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 Has the god withdrawn Their support and affection?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.