Gods are not characters

Figured this was worth re-posting on my own blog. I just made a comment on a post called “Who oversees the modern marvels?” over on the Witches and Pagans blog. Aside from the fact that it’s a bit depressing to see the same basic theological concepts spoken of as if they were completely new ideas, when we’ve been discussing them for decades (meaning that all our “community” and online “networking” isn’t actually resulting in any serious development of the religion as a whole), the post also hit on one of my biggest irritations – people who talk about what gods “would” like or do, as if they are nothing more than characters in a story, and as if the answer doesn’t have any practical relevance to one’s own life. (Because if it did, one would do more than just idly speculate and imagine – it actually does *matter* which god oversees cars, for instance, if you drive one every day and strive to make the gods an integral part of your life.)

Go read the whole post (it’s short) first to really understand my comment in context, but the tl;dr version is this quote:

“I’m going to see who of the Theoi would oversee some of the modern marvels, should They be willing to adopt them.”

And my response:

You’re not the first modern Hellenic pagan to ponder this concept. It has been a frequent topic on forums for over a decade. However, I have to say that the way you phrase this, while sadly not uncommon, concerns me.

You ask which gods “would” oversee these things, as if it’s just a game, a thought experiment, rather than reality. Well, the gods are real. They are involved in every aspect of our lives and the workings of the world. And with most of these issues, the main concepts remain unchanged from ancient times, even if the details are different. It’s not a matter of which god “would” like such-and-such. The god who oversees travel is Hermes. Does it matter if the travel is by foot, horseback, carriage or airplane? No. Is it just an amusing pastime to conjecture about which of these characters – I mean, gods – would do what, or do you actually believe in Them and Their powers? If They are real, why not ask Them directly who you should pray to regarding these kinds of issues. If, in fact, you do pray and have a religious practice, in which case most of these issues will eventually resolve themselves as you deal with them – next time you’re going on an airplane, who will you make sacrifices to beforehand for your safety? That is how a religion works.

By treating the gods like characters in a fanfic, the future of Hellenismos as a serious religion of devotion is put in danger.

~ by Dver on November 15, 2012.

23 Responses to “Gods are not characters”

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your reply. Also, this post just gives me the impression the person who has written it lives in a type of dichotomy where the ancient world and the gods are lumped together and thus separated from our modern world. The desperate attempt to bridge these two universes shows (in my humble opinion) a lack of conscience that the gods permeate everything and that it is through them that things are the way they are today.

    Best regards,

    Riccardo B.

    • Yes, exactly. There is no need to anxiously search for who might govern modern things as if they are significantly different than ancient things. The gods have existed this whole time, straight through the development of our modern culture, even if people didn’t always recognize Them. In regard to those gods that are involved in human things, there’s no difference between communication-by-letter, for instance, and communication-by-email, it’s just communication.

  2. I don’t know about some of the other branches of Paganism, but there are some Heathens out there who look at the Gods not as actual beings, but as names to put on certain characteristics of the world. Most of us (myself included) believe that the Gods are truly as they are depicted in the sagas and lore, but there are some who believe otherwise. I think that most of the people who word things the way that you pointed out follow that line of thought, whether they believe so or not. It might be deep inside where they don’t know it’s going on, but it’s the core of their belief.

    • It’s amazing how many modern pagans seem to, at heart, not really believe in the gods (here I am not referring to the original post’s author, but the people you describe for instance). It influences everything, and can create a vicious feedback loop. I remember early in my pagan days, I had to rid myself of the habit of using past tense when referring to the gods – picked up from modern books about them, of course, which always talk about them that way. But it was an important step in telling my own brain that this was something happening now, and They are real.

  3. Gods are not characters
    God is a realization of yourself.

    • If that’s how you think, I really can’t imagine why you are reading the blog of a hard polytheist. Unless, of course, you are only commenting to drive traffic to your own blog. In which case, please desist.

