The Power of Obligation and A Polytheist Knighthood

St-George-Burne-JonesLI may have gone on record saying something like, “A Polytheist needs mystical initiation like a fish needs a bicycle.” In many ways, I stand by this. The equivalent of spiritual alchemy happens in gnostic relationships with deities, whether it is what we are trying to do or not. However, as I also contemplate the issues which some people are reporting with deities simply not treating them with decency and respect, I cannot discount initiation, or at least one particular part of initiation, as a possible solution.

If we weave a fabric, to which consent-first Polytheists could belong, it would draw a boundary around us, perhaps causing deities to manifest for us in a more consistent (and hopefully more desirable) way. This common fabric, or thought bubble, or the space within the boundary, is what many occultists refer to as an egregore. Egregore is the best word I have, in the sense of creating a metaphysical construct which might impact the way a group of people experience deities, and I’m about to use it a lot.

In European (and many non-European) initiations, and especially in the majority of initiations of the English-speaking world, the most essential part of initiation is obligation. The idea is that you take vows to a community, vows which this entire special class of people has taken before you, and will take after you, is central to joining that community and distinguishing yourselves from others. It is the vows which symbolically free you from illusion, bondage, misery, evil or suffering. Entering into this obligation puts you in a separate category, defines which mystical fabric you are a part of, and causes the powers who have bought into the tradition to treat you differently. The oaths in these traditions are crafted to bring about the desired effect by changing the person’s behavior, and contain way more than just an oath of secrecy.

In several orders that I presently belong to, when they are unable to do a full initiation, they skip the passion play, the floor work, and the waving of spears and/or wands. They cut to the chase, and that is the obligation, or the oath. These groups believe that the oath is what is responsible for the change in the initiate, and what awakens the part of their soul applicable to the work of the group. Based on my personal observations, I rather agree.

This view, the view that it is obligation which binds a person to an egregore, differs from the views of “lineage” based traditions, which believe that it is some intangible current which is passed from initiator to initiated. It also differs from “open source” traditions, where the transition into the egregore is believed to be brought about by special magical techniques. Where there are multiple valid traditions, I believe we have a choice.

The Advantages Of Building An Egregore Or “Current” On A Common Oath

fish-bike-4504

Trying to build a common mystical fabric on special techniques, on a current, or on an oath each pose problems to our specific community.

The special magical techniques approach has some advantages. First of all, they feel great, if you do them right. Being awash in a huge amount of divine or magical power is intoxicating and awesome. Special magical techniques, however, require that there is someone nearby who is familiar with said magical techniques. Many Polytheists can’t even find a single other Polytheist to do a basic devotional ritual with. They rely on online communities for information, help and support. This scenario also puts a certain amount of power in the hands of people who can do these magical techniques.

The power in a faith community shouldn’t rest with the uber-occultist. It should rest with the theologians, and the people of faith who bring wisdom into and inspire right-action within the community. It should rest with those who tirelessly work to build community. Occultists have their place, and if they also happen to be people of exceptional faith, then so be it, but that is not where the emphasis should be going.

The lineage-based approach has a sort of “mutual recognition” and direct personal contact appeal. Passing on a current presents similar problems to special magical techniques approach, and additionally an intractable boot-strapping issue. Who gets to decide who is the first initiator, and where does that lineage initially come from? I often hear the rather insulting proposal that Polytheists, if they ever want to do their own initiations, should get lineage from non-Polytheist traditions. Besides the fact that the non-Polytheist traditions in question are often younger than most Polytheisms by some three thousand years, the suggestion is that current is current, and that it is either there or it is not. This is based, implicitly, on the false idea of a single initiatior somewhere in Earth’s primordial history. It denies that the various gods of the various nations might belong to separate mystical traditions, or that they might have input into this current.

On the contrary, a current has an opinion about the way mystical reality should behave around you while you are wielding it, and that opinion is theological in nature. If you use a Monist current to connect to Polytheistic deities, you will experience them, most likely, as Monists experience them. Why allow yourself to be woven into a current designed to make you experience your deities in ways that do not conform with your theological convictions? 

