Is That Person A God?

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!

Hellenes: No.

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.

  1. Are deities, by definition, non-physical?
  2. How do we know what/who is a deity? What are a deity’s responsibilities? Who gets to decide that?
  3. 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:

  1. Gods know more.
  2. Gods can do more.
  3. 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!)

Literally never.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 comments

  1. Helena

    Oh man, I remember this kerfuffle… As the Hellenic deities don’t incarnate in human form like the Hindu gods and others do, I pretty much saw end of discussion right there.

    Unfortunately, someone claiming to be Apollo or (specifically in my tumblr days) Hermes has no less potential for exploitation than FLDS Leader Warren Jeffs claiming to be a Prophet of the Lord. I wasn’t excited to see that kind of thing introduced to my community and was glad to see it barely scratched the surface. Points for the Hellenics for being smart enough not to worship false idols.

    • Thenea

      Ugh. UGH. Sorry. I am particularly fond of both of those deities, and the idea of them being impersonated by a mortal makes me feel sick in ways that I don’t have words for.

  2. aoibheall52

    I started a post about worshippers and then came up against the question of belief versus going through the motions, which is what most followers of organized religion do when they are brought up in the faith and never make a conscious decision to follow a deity. If you aren’t actually engaged in the moment of offering, is it an empty gesture or is it a true offering? Is that offering like diet food – no ‘there’ there? I’m not on Tumblr so I missed it as well. It sounds like another kerfuffle over UPG. If they claim to be an incarnation how do we know it’s true? Challenge the person to do something only a deity can do, I guess. That’s pretty much a yes or no scenario. Does this challenge the existence of Otherkin completely? It seems to. We don’t have rules that define the boundaries of what can or cannot be. Apollon has never incarnated as a person in the past, but can we say that he’ll never do so in the future? If the deities of some pantheons do this, obviously it can be done. Gives me a headache just thinking about it although there are times when I sincerely wish it would happen. We could use a hand getting out of our inertia.

      • Thenea

        I agree with what was said elsewhere — if they aren’t trying to involve you in it, it’s their own spirituality, and no one’s business.

      • Thenea

        And, as stated, some humans really are gods. If they have the miraculous power and sublime wisdom to back it up, it isn’t hubristic at all. These things can be easily tested.

      • Thenea

        Although, to that point — I am Otherkin. Generally, it isn’t something that a person chooses. Some might say that it’s hubristic for me to claim to be fae, too. But it’s not anything I can help, and denying it is distinctly non-helpful.

      • Euphonia from the River

        I don’t think it’s hubristic to have a fae soul. Fae come in all types, levels of power etc. Being godkin should be looked down on because it trivializes our religion but fae is fine imo.

    • Thenea

      I have often prayed for my gods to come down to the Earth as the myths say they once did. These are dark times, and religion, generally, is in serious trouble. We could use a miracle…. or like, a thousand miracles.

      It’s true that it would be very costly to them. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” they always say.

      • aoibheall52

        It’s one of those things that you take on trust. I don’t pretend to understand it at all. Someone very close to me once told me that I’m a dragons child but I don’t believe that and if you knew me you’d say that I am as far from draconic as possible. But, oh!, to have the deities manifest, one after another, and help us get things moving! Gods know we need the assistance! No one living has witnessed that – we could use a little familiarity!

  3. celestinenox

    I used to know someone who claimed to be a Celtic goddess incarnated. I don’t know whether or not it’s true, but she never asked me to worship her. It was just a thing she said. So I let it be without challenge. *shrugs* I figured as long as she wasn’t demanding worship it didn’t matter whether or not it was true. Nothing about the claim harmed me in any way.

  4. nerthuschild2015

    there is much to be said for the both simple and flawless logic here. As always, a great pleasure to read.

  5. CaseyHamilton

    So, once upon a time, there was a person offering past life/soul type readings, though he no longer offers them. I, in fact, became aware of him because of this blog. For more than 50 years, the central question of my life had been “Who am I?”, because I could tell I wasn’t the same as the people I was related to, I wasn’t the same as the kids I went to school with, and I wasn’t the same as anyone I worked with.

    He basically came back with the information that I was a reincarnated shard of an Egyptian deity, who had apparently seriously pissed off another Egyptian deity, and obviously, I would be completely certain which ones he was talking about. My actual reaction was more along the lines of excuse me, what the fuck?!?! No, I have zero clue what you’re talking about.

    He provided a little bit more information, and suddenly I somehow knew that he was talking about Thoth, and his long-standing disagreement with Isis. So then it was, okay, who the fuck is Thoth? And when I started learning a little bit about him, and discovered the existence of the sacred African ibis, I suddenly understood why I am so very drawn to black and white color schemes, and why libraries and education have always been critically important to me.

    Now, what the fuck does all that mean? Hell if I know. I’m still just an extremely mortal human being, trying to get through every day as best I can, managing PTSD, and working to get healthier, bit by tiny little bit. I know that I’m drawn to the Greek gods more than to their Roman counterparts, and I’m not at all interested in the Norse deities. In fact, they tend to make my head hurt in a weird sort of way. As far as the Egyptian ones, well, Bast and Anubis have apparently always been keeping me company, but I don’t have any real feeling about any of the others.

    Except one: I think Isis, at the very least, owes Ra an apology, and honestly, she should be working her butt off to try to undo the damage that she did. Guess that’s why Thoth got sharded.

    Oh well. Still has no more effect on laundry day than whether the cats are sleeping on the couch, or on the bed. No matter where my soul may have come from, I still have to make sure we have clean clothes and food to eat for supper, and that’s more important and more real in the here and now.

