where you have a tiny number of people who don’t have a choice about being with you, and kinda resent you? Or would you rather throngs of adoring followers who think you are virtuous and awesome? I mean, this is kind of a no-brainer.

We do not think, WE KNOW that gods are experienced differently based upon the theological ideas and values of the people in a given area. The gods wouldn’t choose to be seen in this way. They might choose it over being utterly forgotten, but they wouldn’t call it the best of all outcomes.

God-hounding isn’t something that the gods are doing to our communities. God-hounding is something that our communities are doing to the gods…. and to the god-hounded. 

Don’t Go Completely Bonkers

We need to keep in mind what is really a problem, and what isn’t. Abrogating a human’s will, forcing them into a relationship, or a particular type of service that they are unwilling to do, or preventing them from leaving, is a problem.

Sometimes, though, you need to take the good with the bad, and realize that some stuff, while not-ideal, is really just normal relationship nonsense.

I wouldn’t divorce my spouse for farting in my bed, even if I told him that I didn’t want him farting in my bed. He’s a human. He farts. If he spends 8 hours in a place, he’ll fart there. I accept the farting as a natural consequence of sharing a bed with a human.

Hermes, among being a deity of many other things, is a God of Thieves. If he spends several hours a day in a place, he’ll pick stuff up and move it elsewhere. I accept this as a natural consequence of inviting a God of Thieves to live in my home on a permanent basis. If I thought that the nearly uncountable number of blessings that Hermes brings into my life were not worth having to buy cheap shoes, because my shoes naturally vanish from my house over time (fuck the conservation of matter and energy, apparently), then I would probably end the relationship, or at least back off from it quite a bit. I would not think any less of a person who found an intimate relationship with Hermes to be more than they were willing to tolerate in their well-ordered life. Not all people can tolerate all deities at close range.

While at a casual distance Hermes can be very controlled, laid back and low-key, at close range, he is a Chaos Tornado. Just… a constantly shifting, twitching, thinking, over-thinking, moving, fiddling, tweaking-things kind of guy. I love him not just in spite of this, but because of this. It’s because of this innate chaos that he can perform miracles. The same magic that makes the shoes vanish also allows him to pluck my wallet out of the ether and deposit it in my possession after I have left it someplace stupid, or slip a twenty into my bag, just when I need it (probably best that I not think too hard about where the twenty came from).

To me, having him close to me, always, is a fair trade. I’ll give up a little predictability, because he’s worth it. I consent to the exchange, and indeed, look to deepen that relationship. 

Like with humans, you need to evaluate whether the deity’s annoying habits are something you can put up with before you invite them to live in your home and share your head with you. This is just yet another reason why consent is so important in these relationships. 

How to Talk To the Sufferer

The usual rebuttal to all of this is, “Yes, but what if you have all of these beliefs, and someone comes in with experiences that contradict it? What if, despite all of the community think, someone is abused or forced by a deity. Do we just invalidate their experiences?”

Not everyone who shows up in your community is going to be a part of that fabric. They’ll have mentors, teachers, friends and working partners from elsewhere. Chances are, they are experiencing what they are experiencing because of some caustic brew of paradigms from the various people in their life. All of it changes how they interpret contact from a deity.

It starts here: treat it like a crisis, not like a blessing in disguise. 

Let’s call a spade a spade here. When someone perceives being called against their will, something horrible is happening to them. If they are happy about it, it’s not against their will. Being actually forced into service to a deity they don’t want to serve is no less horrible than being forced into marriage against their will, or being forced into sex against their will. Helping them to understand that this is not only a horrible thing that is happening to them but also a horrible thing that is happening to the deity is key.

You could say, “I’m sorry that this is happening to you. It must be very frightening. The first thing that you need to know is that we can make this better.”

You might follow up with, “This isn’t a good thing that’s happening to the deity, either. They do not want to be experienced as needy, childish, or incapable of self-control. It harms their connection to the community. We all want this to get better.”

Even better might be, “Well, let’s try removing the negative manifestations from around you. That will give you some short term relief. After that, we can talk to (person). They have a really healthy connection to (deity). Once we get you connected to a better manifestation, you can get to know them, and then choose whether or not you want to work with them.”

