Giving the gods Their due

One more thing I wanted to say that came out of the superhero fiasco – although it might seem tangentially related, I think it actually is one of the core issues for me. I saw several people lamenting those of us who dared to say “you’re doing it wrong” (the cardinal sin of modern paganism, because of course it’s all about feelings and there is never a right or wrong way to do anything – a notion that most ancient polytheists and modern indigenous traditions would laugh at). They would say something like, It doesn’t matter to me how everyone else practices or how they see the gods, the only thing that matters is that what they’re doing is beneficial to them.

Here’s the thing. I don’t care if other people’s practices are beneficial to them. I mean, no more than I’d care that any person I don’t know was happy in a general sort of way. My loyalties lie with the gods foremost. My priority is that They receive what They’re due (and secondarily, that They confer Their blessings on this world and its inhabitants). And the fact is, They were probably getting more from the Romantic poets than They are from many modern pagans.

The gods deserve us – all of us, every single human on this earth – to be in awe of Them, to have such deep gratitude for Their presence that we regularly make sacrifices to feed Them, hold large festivals to celebrate Them, make incredible art to glorify Them, and do everything we can to maintain a right relationship with Them both because They are wonderful and because we need Them. This will not happen anytime soon – most people no longer believe in Them. All They can hope to get is the devotion of this relatively small percentage of the population that even considers the possibility that They are more than just bedtime stories from stupid primitive people.

And here is that small percentage of people, arguing over whether or not They really independently exist and have been helping and caring for humanity for millennia, or are equivalent to the ideas some writer made up sixty years ago. Here they are, arguing over whether or not one can give too much to these gods, or whether it’s even necessary to give Them anything at all, or anything tangible (and not just our fuzzy feelings). And I just lose hope that the gods are ever going to get even a tiny fraction of what They are due, if even Their supposed “worshippers” can’t get over themselves enough to actually worship.

I shouldn’t have even been surprised at this debate. After all, I remember several times trying to get people excited about having an in-person, real-life multi-day festival for the gods, and it always falling apart because supposedly no one had the money to attend. Meanwhile, I noted that plenty of people in the same demographic managed to find the money to attend ComicCon or some furry convention – in fact, they put more effort into making customized costumes for those things than they ever put into making a proper offering to the gods. And that breaks my heart.

And, frankly, it makes me angry. It’s hard enough when you’re praying for the good of your community, your bioregion, your world, and you can feel how big the request is and how small and alone you are in making it, surrounded by people too caught up in a materialistic worldview to recognize the importance of the spiritual. It’s even worse to know that not even your “fellow pagans” can manage to commit to the reality of the gods you’re praying to (and recognize that their well-being rests in Their hands) enough to really give themselves to it. I want the gods well-loved and properly (yes, properly, according to everything They have ever conveyed to our species) worshipped, and I want Their presence strengthened in our world, and I want Them to receive what They are owed from us as a species, and ensure Their benefits to us as well. And some days, I’m not sure that’s ever going to come from paganism or even so-called modern polytheism. And if not from polytheists (that would be those who believe in many gods), then from who?

~ by Dver on May 27, 2013.

35 Responses to “Giving the gods Their due”

  1. BRava, Dver. I wish i’d written this. I agree with you completely here. and yes, i’ve seen the same things and it both makes me incredibly angry and breaks my heart.

    And no, i don’t think it’s ever going to come from modern Paganism. Modern Paganism is a morass of shit, filled with people who care more about their hobbies, their pleasures, their emotions than they ever wlll about giving the Holy Powers Their due. Oh, I forgot: an awful lot of Pagans don’t even believe in the Powers as anything other than archetypes, or interesting ideas. I find it shameful.

    Polytheism is marginally better, but even there we have people who can’t seem to tell the difference between venerating a fairy tale and an actual ancestor or God. Some of it comes from our modern fetishization of scientific empiricism (My take on it, btw, is that if you don’t believe in the Gods, or question Their existence, so what? Behave properly anyway and act as if) some of it comes down to pure human stupidity, entitlement, and an inability to commit to anything outside of themselves.

