What Ancient Sources Say About Godspousery

I got what I needed out of the Dionysiaca, in terms of the narrative of Semele’s apotheosis. However, as I was studying that text, I found myself resisting the urge to expound on the important themes in this text surrounding the idea of marriage between humans and deities.

I think it’s important to understand the author, a little, and to get some context. Nonnus is a relative late-comer, as a contributor to the Greek Mythos. He begins writing his Dionysiaca shortly after the death of the last Pagan Emperor of Rome, and was extremely learned in both Traditional Hellenic and Christian theology. His other great work which survives is his “Metabole kata Ioannou” or paraphrase of the Book of John (One of the Four Gospels).

Living in the era he lived in, knowing what he knew, he could not but be aware of the contrast between the two faiths, and cast the differences into much sharper relief. Things are explained in the Dionysiaca about Hellenic religion that are not as clearly explained elsewhere. Being, as he is, toward the end of Polytheism’s heyday in that area of the world, he has the benefit of living after and having read Homer, Hesiod, the mythographers and historiographers. Along with Claudian’s Gigantomachy, the Dionysiaca serves as one of the extant capstones of ancient Greco-Roman paganism.

Also somewhat informative is the Psyche narrative, appearing in The Golden Ass, by Apuleius, a Roman writer in the 2nd Century. While The Golden Ass is fiction, Apuleius is also famous for having written works about Greek philosophy, especially Platonism, and his work De Deo Socratis illustrates that he gave a great deal of thought to gods and mortals, their politics and the entities who served as their intermediaries.

In this article, I will explore a textually supported theological view of divine marriage within Roman and Hellenic religion, underscore the importance of the institution of divine marriage, and take a look at what makes someone a god spouse, according to Ancient Hellenic thought.

What Constituted Marriage According To Nonnus?

The first question that modern people ask about divine marriage is the qualifications. What do you have to do to become a god spouse? Who is qualified? How is it decided? Which people are legitimate spouses, and which ones are simply mistaken? Which deities actually take spouses? Do deities actually even do that with humans?

“Tell me who laid rough hands on your girdle – hide it not! Which of the gods has besmirched you, which has ravished your maidenhood?

‘If Ares has wedded my girl in secret, if he has slept with Semele and neglected Aphrodite, let him come to your bed grasping his spear as a marriage-gift – your mother knows her begetter, the terrible warrior! If quickshoe Hermes has made merry bridal with you, if he has forgotten his own Peitho for Semele’s beauty, let him bring you his rod to herald your wedding, or let him fit you with his own golden shoes as a gift worthy of your bed, that you too may be goldshod like Hera the bedfellow of Zeus! If handsome Apollo has come from heaven to be your husband, if he has forgotten Daphne because of his love for Semele, let him away with furtive guile, and come to your through the air drawn in his car by singing swans, and dancing delicately let him offer his harp as a gift for your favours, to show a trusty proof of the wedding! Cadmos will know that heavenly harp at sight, for he saw it, and heard the melodious tones, when it made music at his festal board for the wedding of Harmonia with a mortal.

‘If Seabluehair (Poseidon) went womanmad and forced you, preferring you to Melanippe the sage, sung by the poet, let him make merry in full view, and plant the prongs of his trident as a bridal gift before the gates of Cadmos; so let him bestow the same honour beside snakecherishing Dirce, as he gave to lionbreeding Lerna in the Argive country as a mark of his marriage with Amymone, where the place of the Lernaian nymph still bears the trident’s name. But why do I call you the bedfellow of Earthshaker? What tokens have you of Poseidon’s bed? Tyro was embraced in a flood by watery hands, when counterfeit Enipeus came with his deceitful bubbling stream.

‘Or if as you say, Cronion (Zeus) is your bridegroom, let him come to your bed with amorous thunders, armed with bridal lightning, that people may say – `Hera and Semele both have thunders in waiting for the bedchamber!’ The consort of Zeus may be jealous, but she will not hurt you, for Ares your mother’s father will not allow it. Europa is more happy than Semele, for a horned Zeus carried her on his back; the hoof of the lovestricken bull ran unwetted on the top of the water, and one so mighty was Love’s boat. O what a great miracle! A maiden held the reins of him who holds the reins of heaven! I call Danaë happier than Semele, for into her bosom Zeus poured a shower of gold from the roof, torrents of mad love in abundant showers! But that most blessed bride asked no gifts of gold; her lovegift was her whole husband. But let us be quiet, or your father Cadmos will hear.'” — Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 8, lines 217-263

The first thing that strikes me is exactly how many male deities are named. Of the Olympians who were eligible to have impregnated Semele, only Hephaestos was omitted.

The second thing that I want to draw out is what the qualifications listed here are. I think it is best summed up by this snippet: “‘If Seabluehair (Poseidon) went womanmad and forced you … let him make merry in full view, and plant the prongs of his trident as a bridal gift before the gates of Cadmos”

In otherwords, in so far as Nonnus is concerned, the deed is the only important qualification. Whether the sexual encounter was consensual or not, pre-meditated or not, conducted in one’s right mind or not, the encounter constituted a marriage.

The only qualification seems to be that a deity wanted to have sex with the person.

That’s actually quite a thing for me to wrap my head around as a modern Westerner. We have, in our culture, blown marriage up into something so much more than it ever was in the ancient world. Marriage, for us, requires pomp and circumstance, officiants, contracts and vows, maybe also a very expensive caterer. Marriage, especially since the recent SCOTUS ruling, is all about love, commitment, and partnership. To me, in particular, marriage is about a union of equals.

Yet here, “lay rough hands on your girdle” was equivalent to a wedding in secret.

You might say, and I am certainly tempted to say, “Ah, but what’s with the wedding gift? Surely they’ve allowed for the notion of a one-night-stand, right? They’ve got to seal it with a wedding gift to make it official.”