A severely god-hounded person may resist encountering the deity who has been harassing them, but just getting rid of the negative manifestations is a temporary fix, because they still think of the deity in that way. Encountering the deity in a better way is the only path to a complete recovery, even if the person thereafter chooses to never work with that deity, or that religion, ever again.

A Community Standard: Consent Cannot Be Given Under Duress.

Not everyone who views themselves as forced to serve is going to view it as negative, even if they complain about it vociferously. If we want to have a community where people are not being forced, where humans are not in non-consensual relationships with deities, our communities need to have a carefully crafted response to these individuals.

Simply put, being bullied or forced by a deity contrary to one’s wishes can no longer be a fast track to recognition by the community. Instead, it must be viewed in the following way: consent under duress is not consent. If a man puts a gun to a woman’s head and asks for sex, her “yes” does not constitute consent. The same is true when a mortal gives consent in response to a deity’s threats. If a mortal claims that they “have no choice” about working with a deity, they have not given consent, really, and cannot be truly dedicated to that deity.

Rather than fast-tracking these people, being god-hounded needs to be treated as being behind the eight ball, somewhat. Really, an unhealthy and negative relationship with a deity puts a person further away from being that person who can help us initiate a healthy relationship with the deity, not closer.

If god-hounding is viewed as a major setback, deities will not do it, humans will not feel compelled to fake it, and mortals will be less likely to experience their deities in these terms.

“Do you really want to work with this deity? I will help facilitate a conversation with the them about what they hope to accomplish through a working relationship with you, as soon as they stop (negative behavior). When your deity does that, it makes me doubtful that you are hearing one another correctly. As soon as everyone is calm, we can negotiate.”

Treat The Contents of Messages Obtained Through Forced Possession As Automatically Invalid

People psyche themselves into false possession to get attention. Deities might possess mortals without asking because they are impatient about messages. Humans may accidentally open up and invite the deity in, only to dramatize it later as “forced.” If we immediately discount anything obtained through forced possession as having validity, we remove the incentive on all sides.

“Are you OK??? I’m so sorry that this happened to you! What do you need right now?”

And then, later:

“Since the possession wasn’t consensual, we’ll have to discard the message. Really, that could have been anyone, and the fact that you were forced makes me suspicious.”

Erase The Following From Community-talk

Saying “that deity owns you,” or “that deity has claimed you,” under circumstances where the person does not identify as god-owned, or “I don’t think that deity would let you leave,” is problematic within a consent-driven paradigm. 

If what we want is freedom, we have no right to take it from others.

Part of establishing a culture and theology of consent is accepting that no matter how loudly your gnosis tells you that a deity owns another person, your gnosis is just that: your gnosis. It might mean that the person can help you connect to the deity. It might mean that the deity wants you to interact with that person. It cannot mean that the deity actually owns that person, because you don’t get to decide that for someone else.

A person owns themselves. Abortion is legal because it was decided that a woman cannot be forced to provide life support to an unborn person. No matter how important a politician, no one can be forced to give them vital organs, even if they are dead and no longer using them. U.S. law is extremely clear on who owns you: you do. That is the law of our land, and in this case, it’s a good one. In order for there to be a transfer of ownership of yourself to another entity, you need to engage in some kind of legal contract. This cannot happen without consent.

If a person chooses to enter a D/s or Master/slave relationship with a deity that involves ownership, and/or they identify themselves as God-owned, that is fine. If they have told you such, you are of course free to repeat that. Deciding that for other people is not cool.

Know How To Handle Manifestations

A consent-driven community needs to have people who can recognize problematic manifestations, and who knows how to remove them, if need be. It needs people who can re-boot connections to deity, and clarify existing connections into something which has a positive impact on all parties involved.

That last bit requires that people experiment and practice.

68 comments

  1. aoibheall52

    Nice piece, Thenea. Good coverage of the possible problems and possible solutions. Do we need seminars to train the clergy then?

