Like the skin of a serpent

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.

17 comments

  1. aediculaantinoi

    Yes…so much important matters are presented here by you in an exemplary fashion…

    While I do love Alan Moore, one of his ideas is one that is particularly relevant to what you’ve said and how much of a mess it can get one in, especially when it is a pernicious meme that is backed up by someone as respected and admired as him (whether he likes it or not, he’s got a cult of personality around him stronger than it exists around certain hegemonic religious leaders!): “The idea of a god is the god.” Nope. That’s like saying the idea that other people have about me IS me, which it certainly isn’t, and that is the case for everyone. Not all ideas are equal, nor equally true, nor equally applicable, nor is “YMMV” hand-waving always the solution to differences between reality and one’s perception of it. The Deities can encompass many things, many positions, many personality characteristics and traits, and so forth, but there does come a point where it is no longer “Them” and instead becomes one’s own projection, as you’ve so clearly illustrated above.

    Great advice and observations, as always! 🙂

    • Thenea

      I haven’t heard of Alan Moore, but I can see where a hard Polytheist would feel discomfort at the notion that your preconceived notions of a deity are equivalent and the same as the person whom a given deity wills to be. Sort of negates their free will, imo.

      • aediculaantinoi

        He’s best known as a comics/graphic novel writer (e.g. The Watchmen; V for Vendetta; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; From Hell; and the good run of Swamp Thing, including the creation of the character of John Constantine within those stories; etc.), but he’s also a magician, and a self-confessed worshipper of Glykon. As many pagans and polytheists love his comics work, and some have read what he’s thus far written about magic (mostly in interviews, but in a very limited number of narratives as well, including the comic Promethea, which is quite excellent in certain ways), there’s a surprising amount of affirmation of him without question even in the more discriminating circles of such, or at least those that claim to be more discriminating (including amongst very jaded and avant garde ceremonial magicians); he was formerly a declared atheist, but is very into psychedelics, and I think that lead him in certain directions while he was researching occult matters at various points, and then the whole Glykon thing started. Anyway, I could say much more about him, but I’ll leave it off there for now! 😉

      • aediculaantinoi

        To your response, though: not only does the free will of the Deity/Deities involved get violated by this, but oftentimes one’s own free will as well. I can’t tell you how many people have tried to “talk me out of” certain ideas or things that I’ve developed in relation to Antinous over the years through directly relating to Him and responding to my experiences, finding out what His likes and dislikes are, and then someone else saying to me–often when they know little or nothing of Him and have no direct relationship with Him of any note–“No, Antinous is a light and fluffy being, so that incense/color/epithet/etc. isn’t right.” They haven’t seen Him in ways other than what they’ve decided about him from second-hand information (often from biased historians or those who think He’s only an idiosyncratic episode in Roman imperial history or an interesting footnote in the sexuality of famous figures and not an actual religious phenomenon and a fully-operating cultus of some significance in late antiquity and beyond). It was ideas of what I thought He “would” or even “should” be that initially kept me away from Him, even when I was getting approached by Him pretty significantly in my early days of devotional experience with Him…and has more often than I’m pleased to admit had pushed me away from Him at certain other times when I was under negative influences that had nothing to do with Him and everything to do with subcultural garbage originating in some group of people claiming to know what He was all about. Anyway, more could be said, but suffice it to say for now: yes! In all His flaws and all His glories, I try to see Him as He has indicated He’d like to be seen, rather than what other people have tried to shape Him into (often specifically saying that was their intention with Him…!?!).

      • Thenea

        I have the following stock phrase for people who try to argue that Hermes is trying to violate my personal sovereignty. “I do not perceive that. I don’t direct my spiritual life according to other peoples’ gnosis. I’m not hurting you by believing he is kind. You are trying to hurt me — and his reputation– by trying to convince me that he is cruel. Just stop, ok?”

  2. celestinenox

    Interesting. Not only what you’ve posted, which is absolutely as intriguing as everything you post, but how the last couple of paragraphs line up with something someone else and I both posted about recently. People who say they have no will or control when it comes to a deity. It’s like a mini-zeitgeist running through the online Pagansphere.

    • Thenea

      Thank the gods! I look forward to a day when worshipping a spiritual degenerate — a murder, an abuser, a rapist, a fascist, a nazi — isn’t just “another spiritual perspective.”

      • celestinenox

        Indeed! Grant, my rant was about a New Ager, not a Pagan… but they are someone who owns an astrology business and has tons of followers who listen to their “surrender your will to a higher power and you’ll be happy” B.S.

        Like… which higher power? Just saying “a higher power” is so vague and makes me wonder who or what you’re *actually* turning your will over to, dude. Yikes.

      • Thenea

        Well, I mean, if you are a monotheist, I guess you don’t have to ask that question? But if there is a naiscent Polytheist soul in there, any number of skeezy things could just be like, “Sure, baby, I’ll be your higher power.”

      • celestinenox

        See, I think a certain subset of New Agers aren’t really anything? Maybe they’re nominally monotheists, but they also pull themselves away from the traditional monotheism enough, and also start doing things like channeling, which opens them up to entities other than deities and then… well… personally, it just seems like a bad idea to engage in activities with spirits and entities and then be vague in your expression of deity.

  3. Tess

    As usual, Thenea, this is really useful and also something I needed to hear.

    Also, I am so ready for the day that people recognize that the sort of stuff you describe in the last couple of paragraphs is not behavior worthy of worship and take back their own free will.