Yet, before Zeus gives Semele her requested “wedding gift” (which ultimately causes her demise), look at how he addresses her:

[351] Father Zeus heard, and blamed the jealous Portioners, and pities Semele so soon to die; but he understood the scheming resentment of implacable Hera against Bacchos. Then he ordered Hermes to catch up his newborn son out of the thunderfire when it should strike Thyone. He spoke thus in answer to the highheaded girl: “Wife, the jealous mind of Hera has deceived you by a trick. Do you really think, wife, that my thunders are gentle? Be patient until another time, for now you carry a child. Be patient until next time, and first bring forth my son. Do not demand from me the murderous fire before that birth. I had no lightning in my hand when I took Danaë’s maidenhood; no booming thunder, no thunderbolts celebrated my union with your Europa, the Tyrian bride; the Inachian heifer saw no flames: you alone, a mortal, demand from me what a goddess Leto did not ask.” — Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 8

While marriage was traditionally planned and celebrated, when it happened on the sly, it was nonetheless valid. The desire of the deity to be with the mortal, sexually, was the only requirement. Of course, there are those who doubt that deities lack capacity for such desire, but that belief was rare, if not nonexistent, in this mythology.

What Constituted Marriage According To Apuleius?

Interestingly, in the narrative of Psyche, ceremony does precede the marriage. In the Greco-Roman, and especially the Greek tradition, funerals and weddings are very closely related for women, symbolically.  We see a bit of that: the parents of Psyche, and her community, lead her in procession to transfer her into the domain of her new husband, whom they expect to kill her.

But the warnings of heaven were to be obeyed, and unhappy Psyche’s presence was demanded for her appointed punishment. So amidst intense grief the ritual of that marriage with death was solemnized, and the entire populace escorted her living corpse as Psyche tearfully attended not her marriage but her funeral.

Then we have her carried into the house of her new husband. In a mortal marriage, this would have been done by the groom.

But as Psyche wept in fear and trembling on that rocky eminence, Zephyrus’ (the West Wind’s) kindly breeze with its soft stirring wafted the hem of her dress this way and that, and made its folds billow out. He gradually drew her aloft, and with tranquil breath bore her slowly downward. She glided down in the bosom of the flower-decked turf in the valley below. In that soft and grassy arbour Psyche reclined gratefully on the couch of the dew-laden turf. The great upheaval oppressing her mind had subsided, and she enjoyed pleasant repose. After sleeping long enough to feel refreshed, she got up with carefree heart. Before her eyes was a grove planed with towering, spreading trees, and a rill glistening with glassy waters. At the centre of the grove and close to the gliding stream was a royal palace, the work not of human hands but of divine craftsmanship. You would know as soon as you entered that you were viewing the birth and attractive retreat of some god.

Eros/Cupid speaks to her about this place, announcing his intentions:

As she gazed on all this with the greatest rapture, a disembodied voice addressed her: ‘Why, may lady, do you gaze open-mouthed at this parade of wealth? All these things are yours. So retire to your room, relieve your weariness on your bed, and take a bath at your leisure. The voices you hear are those of your handmaidens, and we will diligently attend to your needs. Once you have completed your toilet a royal feast will at once be laid before you.’

Yet was this the marriage? Not as yet. We read on:

The pleasant entertainment came to an end, and the advent of darkness induced Psyche to retire to bed. When the night was well advanced, a genial sound met her ears. Since the was utterly alone, she trembled and shuddered in her fear for her virginity, and she dreaded the unknown presence more than any other menace. But now her unknown bridegroom arrived and climbed into the bed. He made Psyche his wife, and swiftly departed before dawn broke. At once the voices in attendance at her bed-chamber tended the new bride’s violated virginity. These visits continued over a long period and this new life in the course of nature became delightful to Psyche as she grew accustomed to it. Hearing that unidentified voice consoled her loneliness.

Yes. There is it. Neither the procession, nor the transference into a new Oikos had enacted the marriage, until the deity decided to make Psyche his wife.

How This Changes My Perspective

Previously, I had not identified as a god spouse. There were many reasons for this, including my disdain for marriage, generally, my view of “a union of equals” as being central to any marriage I would want to be a part of, a cynical view of marriage as being a thing of convenience, done for reasons of finance, household building and child-rearing. Then there was the “witnessed by the community” aspect which was important to me, and I am a sucker for ceremony.

I have to acknowledge, however, that if there was an epic poem or novel written about the Adventures of Thenea, by Nonnus or Apuleius, I would undoubtedly be called a wife of Hermes. In that narrative, I would probably already have a half a dozen children by now. Or. Actually. I’d probably have been chased around in circles by Athena, kicked by a mule, drowned and then deified. Whichever.

For these two authors, it is singularly the act of sexual passion that makes someone the spouse of a deity, that, and no other thing. There is no additional requirement. Community approval and ceremony are not required.

The Take Home

I have always contended that the hearts of our deities are big enough for all of us. This is just more evidence: yes, they love us. Yes, they feel passion for us. Yes, we can use human relationship models to deal with them. All the support for that idea we ever needed was in the ancient stories of these deities.

We do not have to accept the ancient Greek view of divine marriage as our own. However, these are some of many examples demonstrating that this phenomenon is not new, and that a great many things that people are saying about it are unfair and grounded in any sort of scholarship.

What I hope you take from these instances isn’t the fact that ancient Greeks were misogynistic and that therefore their gods are now. Rather, I want to draw your attention to what divine marriage does not require: it does not require community permission, it does not require a specific ceremony, it does not require outside validation. 

The rest is up to us. Let’s learn from these narratives, though, and take note of the high cost of excessive skepticism. If someone isn’t asking for your money or your obedience on account of a UPG, you’ve got no reason to engage with their beliefs. On the off-chance that you are invalidating legitimate experiences, be charitable.