  2. We Bring The Fire

    Would you perhaps do an article defining things like god-bothered and god-touched because I see a lot of people use these and other similar terms but they seem to mean completely different things to every person who uses them. Not necessarily to make a end all be all definition but just to maybe start off having some continuity for a lot of these terms? I’ve seen god-bothered used to mean every thing from a god being an annoying prankster to someone being sexually frustrated in their sexual relationship with their godspouses.

    • Thenea

      Hm. I think, to disambiguate, I’m going to change my instances of this to “god hounded” instead.

      The language will resolve itself, eventually. I just need to make sure that MY meaning is clear.

  3. aoibheall52

    I think that they would need some formal recognition from one or more deities, or a pantheon to be seen as legit in the eyes of the community. But not sworn to them per se. Do the ones you represent think that having a group of troubleshooters that aren’t officially clergy would work? Honest brokers to represent both sides and looking for fair resolution for both parties.

    • Thenea

      I know that most people wouldn’t feel comfortable with a person who wasn’t clergy helping them out. I also know that the one person who has helped me the most, while nominally Hellenic, wasn’t clergy, and didn’t have a strong devotional relationship with any deity. She just knew a lot about how magic and the astral worked, and was able to give me counsel on how to negotiate with the deities myself.

      The fact that she was basically not emotionally involved in a relationship with a deity was what helped her to hear past my rage and pain, thus getting to an actual solution.

      I guess she’s Hermes-approved. She’s tranced him successfully.

      • aoibheall52

        The person who helped you would qualify as an honest broker. Approved by a deity but not personally involved. I’m glad you found her

      • Heather Freysdottir

        I think there absolutely is something to having some distance from whatever Deity is involved – when I was newer clergy, I tried to handle an issue with Loki and failed miserably and hurt the person involved. I still feel terrible about that. I have also tried to help someone involved with Odin, and while I don’t think I fixed the situation, I didn’t harm either. It seems to me that the difference (experience aside) is that I am so much closer to Loki that I don’t think I can be an objective party. It’s not that I’m even blind to Loki’s faults, I’m just too damn close to handle it well, I think.

        Anyway, thank you for opening this dialogue. I always feel like I’m at a loss when someone has terrible/nonconsensual gnosis. Anything we can do to handle it better is welcome.

      • Thenea

        Thanks. And. Agreed.

        I really hope we will see more people coming forward with actual solutions, or ideas about how to help people in these situations.

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  5. moonfire2012

    Reblogged this on Lokkatru and commented:
    Some good, tactful ideas on how to handle non-consensual godbothering or unwanted spirit attachment.

  6. Blogos

    Really great article thank you. I have a few questions:

    a) I am a qabalistic polytheist and I have been working with Enlil for over four years, very successfully and I am very happy with the ”partnership”. Enlil sought me out during a ritual working of the ”Jupiter current”. Prior to this my only other truly devotional relationship was with Aphrodite, this lasted for about five years and prob. never really ended but was internalized – that said I have no altar to Aphrodite nor do I pray to her or communicate with her anymore. My girlfriend has recently been getting heavily involved with Seshet and the results from this work have been outstanding – her divinely inspired metaphysical poetry is now getting published in various places and she is deepening the relationship. Seshet has been ”bothering me” about Thoth, and bringing him into my life as that would make her happy (this is nothing to do with my gf she has put no pressure or anything and is very new to both polytheism and magick). I have no real issues with this as Thoth is a very appropriate deity in terms of supporting what I do but I am concerned that she seems to want me to make this my primary deity. I don’t think Enlil is concerned about there being other Gods and altars present in my life (there already are small ones to Ammon Ra and Chandra), but I do think he would be very angry if replaced as primary deity, nor do I want to replace him as primary deity. I can therefore pay homage to Thoth but cannot be devoted to him. I would be interested in your opinion on this situation.

    b) Would you say that more ”forgotten” gods are keener and respond more readily with boons etc, and could potentially also act more desperately – as they are somehow ”starving”? Than Gods who are widely attended to and therefore whose attention, however vast, is necessarily split?

    c) Regarding ”primordial forces” and how they relate to the formation of both humans and deities I wrote this piece and I would be interested in your opinion – http://hermeticlessons.blogspot.cz/2013/12/earth-altar-animism.html

