Evolving Patron Relationships

It has occurred to me, more than once, that some folks may have noticed how quiet I’ve been on the topic of Dionysos for the past few years. Once, there was a time when I was foremost a Dionysian in the community at large – I ran groups dedicated to Him, led public festivals, and devoted large portions of my internet presence to Him. Then things changed for me. I went through a very difficult period in my relationship with Dionysos, where everything that had once felt sure and clear was turned on its head. It was too personal, and too painful, to discuss openly, so I shifted my public writings to other topics, and wondered if anyone could tell. I’m still not ready to discuss the details of what I went through, but I do feel prompted to talk about the subject in general.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use the term “patron” in a general sort of way, meaning a god or goddess that one worships primarily, above most others, who one serves in some tangible way (not just a fuzzy feeling, but doing Their work in the world, having a strong devotional practice, etc.). I’m not interested in arguing over whether this concept is ancient, and especially not interested in claims that it’s all delusion and the gods don’t care specially for individual humans, or worse, for any humans at all. Not everyone has a patron (which does, by the way, involve a level of interest and dedication from both parties), nor does everyone need one, but for those who have some kind of special relationship with a deity…

Things change. Relationships evolve. We know this in regard to human relationships, but it can be even scarier and more upsetting when it happens in one’s religious life. When suddenly one finds that one’s dearest god feels hopelessly distant, or that one no longer feels called to serve Them in the way one used to, it can throw everything into confusion. Has the god withdrawn Their support and affection? Have you, the devotee, erred in some way, or traveled down the wrong path? Are you simply not strenuous enough in your devotion? What’s wrong?

Of course, any of these may have happened; I’m sure they do sometimes. The first critical step would be to do a lot of divination, asking oracles, looking for signs, entreating the gods directly, and doing some serious self-introspection to ascertain if you might have done something wrong. It’s also possible that this relationship with the god was always meant to be temporary, or that you’ve changed somehow fundamentally as a person in a way that means you are no longer a good fit with Them, and need to move on. While you ask these questions and take a hard look at the situation, it is also important to keep up your devotional practice, to increase it even, in order to not let this become a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you lose your connection further due to neglect on your part – and also to prove your continued interest in the god, even when you’re not getting much response directly. But the most important thing to do, as usual, is to listen. Try to get your own angst out of the way and hear what the god is saying.

I tried my best to do these things. For the last couple years, I have done the battery of divinations, asked and asked again, tried to accept what I was being told, tried to hear the true words of Dionysos over the sounds of my own internal cacophony. Everything pointed in a clear direction, but I had a lot of trouble accepting it. Because it wasn’t what I once had with Him. Many people might think it even better in some ways, but the pull of nostalgia is strong – I wanted what I had with Him in the beginning. It all came so easily then – I could give what He wanted almost effortlessly. Now, it is so much more Work, so complicated and challenging.

Well, what did I expect? It seems foolish now, in retrospect. Dionysos is all about pushing (and breaking) boundaries. Why should I be exempt? In fact, if He truly cared, He wouldn’t let me languish in my comfy little maenad space (the fact that it was easy for me to walk a path that others find daunting was exactly the point – being that sort of maenad was not challenging for me, and so it had to change; for someone else, that path may be the challenging one, the one they try to run from). So I did my best to follow His lead. He told me to look for another face of His, and I did, and I found something rare and beautiful. He told me to take up a new role in regard to Him, and I did, and it’s immensely gratifying (even though I mostly cannot share it publicly). He showed me how He and I are connected, the true core of our relationship, and it was awesome and humbling.

But I admit, I still long for that other thing. I am not perfect. I am working on accepting the blessings He has given me, and not wasting my energy on longing for something I once had, that I could not have again anyway since I’ve changed so much since then. I am grateful that He is still so prominent in my life, albeit in such a new way – there were many times I had to face the terrifying possibility that maybe I just wasn’t His anymore, and I did my best to face that, but it never seemed to be the answer. It was just that what I was being pushed towards was so different from my expectations as to be almost unrecognizable. Now I see it.

This has happened in other spiritual relationships as well, to varying degrees. Certainly my history with my daimon and related spirits has been a roller coaster ride at times, and is currently in a place I could not have even dreamed of when I began – and while entirely for the better, there were times I questioned that deeply. And Hermes and I have come a long way too – His presence in my life is still important, but different than when He first agreed to help me 12 years ago, and in some ways more muted. And that’s okay – other relationships have grown in prominence. This is the evolution of a real life spiritual practice. (Interestingly, Apollon has remained fairly constant – it was always about the oracles for us, and it still is. It is the simplest, though not easy by any stretch, of my relationships.)

This is all to say that while it’s important to recognize the possibility that a patron relationship might end, and not to stubbornly force it to continue well past its natural limit, there is a lot to be gained from sticking through the hardest parts and really committing to that god in the long-term. As your relationship evolves in unexpected new directions, you may find that it’s where you needed to be all along. The gods see further than us, after all.

~ by Dver on January 12, 2011.

20 Responses to “Evolving Patron Relationships”

  1. Wow. I knew you were going to write about this topic, but I’m really impressed with how this came out. You touch on so many things I don’t think I’ve really seen treated elsewhere, though I know this stuff happens to others. Thanks for putting this out there.