52 comments

  1. Pingback: What Ancient Sources Say About Godspousery | Earth Star Love
  2. Heather Freysdottir

    Personal experience time (frank discussion of godly wodly sexitimes, so y’all have been warned:

    “Loki, I don’t think gods get to marry mortals. And I don’t think mortals get to marry figments of their imaginations.”

    “That so? Go look it up. Google “godspouse” for me.”

    “Did you just tell me to Google something? A God wants me to Google…how do You even know what Google is?”

    He finds this funny. However, I don’t look it up, because that would just be insane, right? Because hearing Him in and of itself is crazy enough. Gods have bigger egos and that’s why this character is being so pushy, right? Right? Writing is becoming equal parts enthralling, terrifying, and adoring in turns, and I am starting to feel as if perhaps I inadvertently dialed the actual Loki. This would be Bad, because I make it a practice not to call forth anything that I can’t easily banish, and Loki does not appear to be a banishable entity. Summoning and banishing are requests more so than demands, ya dig?

    We have another fruitless exchange about why talking to characters is fine fine fine but talking to deities is Not My Department. Loki huffs off.

    The window in my car breaks, completely and utterly – it has to be replaced. As I stare at the damage, I feel a hot hand on my shoulder and a whisper in my ear. “Am I real enough for you now?”

    “Yes?” it comes out as a whimper.

    “Good. Now come to bed.”

    I walk back inside toward my bedroom. This is nuts. This is nuckin’ futs. A God cannot possibly want to have sex with me…but He’s breaking all this shit…shit shit shit what am I gonna do? Can I even have sex with Loki? Won’t I burn up or something? Didn’t this shit not work out so well for Cassandra and every human Zeus ever boned? I am so fucked. Fucked, fucked, fucked.

    “Lie down.”

    Fuck I am gonna die. Okay, maybe I won’t die because Andie had sex with Hermes and seems to be all right.

    Maybe.

    He eases into the bed beside me.

    FUCK I CAN FEEL WEIGHT SHIFT IN THE BED WHAT THE FUCK HELP.

    His fingers trail over my skin. I can see Loki, and His expression is one of a cat toying with a nice juicy mouse.

    “Let’s talk about marriage.”

    “I’m already married.” This can’t possibly be happening.

    He eases me back into the pillows. “I am too! It’ll be fine. I won’t make you leave your husband.”

    Okay. I could deal with that. Maybe. So far, not dead? Or smited?

    “You’re Mine,” He says as He continues His ministrations. Loki is gentle with me, probably because He knows I’m terrified. When I come – and oh gods, I’ve never come like this before – I have no doubt at all that I’m fucking a God. No mortal hand – not even my own – could do that to me. His name comes out in a moan, and I’ve never seen a more satisfied face.

    “You understand. Good. Now we’re married.”

    • Thenea

      One of the things made clear in Apuleius is this notion of an entity which you can feel, fully, physically feel, but not see. When I read that, I suppressed the urge to shout: “Yes! It is exactly like that!”

      And no. There’s no mistaking it. I need not go into graphic detail, but … damn.

      And MAN does Hermes get around…

      I can also relate to the “But I am already married” conversation. And also the “I imagined that.” Followed by the laws of physics temporarily breaking, and in my case, every single shoe I own being evacuated from my house. And my keys. Which he will hopefully give back this evening? I hope?

  3. Limnaia

    This is exactly how it went with my Husbands, too. I find the tale of Psyche incredibly comforting. Two years wed and I still don’t quite know who one of Them is, beyond ‘He answers to Morpheus but says it isn’t his true name’. (That story may also be why I am not pushing the issue. Not one bit.)

    All this said, I don’t think sex is the only criteria for being married to a god, these days. (If it was, I’d be having to balance even more spouses!) While it may seal the deal, so to speak, I think there has to be something more to it, certainly these days, if only as a result of our changed understandings. I remember Hera telling me once that she considered vows given in the silence of one’s own heart to be a valid marriage. This may just be in the context of ‘not all marriage bonds are legally recognised’, which was what we were speaking of. It could be more widely applicable, though- potentially to a situation where one has sex with a god and finds oneself married- at least in the eyes of the deity.

    • Thenea

      I think the point here, really, is that there’s no textual evidence for denying a relationship that someone says they have with a deity. In many senses, it costs you nothing to believe them. Only when they start to issue you orders based on it do you need to engage with their beliefs.

      In my own experience, conversations with Hellenic deities often go like this:

      Me: “Man, my husband really hates his job.”

      Deity: (deeply concerned) “What have we done wrong? We need our herald. And no one wants Hermes to be in a bad mood.”

      Me: “Uh. The mortal dude. I… I didn’t mary Hermes”

      Deity: “Uh huh… suuuuuurrreee.”

      It took me a little while, but in reading the texts, I now understand what’s going on. Call it a bit of a culture clash, I guess. The deities I deal with very much still think of marriage in the ancient way, even if that doesn’t really make sense to me.

      • Limnaia

        Yeah, exactly. Sorry, I rambled a bit there. Thinking out loud about potential extrapolations, I suppose.

      • EmberVoices

        *Laugh* I can totally see that dialogue!

        > I think the point here, really, is that there’s no textual evidence for denying a relationship that someone says they have with a deity.
        The funny thing is, reading the bits you quoted, I was braced for exactly the opposite conclusion – they sound like they’re demanding the Gods show up and provide physical evidence of their existence for Semele to be believed. “You say a god bedded you? Really? Then let that god show Himself to prove it!”

        Mind you, I prefer your interpretation, but I can easily see the argument for “Unless a god comes down before witnesses to declare you their spouse, you’re imagining it!”

        -E-

      • Thenea

        Well, the person suggesting to Semele that she needs evidence is Hera, who wants Semele and her unborn child dead. When Semele requests proof, she dies.

        The mortals surrounding Semele scoff at her and doubt her. They never get evidence. Ever. And the fact that Semele felt she needed any was what caused her death, when combined with Hera’s goading.