    • Thenea

      *sigh* … Our whole community needs to have a talk about mediums who talk out of their asses.

      Now, I’m not saying that the soul shard phenomenon is BS, but from what you say, his oracle:

      A. Did not really help you in your life

      B. Had no special meaning to you

      C. At least temporarily distracted you from finding a meaningful and useful answer to your question.

      I do believe that deity shards exist. I mean, humans suffer soul loss, and deities probably do as well.

      My understanding of soul loss works is that space and time have no meaning to the soul. A part of us is wherever our intentions, energies, and emotions are bound up. Ceremonial magicians actually do this intentionally for spell work.

      Deities do their work by connecting to the souls of people who are incarnate, and sometimes also by connecting to icons or sacred places.

      Usually, deities release those connections when places and icons are destroyed, or when people die. It’s definitely conceivable to me that deities might leave a part of themselves with people whose death affected them deeply, or in places where the de-commissioning of a sacred space was particularly upsetting. A lot of that happened during the Christianization and/or Islamification of their ancient stomping grounds.

      Too little is said about what the gods must have suffered when they lost their ancient followings, and how it may have impacted them, psychologically.

      I can’t say whether you have a soul shard or not, but you can figure it out in the following way: if your sense of yearning and displacement feels fulfilled when you connect with Thoth, then it’s probable that you do. All it means is that you were someone very, very important to him, that your death impacted him deeply, and that he couldn’t completely come to terms with it. A piece of him would therefore always dwell with you.

      I think I might wind up with a similar thing in my next life.

      Hermes: “I don’t want you to die… :(”

      Me: “Dude, I’m not even 40.”

      Hermes: “Yeah, but… but it’s going to happen.”

      Me: “Everyone dies. You’ll die too, man.”

      Hermes: “But you’ll die before me.”

      Me: “Yeah…?”

      Hermes: 😦 😦 😦 😦

      And on it goes. If I don’t wind up with some part of him that follows me into my next life, just so he can keep tabs on me, I’ll be shocked as shit.

      • CaseyHamilton

        Did it help me in my life? Honestly, yeah. I mean, it makes more sense about why I feel so very drawn to pagan polytheism. It clarified that I really am a little different from most people, and I genuinely see things from a different, sort of long-range perspective than I think most people walking around in the world do.

        Did it have special meaning in my life? It pulled my attention much more intently to things mythic, and seeing oneself in mythic or heroic terms can be extraordinarily helpful when one is working with chronic PTSD as a result of an incredibly bad childhood — especially a delayed onset kind of PTSD. Heroes are tested and forced to operate at the very extremes of human capabilities. That’s what defines them as heroes. My childhood was bad enough that I scored a 9 out of a possible 10 on the longitudinal study Adverse Childhood Experiences, which kinda makes me a hero that I’m still here.

        Did it distract me from finding a meaningful answer to the question? Hmm, hard to say. My first actual awareness of pagan gods as being real happened back 15 or so years ago when, after amorous exercise with my husband, I heard coming out of my mouth, “Well, if you’re going to live with a sex goddess, I would think that you’d let her do whatever she wants.” WTF? Several years later, skimming through an index of names of Celtic gods and heroes, I suddenly heard a shriek inside my head, “Go back, that’s my name!” The name in question was Ariadne.

        I seem to resonate to Thoth in the Classical Period, rather than his earliest being, the Thoth that the Greeks saw as being like Hermes. I just know, regarding Thoth, that the things Wikipedia lists for him: God of Knowledge, the Moon, Measurement, Wisdom, the Alphabet, Records, Thought, Intelligence, Meditation, the Mind, Logic, Reason, Reading, Hieroglyphics, Magic, Secrets, Scribes, and Writing — all those things describe me to me. Those are the things I care about out in the world, people learning how to think.

        The notion that deities from various pantheons might give a shit about me, that’s a very great feeling. I’ve always been a fairly solitary person in many ways, with very few real world friends. That became even more the case when my husband and I moved from Texas to Washington 11 years ago. The thought that a deity-type or two might want to drop by and say hi helps make up for the fact that there’s no one here in the flesh for me to talk to.

        So, Ariadne or Thoth or both or more or is it all just Casey and delusions. No clue, but I know I feel better when I admit for the possibility of the gods of antiquity keeping an eye on me.

      • Thenea

        Ok, then I take it back. The medium in question did right by you.

        And if your connection to those deities, in whatever form it takes, makes your life better, then that is the best possible outcome of spirituality.

      • Thenea

        I have a similar sort of connection to Ariadne, Harmonia and the Snake Goddess. It’s like, when they try to talk to me, I see through their eyes, like reverse trance mediumship. But I know that I’m not them, because my magic and identity follow my fae nature.

        None of those goddesses are deities of plague, rot or blight — and if I have any miraculous power, it’s to summon bacteria, fungi and mold. Gross, I know, but I guess that’s the only super power that I get in this life, lol!

        That my metaphysical nature is so at odds with the perception of “self” attached to these deities, to me, sheds light on the situation. To me, my personal instance looks like a communication glitch more than anything.

  6. dunkelza

    Given the kind crap avatars (or heroes, for that matter) have historically been required to wade into, I’m guessing that in most cases it’s kinder to the mortal shell to be kept in the dark and quietly prepared for their task. Heck in some cases it might be necessary, like a covert “sleeper” agent. Anyway, in the cases of such extraordinary claims, you’re absolutely right that it’s reasonable to base the assessment on evidence.

    • Thenea

      And that is the bottom line. The claim is either true, or not. We need to get into the habit of seeking evidence first, and holding off on having an emotional reaction until we really know what it is we are reacting to.

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