    Sometimes i think it comes down to A) those of us who have directly experienced the Gods and those who haven’t; B) those who are human and socially focused and those who are devotionally focused (i.e. i also don’t give a shit whether or not a practice is personally beneficial to a person. Is it the right and proper thing to do for the Deity or Deities in question? Well then, get to doing it.) and C) an inability to admit that there’s anything greater than humanity, and that we don’t control.

    All in all the whole thing disgusts me.

  2. The irony is palpable as I sit at a steampunk con. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not interested in big group stuff simply because I hate groups. I struggle every day with what is right for the gods versus what’s convenient for me. Failure gets rough. There are gods I straight up don’t like, and I struggle to bring myself to worship. I remember talking to a Muslim cleric about the concept of jihad, the struggle of true submission to the will of God(s). It reminds me of what the “community” is (always) going through. As much as I love my gods, I can’t really bring myself to join a collective group because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get along, even for Them.

    • I’m not interested in big group stuff either, for the most part, but I would still like to see some big festivals for our gods, and I’d be willing to put aside my dislike of groups temporarily to do it. You must be doing the same to go to the steampunk con, so what’s the difference? (Not meant to be flippant, I’m actually asking.)

      I don’t have any issues with worshipping gods I don’t like – to me the beauty of polytheism is that you don’t have to. If I don’t ask anything of Them, I don’t feel required to worship Them. Certainly no one in ancient times worshipped every god in their pantheon.

  3. “It’s even worse to know that not even your “fellow pagans” can manage to commit to the reality of the gods you’re praying to”

    This is one of the most annoying things about modern paganism!

  4. Yet despite everything said here, with all the lamentations, many, if not all that I agree with, I am still trying to do the Work for the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Even if people go away from the Ancestor workshop and set up an altar to their Ancestors that gets an occasional offering, I count that a victory. Little steps here and there leading to the Gods’, Ancestors’, and spirits’ paths. If all I can do is open a door then I suppose that is my portion to do. For all that I have issues with the modern Pagan community I think there is value in those of us who can do it or are called to, to keep on keeping on in engagement. It’s hard work, but when the light shines through the cracks and someone’s bulb clicks on it is so worth it.

    • I do think there is value in polytheists trying to engage with the rest of the pagans, but personally I just don’t have the patience, nor the calling. I’m glad others do, though.

  5. I agree with this too. I am frustrated with one of my non online friends who I regularly talk to on the phone and has had experiences her whole life with various spirits/Gods. She refuses to believe they are individual beings. She thinks they are all one spirit who manifests in different forms and these forms are just archetypes::facepalm::

  6. It’s interesting to reflect on, spending money on the gods versus one’s pleasures. In a rune-reading I did a while ago, one of the warnings I received was that if I did what I was doing (devoting and trying to set up a public altar for Loki, as well as taking my preferred profession path), I would have to sacrifice a lot of my wealth–and it’s true. I have a LOT less money doing my outside-preferred-things. I still do some of it, but the balance between my hobbies and my devotions has changed radically.

    I think the one comment that I really connect with is that “fellow pagans not even being able to commit to the existence of the gods” concept. It frustrates me, the concept of “just archetypes created by humans.” The gods aren’t fictions or playthings. They’re gods. They deserve to be treated as gods, not marginalized or disrespected. It was very difficult to connect with some pagans on this matter, when you’re trying to worship and devote to your gods when others are treating it like a game.

    In an odd way, I condemn stories like Teen Wolf or Twilight for this mentality. We can only see magic in a way of fiction–of something unrealistic and “cool.” I was in the Harry Potter generation–those that grew “up” with HP, and my sister and I used to wish that we’d get our Hogwarts owls, that we wished “magic” was real. Well, it is, just different than we’d imagine, and in no way the way that it was portrayed in our favorite fantasy books. We romanticize being “special” and “having powers” and this is seen through the Percy Jackson phenomenon too–that relationships with the gods means a “cool” factor.