      • Dear Dver,
        Thank for your reply. You are not agree with me, it is alright. Because everybody is a different being, and everybody has different view point on things we experience. There is nothing right or wrong. But even if my point was unclear to you I want to add few things, All I said that “God is not a living being with 2 hands and legs, who eats, run or walk. God is a realization of WHO I AM. If we can understand basic principle of this universe that is laws of attraction then we experienced God. ”
        And for your last point I am not here to drive traffics to my blog, I am here to have new experience that the author of this post shared. Thanx again for reading this much. Have a great day.

    • Please forgive me but your comment just made me laugh. So…unexpected…

    • Err no the Gods are real beings!

  4. I must see I also disagreed strongly with the first quote “The lives of the Gods have come to a halt. We rehash the stories but no more children are born, no heroes rise.

    • My post on Witches and Pagans:

      I think it is not only the use of ‘would’ which is being discussed here. Personally I strongly disagree with your opening quote: “The lives of the Gods have come to a halt. We rehash the stories but no more children are born, no heroes rise”. No they have not ended. New stories are written. New gods are being born. The problem is that we are so hung up about everything being according the lore, that we stop creating new lore through actually living it. And I think Dver has pointed rather eloquently to this. I do not think that your article hints that you have no actual belief, but I do believe that (subconsciously perhaps) you are using this language partly because you know that other hellenists are so hung up about lore. A bit overly careful … And I do not think you need to be. If we would al be so mindfull about what other people write and think, we would never be able to have an original thought. I think we need to let go of these conventions in order to write down new stories about the gods, who are very much a live, still.

      • Good comment! It’s true, we need to stop being afraid of having a living religion.

        • Thanks, but I am afraid I heave unleashed something inside of me which I am unable to lock back in. I just have a hard time with inconsistency. The author of the article herself expressed her sorrow that the stories of the gods have ended … so why does she resign herself to it? I think you are right in saying that as long as we admire the gods as something of the past, things stay safe and predictable. But the gods aren’t safe or predictable. And I think placing lore or the conventions of hellenismos before the gods … well it might be hubris of a sort. And I feel bad for saying it, because my own devotional life is such a mess, who am I to judge about hubris. But I just feel intuitively that is something that is very much a symptom of paganism (dare I use the word) as a whole. People are so afraid of their religions to die of, so afraid to be called fluffy bunnies or neopagans (which is really sometimes used to describe the same thing), that all they do is talk about lore trumping everything. Gods, WE are the ones that are predictable. And the worst thing is, that all these people seem to long for a living evolving tradition. Even in this article, though the stories and the gods themselves are proclaimed done/ finished, it still breathes regret and sorrow.

      • “the author of the article herself expressed her sorrow that the stories of the gods have ended”

        Isn’t this why we have poets, prophets, seers, spiritworkers, shamans, and so on? To help facilitate living, powerful relationships with our Gods, ones that are not merely stuck in time? If we are merely parroting lore, to one extent or another, what, precisely, are we trying to build? If everything is held up to ‘what was’, how can ‘what is’ have relevance, and what will ‘what is to come’ even look like if we’re so busy looking in the rear-view mirror?

        As Dver said, why not ask Them? Why the fear of UPG? Why this deep reliance on what little has survived the fires and conquering? Developing a religious tradition of any stripe, to me, requires a living tradition based on direct contact with one’s Gods. Sigdrifa’s Prayer, for instance, is beautiful, but if it does not connect me to the Gods, or if it has no relevance to my relationship with Them, what good does it do me to say it? Sure, there may be spiritual power just in saying the words, but does it further my relationship with the Gods?

        • Sadly, in modern polytheism a lot of the time you see those very necessary poets, prophets, etc. lambasted for daring to proffer new stories and concepts of the gods. It’s difficult because we don’t have any real community, a bond formed with each other that would make it easier to trust in others’ UPG. So we end up having to do everything for ourselves, which is a problem since not everyone is made to be a seer.

