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.