    • Thenea

      A. If you don’t want to devote to Thoth, don’t do that. Hermes was all on about me devoting to Apollon as a secondary deity for a while. I didn’t ignore him. I just said, “I hear you, and I understand why you are making that suggestion, but my perspective is this…” and then I told him my exact position, and gave him my decision on the matter. My answer made Apollon laugh: “I’m a monotheist, you know. My maximum number of deities was *one*, and I have already well exceeded it.” — I jest, obviously, but it was kind of a funny way of saying a very serious thing: I am out of spoons when it comes to intense devotional relationships. That’s a fair thing to put forward. It sounds like any sacrifice of your relationship with Enlil would be very costly, in an emotional sense. So, you are within your rights to present this to Seshet. If she doesn’t respect this, you can say, “I don’t understand why you aren’t respecting my needs and boundaries. Perhaps I am not hearing you correctly… Can you send me a person or omen who can clarify what you are actually trying to say?” If no person or omen is forthcoming, you can assume that the request is in your head, and discard it. I have found this incredibly useful in dealing with Hermes sock-puppets. “Oh, well, you are a god of bird omens, so, if that’s your actual sentiment on the matter, could you send me a hummingbird, since there are plenty of them around in this season?” And like. No hummingbird. He’s sent far more obscure omens. Like, he sent me a cowbird in response to a question about romantic relationships, which was a rather on-point and eloquent commentary. Sometimes it’s good to get the conversation off of the astral, you know?

      B. I don’t think so. If that was the case, we’d expect to observe less popular deities behaving desperately more frequently than the extremely popular ones. On the contrary, we see the reverse. Hephaestus, for example, isn’t drowning in followers, nor does he have a several hundred person devotional going on for him at 9 out of 10 pagan conferences, like other, more popular deities. Yet the more popular deities are more likely, not less likely, to wind up in situations where they are perceived as claiming people against their will. I have yet to hear anyone blasting out a tale about how they were claimed against their will by Hephaestus… or any of the less popular deities.

      That’s why I’m going with thought forms. The more followers you have, the more thought forms you have. The more thought forms you have, the greater the likelihood that one or another of them is going to be shitty.

      C. I will take a look at that laters. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

      • Casey Hamilton

        At the moment, as someone who simply talks to god-type peoples in her head, I can say that Hephaetus is rather shy, tends to keep to Himself mostly, with not a lot of words at His disposal, but AMAZING ideas about how to make things work. And “things” aren’t necessary physical objects, though that is definitely His metier. He wants to feel like I care, and have a place for Him somewhere in my house where He can hang out and start getting a feel for how things work around here, so He can start to improve their functionings. In my experience, Hephaetus is one deity who very well understands the laws of Karma, and therefore has zero interest in forcing another person to do anything against their will. He says He learned his lesson with Athena, “No means get the fuck away from Me,” and that was pretty much that.

      • Thenea

        I’d agree about Hephaestos being shy and thoughtful. But for every deity who actually is seen hounding people, there is a similar sort of WTF factor.

        Dionysos is a god of freedom. Why would he force people to act against there will?

        Odin is a god of leadership. Surely, he knows better.

        Apollon employs a muse of History. Surely he knows where being seen as a bad actor leads for a deity.

        Or even just… “But that being has been around for 6 thousand years! And dealt with an infinitude of humans! Is this the best solution they can think of?

        Again, that’s why my main hypothesis is “rogue thoughtform.”

  7. Jolene Poseidonae

    Reblogged this on Strip Me Back To The Bone and commented:
    I love this post.

    I understand how important the stories we tell (and tell ourselves) are to how we interact with the world around us. I am all about stories, as they shape our very reality. I don’t want to take away, or encourage the taking away, of narratives that people genuinely find helpful in how they tell the stories of who and what and how they are.

