This morning, while I was half asleep, Hermes descended with rays of light, as when the sun, peeking from behind a cloud, lets radiant golden streams tumble from the sky like waterfalls, warming all that is beneath is with effulgent glory. He greeted me (details unnecessary), and then, with characteristic quickness and a burning sense of purpose, picked up, pulled apart, and discarded all of the energy and power that had accrued on his altar.

“Thoughtforms,” he explained, and shook his head with faint exasperation. Then, he picked up a few squalling spirits by the scruff of the neck. “B.R.B.”

And then he descended to the Underworld with them.

Now, of course, this is my bedroom altar. My temple space is not warded (rather, it is regularly exorcised and purified), because of things I explained earlier, but my bedroom certainly is. I sleep in there. The last thing I want is anything unexpected visiting me while I sleep. I do not need to be doing transformative work between the hours of 11pm and 7am. What I need to be doing during that time is sleeping. The wards are set simply: “Only Hermes and whomever he wills to be in there, so long as it isn’t (three entities whom I find particularly annoying).”

I had an obvious question: “How did those dead people get in here?”

Well…” Hermes began, “If something is tucked up inside your aura, wards don’t influence it. Common loophole. That’s how casting a circle doesn’t keep out Fauxdin, and why, when Dionysos wants to attend one of his own devotionals, he sometimes rides someone into the space and camps there till after the circle is cast.”

“I… wait, Dionysos?”

“Contrary to popular opinion, the falling down drunk guy who sleeps with tons of people that aren’t his wife is Comus. Or Zeus, on the odd Saturday night. When the god of inclusion, performance art, and psychology wants into a space, he finds he’s often not recognized as Dionysos.”

“I see. What happened to the altar, though? I was calling you there. That wasn’t you?”

“It was. Then it wasn’t.” He shrugged. “This is me. Do you believe me?”

I looked at him. I put an astral hand on his chest and scanned him. He seemed purer, for sure, than how he seemed the day before. There was something missing from him. I searched my brain, thinking about that particular etheric scent, what it was and what it meant. The missing thing was aggressive, hungry, ruthless, insecure. It wasn’t from him. It had never been. It was me projecting my unconscious expectations onto what it meant to be successful at commerce. It served him to a point, and then it didn’t. He discarded it like the skin of a snake.

What I now know: taking inventory of your beliefs as they connect to your deity’s domains is important. If you are working with Zeus, your beliefs about what it means to be a father or a king are going to color how you see him, perhaps preventing you from seeing him at all.

This revelation put me in mind of something my sister said: that all of these people who swear up and down that they are no longer qualified to decide when they are being harmed by their deities, that their will no longer matters — the words of their deities strangely echo a lot of toxic American parenting norms. The presumptions of parents, that a parent owns their child’s body, that beating their children is somehow for their benefit, that humiliation is education, that a child isn’t qualified to decide when they are hurting, are not dissimilar from the presumptions that these people hear divinities making. Likewise, those followers to cast themselves as being “at the mercy of domineering, socially inept aggressors who control the relationship” are simply casting their deity in the role of the abusive lover, which many of us fail to recognize as problematic. Our larger society has completely fucked up ideas about love, sex, power, and authority, and the way religion manifests in the United States, in every religion, is poisoned by it.

Worship at an altar is a bread and butter practice of most Polytheisms, and the energy we build there can help our gods connect with us. A side effect is that we empower our ideas about the deity, sometimes causing those ideas to shine brightly enough that we can mistake what they are saying for the deity’s voice. There is a turning point, sometimes hard for a human to spot, when what we hear at the altar is more us than it is the deity, owing to how much of ourselves we have put into it.

Take inventory of your beliefs and take your altar apart periodically. Give that space and your icons a good cleaning with something disruptive to etheric power. As uncomfortable as it may feel, it’s probably for the best in the long run.