    The cool factor needs to go away. It’s not. It’s not a popularity contest. It doesn’t mean you get to go on fantastic, magical adventures or anything. You don’t get to be “special and awesome.” The other day, I was wishing to go and sketch Hel, one of my favorite “small” devotions that I do for Her, or take observations on people enjoying a festival (which I was at; something that I do for Loki), or to connect with the local landvaettir (and thank them) but there was an immense, painful awkwardness because I was supposed to be cheering on and supporting my mate’s friends who were in a raft race. I would have had social problems if I wandered off, especially without a good “excuse.” My entire week has been like this (as I’m not often living with my mate)–judgment placed because I wish to walk the cemetery, or journey through the woods. It’s not COOL, it’s “weird” or “boring” or anti-social or “wussy” (because transmen aren’t allowed to commune with nature; it’s not manly enough). It’s not “cool.”

    • “I have a LOT less money doing my outside-preferred-things. ”

      Keep going on this path, and you may find you simply don’t have preferences outside of religious things anymore. This is both good and bad, but it happens sometimes.

      I think, actually, that you DO get to go on magical adventures and be special and awesome. But it won’t look like it does in the movies. And you have to make it happen, you have to feed the gods and spirits and believe and accept when They come into your life, and slowly things will start getting a lot more magical.

      I wish I knew what to say about that last bit. My solution has simply been to only associate with people who understand the spiritual practice, and value it above all else as well. But that means having very few friends, usually. Personally, I’m uncompromising in that way, and that works for me, but obviously it’s not a solution for everyone.

      • I’ve decided to go mostly the loner path too, except for a few friends that I share experiences with. It makes things drama free and a lot less complicated. Sure there are times when I’d like to go to pagan/heathen gatherings and experience that group focused energy and presence of the Gods. But my private life is so rich with experience that I don’t miss it that much, and it forces me to focus on Them without unnecessary distractions and petty arguments. I’d rather spend my time strengthening my belief system, and relationship with Them. Belief is what it comes down to.

      • Hmmm, it really /is/ true that there are magical adventures. When I visit the landvaettir, I journey, and would count as a “magical adventure.” It just isn’t the romanticized kind from the stories. Like you said, it requires sacrifice and time and energy.

        Where I am right now, it may be more or less about me doing what I think needs to be done, rather than worrying about others. It’s a hard lesson, however, especially for me, because I often avoid certain types of confrontation in social settings. It’s its own lesson and learning experience, dealing with the non-Heathen community. For the most part, I’m lucky that most people won’t “shun” me, but at the same time, I still get a fair amount of ridicule as to why I may be doing something (especially if it’s odd). Of course, it may just be the social setting I am in now that considers my activities odd, which can always change.

  7. I completely agree with your core issue there… but the point I’m not seeing is: how does attacking PCPs (pop culture pagans), or even just loudly voicing disagreement with them, further your goal of seeing the Gods worshipped?

    Do you think that the Gods are missing out on PCP’s worship? How do you figure that? Please don’t take this as an attack; I simply do not see how the equation criticising PCP practices = less PCP = more worship for the Gods adds up. If pressed, I’d say the debacle has done Them no favour at all.

    I think what does get Them worship, is worship. Nothing else. And no one can force that out of people. You can inspire, you can try to set an example. But that’s it, isn’t it? Because at the end of the day, it’s just a person and the Deity they’re talking to because they’re feeling drawn to Them at that moment.

    If someone is truly interested in the Gods about Whom they’re looking for information, they won’t be thrown off by pop culture paganism. If someone becomes devoted to a Deity, they will do so regardless of all pop culture hullaballoo that surrounds the Deity. And definitely regardless of the religious fervour with which some unrelated pop culture entities are celebrated.

    • Thank you. I couldn’t have put it better.

    • To me, it’s not about attacking anyone, it’s about saying, hey, discernment matters, there IS a difference, the gods are real. And hoping that people will pause and reflect on that, and start making that discernment, and feeling comfortable with believing the gods are more than mere mental constructs. Because that will get Them some actual devotion and *sacrifice* – generally, if people believe the gods are Real and outside of their own minds and can affect their lives, they are more willing to give tangible offerings, rather than just writing some fanfic and that’s that.