    That said: consent culture needs to be a thing. That rape culture is so embedded in our consciousness that it informs how we think of, speak of, and interact with the Powers, is telling, and says much of how our over-culture informs our worldviews. There is a world of a difference between giving consent repeatedly and having it taken away irrevocably. There is a world of a difference between saying yes to a relationship in which one is owned and having that choice taken away. The first is a matter between you and the Power involved; the second is not okay and should not be lifted up as some standard to be achieved.

    I think we need to be more clear when we’re speaking of things. I think we need to be more honest and possibly less poetic. I think we need to be less accepting of people and Powers that make us feel like shit.

    When Pops first entered my life, He disregarded the boundaries I was trying so hard to erect — the distinction here, though, is that I said yes, and that while part of me was terrified and clinging to those boundaries, the part of me that had cried out for help to Poseidon all those years ago was now crying out to Odin. He dragged me — at some points kicking and screaming, as He completely changed my life (job? Gone! Decade long relationship with mortal partner? Gone! Living somewhere I knew, with people I knew? Gone, gone, gone!) and it was painful and raw and scary — but I said yes, even if I was whispering it, each step of the way. I knew those boundaries I consciously erected were strangling me.

    I feel safe, cherished, and protected with the sense of possessiveness that I get from Both of Them, and every day is me saying ‘yes’ again. But that yes is important. It’s pivotal. Even if you find yourself landed in a god-owned situation, that ‘yes’ needs to be there.

    /soapbox. I love this post, and the author is far more articulate on the subject than I can manage. Read it.

    • Thenea

      “That rape culture is so embedded in our consciousness that it informs how we think of, speak of, and interact with the Powers, is telling, and says much of how our over-culture informs our world views.”

      Yes. Just… Yes.

  8. Beth

    I would agree that the person who intervenes should be someone who has some distance from the god in question. I think they can be a priest/clergyperson, but ideally not one of THAT particular deity. As Heather commented, I know I am too close to Odin to handle this kind of situation well regarding Him. But I could potentially help someone with their issues re a different deity, one I am acquainted with and can open a dialog with, but not devoted to.

    • Thenea

      Right. I mean, I have never had someone come to me claiming that Hermes has hurt them, but if I did, I’m certain my gut reactions would not be helpful. I’d need to sit there in silence, letting the first five or six things I initially wanted to say occur in my brain and float away before I would be qualified to speak.

      But still. If someone did come to me, I’d be in a good position to connect them to Hermes in a positive way, and I feel like that, too, has got to be a part of the recovery process.

      The earlier stages… we seriously all need to start trading tips and tricks for clearing out sock puppets, or reprogramming them, or whatever the approach is going to be.

  9. Ian Phanes

    I’ve taken the position for years that we need one shared ethic for all of modern paganism: “Diversity is good.”

    That shared ethic, which doesn’t need to contradict any trad specific ethics, makes a culture of consent fairly natural. If diversity is good, then people *should* have different kinds of relationships–or non-relationships–with holy powers. Thus, each person must have autonomy within the community to choose how to practice, including what relationships they establish with various holy powers.

    The main reason why I prefer to identify my community as “pagan” rather than as “polytheist” is that most of the people I’ve seen preaching on the web for a distinct polytheist community seem to have rejected diversity as a community value. In so many ways, my practice and worldview are more congruent with devotional polytheism than what is sometimes described as “generic [neo]paganism”, but for that one critical issue.

    For lack of better language, I invented the term “retropaganism” to describe a worldview in which we look to what we can know about ancient religion for inspiration in modern practice. The semantic domain for that term includes reconstructionism but is not wedded to that methodology, and includes devotional polytheism but is not wedded to a specific theology. For me, my practice grew out of studying and practicing Modern Pagan Witchcraft and ceremonial magic, but has evolved from reading deeply in traditional paganisms (particularly in Hellenistic antiquity and contemporary Afro-diasporic traditions).*

    So the question I’m left with is: how do I act to support diverse community while nurturing others in devotional practices? To put it another way, how do I nurture a community in which pagan vs. polytheist is seen as a false dichotomy?

    * When discussing traditional paganisms with Jason Pitzl about 20 years ago, he proposed three key differences between traditional paganisms and what was common in modern paganism at the time: sacrifice as central to ritual, ancestor reverence all year round, and divination as authoritative guidance from the holy powers. While these were all included to some degree in my practice at that time, they have become more central over the years. I note that these are all being discussed extensively by the current crop of devotional polytheists.