Building an egregore on obligation has its drawbacks, too. Some people cannot or do not swear oaths. I work closely with the Hebrew deity, whose laws sternly recommend against it, and who, nonetheless, will rain fire and fury on the heads of oath breakers. I do not approach the topic of oaths lightly. Many Heathens are in the same boat. Yet, oaths are powerful.

If poorly worded, or improperly crafted, oaths can be broken by accident, creating backlash. Also, given our community, it is inevitable that, regardless of the oath’s content, a large number of people will want to craft their own personalized variant oaths because this or that part doesn’t resonate with them, and in order to make this work, we really do need to have everyone in our chosen community swearing the exact same oath. If the oaths are all different, then there is no unifying factor, and no commonality upon which the membership in the egregore is based. However, even if only 16 people took the oath, this, I calculate, would be enough to create a solid basis for helping even those who did not participate in building the current.

All that said, this approach also has some considerable advantages:

– Anyone could do it.

– It does not exclude people who do not have an in-person community.

– It requires no technical knowledge.

– It is real and present, because you are living it

– It provides little opportunity for one person to dangle power over other people’s heads. It is egalitarian.

– It could be crafted to require a modification of your behavior which raises mindfulness and builds power.

– It allows us to offer desirable behavior on our part in exchange for the deities helping us to experience them in ways which are healthy for us, rather than trying to wizard the deities into compliance, which would be hella rude.

– Unlike spraying energy at someone, or spilling soup on their shirt, oaths create the mystical entanglement with other people necessary to weave a strong fabric, even with relatively few people, even if they live very far from one another.

– Unlike the unspoken obligation of just sharing a set of rituals or a blob of energy with someone, where you really can’t know exactly what you are getting yourself into, in this case, the exact nature of the entanglement is spelled out. Your involvement is no more and no less than the text of the obligation because it is the only bit of ritual being shared by the participants. 

An Oath That Fits The Bill

The most common and traditional vow taken during initiation is secrecy. Secrecy, however, is far from the only option. It is most appropriate if the goal of forming your little cadre of practitioners is the pursuit of “hidden” wisdom, but that’s not really my goal.

What you put in your obligation should comment on what kind of community you want to have, what you want from the gods, and what the gods need from you.

The following have been suggested as important to us:

– Consent culture

– Tolerance/Acceptance

– Human dignity

– Bodily autonomy

– Compassion

– Community

The following are evidently important to the Hellenic deities, if our mythos is any indication:

– Hospitality

– Remembering the gods and their natures

– Humility (and as an extension of this, kindness to your fellow humans)

– Honoring not just a deity or two, but the pantheon, as an institution

The exact desires of deities will no doubt vary from culture to culture of course. The essence, I am sure, in every tradition is that the deities want to be honored for what they are, and, fundamentally, so do we.

The oath should also contain a commitment to refrain from behaviors which build unhealthy theologies.

The oath should be crafted such that the obligations of the mortal are dependent upon them experiencing the deities in the stipulated way. The consequences of breaking the oath need to also be covered, to limit the damage when transgressions occur, and to set forward a path to making amends and restoring the power of the obligations.

Sample Obligation: My Initial Ideas

Because this is the only piece of ritual, and because the matter is quite complicated, this oath will be long. I will endeavor to keep it brief by avoiding flowery language. If those of you who have the spoons and the legal expertise could run over this with a fine-tooth comb, and say things like “Yes, but a person could use THIS loophole” or “but what about this incredibly unlikely scenario?” That would be greatly appreciated.