        Likewise, the sisters of Psyche who sew doubts in her mind about her husband, Eros, concern her enough that she winds up physically harming her deity husband.

        That’s where I get at the conclusion that questioning the validity of divine marriages which you aren’t involved in, you can do far more damage than you might at first imagine.

  4. lykeiaofapollon

    This is a great post exploring the existence of the concept of a mortal godspouse in Hellenic literature and thought, and I think you make a really good point here about the deed being the important part rather than the ceremony or community approval. Although I only formally celebrated such a place in my life and a conscious commitment to Apollon a few years back, he and I have been having his dance for a decade and I recognize my godspousery in form of the relationship itself rather than formal ceremony, as being in place since then. I consider it my unofficial period, but I think you are very much right that in such matters there is no official, it is done when it is done and the relationship engaged once you enter into it.

  5. Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

    “. . . it is singularly the act of sexual passion that makes someone the spouse of a deity. . . ”

    *loud expletives* I . . . I need to lie down. ALONE lest I invite any more trouble.

    I’ve never exchanged even nods with any of the Hellenic deities, but . . . I’ve gotten similar vibes from various Others. Sometimes. I mean some of Them also made other comments and etc. about “marriage” before and after any sexual encounters but in some cases They were all “you’re my WIFE now” all smug and etc. after said encounter and I was all “the hell I am! Yes to sex is not yes to -that-!!” and They seem to have humored me to some extent. >.< (They haven't ALL gone right to bride/wife/marriage talk, but aNYWAY.)

    *headdesk*

    I've also had marriage offers that came with "it can be platonic" attached so for some of Them I guess it's different, and "marriage" may simply be a convenient term to imply "commitment" and various other things that my 21st century sensibilities associate with the word.

    • Thenea

      Right. “You are committed to me now” is a nonsensical statement.

      One time, this king went to a mountain. He waved his royal scepter and tapped the mountain, saying, “This mountain is mine! Move, mountain!”

      The mountain was a mountain. Words did not move it.

      Deities can say anything they like, but what’s in your heart is yours and yours alone. It will not move because of what they think they own.

      • Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

        Yeah. To be fair, He had proposed previously, so I felt He was perhaps yanking my chain/pushing on my marriage-related baggage, but I’m not entirely be sure, because it felt like His feelings towards me, and what He considered me to be, were what they were regardless of any firm commitments made by me (I did later say yes, which I’m sure He knew I would). With spirits, “marriage” and what makes someone a “spouse” seem to be cover a wider range of relationship types and formality levels than I expect from mortals. argh

  6. Beth

    Odin and I did have a ceremony, and vows, and an exchange of gifts. But was that what made us Husband and wife, or was it the act of sex? In light of your post, I’m not really sure. Certainly, I would agree that if a god proclaims you to be His wife, and if you assent to that, then it is so (by virtue of the power of the deity’s Word). The first human marriages were not necessarily big on ceremony either; I think there is a range of different types of marriage, both among humans and among the gods, as well as between the two groups. I don’t think there is any one single way that it always happens. However, I also don’t think every single incidence of sex between a mortal and a god *necessarily* constitutes a marriage. Intent–on both sides–always has to be part of the equation .

    • Thenea

      I think such things are generally cultural. What makes you Odin’s wife will probably have more to do with Viking customs, or depending on your proclivities, modern ones, than it will have to do with Greco-Roman ideas on the subject. The rules are going to vary wildly from culture to culture.

      In Ancient Judaism, sex with the intent to marry totally worked. Without intent, it did not. The Greek view seems an iteration on this theme… only more sexist.

      While I do not agree with the view of marriage held by the ancient Greeks, I must acknowledge it as coloring the way Greek deities might think about relationships.

      • Beth

        Oh yes, there is definitely a cultural component. In my own case, my particular version of Odin is, more strictly speaking, Wodan, so the customs involved would be very much pre-Viking (and possibly a good deal murkier; since the Germanic tribes during the Migration Era weren’t inclined towards literacy, we know a lot less about what they did). By the time we get to the Viking era, marriage was more defined as an institution. However, even then, marriage by capture was still a Thing among mortals, so not necessarily out of the question for the Norse gods, either.

    • Thenea

      We’re modern. We can’t be forced into marriage against our will.

      Again. The point of this article is that this phenomenon is not a fad, and that community approval is not required. Not that deities can force us into marriage against our will. They can’t.

    • Thenea

      And I, too, had sex with a deity I wasn’t particularly fond of. I don’t consider him a spouse. There was an argument about that, but it was an argument I won.

      Hermes is a beloved of mine, and I over-complicated the issue owing to past deific relationship baggage. I needed, in some ways, to bust this down to the minimum viable product to do him justice.

    • Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

      It seems to vary a lot. I’ve had sexual interactions with deities for healing or other energy-work purposes (which has sometimes been emotionally /uncomfortable/), and sometimes for what appeared to be purely recreational reasons, without there being any sense that the relationship would now be more serious, or spousal, or there would be further obligations, or anything. I’ve heard from other people about a similar/broader range of reasons/uses for sex between mortals and spirits.

  7. aediculaantinoi

    I think the instances you’re discussing here certainly have that valence. The Greeks and Romans (and various other cultures) did have categories of marriage/recognized relationships that include a lot of things we’d find odd or even distasteful, e.g. marriage by capture/rape.

    But, it does depend on the culture involved. If one is a God-spouse of an Irish Deity, for example, it’s not a recognized marriage unless there are lawyers and family present, for starters…and, unfortunately, a lot of modern polytheists who have said they have such marriages with Irish Deities have conveniently ignored that.