  4. emberalis

    I had an experience with this, when one of my friends was insisting that she had no choice in what a certain deity was telling her to do. It always made me uneasy, but since it was coming from people who were more experienced I just never questioned it. I assumed that that’s how it was supposed to be. Said deity started coming after me (and, at this point, I don’t know if it was actually said deity or just a negative thoughtform) and I resigned to the fact that “welp, this is just how it is. I don’t really have a choice anyway.”
    Thankfully, I’ve learned that’s not true–you always have a choice. And it’s such a relief to realize it, and take power in your own spiritual practice. The ability to say “no” is powerful. I wish more experienced pagans and polytheists didn’t continue to perpetuate such a harmful ideal.

    • Thenea

      Well, I guess it depends on the deity, and the pantheon. If someone told you that it was a Greek deity, it was definitely a thought form. Greek deities are, according to ancient sources, singularly concerned with our opinions, our worship, our virtue, and what we think. They care about the outcomes for human wars and human politics.

      If a Greek deity is “coming after” a person and harming them, and that person is not a Monarch or a notorious murderer, then it’s probably a thought form.

      Something that Greek deities understand which is apparently difficult for certain humans t understand: humans don’t decide what to believe based on evidence. As a deity, yes, you can maybe have a cultus of six people by forcing them. But for every person you force, there are ten people looking in from the outside thinking, “wow, I am so glad that I am not from THAT tradition.”

      I’m sure that the actual Norse gods are very nice, but I won’t touch them with a ten foot pole, because better than half of all Heathens I know tell me that their gods hurt people, violate their consent, and don’t care about their well being. Better than half of them have some horror story about their gods treating them like crap. So, yeah. No.

      And I’m not alone. I talked to a person the other day who heard this sort of thing about Celtic deities, and despite a burning scholarly interest, and a lot of knowledge about the ancient culture, they now don’t work with that pantheon. I know loads of people like that, some who even came close to boycotting all of Polytheism because of the perception that all deities in our community act like that, or that being abused is inevitable if they hang around long enough.

      More succinctly: we would be a bigger, stronger, more influential community if people did not have these experiences.

      Do you see what I’m saying? How do these gods desire followers, desire devotionals, desire mystics… enough to force them! But not care that they are ham-stringing their long-term growth and viability as a community?

      And if they don’t care about long-term viability, how can you tell me that they have goals in the human world? So why bother barking orders at people?

      The word is “incompetent.” That’s the word for something that needs followers enough to force them, but has no grasp of why this is a bad long-term plan. That’s the word for a being with goals in the human world who doesn’t understand how to work with humans constructively. Does the word “incompetent” describe something worthy of worship? No.

      Look, these beings can’t help how they are put together. It’s not their fault that they can’t find their ass with both hands, or that they have no ability to understand about “long-term” or how to do that. It’s not their fault that they have yet to achieve a Kindergarten level of social skills.

      But gods, how stupid are we if we venerate them for it?

      Be friends with Apollon. He gives no fucks and will fill that kind of an asshat full of arrows.

      And if Apollon appears to BE that kind of asshat? Apollon is a god of logic and reason, with the Muse of History a hair’s breadth from his hand at all times. If you get an Apollon who doesn’t understand how Polytheism in the ancient world went belly up, and how much of that had to do with the perception that gods were malevolent and didn’t care for their followers? That’s not Apollon. Keep calling until the fake Apollon you see explodes into a fine mist of blood, as arrows pass through where he used to be.

      Seriously. Hermes forgive me for saying this, but the time of tolerating imposters has passed.

      • emberalis

        It’s interesting you mention the differences between the pantheons. The deity in mention was, in fact, a Celtic deity. However, I wouldn’t necessarily trust that the being that came after me was said deity, since the group I was with at the time was pretty toxic to begin with. There was an expectation that deities would “claim” you, and if they did, it usually wasn’t in a very kind way. A part of me wonders if expectation itself has a part to play in all of this–that, when we expect a deity to act a certain way, that a) said deity might actually decide to act that way or b) our own perceptions color our experiences with said deity.

        And if said deity tried to contact their follower and say– “hey, that’s not really who I am, I’m not as awful as you think”, would that person listen? Probably not, because perception is reality–right? At least, to that individual person. Especially if someone is a budding polytheist, still struggling to even hear the divine. For someone who isn’t able to hear as well as some, how can they identify an impostor?

        Regardless, I’m super glad to be out of that environment and worshiping in the way I choose. It definitely makes more sense to me that the gods would know, given their long lives, that most people don’t want to follow someone who’s awful to them.

      • Thenea

        Yeah, a colleague and friend of mine was saying this. That we don’t need more discernment tools, but rather, more resources to help people recognize get out of toxic groups. She straight up used the word “cults.”

        I think I have said this elsewhere: if deities are dangerous, then clergypeople are indispensible. Selling the deity as toxic and dangerous can be a way of gaining power over newbies through fear. There is a very short distance between, “You must do whatever the deity says without question,” and “You must do whatever I say without question.”

        And this is why some people get so FURIOUS when you suggest that there are easy ways out of these situations on a mystical level. It’s why they get so frustrated when you don’t play their game, even going so far as to say that your gods — you know, the ones with the ability to emotionally self manage, who have social problem solving skills, and who don’t throw tantrums, the ones who help you and love you and go to bat for you — aren’t the real gods.

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