Consent-First Polytheism Obligation

I, (name), do solemnly promise and swear in the presence of the deities of humanity,

  • I will be respectful of the autonomy of the gods and not call upon their power without permission so long as they respect my autonomy and do not force me into service or take use of my body without permission.
  • I will not ask them to come into a place which I know to be hateful to them, so long as they will not call me to a service that is hateful to me.
  • I will be diligent in the matter of observing the festivals of those gods who do good to me and for me.
  • I shall not boast by saying that I am greater than a deity with respect to any talent of mine.
  • I shall not do injury to the household of my hosts, nor leave their home in a worse way than when I entered it. I will attribute my diligence in this matter to the gods, so long as the gods will likewise treat my soul and my body as my household, and leave neither in any worse shape than they found it.
  • I will endeavor to see to the comfort of my guests, both mortal and divine, creating for them the most welcoming environment I am capable of creating, for their bodies as well as for their emotional comfort, for all guests who do no harm to my household, nor shall I deny my hospitality to any on a basis other than the knowledge that they will harm me or my ability to give hospitality to others. I will honor the gods by crediting them with my diligence in this matter, so long as the gods will guard me safe when I enter into their domain, shielding me from the terrors and excessive ecstasies which might leave me worse off.
  • I will let the gods be who they are, and I will attempt to understand what they value, their wisdoms as well as their shortcomings, and be fully respectful of both, so long as they will not punish me outlandishly for acting out on my convictions, for following my own inner light, for pursuing my own wisdom, or for my failure to give consent when it is asked for.
  • I will not engage in intimate contact with another person unless they give consent, except for a case where intimate contact may be necessary to save their life, or a limb. I will ascribe my diligence in this matter to my gods, so long as the gods likewise respect the same boundaries, and do not force intimacy on me.
  • I will respect any relationship involving consenting adults, or a consenting adult and their deity. I will do this even if I would not engage in a similar relationship myself.
  • I will not dictate to a person what their relationship with their deity should be, nor will I attempt to define it for them, even in their absence.
  • I will not knowingly mis-label a person’s relationship with their deity or any significant other, nor knowingly mis-gender them, even in their absence.
  • I will not speak of non-consensual intimate contact in positive terms or joking terms.
  • I will not speak of non-consensual relationships in positive terms or joking terms.
  • I will not knowingly imply non-consent in my relationship with a deity unless I am genuinely being forced and am in a state of legitimate distress.
  • I will not pass judgement on the language, symbolism, or mythologizing of any person’s relationship with a deity, nor take issue with their gnosis, unless the aforementioned imply non-consent, and in respond to the language, symbolism, or mythologizing by asking clarification: “Are you being forced? Are you in distress? Do you need my help?” Upon understanding that no force or non-consensual contact is taking place, I will endeavor to help the person find better words to describe their experiences.
  • When I am notified that a person has been forced into a non-consensual relationship with a deity or a human, I will respond with compassion, and will treat this as a negative and traumatic event which is happening to the person in question. I will further do everything that is in my power to help that person, and to restore their personal autonomy.
  • I will never reinforce a known non-consensual relationship between a mortal and a deity, wherein the mortal is in confirmed distress, by participating in any ritual to affirm that person’s relationship with said deity. I will never knowingly be party to informally raising a person to the status of priest of a deity unless they serve that deity willingly.
  • I will heed no words spoken by another being through an unwilling human.
  • I will render to no service to a deity who attempts to force me to do so. That is not a deity, and I will not tarnish the good name of a deity by rendering service without full consent.

Any deity who does not wish to be a part of a community wherein these rules and vows hold sway is now privileged to depart. Should any deity break the expectations laid out herein, I will be absolved of any duties to them which I have sworn in this oath until such time as my relations with the deity has been mended. My obligations to my fellow humans shall, nevertheless, remain fully binding.

Should I violate this oath, there shall be no ill will between me and the deities involved, nor shall enmity fall between me and another human being on account of it, but rather, my connection to the gods whose friendly relations I have obtained through this obligation shall me be cut off from me, and I from them, and I shall consider myself irrevocably disentangled from the other people who have taken this oath, until such time as I have made atonement to the offended obligations, by recommitting to them and taking the next available opportunity to choose actions in alignment with them.

All this do I swear in the presence of the deities of humanity and upon my sacred honor.

Self Identifying

images-2Lastly, once we have a well-crafted oath and swear it, other people are going to want to refer to us as a group by some monicker. If I don’t take action, this is going to be something dumb-sounding or insulting, and it is going to stick.