      And I’m not so sure people won’t get thrown off by pop culture paganism. At least thrown off from engaging with any kind of pagan community. I know if that’s all I found out there when I first started to look, I would be way turned off. So the other point of this is to be providing a voice for the alternative perspective, the ancient polytheistic perspective, so people know there are some of us still out here with this approach.

      • Thank you for your answer to my comment. I’m sorry for the delay, we’re in different time zones and I haven’t been able to find time to answer in turn before now.

        Discernment does matter, no question about that. I may not know very many people who have a pop culture thing going on, but the ones I do know also honour at least some Deities and know the difference. They might be thinking about eShrines for their favourite characters from Lord of the Rings because they’ve been able to draw strength from them in difficult times. And at the same time, they regularly devote time to prayer and listening to an actual God and actual Goddesses Whom they have come to love, even though their health condition makes it difficult to even concentrate for more than a couple of moments. Does that qualify as proper sacrifice in your eyes? It certainly does in mine.

        I know this is just one example of many, and there is probably a whole host of people who take a completely different, and possibly unreflected approach. Still: I know that the person I’m mostly talking about above was very much intimidated by this debate, and felt flattened by the uncompromising tone of condemnation some of it held. And that can’t be the point of the debate. If it threatens to lose the community active participation, then it’s going too far.

        As for being or not being put off by pop culture paganism: I can only speak for myself, but I found myself in the situation of beginning to connect to Deities outside of myself, and here is how I perceived things:

        1.) I was confronted with pop culture and pop culture paganism from the start. And from the start, it was obvious to me that what those people were doing was not the kind of thing I was looking for. It was so obviously far different from what I was going through at that time that I never even connected the dots. Oh, so some people have a thing with Marvel-Loki? Weird. That’s what I thought, not because I was being judgemental, but because I had a clear picture, and the Person I was talking to and Who was somehow talking back was clearly Someone completely different.

        2.) I have to admit, in the very very beginning, I read way too many (BNP) blogs. What I found more off-putting than all the poppy stuff was that all the parties who seemed to have some love for Loki (yes, I am one of those Loki-loving mad hatters) were writing about spiritual things that I found deeply disturbing. Let’s put a name to that, too: ordeal work. What I found disturbing wasn’t the fact that people would do ordeal work. (My opinion, in case you hadn’t guessed, is pretty much this: if it works for you, it works for you, so what. Not my business.) No, what I found disturbing—and I cannot stress that enough—was the fact that those ordeals were, according to the people whose blogs I read at the time, required from them by the Gods. The very same Gods that I was feeling drawn to, the same Gods I was looking to worship and Whom I was seeking out. Those exact. Same. Gods. And you know what? If I had had the comfort of a more “internal” view of Them, it would not have mattered. But as, from the very beginning, I saw Them as independent Beings with Their own will, I was deeply affected by what I was reading. What if They’re going to ask that of me? What if, what if, what if.

        Let me tell you this: at some point I had decided it—the whole “Deity experience”—was more trouble than it was worth. And I was devastated about that. It is only due to Loki’s intervention that I’m even here.

        For a while after that, your blog was the only BNP blog I even dared to read anymore. By now, I’m back to reading Del’s regularly, but that’s about it. I really cannot say I’m in any way “over” that initial shock, although it’s been more than a year; the point is, a year of regular devotional practice and interaction, even if it is just 13 measly little months, does make a difference. Yet, I still cannot properly worship Odin. So I don’t. Not until I feel that I wouldn’t be trying to keep Him away from me at the same time.

        Today, I know a thing or two about the folly of comparing my chapter one (I’m in chapter two now, but at the time?) to someone else’s chapter 47. (Or someone else’s chapter one, for that matter). But seriously: I’m an example of what can happen if you have a hard polytheist perspective and no orientation at all.