        • Yes, that is the question: why? And what exactly are we so afraid of (and I include myself in this)?

  5. Hit the bulls-eye there. The Gods are real, and they are not an exhibit in a museum that has no point in our modern world. That ideology seems to reek of the ‘throw away culture,’ any living tradition goes against to me.

    Speaking of which, I never had to worry about ‘who’ resides over ‘what,’ in my small tradition. My perspective is not that narrow, and I understand that to try to categorize everything into neat boxes is.. Well, odd. The issues DO sort themselves out, and you learn as you go that ‘who resides over this,’ is not the main concern, because life is life.

    I hope that makes sense… Being home sick today has sort of rattled my brain a bit.

    • Even in my somewhat larger tradition, those neat categories do not stay that way. I mean, looking at Hellenic polytheism from the outside, one could easily assign these labels, but when you develop strong devotional relationships with a few deities from a wider pantheon, a lot of things end up coming under Their domain whether that’s traditionally so or not, because They are the ones you are close to. So unless it’s totally inappropriate, you end up going to Them for a broader range of things.

  6. I think some people use the word “would” because they have not yet felt the Gods in their lives. They have not taken the time to foster a relationship. We are living in a see-it-to-believe-it era. Unless it is proven some cannot believe. It is a sad state.

  7. I very much agree with your comments and this post here generally speaking, as well as those of Soliwo. And, anyone who reads my blog or knows of my work–particularly with the Tetrad–knows that to be true!

    In the process of creating my “Reconstructionism as Methodology” course in Academia Antinoi, I sort of came to the painful conclusion that almost everyone who self-identifies as a Recon first and foremost tends to least understand the methodological nature of that beast, and that almost everyone who does understand it that way and uses it that way ends up getting called “not a real recon” by those who cleave to the term. I find this a very strange irony…I’ve been called “too hardcore” and “too stringent” on many matters, and have been said to be “too Roman” by some people who attend rituals I’ve done…and yet, any Religio Romana person would find me horribly barbaric, undisciplined, and lacking in tradition, most likely. (As they don’t attend my rituals and don’t give feedback afterwards if they have done, I don’t know that for a fact, but I know I don’t consult the mos maiorum before I plan a ritual, and never have!)

    It’s sad that such seems to be even more the case with mythology and narrative than with ritual in many recons’ eyes. Mythic narrative has always been a playground, but one in which there are “rules” and expectations and a deep grounding in the devotion to the deities involved. Too many modern folks, I think, lump all new narrative into the “fanfic” category, even when it is being done devotionally…and yet, not very many people do create new narratives devotionally, and do approach it like it is deity-based fanfic. (I’ve contributed to more than a few anthologies that have that approach prevailing, alas.)

    I’m also a little tired of certain people using “UPG” or the terminology of gnosis generally in a dismissive and “That’s nice, but it has nothing to do with reality” sort of way. Gnosis is the very deep basis of pretty much all authentic religious and spiritual experience, to the point of being inextricable from it and synonymous with it, and thus it is the basis for all polytheistic religious practice and theology generally speaking (or, at least, should be!). The notion that gnosis is the same as some random passing thought in someone’s head loses the actual meaning of it, and devalues the reality behind it for many people.

    I know you know all of this, and it’s nothing new (alas, the internet! A thousand different versions of the same thing, and Google finds them all!), but in any case, I deeply empathize with your viewpoint and your feelings on this matter (and many others, too, as you know!).

    [And, incidentally, while I’m here: I must chat with you at some point about blue lotuses…!]

    • Gnosis is the very deep basis of pretty much all authentic religious and spiritual experience, to the point of being inextricable from it and synonymous with it

      Exactly! But I think you’re right, we’ve lost the distinction between genuine, deep, powerful gnosis and just an idea or thought about something. At any rate, well said, all of it.

      Feel free to write to me about blue lotuses, although I’m afraid I know little of them in historical context, though I have partaken of them a few times.

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