Since the text of the oath has a lot to do with defending consent culture, rescuing people in non-consensual relationships, and also because of the bits where we uphold Polytheistic virtues, I might advocate the term “Knight.”

Come on, admit it. The image of Polytheists on horses tromping through the country-side, defending people from Fhqwhgods and evil thought forms does have a certain savage appeal, does it not?

21 comments

  1. aoibheall52

    Took the bit between your teeth and ran with it, didn’t you? I like it. Pretty much covers everything we all discussed publicly and most likely privately. Any ideas on how we’ll know which deities are on board with it? How do we police ourselves? But really you did an excellent job on it.

    • Thenea

      The supposition is that if the deity wants to work with a person, and the person has clearly stated themselves to be of this mindset, trying to violate their boundaries or coerce consent would not be an efficient path to securing the person’s cooperation. It is easier to work with the grain, rather than against it.

      As for policing… why? The only benefit being conveyed is membership in an egregore that protects you from being terrorized by your gnosis. If you didn’t think all this was worth that, you wouldn’t swear it.

      Other than that… I mean… to be called a “knight” (or whatever we call the people) you just need to act like one. The rest is between a person and their gods.

  2. aoibheall52

    The Knights That Say Neek! Coz you know that Monty Python will arise. Have you run this by your group yet? Their reaction will be instructive. I really do like it more each time I look at it.

    • Thenea

      I try not to upset the nice people at Pandemos by spewing my insanity at them. They are subscribed to my blog, and will reply if they’re feeling in the mood.

  3. Christine Lape Berger

    This is a good oath. Personally, there is only one thing that would not work for me. I work with the Hellenic pantheon as well as the Norse. and Celtic to a lesser degree. I have not celebrated festivals per se with any nor have they asked me to. I do daily offerings and a dark of the moon ritual monthly, and I have added a full moon ritual.

    I like the oath but could not take it for a practice that I do not do.

    That being said, thank you for your work on this. I have an amazing friend who is a lawyer who would no doubt be willing to look this over if you will…..Christine

    • Thenea

      You are right about the festivals. It leaves some ambiguity about “whose version of the festivals?” — Might do better to reword it as, “Celebrate the gods who do good to you and by you.” Or something.

      And yes! Please! Please have your lawyer friend look at it, if he is down.

  4. belongingtotheland

    In order to determine if we can call on a Deity, as per point #1, would that be through divination? And would that include only requesting things, or all contact in general (such as praises, etc.)?

    • Thenea

      When I say “call upon their power” I kind of mean the following:

      – Using their names in spells
      – Using their epithets to raise energy for a purpose other than to bring them closer for devotion/adoration/love and snuggles/offerings.
      – Using their images as a focus for power, for reasons other than worship.

      This means calling the deity to speak with you in advance of any such working and having a long talk with them about it. For those who do not communicate with deities via direct conversation, divination would be a good option, too.

      There is also a world of difference between “In the name of Hermes, I command you, parking lot, to give me a space!” and “Hey, Hermes, here is some soda. If you have a moment, and you help me park, I’d appreciate it.” One of those is yanking, or using the deity’s power without permission. The other is just politely asking (praying) for help.

  5. perseusgreenman

    I am really sad that my original comment got deleted. You know get the truncated version with fewer links, because that one took a long time to write and I am mad.

    This reminds me of votive knightly orders, like the fourteenth century Order of the Black Swan. These orders were started by people of low rank, and used a vow to construct the order, rather than the divine right granted to kings and high-ranking lords.

    Lineage doesn’t necessarily go back to a great person, or to a divine spark. Gerald Gardner, is where person to whom most of Wicca traces their lineage. There was nothing great about him. He was just a fun-loving guy who thought magic was cool and who wanted to dance around naked with other like-minded souls. What makes his lineage worthwhile to those of us who have it is that so many of us have it and share it and therefore share a certain mythos and ideal. Gardner himself was initiated by Aleister Crowley (among others). This is a root most Wiccans want to forget, but it doesn’t matter. Gardner’s Wicca and Crowley’s Thelema are very different, and so the lineage only passes back to the last person that people point to and say, “I’m like him.”