    • Yeah, I think we don’t tend to talk about this stuff because it’s not glamorous, it’s just painful and doubt-causing and scary. But I bet a lot of people go through it at some point, at least those of us who are in it for the long haul.

  2. I just went through about two years of relative silence from my patron of 19 years, and I completely agree with your method of sorting through it all. In fact, I’m still in the process of sorting everything out.

    Funnily enough, Dionysos came onto the scene for me for the first time during this silence. That path would most definitely be a challenge for me!

    • Thanks for sharing that, it helps not to feel totally alone in this!

      As for Dionysos… I read your post about Him showing up – I can’t speak for Him and I don’t know you that well, so I have no idea what’s going on, but I will put forth that He is so much more than drinking and ecstatic dancing and wild orgies… there are faces of His that are strikingly different from all that. So you never know, something may click. The only thing I think one can say for certainty about Him is that He will always push you beyond your comfort zone, whatever that may be.

      • Ah yes. That was quickly made abundantly clear! As I said in my post, I had a very limited and stereotypical understanding of him before he began invading my dreams, but the research is being done both via mundane and spiritual means. He’s a boundary pusher for sure.

        Thanks for the reply, Dver.

  3. Thank you for posting this. It is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

    I think this can also go the other direction. For years (many years ago) I wanted to explore relationships with other Gods. Have a more open relationship, if you will. After trying desperately to find *that feeling* with other deities, it finally occured to me that it wasn’t my path to choose. She chose me and I finally had to give in.

    I honestly can’t imagine her in my life and I frightens me just a little bit to think that might always be there.

    Thank you for being brave enough to share.

  4. This is the kind of thing that we – pagan types – need to share more often, even without “gory details”. It’s easy to wonder if you’re the only one who’s ever experienced something like this and what you’ve done “wrong”. Knowing others have gone through the same thing can help speed along the period of acceptance/change.

    I went through the same thing a few years ago at my very darkest time. Calling out and finding only a gaping void – when what you need most is an embrace – is terrifying. The sense of alienation and despair is indescribable… But sometimes you need a clean sweep to start over. I’m learning to take it less personally.

  5. I did notice, but well I felt it would be kind of rude to ask (and you’re such a private person, so I didn’t think you would answer anyways). That didn’t stop me from reading your blog, however, even though thats why I started reading your work years ago.

    This is something I have issues with as well, probably because I don’t handle losing relationships very easily due to past relationship problems, and it’s still something I’m trying to overcome. I’d like to think I’m better at it now (if my episode with Papa Ghede is any indication, I am constantly on the look out to see if the Gods’ I am pursuing are telling me to back off — but then again, that’s not healthy either), but it’s still something to struggle with.

    Thank you for posting about this, because I really appreciate it. I have to remember to let things change organically, and not try to willfully keep them in the same state if they want to change.

  6. […] let it be Dver’s exploration of difficult and evolving divine relationships, Kullervo’s insightful analysis of The Bakchai […]

  7. Really excellent discussion, Dver!

    These types of “dark night” experience are important, and common, and need to be discussed more (both theoretically–and there’s a lot of that out there already, though not that well-known to many pagans–and experientially, and more the latter), so I’m glad you’re doing it. I’ve certainly had these sorts of experiences, and am somewhat in the midst of one now…but, earlier today, I was discussing it on a more theoretical basis, which I may post about in my blog soon (along with thirty thousand other things that are going on!).

    So, I heartily echo Sannion’s statement that reading your post today was quite necessary and an excellent thing to do!

  8. I did notice, and strangely enough I dreamt last night that you had sent me a letter about Dionysos with a theme similar to this post. I hadn’t read this and that to me is a little odd…

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing. I feel like this sometimes and I end up worrying that I’ve ‘done it wrong’. I’ve just come out of a huge bout of confusion in which I ended up holding the gods at arms length lest I offend them or something. Of course, all the angst was coming from me and I just had to let go of some shit and get it sorted.

  9. heh, I STILL don’t know why I was chosen by my patron gods. Dionysos, yes, that voice was clear. I just keep trying to plug away and do what I can and try not to let the fog of doubt and lack of knowledge get me down too much.

  10. […] on to not-as-depressing topics! Dver recently posted on her blog about the evolution of particular devotional relationships to deities, and the post is quite excellent and I suggest you read it in full. My response in the comments […]

  11. Beautiful post! Thank you.

  12. I’m just now getting around to reading this, having been away from not just my own blog, but a number of other folks’ as well. Thanks so much for sharing this — it needed to be said.

  13. […] my life became much more entangled with spirits than any kind of mainstream polytheistic practice. I’ve written a bit already about the struggles I faced in my changing relationship with Dionys… But I can happily say now that it was well worth all the effort and angst and work of sticking […]

  14. […] back I wrote about how the relationship with one’s patron deity might change over time, and how to handle that. Another not-often-discussed aspect of patron relationships (or, in fact, […]

  15. […] three years ago, I wrote about Evolving Patron Relationships, and now I find myself again confronting these issues in my own life. While Dionysos remains part […]

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