    I’ve had Deity sex myself on a few different occasions, but I don’t consider any of the Deities or heroes with whom it occurred my spouse(s), or even necessarily my patrons. It’s a tricky business, sometimes, trying to give models or terminology for some of these things when there isn’t often a comparable human relationship style, image, or metaphor that remotely applies to what is actually going on. *shrugs*

    • Seren Lebannen

      If one is a God-spouse of an Irish Deity, for example, it’s not a recognized marriage unless there are lawyers and family present, for starters…and, unfortunately, a lot of modern polytheists who have said they have such marriages with Irish Deities have conveniently ignored that.

      I find that a rather interesting assertion to make, particularly in light of the conclusions laid out in this post. What personal stake do you have in the matter, if you don’t mind my asking?

      • aediculaantinoi

        My primary concern is making it known that there are cultural differences in how these things work that are dependent upon the Deities’ cultures of origin. Concepts of marriage, and what makes a marriage legitimate, are deep structures within cultures that do not change on the whim of the would-be godspouse. Thus, I’ve seen people asserting that an Irish Deity gave them a certain token, or something happened (e.g. they shared a drink from a single cup–and it just happened, with no explanation or formality), where no words were exchanged, but they understood it to be a divine marriage, and I find that to be well-intentioned (perhaps) wishful thinking. Wishing that these things would be simple is not the same thing as recognizing that they are, indeed, simple when they are simple, and the latter caveat is a rare case indeed…

        It’s a bit perilous to go from a general description or characterization of a certain culture’s thoughts or trends on a particular variety of divine relationship to forming general principles that “should” apply across the board where such relationships are concerned now with modern people. Very frankly, someone saying “are you sure that’s what happened?” to someone in this situation now is not going to end with that second person’s fiery death, nor their subsequent deification–that begins to sound like a polytheist version of martyrdom under persecution. No, I do not remotely think that the wider community who has no interest or involvement in divine marriages or godspouses has a “right” or even a responsibility to interrogate, persecute, or harass those who have that type of relationship, and there can be some very dodgy and destructive things done by those who feel they do have those rights. But, it also has to be admitted that there’s been more than one person out there who has used their godspousery to assert a superiority, a dominance, or an unquestioned authority over others–up to and including suggesting that it is the very epitome of divine-human relationships (which is as problematic as suggesting, as some Christian churches do, that heterosexual marriage is the very image of their deity and is thus inherently holy and important over all other social institutions and must therefore be protected, afforded exclusive rights, etc.), and who has used their godspouse status as a bludgeon in arguments, or even as one in self-definitions and assertions of their position within given communities. If it does not require communal recognition to be a godspouse, that’s fine, but then the mention of one’s identity as a godspouse should then have absolutely no impact on communal matters or discussions, and should just be kept to one’s self. If they are tied together (which I’m suggesting), then the input of the community and the approval of the community is a factor (and in religions like those in the African Diaspora, there are ways to figure out if this is the case, because divine marriages are communally recognized in them and are communally celebrated); if they are not tied together and are entirely different from one another (which is what Thenea is suggesting in this post and what many are agreeing with in the comments), then that may be fair enough, but what business is it of anyone’s discussing something that doesn’t concern them and in which they have no input? And if it is some other position entirely, or can be either or both of these given particular individuals or contexts, then it’s a much more complex question that cannot be so easily generalized or categorically stated to be this-or-that, or only this or only that.

        To use what will seem like a silly example to demonstrate the point: I have a checking account at a particular local bank. Using Thenea’s words (only altered to fit the grammatical context here), I’ll draw your attention to some things that are attendant upon that fact: the factor of my having that bank account actually has absolutely no requirement of community permission, nor does it require a specific ceremony (although in filling out the paperwork and presenting various forms of ID for it, a ceremony’s procedures were followed!), and it certainly does not require outside validation for me to get my money out, put money in, or in other ways to administrate and maintain that bank account. We’re agreed on that up to this point, right? Okay…so, what use is it at all that I would even mention this fact in interacting with other people in my daily life? And, especially (though it may seem unrelated, the principles applying are applicable), it would be no use for me to talk about having that particular relationships of clientship with a corporate financial entity–however large or small, universal or local the entity might be, and no matter how frequent or rare my direct encounters with it are–in a spiritual context because the community has no stake in that decision or that relationship’s continuation or cessation, they have not been present for the establishing ceremonies of the relationship, and individual or communal validation of that relationship outside of myself is entirely irrelevant. Thus, for me to make a blog post about it would be inappropriate; for me to say anything about it in the first few sentences, or even in the concluding paragraphs, of my “About” page/tab on my blog would also be inappropriate. If a given subject is not one for communal approval, acknowledgement (via ceremony), or validation, that’s fine, but then it must also not be for communal discussion, especially if engaging in communal discussion inevitably leads to the person offering the information in the first place only replying “It’s too bad, it’s between me and my bank that these are the facts, and if you question that, it’s your own insecurities and you’re treading a thin line…and I hope you don’t ever make a request of my bank, because they’ll not be happy if you do, and your own bank might even treat you badly–and rightfully so!–now because you’ve dared to question my checking account!” (Sometimes, hyperbolae helps to illustrate the implications of a situation, and I hope that’s the case here…!?!)

        If the matter of godspousery does not help to build the wider community, nor does it aid the community to discuss it (even amongst other godspouses), then it is an irrelevance and should only be kept private–and it is somewhat perilous to try and suggest otherwise. So, if this really is Thenea’s suggestion, and the thing that a lot of people (godspouses, perhaps?) are vehemently agreeing with, then the results that people come away with from here should be to not talk about these things ever again and to thus avoid all potential conflicts on metaphysical, spiritual, and even existential levels from here on out. And yet, I suspect that few of those who are vehemently agreeing were planning on doing that, and many have reblogged this post already, which can be understood as suggesting that no one should question anything the rebloggers ever post about their godspouse relationships. If the only acceptable response to such discussions is “Great for you and XYZ Deity!,” then what purpose does it serve to talk about these things at all?

