Gods Before Humans
Alright, I need to jump into the fray here, because I’m really sick of the perspective of the solitary mystic being the ONLY perspective that isn’t validated or honored by the so-called Social Justice Warriors. I could identify as a non-binary-gendered, multi-racial, differently-abled, neuro-divergent, polyamorous asexual and be lauded and supported, but I cannot simply say: My priorities lie with the gods rather than with other humans and the social constructs they have created – without being told I must accept someone else’s definition of my actions.
Let’s deconstruct this recent post about privilege (oh noooooo, privilege, we must disown our privilege, distance ourselves from it, beat ourselves up over it, gods forbid we actually utilize it, recognize and appreciate the fact that we are privileged enough – through no doing of our own – to be able to turn our attention largely to the spiritual over the mundane world). And let’s set aside the extreme irony of a white cis hetero male telling the rest of us that “there is no such thing as a non-political space” for us, as if he has any idea what it’s like to be me, as if he can dictate my experience of the world. As if my various culturally-recognized labels define who I am, how I see the world, and how I must act in relation to it.
Now, to a degree, I get what he’s saying here – if you define “political” very broadly, then pretty much anything that involves other humans can be labeled as political. But here’s the thing – MY SPIRITUALITY DOESN’T INHERENTLY INVOLVE OTHER HUMANS. My relationship with the gods is between me and Them, and it would exist, pretty much unchanged, even if I spent the rest of my life completely alone on the top of a mountain without ever seeing another human being (and don’t arguments like these make me long for that life even more).
I get it – that’s not the experience of most pagans or polytheists, and from what I’ve seen, most people see “religion” as a social thing, with a little spirituality thrown in (after all, I’ve seen people leave a religion due to lack of community, which to me seems ridiculous – the gods are still there, and that’s what matters). But in every religion, there have always been mystics, individuals entirely consumed by their religious practice, often operating in total isolation, but considered to be important if not essential to the functioning of the religion at large even by the average worshipper. They have the “luxury” (some might say, privilege) of focusing entirely on the spiritual entities and practices of that tradition, so that those forces are being properly honored and attended to and the rest of the population can have a lesser degree of participation and still benefit from that right relationship being maintained.
So I’m not going to speak for anyone else, but for me, as one of these solitary mystics, my religion is not political. Here’s how that plays out in response to some of the points in that post:
“Politics is about power: who gets to use it and when and how. Politics is how we decide who has power … and who doesn’t.” See, this is about people, and human society. Take that out of the equation, and the only issue of power between myself and the gods is that They have immense power, and I ultimately only have power over my own actions and thoughts. And I’m fine with that. I trust Them. I am even happy to give some of my power over myself into Their hands. I honor and stand in awe of Their power, the power of birth and death and liberation and pain and growth and love. I don’t have to struggle against that power or resent it (an extremely childish approach to the gods I see often from the very political crowd), because it’s not a question of some other, equally limited human trying to assert their will over mine for selfish reasons, it’s just the nature of existence – no more political than the reality that I can’t lift a mountain or turn back time.
“When politics is understood in this way, then it’s easier to see that there is really no place or zone that is free of politics.” Yes there is – any place that is free of humans is free of politics. And that is, primarily, where I encounter my gods.
“Both inner work and external activism are political. Being political isn’t just about working to change the world; it’s also about working to change ourselves too.” Plenty of inner work has nothing to do with other people, or at least not social groups of them. If I work on, say, being in the present moment more (a key practice of one of the major world religions, by the way, this doesn’t just apply to polytheism), what does that have to do with politics, or privilege, or labels of self-identification, or any of that? I can be present just as well in the middle of a forest (actually, much more easily, because other humans are constantly trying to remind me of the past or the future, which are primary concerns of politics).
“But if you think you’re not being political when your praying to your gods, then you’re deluding yourself. Think about it … What are you praying for? Are you asking for help to make the world a more just and peaceful place? Or are you only praying for more divine favors for yourself, to keep what you have, and get more for yourself?” Well first of all, I don’t pray FOR things every time I pray. Prayer is not just gimme, gimme, gimme. Prayer is exaltation, and gratitude, and love. That is something that devotional polytheists take to heart, and everyone else seems to keep misunderstanding.
But okay, sometimes I do ask my gods for things. And yes, they are mostly for myself and my close loved ones. Because honestly, I don’t think prayers for world peace make a bit of difference. It’s too broad a concept, too many variables involved outside the direct control of even the gods. (And if I do ask for help to do my part in making a social change I want to see happen….well, isn’t that for my own benefit too? It’s hardly altruistic.) But if it’s political to pray for the larger culture, and it’s political to ignore the larger culture in one’s prayers because one has different priorities or doesn’t think it’s practical, then you’ve just defined all of human existence and every possible choice or action as political and it becomes entirely meaningless.
As a mystic, my biggest, most deeply felt prayer is usually “Let me know You better.” How the fuck is that political?
“And what about our gods? Do yours gods bear an uncanny resemblance to you?” I am so sick of hearing this. THE GODS ARE NOT PEOPLE. They do not “look” like anything, actually. They do not have corporeal form. They can appear as anything They want. So yeah, sometimes Dionysos – as experienced by His worshippers – is a dark-haired, bearded, Mediterranean man, who looks vaguely like me because I also have Mediterranean heritage. But He is perfectly capable of coming as a dark-skinned child or a trans woman or any other race, gender, age, etc. And sometimes, maybe much more often, He is a bull. He is a panther. He is cool green ivy. He is blood, or wine. He is fire. He is a heart-rending ecstatic FORCE with no physical appearance whatsoever. None of these things look like me, none of them look human, HE IS NOT HUMAN.
I did not decide what my god looks like, and outside of the spiritual meaning His guises can convey, I don’t care what He looks like. I was not drawn to Dionysos, or any of my gods, because They do, or do not, resemble my personal characteristics or those of my social group (hell, most of my spirits are known only to me, so that really takes other people out of the equation). I didn’t make a political choice. It has nothing to do with the power structures between humans. I would have the exact same religion were the rest of society to completely change, or completely disappear. THAT is what I mean when I say that my religion is not political, and that for me, gods come before humans. Now, what privileged, socially-oriented so-called radical is going to come tell me I’m wrong about my own self-identification and my own priorities?