        I am so grateful to Loki for stopping me, you cannot imagine.

        • I’m glad that you know people who understand the difference, and whose pop culture activities do not impinge on their devotional worship. That is how it ought to be. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. As I said in the post above, I have seen people prioritize their fandom over their devotion many times in very obvious, tangible ways, and that makes me sad.

          “I know that the person I’m mostly talking about above was very much intimidated by this debate, and felt flattened by the uncompromising tone of condemnation some of it held.”

          Well I cannot speak for anyone but myself, because I only have responsibility for my own words. And I will admit that sometimes the harshness in my words is due to my own feelings, which I am going to express sometimes. I don’t think of myself as a BNP, I am just me, blogging about my own experiences and opinions like anyone else, and sometimes that means I’m going to get a bit emotional. So yes, this whole thing makes me pretty sad, and sometimes angry, and that comes through.

          But OTOH, I think a lot of people are reading things into my words (and other people’s words) that simply aren’t there. They are reacting to what they expect to hear rather than what they are really hearing. I never said, for instance, that it was invalid to see an existing god wearing the mask of a popular character, or to have been brought into devotion through a work of fiction. In fact, I expressly denied I was saying either of those things. And yet, people are persisting in defending themselves against these accusations that were never made. So I think at least part of the onus is on the reader to carefully read the words that are actually there and not jump to conclusions.

          It’s true I am uncompromising on certain points, like: the gods are real, independent entities that were not created in any way by human minds; and there is a difference between gods and fictional characters; and the gods deserve our tangible devotion. I’m not going to tone down these arguments just to come across as more inviting or friendly, because that would be disingenuous. Nor am I going to take all the passion out of my writing, and end every sentence with some qualifier like “your mileage may vary” just to mollify hurt feelings, because I don’t actually believe that. Some things *are* more proper than others within a religion, and I’m not afraid to state that, as it’s been known for millennia up until the ethos of modern Western culture got involved. (Though to me, we are obviously not all practicing the same religion, nor indeed all practicing a religion at all – which would be fine if these same PCPs weren’t calling themselves polytheists.)

  8. In an odd way, I condemn stories like Teen Wolf or Twilight for this mentality. We can only see magic in a way of fiction–of something unrealistic and “cool.”

    That also applies to modern ideas of what magick is, Raising energy seems to be the common among modern pagans and other new age crap!

  9. “And, frankly, it makes me angry. It’s hard enough when you’re praying for the good of your community, your bioregion, your world, and you can feel how big the request is and how small and alone you are in making it, surrounded by people too caught up in a materialistic worldview to recognize the importance of the spiritual.”

    More akin to not having any REAL experience with the sacred – because anything can (and is) sold, or is a commodity. And when they do experience even a small portion of the sacred, they rip it apart to it’s tiniest pieces to clarify that ‘it isn’t sacred anymore.’ No shit, Sherlock!

    It also hits home the not knowing of this reality and how intertwined it is with the Otherworlds. It is not a fantasy – it’s work just like relations to our living kin, it doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it ‘auto pilot,’ itself. You have to sacrifice, give, and receive. Most don’t have any concept of it.

  10. I’ve said it elsewhere but I’ll repeat myself. Any God worth worshiping is both infinite and a Mystery. Comic book characters are thoughtforms not neither infinite nor Mysteries.

  11. Reblogged this on The Way of the Transgressor is Hard and commented:
    Reblogged from a forest door, one of the best polytheist blogs, maybe the best.

  12. […] When it comes to Dver’s Giving The Gods Their Due: […]

  13. Outstanding post. You just earned a blog follower.

  14. Reblogged this on Robert Mitchell Jr. and commented:
    Thanks to Rachel for pointing to this brave and poignant post from A Forest Door.