    • Thenea

      Ian, your point about consent-culture being heavily related to diversity is so extremely important. You’re dead right.

      My very Hermes-person answer to the questions of nurturing people’s devotional practices sounds like this: ask them what they are trying to do, and listen very carefully. Listen past the labels they use to describe themselves, and help them to articulate their goals.

      I identify, religiously, as “not a cabbage,” don’t engage in ancestor worship because I don’t believe that my ancestors are still around (they reincarnated), feel that reciprocity, rather than specifically sacrifice, is key to my relationships with deities, and prefer the “what does this deity value and how can I support them?” approach to divination. However, I find myself writing things which seem weirdly applicable to people who identify as Polytheists.

      People wander across my path, and if their questions are things I can help them with, I do. Or, if they are on about something super interesting to me, I’ll chime in.

      My local community is made up of a hodge lodge of Polytheists and Pagans, all of whom honor the Greek Deities. They may honor other gods, but the way I see it… only the Greek Gods are my responsibility, if that makes any sense.

      My hypothesis about how to nurture this sort of community is to offer hospitality and to create opportunities to rejoice in the practice. Focus on the deities, not on the labels. Honor them in ways which provoke surprise and delight. Happy people are kind to one another, groups of people who are kind to each other will want to stay together. The rest…. all the little fiddly bits…. it’s not so important.

  10. Beth

    Reblogged this on Wytch of the North and commented:
    This is such an important post. It’s bad enough that we live in a rape culture, and even worse that the language and mores of that culture have carried over into our deity relationships. As Jo commented when she reblogged this, I am not in favor of abridging anyone’s relationship models; I know plenty of people who consider themselves godslaves, for example, or who are in some variety of dom/sub relationship with their Powers. This is FINE. The difference is that you entered into that relationship consensually, and you maintain it consensually. (Similarly to a human dom/sub relationship, where everything is done by prior agreement, there is a safe word if things get too far, and the agreement can be ended at any time.) I hear too many things about people being abused by gods (including/especially my own god) to deny that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Thenea has some very good suggestions for doing so, and I’d recommend reading her entire series of posts on this topic, with an open mind.

  11. Nornoriel Lokason

    Filed under “posts I wish had been available seven years ago when I was going through some crap and this was the kind of crap I got when I tried to get help for said crap” (especially with “that deity would not let you leave”). I’ve often said that just because a deity is bigger doesn’t give them a license to abuse humans for being smaller because they can, just like it’s not OK for a 300-pound man to beat a 100-pound woman. I do believe there are beings who prey on humans and have a troubled relationship with humanity (I was abused by an entity a little less than two years ago), but I also believe that this behavior can be corrected if said entities understand this is not the way you get followers in the 21st century and you get way more cookies by behaving decently – and that means stopping the rhetoric, on our end, that we just have to “suck it up” and can’t have any consent on our ends. So thank you for writing this – it’s important and it needs to be said. You are awesome. ❤

    • Thenea

      Thank you. 🙂 That means a lot.

      I hope this provokes conversations.

      It occurs to me that the various theories of how/why people have the powerful and negative experiences of deities each suggest a different tactic for how to deal with the situation. Coming up with a few possible solutions for each related theology might be an interesting next step.

  12. aoibheall52

    Thenea, I recall that at one time Apollon did try to claim you, and had you been like most of us under those circumstances (gobsmacked and flailing) there might have been a battle royale between the immovable object and the implacable force. Was that a thought form or was that Apollon? And if it was Himself, then do we need to accept that even the wisest god can be guilty of attempting to force himself on mortals? And that thought forms aren’t our only problem?

    • Thenea

      Yes. During the incident to which you refer, which was really quite brief, I basically talked my way out of it by verbally spewing his aspects and epithets at him, reminding him “You are the Oracle at Delphi, one who sees the future” and “You are the god of truth and honesty” And he backed right down.