        And yes, I do have a personal stake in these matters. I’ve had Deity-sex with an Irish Divine Being, which I’ve spoken about in a few different places. What is being suggested here is that such activities could thus constitute a divine marriage of some sort (and indeed, several other people’s divine marriages have been “proven” and acknowledged by the wider community via lesser statements of experiences…and, again, if those things are really irrelevant, then why are they needed as responses to such statements?), and that’s simply not the case based on cultural factors in my own situation, and were I to assert that it was, I’d get my arse handed to me.by the Irish Divine Retinue of the Being in question. I’ve also had Deity-sex with a (mostly) Greek Deity, which I’ve also talked about with others on a few occasions–if I were to likewise say that constituted a divine marriage, I’d be lying and attempting to self-aggrandize.

        That my own divine experiences and relationships are exceptions to the general rules and characteristics laid out here means, then, what? They’re different and thus irrelevant? No, because Deity-sex was involved, and a lot of what is discussed above and in the comments here rests on the presence of such relational acts and their meanings or implications in and for divine marriages/godspousery. Or, is it instead that my experiences fall into this category, but then break the suggested rules, and are thus “wrong” on some level? If someone wants to conclude something like that, they can (and I cannot change their mind on the matter), but then they’re doing to me exactly what it is suggested people not do where all of these matters are concerned. In this, the exceptions do not prove the rules presented here, they at least question it…and for something to be a rule, it must have fewer exceptions than examples which illustrate it. If the rule is being set up as absolute, which the statement in bold toward the end of Thenea’s post above seems to be indicating, then it really does have to apply absolutely.

        All of this to say: just as it may be a good idea not to think of these things as requiring outside validation, nonetheless making generalizations about these kinds of relationships–especially outside of singular cultural contexts–and not allowing for the fact that there will be individual and cultural and communal variations is also not a very good idea. Saying “it may or may not necessarily require outside validation” would be more accurate, I think, in a polytheist setting.

        And, as a final question, it might be good to clarify that there is a difference between “excessive skepticism” and “questioning.” Sometimes, a process of interrogation (in the non-waterboarding and coercive sense!) is a useful step in personal as well as communal discernment, and things like divination (especially from an uninvolved outsider) can be really useful in it. Introspection requires questioning, or else it is simply uncomplicated acceptance; divination involves questioning, needless to say. Questioning is not inherently hostile, it’s a method for clarification and understanding when used in the best ways imaginable (and thus, because this is the internet, that rarely happens!). Questioning need not be something that automatically entails being judgmental, dismissive, or derogatory; a wise person whose name I am forgetting at present said that religious matters (whether in one’s own experience or someone else’s) should be approached always critically but never cynically, and I think this matter is no exception.

        If godspousery is a relevant matter for communal discussion (even if only amongst other godspouses), and is to become a relevant factor in the future of our communities, then laying out some of these rules of engagement, preferred procedures, communal agreements, and ground-rules for discussion is a desirable goal. Even if what Thenea is suggesting here is not proven to go anywhere and is determined to not be useful, they are at least a start in getting this process underway and engaging the communal aspect of these identities, and are thus VERY GOOD AND POSITIVE…and I, personally, think there needs to be more of that process, not less.

      • Thenea

        Yes, you guessed my position correctly. I do not think that being a god spouse should confer any special authority on the person, nor do I feel it should constitute a special community role. And, to clarify, I mean “within the context of Hellenic Paganism.” Because I really don’t have a right to comment on any other kind of Polytheism based on my study of Greek texts.

        Firstly, just on an emotional level, that’s horrible. Using anyone’s love and affection as a way to climb the social ladder cheapens that relationship. I can’t imagine why you’d do this to a deity.

        Secondly, in my reading of the Greek sources, that kind of was not the way that it worked. In the Greek mythos, women who were married (or consorts to) a deity were often mocked or killed. We do have the issue of Cadmos, whose narrative suggests that having the daughter of Aphrodite living in his home might have in some way legitimized his rule, but that is rather different. His Oikos had become her residence. If I bring a deity physically down to Earth for everyone to see, I sort of expect at least polite applause.

        In the ancient world, such as in the case of Alexander the Great, if someone was very impressive, people began to conjecture that they had a divine parent. But the success was the trigger for that speculation, and it was sort of an answer to the open question of how that person could be so awesome. The parent of that child did not receive honors for having had a physical child with a deity. In the ancient world, having a divine parent was a much more esteemed thing than having a divine lover or spouse.

        To me, Spouse or Lover is just one of many roles that a Divine Ally can play. It is not greater or lesser than any other such relationship, and none of these should confer authority on a person. They are meaningful to the individual’s spirituality, and not really something which should have to affect anyone around the person.

        So why talk about it?

        Why talk about any divine relationship? Firstly, being in love and not talking about it is very difficult. I talk about my (mortal) husband to my Pagan/Polytheist friends, not because he is in any way relevant to the dialogue around community and religion, but because those people are my friends, and many of the adventures in my life involve this other human being who lives in my home and does various things with me. Having a deity that is frequently involved in your daily affairs feels similar. My stories about Hermes are similar. He’s active in my daily life, and there are events that another person might not fully understand if I wrote him out. I suppose I could just say, “I was late today because my wallet was in the freezer, and that was the last place I looked,” but really, that story makes a lot more sense if you understand the context, which is that I live with a trickster god hovering around me, that we sometimes have disagreements and he hides my crap. That doesn’t mean that I’m cooler or smarter than anyone else, or that my opinions are worth more.

        These things are a part of the fabric of my personal and emotional reality. If I don’t talk about that part of my life, there is a part of me that will just never make sense to you.

        Further, you could see the various intimate relationship types (spouse, parent, master, etc) as being languages through which a more ineffable relationship with the deity is expressed. If what we are doing is trying to translate that back, so that these experiences become spiritually meaningful in a deeper way, rather than just being an added source of drama, opening a dialogue with others who have similar sorts of relationships might be helpful.