  15. I come from an entirely different perspective. In attending worship in an Umbanda temple that is active in the community here in Brazil I have seen what a dedicated group of people can do. Here is a group of Pagans reaching out in healing every week. They get together to worship the Gods who are radically incorporated every week into the mediums. i have been accepted as a priest in their temples and so I do hear the Gods and Goddesses every day. For them, regular employment is an act of worship. You don’t have to be in a temple to listen to Exu to give you guidance. The emphasis on individuality in American Paganism is, to me, both understandable given America’s rugged individualism but also sad as gathering together to celebrate and incorporate the spirits of the land and the ancestors is a joyful thing. I no longer have to get “permission” from a land owner to hold a big bonfire and call on Xango. I can and do that in my own house. On a practical side, the Tenda is well-known in the community for its healing work, working with the poor in helping them through the Brazilin labyrinth of laws, dedicating themselves in simply being there for people. Americans get caught up in “setting aside time and money”. Well, I go to ComiCon, Darkover, Bslticon, and guaranteed someone will come up to me with a crisis of life that needs a faith answer. Whether I’m all decked out in steampunk or medieval or jeans, it doesn’t matter, they need to reach to Higher Powers than I, and I’m there, so we pray together in our fashion. The Gods are real, I don’t need “belief” to fuel that, they just are.

  16. […] a right relationship with Them both because They are wonderful and because we need Them. (Source) Am I the only one creeped out by this attitude? It reeks of the same obligatory bullshit that I […]

  17. My take is that it is possible that there are a lot of quiet folks (which I will no label as pagan or polytheist) who devote their energies to their ancestors and to their Gods. Quietly live their lives with this as their focus. Surely the fact that you and others publicly step forward helps those of us just grabbed up recently by the Deities, or those who are quiet and solitary. But it is not for me to know who is doing this work besides those who are visible. I only know from my own experience of the Gods and the resonance I feel or do not feel with those I encounter here and elsewhere.

  18. I follow your blog. I have reblogged some of your posts. I was even browsing your posts when I came across this, and I read most of the comments. If you hovered about my page at all, you’d leave thinking nothing good about this, just pop culture paganism.
    I have come to the conclusion that, while we might both use the term pagan, we are not in anything like the same religion. I am not a polytheist. I am an animst with an annoyingly open mind. I believe it is possible that these Gods are real, even though I lean towards them being archetypal energies, not created by our minds, but connected through them. I only devotedly worship Mother Earth, but I don’t see her so much as a diety, as a conscious being, our Mother planet.
    ANYWAY, trying to stay on point here, although we have nothing in common, I still find your blog inspiring, and will continue to follow if you don’t mind. I have found some of your posts relatable, and other like this, are interesting and thought provoking.
    I think that’s my point. Someone else commented about modern pagans only being interested in their own hobbies and pleasures. That is a fault of mine that I am working on. I am trying to find balance, because it should be work, but life is meant to hold pleasures as well.

    • One of the reasons I tend to use the self-descriptor of “polytheist” (and not “pagan”) is precisely because – at this point at least – polytheism and mainstream paganism are not the same religion at all. Which is fine – I think the problems come from us forcing ourselves into the same box and then arguing about what that box should look like. But I agree, that’s no reason we can’t get something out of one another’s writings and experiences, for various reasons. I certainly don’t mind you (or anyone else who differs from me) reading my blog!

      I agree that life is meant to hold pleasures as well – I am just personally at a point where all my pleasurable hobbies are directly related to my spiritual practice. That makes them more meaningful – and for me, that makes them more enjoyable.

      • For me, and I only speak for myself, I am an Umbandista/Candombleiro. The Orisha are real, the connection to the Divine palpable. I instruct prisoners in their own religion (Santeria) in jail so that they understand that they are never alone, their very real Gods and Goddesses are readily accessible, and ritual objects can be anything that brings them to mind. Sacred foods are those that they can find in the commissary, sacred objects, other than beads, are things that can be supplied and cannot harm others (pictures of the Orisha, cowrie shells). The connection every morning makes a significant difference when you may be in solitary or limited access. I speak for many who are incarcerated where one’s life is regimented and the world of the Abrahamic traditions is considered normal and “only” way to be spiritual. It is possible to be real, in this world, and try much connected to many others.

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