Apparently, there was a war on Tumblr between Hellenes and Otherkin who believe that they are incarnations of Hellenic deities. It was a while ago. I’m just catching up.
Mostly, the argument went like this:
Deity-kin: We are your gods!
Deity-kin: But we are, tho
Hellenes: Are not!
Deity-Kin: Are too!
Hellenes: Are not!
Reasonable people: Maybe we should just agree to disagree and not waste our time arguing about this.
This was such a fascinating issue to me. It’s really a perfect quandary for philosophical inquiry. The issue begs some essential theological questions which, regardless of what side of this you are on, you’d do really well to ask yourself.
- Are deities, by definition, non-physical?
- How do we know what/who is a deity? What are a deity’s responsibilities? Who gets to decide that?
- Do deities have the right to demand worship?
I’d like to explore these questions one at a time and to opine on them, because that sounds like fun.
Are Deities, by definition, non-physical? (No.)
Can a deity choose to stop being a deity? Are they allowed to quit? Are they capable of incarnating? This is sort of like the “Can God create a boulder so heavy that he cannot lift it” quandary for Polytheists.
If a deity cannot stop being a deity, are they not prisoners of their own apotheosis? If they can quit, then where do they go? Will you really claim that a deity can ride in an ill-fitting, borrowed human form, but not inhabit one that they grew up in?
Obviously, it is possible. Gods take human guise, they tool about in borrowed human bodies, and if they really wanted, they could incarnate. We have myths about deities like Harmonia leaving the world of deities, living human lives, and giving birth to mortal children.
Gods in human form are found in many cultures. The Pharaoh of Egypt, or any other God-King, is an example of this. The Kumari Devi of Nepal is another example. Gods can be physical, living beings.
How do we know who is a deity? (Because they are best able to contribute to their community in that capacity)
There is a problem with saying things like, “the gods don’t have to answer our prayers to be gods.” Sure, that’s true. But if they never answer your prayers, or respond to you in any way, how do you know you’ve got the right number?
Think about this from the deity’s perspective for a moment. Let’s pretend you are a god. Someone calls you. They actually get you, but they are trying to venerate you as a deity of something you find properly loathsome. You try talking to them, but while you are certain they are aware that you are talking, and feel your presence, they persistently mishear you in order to bolster their own belief system.
People stop in and question the person, but the person basically tells them to shut up, and implies that once they are able to surrender to the gods more, they’ll understand.
You can’t ignore the situation because if you do, someone will fill that empty space you left.
You don’t want to hurt the person, and furthermore, fear that any divine punishment may be taken as verification of their incorrect views. They’ll just say that you’re “initiating” them, or that it’s Shaman Sickness. Besides, you’re pretty sure that they’re just confused and fragile, rather than malicious.
Some deities are ok with hurting a single person to prevent spiritual harm from being done to a large number. But most bad stuff that happens to priests is interpreted as confirmation, rather than condemnation. “The gods just like to fuck with us,” or “this is the price of their attention.” Or, “God tests those whom he loves.”
So you create a magical dead-zone around the person so that there would be zero manifestations of you, false or otherwise, with any energy or force behind them. You incarnate any spirits who tried to impersonate you into human form. You make damn sure that, even if this one person had some wrong headed ideas about you, that it won’t spread. The only thing that isn’t taken as confirmation is absence.
Except then, people start making excuses. The gods don’t *have* to show up when we call them. We have to worship them anyway. The problem is clearly with the people who didn’t feel anything. They just need to crack themselves open wider. They need courses in using their psychic senses correctly. People start legitimately doing themselves damage by ripping open their energy body in unnatural ways.
So maybe you just decide to give up on the people misunderstanding you, and bless the people who are hearing you correctly. And then the unwashed, hungry dead just sort of pile in and collect the offering cookies from the people you are ignoring. And people are possessed, and the community leaders declare victory. And if anyone has their consent violated, or gets a really toxic message? Well, that’s just their filter that they need to work through, and maybe they should (insert line of ideological bullshit).
Or, so my deities tell me during their frustrated pacing and ranting.
So long as we have no criteria, any person, no matter how off-base, no matter how unsuccessful they are at connecting with the gods, can claim success, or at least blame failure on other people.
These criteria don’t seem unreasonable to me:
- Gods know more.
- Gods can do more.
- Worship facilitates their contributions to their community.
And so, if a person claims to be a deity, but they have not, as yet, answered anyone’s prayers, nor performed any miracles, nor shown themselves capable of sending omens as deities, then they are equivalent to the dead who show up and eat the offering cookies of a deity.
It’s kind of like the old riddle, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it… does it make a sound?”
If a deity is neither wise, nor kind, nor miraculous… then who really cares?
It brings us to a more essential question: why worship anything at all?
Apollon will always be Apollon, whether he is worshiped or not. His passionate connection to Truth and Nature and various other things assure that. However, unless we invite him to share what he knows and hear what he says on those topics, he cannot fully contribute all that he has to give.
If worship, however, facilitates a physical human’s contributions and makes the community a better place, then that’s a great thing to do. If the community is wasting their time, energy and resources on the worship of a being, physical or non-physical, then that is a poor choice to make.
Which brings us to:
If someone is a deity, do they have the right to demand worship? (No!)
Do you have to worship Jesus? Did you not get the memo that he threatened you with a bad afterlife if you didn’t? Why aren’t you Christian? Are you crazy?! He’s a god!!
I mean… I shouldn’t have to say more, but I will.
I dislike the idea of Vocation, and basically every other Puritan theological belief. However, let’s just start by assuming that a deity can truly call someone to a profession against their will, or even to their own service.
Under such circumstances, you would be incapable of saying, “no.” So, try it. Try saying no. Say “no” early, and often, because it is the surest test of a being’s divinity.
Of course, the ideas of vocation and pre-destination are based upon the notion of a singular, omniscient, omnipotent deity. Polytheistic deities are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Don’t ask Apollon to bake you a cake. Don’t ask Hestia to forge you a suit of armor. Don’t ask Hephaistos to foretell the future. Dionysos isn’t much of a philosopher, and Hera doesn’t know much about metallurgy.
Moreover, even if we posit that the entire pantheon together was collectively omniscient and omnipotent, then what the hell happened in Europe?
To continue the earlier example, Apollon will be a god no matter what. However, not until he has a cultus does he have anyone to actively be a god to. That is the difference between someone saying “I am a god,” and saying “I am YOUR god.”
If you are my god, then it’s because I’m worshipping you. You can no more be a god to a non-participating person than you can be a lover to a non-participating person. If you even try, things get really gross and very rapey very fast. Rape is not sex. Kidnapping is not marriage. Hounding someone is not the same as being worshiped by them.
Communities choose their deities, and how. Historically, they wrote out, deprecated and delegitimised deities all the time. Saying that a community cannot do this is ahistorical. So, no. As much as a deity might like to, they can’t actually make a living by demanding worship. A group of humans has to actively choose them, or their cultus dies out.