      It may be that I spammed enough Apollonian epithets at a thought form that the actual deity was able to gain control of it.

      • aoibheall52

        That’s possible of course – but did you ever confirm that with Apollon? If it was a rogue thought form I’m sure he will tell you so.

    • Thenea

      I take back what was previously in this comment. What I instead want to say is that there are a number of theories about why humans are suffering in these ways, and that we need to have a treatment protocol for each theory. The theories whose treatment protocols work best will be the theories that are correct.

      If gods are actually just doing this sometimes, then negotiation, not cleaning up thought forms, will turn out to be the best treatment protocol.

    • Thenea

      But, in Apollon’s very own words: “WHY DO YOU WORSHIP US IF YOU THINK WE ARE MONSTERS?? If you think that I’m irrationally angry and abusive, not only do I heartily recommend worshipping something that you believe is better than me, but also, I don’t even want your worship. Seriously, if you think I’m an asshole, go away. I don’t want you. I can do better than you.”

  13. aoibheall52

    Perhaps we give the gods the benefit of the doubt. What we consider a monstrous act might actually be something necessary and we lack the long view as well as the wisdom to look further. And we take everything personally, even when it isn’t. Like the difference in understanding between a child and an adult. If you tend not to take ‘no’ for an answer, are seen as relentless, and punish those who refuse to obey, that’s your nature and that’s what we expect. Does it make you a monster?

    • Thenea

      I’m going to sketch this idea in a way that might make sense.

      Let’s say that you are a deity, in Germany, prior to the Holocaust.

      You can see the future, and you know that this relatively innocuous looking dude, a really shitty painter, is going to rise to power and slaughter millions of people for racial reasons, unless you somehow stop that from happening.

      You try gently nudging him a few times, but he doesn’t notice. Then, you nudge him not so gently. Still nothing.

      You could choose to essentially blast your presence into his mind, against his will (and who knows how he’d interpret your relationship with him, after that) or you could let 6 million people die.

      What do you do?

      • aoibheall52

        Actually I’ve read that he desperately wanted to be a scene painter for a theater but was too afraid of rejection to apply. So Hephaestos’ plan would have worked in conjunction with his own desires, he would have been happy and too busy to pay attention to politics, and Zeus’s plan would have dovetailed beautifully.

      • Thenea

        Hera: “I set him up with an overbearing wife who forces him to get a job in a factory and doesn’t let him engage in politics.”

  14. Pingback: Questions of Consent and Problematic Lore | Strip Me Back To The Bone
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  16. EmberVoices

    Reblogged this on EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir and commented:
    There’s a lot to chew on here, and I’m still chewing.

    I agree with the overall goals for our community that I see presented here. I don’t agree with all of the underlying theology regarding what exactly the gods are or what They want, but I am not sure how much that actually affects our overall ability to implement these ideas.

    Overall this conversation is a very important one that I believe we do need to be having, not just about our relationships with the gods, but in our relationships with each other ABOUT the gods.

    -E-

  17. juliaergane

    “This is all well and good, but how do we make the gods participate?” IMNSHO you DO NOT. This statement, I believe, encapsulates absolutely everything that ….. I find that I cannot go on and maintain any degree on civility.

    • Thenea

      Be that as it may, your expressed position is exactly what was meant by the question. In other words, they worded the question as if to say, rather than ask, “The gods are just going to treat you how they are going to treat you. They’ll behave how they want to*. What are YOU going to do about it?”

      *revised to more accurately reflect what happened.

      • juliaergane

        I do not believe that the Gods abuse their people. That is what I meant by not being able to go on with any degree of civility. [A person who believes such might be psychologically disturbed, rather than holding a theological position]*.

        Some folks expect ordeals and other things to be gotten through, rather like a rite of passage. The Gods will certainly oblige. You may decide on a period of time for special training and prayer. You make the contract with the deity. You are the one who RSVPs the invitation — and you DO NOT have to accept. They cannot do anything to you that you do not permit. If you think otherwise then you truly are an ……… Everything is RECIPROCAL!

        (This is why I don’t like neo-pagans and magicians.)

        *Edited to clarify meaning, and to remove unintentional hostile language.

