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.

~ by Dver on August 8, 2011.

21 Responses to “Varying Deity Relationships”

  1. Admittedly, your entry strikes me because I am undergoing an evolving relationship with what some would consider my “patron” deity, and I’m having a distressful time with it- a feeling of lack of loyalty. I’m not sure what to do with it, but I found your entry really helpful. It gives me some peace reading your path of evolving spiritual relationships.

    Thank you

    • I’m glad I could help in some small way. I know how painful these transitions can be. I can’t say they always work out for the best, but I do think usually something special, if very different, can be created.

      • I do hope for this special new relationship to find success. I had never of thought my devotion to my patron would wane, and that a new relationship would be formed, but I am grateful for it nonetheless. Thank you for the inspiration to be unafraid during the transition.

        Swamp Rose

  2. I think your point about finding some gods away from the altar is a very important one. For instance, every year when we go to the ocean I renew my acquaintance with Poseidon, and I get very strongly that my prayers are welcome and well received. However, when I attempted to pursue the relationship outside of that context, it went nowhere – which is fine. It works for us, and I am still blessed to know (even basically in passing) another of the Deathless Ones.

    • Yes! I have the same experience with Poseidon, actually – a definite connection at the ocean, but no other time. Although I know He’s more than just the sea god, that’s the extent of our interaction. What was interesting to me was seeing that similar emphasis on place could happen even in established, more extensive relationships – I’ve been seeing a very specific side of Dionysos lately, for instance, that is entirely wrapped up in His connection to certain natural features of the land.

      There are many reasons pagans need to get away from their home altars, I think, this being just one of them. Altars and shrines are wonderful things, but they shouldn’t be the only place we approach the gods.

      • In a recent “conversation” with Hekate, I received clear instructions that I need to get out of my apartment and into the great outdoors to do a portion of my devotional work for her. I will be beginning this month. I think the experience will do me some good, while simultaneously pleasing her. A win-win, my favorite kind.

  3. Great post. I couldn’t agree more.

  4. It’s so exciting to see people actually discussing some of the weightier issues of polytheism instead of more of the bland 101 level stuff that tends to predominate the discussion.

    • I think it will become a bit more common as more of us have been at this for decades, and have a potential audience who has been too (or at least, expects to be committed in the long-term). There is so much that you will only experience after years of building relationships with the gods.

  5. This entry really resonated with me. I seem to be in the process of acquiring another patron and They are my first interaction with a chthonic deity. It seems odd to me that my work with my… well “former” sounds really disloyal but former Patron has waned to the point where we haven’t worked together for a long while.

    It’s good to read that this does happen and that it isn’t just me being fickle.

    • No, it definitely happens and can happen even to the most steadfast devotees. Maybe the first patron will fade out of your life, maybe they will just take on a different role, but as long as you are being honest with yourself and open to what They’re telling you, I don’t think it has anything to do with being fickle. Taking on a new chthonic patron would definitely be a good example of how widely relationships can vary, as I’m betting that aspect alone will change things!

    • A friend of mine years ago coined the phrase “training-wheels deity” to describe the situation where a new pagan has a strong relationship with a particular god, but the relationship ends as the individual matures in their path. In my case, Hermes was my training-wheels deity. I continue to respect him, but I don’t actively work with him. Not all pagans experience a training-wheels deity, but enough do that it’s worth having a term for.

      • This looks to be the case for me. My “training-wheels” lasted over 10 years and now I’m diving into the deep end. Brighid was my training-wheels deity and after such a long relationship with her at the fore, it is somewhat hard to imagine that Her hands aren’t the foremost reaching to me anymore. It’s an adjustment but one that I’ve only just acknowledged to myself recently.

  6. […] speaking of change Dver has another great post to read on varying types of deity relationships and how they can evolve over time: Awhile back I wrote about how the relationship with one’s […]

  7. This post is awesome, it does tell the truer side of polytheism and not from the view of repeated jargon you find in many books these days. It seems as if the Gods are now a hobby of sorts, not real beings in the minds of many Pagans. They ARE real, and just like people there is no one way to Work with Them, talk to Them, and live with Them. I raise a toast to you!

  8. You mentioned Hermes pops in from time to time, same with me. He’s like “poof” he’s there, than “poof” I don’t hear from again for months, sometimes years. I don’t know much about him or why he sometimes shows up. I’ve never studied him or really know anything about him at all, I think he may be Greek or Roman, but never studied either Greek or Roman history or mythology so not sure. It’s weird really, I mean I know who he is, I know his name, I know that’s him, but why he shows up or what he wants, is a mystery. This has been going on for decades. I never really thought about it or paid much attention to it. Should I? I just thought it strange when you mentioned him, and speak of him basically doing the same thing to you, that he does to me. Is that just the way he is? Does he do that with every one? Perhaps I should look into him more and find out why he keeps showing up from time to time.

    • Well, it’s a little different for me as I *am* following Hellenic religion, and Hermes is one of my patrons, just not a consistently intense presence in my life like Dionysos is. I don’t know that you need to do anything about Him dropping in, other than maybe toss Him some coins, or pour out some liquor, and see if He has anything to say.

      By the way, just went and looked over your blog – I’m actually from Maine originally, and had some pretty powerful ritual experiences down in OOB during my early pagan years, so nice to see that you’re there!

      • Born and raised in OOB. (My grandmother came here from Scotland). I do most of my ritual work on the beach and in the swamps and marshes nearby, my patron spirit guide is a FarDarrig (a Welsh brackish water spirit) and being on the beach is where I feel the strongest connection to him.

    • I should add that the spirits/gods/deities I work with are Welsh, Scottish, and African based, so this thing with Hermes showing up from time to time is really odd, because I don’t work with (and never have) any spirits/gods/deities outside of the Welsh, Scottish, and African ones – I wouldn’t even know where to begin or who was who. I’m not even sure how it is that I know this guy even is Hermes, I just “know” but I can’t explain how I know. Is that weird? It’s never like he wants anything or is trying to get my attention, it’s more like he’s just curious and wants to see whats going on. I’ve gotten used to his unexpected arrivals over the years, but I do wonder why does he do it and is this the normal sort of thing that he does?

      • It doesn’t surprise me, however, since Hermes – perhaps precisely because He is a god of boundaries – has no problem transgressing boundaries. He is god of travel, commerce, etc. – and dealings with “foreigners” are normal for Him. And He seems to like to intrude whether He’s welcome or not, if it strikes His fancy (He has a habit, for instance, of taking over some of our festivals for Dionysos).

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I can relate to alot of what you are saying in that I have a deep and immediate relationship with my personal patron who I feel I have known all my life and would be able to connect with wherever I was. However when it comes to doing ‘work’ I do alot for my local river goddess, getting her river known as a pagan sacred site, leading walks walks along it and sharing the history of the people who grew up in the area. Whereas my personal patron presides over my ‘shamanic’ work which is mainly kept private although I do share my insights in poetry.

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