    Were I to try to write an oath for all polytheists, I would make three changes to the oath:

    1.) I would take out the fourth part. That is specifically one of the pet peeves of the gods of Olympus. When Arachne boasted of her skill with a loom, Athena turned her into a spider. When Thialfi, on the other hand, boasted of his speed, the ones who humiliated and defeated him were evil illusionist giants, not the Aesir who were with him.

    2.) I would change the one about knowing the gods and letting them be who they are to say, “I will attempt to know the gods and people with whom I work, to learn their values and their wisdom, as well as their shortcomings. I will take all of these into account and try to treat everyone, god and mortal alike, with respect.” I would then add a second one that says, “I will never punish anyone for denying me consent, and will put myself forward to protect, against retaliation of any sort, those who deny consent.”

    3.) Because a lot of these are written to create a legally airtight contract, it is really long, and really repetitive. I would rewrite about half of this oath as, “I will learn to recognize what is consensual and what is non-consensual contact, whether it be between people or with the gods. I will use my own common sense and good judgment to decide whether non-consensual contact I see is of value to the non-consenting person, and will intervene if it is not. I will give credit for my actions to the gods, and expect that the gods will not engage in non-consensual contact with me.” This leaves room for mysteries, currently covered in the oath, to be unveiled as a person progresses through a life guided by this oath.

    I would also like, if we can agree on an acceptable version of an oath to swear, for a group of a half dozen of us or more, to all swear on the same day, all either in the same place or connected via video chat, and to agree to come back together in a year and a day to discuss what we have learned, living by this code. Most of the people with whom I associate myself already follow a large portion of this oath, but there are parts that resonate with me as places I do not currently stand up as I should. I would like to have people to talk to in a year or so to say, “This was harder than I thought it would be,” (and it will be,) “And these are the parts that I found hardest. These are the places I grew the most.” I would like there to be additional layers to this oath, but I don’t know what they are yet, and will need a year to mull them over… a year spent following what is here.

    Alright, you apparently get a more organized, but less link-happy version of this reply.

    • Thenea

      Thank you so much, Perseus, for taking the time to write all of this up. As for what may be redundant, I am hoping to have someone who is good with legal stuff comb through this and give me a hand.

      Fair point about the Hubris stuff. I am realizing, more and more, exactly how Greek my theology is, and this oath really needs to be boiled down just to “this is how we do consent culture, and this is what we’ll give the gods if they help” — And really having those things, point for point, be intrinsically related.

      Having a test-pilot group is a good idea. If we did that, we might want the oath to expire in a year, to allow for us to revise the oath, if need be, based on our experiences.

      I have already been thinking about layers… but I agree. A year of living this will probably uncover what they ought to be.

  6. thetinfoilhatsociety

    I would point out one thing that needs modification. The part about not engaging in intimate contact unless it is to save life or limb. I work in the medical profession and I engage in intimate contact every day that I work, and it’s not always for direct life saving/limb saving. It is however necessary and part of my job. Assessments and exams are by nature intimate. I would suggest leaving out the codicil and leaving it as merely “will not engage … without consent”

  7. mirron91

    So, coming to this a couple years after the fact, was wondering how this went. I didn’t see any newer updates on it, but I’m definitely in favor of this kind of thing.

    If posting a comment in something older is a problem sorry about that, hoping it isn’t.

    • Thenea

      No, thank you for commenting. This honestly needs a second look.

      At first, I floated this idea with the wrong people.

      “But you can’t make the gods change their behavior by taking an oath!”
      “This is too Greek!”
      “This is not Greek enough!”
      “But mine’s pink!”

      A vastly “dumbed down” incarnation of this found it’s way into the community contract of a mediumship group I ran for a year, and the effect of it was staggering. It completely ended all attempts at forced and/or uninvited possession in that context.

      I should post that community contract, with certain person-specific details removed. And maybe think about floating this knighthood idea by the new set of people I am working with now.

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