      • Thenea

        I don’t believe that. I actually believe that experiences of such can be fixed and entirely eliminated in our communities by changing the way we talk about the gods, our relationships with gods, and one another, and also by changing the way that we practice. This would not be true at all if being abusive was in the nature of the deities, and, indeed, as I point out in this article, there is zero benefit that gods would get from that kind of behavior, and no reason to expect that this is coming from their side of the equation.

        People who believe that the gods are abusive believe so because of their personal experiences. In general, I think it is best to respond to these people compassionately.

        In my own experiences, harmful astral things are just that –things. Not gods at all.

        This is a problem. But it is 100% fixable.

      • Thenea

        Also, maybe you should worry less about which categories of *people* you don’t like, and worry more about *ideas* that you don’t like, and address those with reason.

        If you don’t like the entire category of people that I belong to, why are you even here, reading my articles?

    • aoibheall52

      Ploppy in another guise, perhaps? Don’t give a fat rat’s rump which groups of people you don’t like since that’s not the topic under discussion and whether or not it’s the actual deities themselves behaving badly some people do in fact have very bad experiences with something that claims to be deity. And that’s the problem we want to fix. It’s in no one’s best interests – people or deities – for this to go on or be tolerated. You may have not encountered this but that in no way invalidates the experiences of those who have.

      • Thenea

        “whether or not it’s the actual deities themselves behaving badly some people do in fact have very bad experiences with something that claims to be deity.”

        Yeah. That’s the heart of it. When people are suffering, the only way in which it is helpful to know why is that it might help us to find solutions that make their lives easier or better.

        Victim blaming is not cool.

      • aoibheall52

        This person sounds like one that Beth and Nornoriel recently banned. It has a plethora of false names and commented a few times on the first thread concerning this topic. It used a Latin sounding name. It’s a nasty narrow minded troll with serious mental illness. Claims to be female but I have my doubts. You may want to follow suit and ban it as well. It has nothing useful or constructive to add to the debate.

      • Thenea

        I actually don’t think so. Ploppy was primarily interested in a TERF agenda, and tried to claim that people’s deities were abusing them. Julia is actually arguing the opposite.

        This has not crossed the line from “allergic pagan” (of which there are many) to “hate speech” (which obviously cannot be tolerated).

        In the interest in fair and open discourse, I’m not banning anyone unless they cross that line.

        Saying you don’t *like* people of a certain religion is questionable. I debated whether it was a Wayne Gretzky-able comment. Technically, the rules of my blog are that any attack on people’s beliefs may be replaced with devotional content aimed at Wayne Gretzky, but I kind of just decided to let this hang here. Her views are not tremendously unusual, nor is she alone in her perspective. It’s representative of a group of people we need to be aware of… those who become incredibly angry when confronted with a gnostic malfunction, because it doesn’t fit into their theology.

      • aoibheall52

        I see your reasoning. Let’s see what – if anything – developes. That they consider it a malfunction because it doesn’t fit what they consider ‘true gnosis’ is interesting.

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  19. mirron91

    So, I realize this is entirely unrelated to the content of this post except for one off-hand comment, but given this is where it popped up feels apropos to ask here. You mentioned Otherkin here, and given it’s a concept I’m looking into I was wondering if you had written any articles on it. Your general approach to things is typically very helpful for me, hopefully this isn’t a problematic question/comment.

    More on topic I just generally agree, it makes a lot of sense to me.

      • mirron91

        I gave it a lot of thought, and the honest answer is I’m not sure. I think my thought process was that your articles tend to be clear and concise, and this was something confusing me. The best kind of focus would be something related to it metaphysically speaking or the like, or maybe just personal musings or the like I suppose. Sorry for the vagueness of this.

      • Thenea

        Otherkin are just people with one or more non-human souls. They may or may not have an additional human soul. So, as you might imagine, the metaphysical import of this could vary wildly based on the soul type and number.

      • mirron91

        It would I’m sure. It’s something I’m trying to come to terms with, but I realize that it’s probably not really along the terms of what you usually write about. Still appreciate the insight in general, it helps a lot.

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