        To me, the work of having gnosis is about translating it into higher principles. The work starts with asking what the extended metaphor is, and what it might represent. Talking to others to compare notes might be helpful.

        If the person thinks they want to be, or are, married to a deity, it is because they are trying to approach the deity, and that is the metaphor that works for them. If a deity is deeply insistent on it, it’s because the deity sees something the mortal doesn’t, and that person’s spiritual development will go work better using that metaphor, whether the human knows it or not… which is not to say that they cannot decline! Depending on the person’s culture, varying degrees of ceremony might be required. The ancient Greek tradition seems to require very little in the way of pomp and circumstance. There was often ceremony and celebration, true, but these were not what constituted the marriage. They were simply niceties surrounding it.

        One’s own personal mythology has a certain shape, their personal and implicit narrative requires that certain roles be filled. Sometimes these roles are filled by deities, and the deities that fill them do so in the ways that make sense for how that person needs to develop.

        It should be the business of spiritual communities to help one another figure their own internal stuff out. A part of that is becoming, as a community, knowledgable about the types of experiences that mystics tend to have, and how those experiences inform a healthy spiritual life. If we don’t talk at all about these relationships or how they manifest, we can’t do that.

      • aediculaantinoi

        Yes–very good indeed, and thank you for clarifying. We’re on close-to the same page with all of this, then…The communal dialogue is important in everyone’s understanding, I think, so more of it, and more nuanced engagements in it, is really essential.

        To use my silly metaphor again: just because I have a bank account doesn’t mean I have a double-Ph.D. in economics and finances. And yet, I have seen some people use godspousery to make assertions about cultures, attested lore, and so forth that cannot be supported, and if that is questioned, they don’t even say “that’s my UPG,” they simply say that everyone else on the subject is wrong forever. Oops…

        Anyway, yeah. 😉

      • Thenea

        “they simply say that everyone else on the subject is wrong forever”

        *snerk*

        Well yeah, that’s annoying.

        I mean… deities can change, lore can and should evolve as the values of a given culture shift. I also think that deities evolve and change because I believe that they have subjective inner states and they learn things.

        But you don’t get to bark orders at an entire culture because you boinked a deity. That is just not how that works.

      • caseyhamilton2015

        Deities change and evolve, because if they cannot, it means that they are less capable than humans. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

  8. Laine DeLaney

    Well, that makes me a bit relieved that I’m not Hellenic, as that would *definitely* change some things for me. My Heathenry is mostly Norse-oriented, and sexual interaction seems to be considered to be part of but not the defining act of marriage in that culture.

    Also, “lay rough hands on your girdle” is about the hottest phrase I’ve heard in a while. That one made me have pause to breathe.

    Thank you for the insightful and thought-provoking post!

    • Thenea

      Yeah. It’s reasons like these which cause many Hellenic deities to fare better outside the context of Hellenismos. If I had a dollar for every person who worked with one Greek deity or another, I’d be a very rich woman. And yet Recon groups are often starved for membership, and a great many people can’t find even two other people to do a devotional with.

      The culture contains many beautiful things, but also a lot of things which would probably be better left on a shelf somewhere in the 3rd century. 😛

      • juliaergane

        I think that many of us who have had experiences with a deity from the pantheon generally keep it close. Even though there is historical documentation, there are still quite a number of folks who would scream that we were being “too neo” or “new agey.” It is hard because I am a sensitive anyway and I can tell when a deity is close (as well as various spirits). Personally, I have felt the closeness of Athena when I was embroidering free-hand (she was standing just by my right shoulder). I spoke softly to Her and I could feel Her energy flow down my arm. I’ve also felt Artemis, Hermes,and Ares. Now, Poseidon is trying to really get my attention. I am working on all these relationships, including one with Hera. Right now I feel as though they are giving me time, which is a good thing.

      • Thenea

        Well… as to the people screaming that a direct experience of the divine, or familial relations with deities, is “too new agey” they have basically got no scholarly leg to stand on.

  9. Pingback: What Ancient Sources Say About Godspousery | Gangleri's Grove
  10. Silence

    Reblogged this on The Road, the Walker, and What Comes Next and commented:
    Though I don’t agree with all of Thenea’s conclusions on certain matters, she’s done some noteworthy work on many subjects including apotheosis. More than that, I find much of her writing thought-provoking in its directness; as a writer who frequently struggles to get to the point, I can appreciate this on several levels.

    This particular post really cuts to the heart of a certain matter close to my heart, specifically the nature of divine marriage and what this relationship dynamic is supposed to look like – or what we as individual humans expect this relationship dynamic to look like.

    If there’s one bit of wisdom that I might share with other godspouses and similar creatures, I’d recommend leaving your expectations of what marriage, partnership, and relationship look like at home because you won’t be needing them where you’re going.

    Like most everyone else in my culture, marriage is as much a public declaration of commitment as it is the formalizing of a relationship between the concerned parties. It’s something you do for yourself *and* for other people, to one degree or another. People who enter marriage relationships with Powers often *want* some kind of celebration, formal acknowledgement, symbol of commitment – anything, really. We want these things because it’s our cultural norm, because it’s in all the stories, and really, why shouldn’t we want these things for ourselves?

    For a long time I wanted something – some kind of party or ritual or ceremony. I was always a little jealous of people whose circumstances were such that something like that could take place. Eventually I stopped wanting this because my desire wasn’t going to actually change anything. And then if I got it, then what? What would actually change? What would be different? Hopefully nothing would change because if it did, that would mean that my relationship was somehow incomplete or lacking otherwise. That wasn’t a conclusion I was comfortable with. This desire was eventually shelved. I don’t want it anymore. It might be nice, I suppose, but I’m less winsome and carefree these days and I feel like it’d be kind of…..less than it should be in some regard.

    But it’s my expectations that I want to talk about. I had a pretty clear idea of what marriage looked like: there was a party involved, right? Some kind of promises? Some kind of jewelry? Even other godspouses I knew had most of those things.

