Varying Deity Relationships
Awhile 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, any type of relationship with a deity) is the degree to which they can vary, even for the same person or the same god. In other words, there are almost endless possible variations on the relationship dynamic in regards to quantity, quality and type of interactions, and being aware of this can help you discern your own situation better, and be open to ways in which deity relationships might manifest or change in the future.
Let me, briefly, use my own experience as an example. I have three gods I refer to as “patrons,” but all are quite different situations. Dionysos is my primary patron, the one god I am devoted to above all others. I have known Him for 20 years now. I became His mainad first, and our interactions were about communion and ecstasy, although these were mostly limited to high holy day rituals. Then I went through a period of bringing His blessings to others in various ways, and this was done not only in more frequent group rituals, but also through writing, community organizing, etc. Later, I began deepening my understanding of the complex festival cycle He revealed to me, and acting as a priestess to Him alone, while simultaneously recognizing Him as the source of all ekstasis for me, no matter how it manifested or was directed. I primarily worship Him outdoors, in special holy places, with very specific rituals throughout the year (and much more frequently, in a less elaborate manner, whenever it strikes me or is appropriate).
Apollon is completely different. I began a relationship with Him about 10 years ago, after He repeatedly helped me via divinations, and soon became involved in oracular work with Him. For the past several years, I have faithfully performed Delphic-style oracular rituals at the proper times, expanding my knowledge and practice of such. I celebrate two ancient, agricultural-based festivals for Him, and two festivals I invented (although based on tradition) that surround His arrival to and departure from Delphi. But that is the boundary of our relationship – being His oracle. While I have read extensively about His myths and cultus, and I understand His many aspects, I interact with only one or two of His faces, and that is sufficient for the Work we do together. While I have had some moments of personal communion on the high seat, it is mostly about service. I do almost all my Work with Him in the adyton, or in the incubation chamber in the winter.
Hermes’ presence in my life (going on 13 years now) waxes and wanes with the seasons and other forces I cannot know – He’ll pop in and take over a ritual, or an evening out, and He may even stay in the forefront for weeks or months, but then will disappear again for awhile. I celebrate a few, invented festivals for Him, and they seem to be enjoyed by all parties, but this is not the most important element for us. Instead, He comes to teach me me techniques, and ideas, things that re-order my whole world and make it possible for me to do the Work I am given with the spirits, and sometimes with other gods – but rarely do His revelations serve to bring me closer to Him directly; instead I am indirectly bound to Him because He binds me to others. While I keep a shrine for Him by my door, it is in graveyards, at crossroads, and while walking the city streets that I most often encounter Him.
Each of these relationships has evolved organically over time, with input from both parties. I strive to listen as best I can to what They want from me, and in turn They lead me to what I need to hold up my end of things.
Some elements which it can be helpful to consider when trying to define your relationship with a god –
Not all gods are best reached at the altar; while some may want you to build a shrine and tend it and focus there, others are found more readily at the ocean, in the forest, in the fields, in the city. Pay attention to where you feel Them the strongest. And while festivals are certainly very important to ancient Greek religion, not all gods are going to be as interested in them; some may want daily offerings and ritual; some may come spontaneously and unbidden, or show up when you’re in the proper mindset regardless of the time. With some gods you will be called to be very formal, even if you’ve been with Them for ages, while others are more casual, and each of these approaches can have varying levels of intimacy.
Sometimes the relationship is all about the Work you do for Them or on Their behalf in the world – ministering to the sick with Asklepios, perhaps, or cleaning up the beaches for Poseidon – or skills They are teaching you for other applications, such as learning from Apollon how to purify miasma. This Work can be physical, or spiritual, or both. Sometimes They are just there to bring you to other deities (such a “hand-off” can be disconcerting for some). And other times, it is all about you and the god, the deepening of your intimacy, communion with the divine.
You may put a lot of energy into a relationship with a god only to discover later on that it was never meant to be permanent, and watch it end when a certain task is completed, or you change in some fundamental way, or your life takes a different course. Or, you may be bound to that god for the rest of your life and perhaps beyond. Likewise, there may be an ongoing relationship that is never more than casual but is still important, just as there might be a temporary one that is incredibly intense and demanding for the duration (or, of course, a casual temporary one or a demanding permanent one).
You may deal with the god only as They relate to other gods and spirits (e.g., Demeter and Persephone together, as They were sometimes worshipped in antiquity, or Hermes as psychopomp in the company of dead souls)… or you may even deal with Them to the exclusion of all others. You may see only one aspect of a god – Persephone as Queen of the Underworld, but not as maiden of flowers – or you may be called to get to know Them as completely as possible.
You may relate to or identify with Them in some way (you are a warrior like Ares) or They may be totally separate from your experience, yet necessary to your life precisely because of that. They may be interested in you, likewise, because you follow Their path in some way, or maybe because you don’t. Dionysos, for instance, loves breaking uptight people.
What makes this especially challenging to navigate is that not only can one person have many different dynamics with different gods (and vice versa – the gods do not necessarily require the same things from all their worshippers), but those dynamics can change over time, and it’s important to check in regularly and make sure what you’re doing still works for all parties. If you’re feeling out of sync, it may be because things are changing and you haven’t caught up (see, again, my Evolving Patron Relationships post for more about that). But it’s very important to be open to the ways in which your relationship with a god might develop, both initially and long-term, and not impose your own preconceptions (or those of others) onto it. The ways in which we interact with the gods are numerous and diverse, and there is such a richness of experience to be had.