    By my calculation I’ve been married ten years as of earlier this summer. By His, we’ve been married twelve. That’s because He marks our relationship differently. I recall Him using the term “shacking up” to describe the beginning of a marriage. I told Him He was being very silly. There was an image of us moving into our very own cave like a couple of badgers.

    So I relate a lot to what Thenea talks about in this post, about marriage looking different from different angles, especially when Powers are part of the mix. I relate a lot to the story of Psyche and Her big empty house full of voices. I relate to Semele being challenged to produce proof.

    There is proof, you understand. The proof is just not for other people. The proof is for Semele. The proof is for me. The proof is, perhaps, for you as well.

    My personal favorite apotheosis narrative (if I may call it that) is the story of Andal. I’ve written a bit about Her before. Here’s a lovely little video showing pictures of Her wedding garb; this is a sacred narrative that is reenacted ritually. Even though Andal is married and has always been married, every year (I believe) the incident of Her marriage is celebrated specifically. The song is a traditional wedding song: it’s sung at weddings. People know this song today. People will be singing it for many years to come, I imagine. Andal’s human name (Godkai/Kodhai) is still spoken. If proof is required of Her blessed relationship (and there is not!), this is good enough for me.

    (And lyrics/translation for those curious)

    English Verse:

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maaladaindhu Madhilaranghan Maalai Avarthan Maarbiley

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maiyalay Thaiyalaal Maamalar Karathinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Rangaraajanai Anbar Thanghal Nesanai

    Rangaraajanai Anbar Thanghal Nesanai

    Aasai Koori Poosurarghal Pesi Mikka Vaazhthida

    Anbhudan Enbhamay Aandaal Karathinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Poo Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Poo Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    Poo Maalai Saarthinaal Kodhai Maalai Maatrinaal

    English Meaning for the Lyrics of Maalai Saathinaal

    Flower garland put on his neck

    Kothai exchanged garland with him

    On him who is the spotless Ranga,

    The winsome lady,

    With her flower like hands,

    With love filling her heart,

    When the friends and priests,

    Praised and blessed him who is God,

    With love and with joy,

    With her holy hands.

    Flower garland put on his neck

    Kothai exchanged garland with him

  11. EmberVoices

    What I wonder is, given the Hellenic assertion that the gods are, by nature, perfectly fertile – that is, if a male god has sex with a female of any kind, they WILL be impregnated – if the reasoning was not that any sex = marriage, but that pregnancy = marriage, and it was a given that with a god sex = pregnancy…

    All this said, and maybe this is my Heathenness showing, I don’t think a god gets to claim being married to me by right of having had sex with me. *I* require actual promises to be made, and at least another god or spirit, but preferably another of my own kind, as witness to those promises.

    And that, too, said, I don’t go around questioning other people’s definition of Godspouse vs. Consort vs. whatever other term. That is, and always will be, between the people directly involved in the relationship. Perhaps that’s very Poly of me.

    But what I DO, what I *Teach*, is that mutual vows and consent are required for a *formal* relationship. Really of any kind, come to think of it. We can not be held to vows we have not made, and Marriage is, in *our* culture, a contract.

    But there’s a very big difference between saying “You’re not really married, because nobody saw the ceremony”, which I would not do, and saying “You can’t be held to marriage vows you never made.”

    –Ember–

    • Thenea

      “You can’t be held to marriage vows you never made.”

      Of course. That view makes perfect sense in terms of how modern marriages work.

      In Ancient Greek society, however, a woman’s consent was not required for marriage.

      Pregnancy was considered “the point of no return” in a marriage, and after that, the marriage could not be, for lack of a better word, annulled. Yet, nonetheless, until the man gave the woman back to her family, they were married, as near as I understand.

      Furthermore, there were rituals of adoption for those who didn’t successfully reproduce. This was considered essential in assuring an good afterlife for those who could not procreate. The position that pregnancy = marriage would suggest that couples who had to adopt were not really married.

      • EmberVoices

        > The position that pregnancy = marriage would suggest that couples who had to adopt were not really married.

        Not if there was, amongst humans, usually a ceremony before attempts to get pregnant began. I wasn’t suggesting that pregnancy was the *only* way to end up married, so much as that merely having sex when one does not end up pregnant might not be presumed marriage, but sex with gods if one is male and the other female always results in pregnancy in Greek lore, so the combination of variables obscures the point of change.

        *Shrug* I’m more interested in the theory, as Heathen culture has very different ideas built up around these things anyway.

        -E-

      • EmberVoices

        I also… can’t really *afford* to regard sex+god=godmarriage, though I know you’re not trying to argue that we all *should* for our personal relationships. But because of my role with the Antler Brigade and Freyja and dreamwork, I’d have… um, a lot of spouses wandering around.

        Of course, in support of your observation, I *have* been told by various gods at various times that They don’t see much difference between what I am to Them, individually and collectively, and what a Wife would be. Some of Them have called me “wife” until I pointed out the lack of vows, and others have used proposals and propositions interchangeably.

        They acknowledge there’s a difference at my end, and to humans in general these days, but seem to think its weird that we’re the only form of life in our ecosystem that cares about having a ceremony for it. But then, I work with the Antler Brigade, so they’re more… animal… about it all.

        –Ember–

      • Thenea

        Right. That’s kind of what I’m pointing out, that the deities may think of it that way… not that we have to. And that, moreover, heaping all of these external requirements on people for who should and should not be considered a god spouse might not be such a great idea… a thing I have totally heard people do.

  12. Pingback: On Godspousery and the Irrelevancy of outside validation of any kind whatsoever | Strip Me Back To The Bone
  13. Pingback: I needed to read this, a reblog | The Glitter Road
  14. Pingback: Heirogamia: Clarifying My Personal Position, and An Apology | Magick From Scratch

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