Atheism

Are Your Gods So Easily Offended?

I was warned.

“Spiritual entities take a dim view of non-believers,” he told me. “Faith comes first.”

Perhaps the gods will punish me, perhaps they will simply withdraw their favor. Surely they will be offended. To question the gods is hubris.

How striking. Who really believes gods punish doubt?

The history of the last 1900 years is the story of one religion after another falling before Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The gods have never stepped forward to stop non-believers. The gods are Switzerland.

Druids wept as the sanctuaries were violated; so did Aztec priests. I see Christians and atheists in the UK, visiting the old megaliths with their camera phones. It’s the same sight at Templo Mejor.

Where are the lightning bolts?

Devils and Titans

This fear is more than bad history, though; it’s bad religion. A question: why would you worship selfish pricks?

The gods I worship are ancient, calm, wise in their years. They are sages. They will speak to you if you approach, but if you do not? It isn’t their concern.

But some imagine the gods hungry, needy, jealous, impetuous, lost without humanity. They want bribes and they will make threats to get them. Their finger is on the button.

That is an abusive relationship. That is titans and devils.

An Experiment

But I did say I keep an open mind.

So I went straight to the source. I asked my patron deity.

Lugh is a no-nonsense god. If the gods are in our psyche, some very rigorous part of me invented Lugh; if the gods are real, this is one who will tell me if I have offended him.

I’ll admit I was nervous. I don’t commune with him often. It’s usually very special. To use such an opportunity to tell him I question his existence, to discover I’ve offended him…

I lit the candles.

I reminded myself that the experience matters either way. Even if I’m speaking to myself, if prayer is a sort of deceptively inward-focused meditation, it has always given useful results before. Whatever I was about to discover would be meaningful, whether I liked the answer or not.

Lugh’s Words

Do you think I care what you believe?

You have a mission. When you inspire people, I am there. When you sacrifice yourself, I am there.

If you would make your name, go out and make it. The battle is yours. Let your own arm decide the outcome.

My Interpretation

This answer was emotional for me. It’s extremely reassuring that Lugh is there with me even as I doubt his nature. And it was an important reminder that faith in the gods does not win special favor.

The battle for a better world is ours.

One step toward it is to put “stop pissing off the gods” safely to rest. For those who are absolutely, positively sure that atheism offends the gods: I asked a god, and he told me it does not.

You can question the validity of that revelation, but then you’re admitting that the experiences of the divine are at least partly in our heads. After 12 years of meditation, I can quiet my own inner voice as well as anybody can—this was communion, if there is such a thing.

Do the gods exist? I don’t know.

I don’t call that hubris. I call it honesty.

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74 thoughts on “Are Your Gods So Easily Offended?

  1. JeninCanada says:

    I always figured if the gods were real they wouldn’t care what we think or believe. They’re GODS. We come to them, they don’t approach us, not unless they’ve got something they want us to do for them, right? I’m still not sure what we get in return.

    • It’s funny, I kind of have the opposite situation. I know exactly what I get from my relationship with the gods. Two things: the relationship itself, which like any loving relationship has its own merits, and the guidance of their wisdom.

      But I don’t believe they particularly want anything from us, nor for us to do anything from them. They are content; the universe runs as it should. Offerings are a sign of respect, and if we approach them respectfully they will give us their attention – but they don’t “need” it.

      • JeninCanada says:

        Maybe I’m just not ready to have a relationship with Them, or even one of Them, yet, despite how things are evolving for me as a Priestess. I feel a strong connection to one or two, and have had some kinds of what some might call direct contact, but it’s fleeting. The Gods are something I grew up thinking were unapproachable, but I’m slowly learning and changing my thoughts on that.

      • Sufenas once wrote that the Gods do want something for us, otherwise we would not hear from them. Care to respond? It is something I am wrestling with at the moment.

        ” If the gods truly owe us nothing, however, then they have no need to appear to us or to make themselves known at all, which means that likewise we would owe them nothing. If the gods are not under any obligation to appear to those who are seeking them, or to intervene on their behalf when entreated in prayer or invoked through magic, then people would very likely give up these practices very soon because they would not be successful. And yet, the gods are appearing to people still, even after centuries of being suppressed, or possibly even ignored or re-defined as something other than gods. This suggests to me that they do enjoy being acknowledged, and they do need humans to make their presence known once again.”

        http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/do-the-gods-owe-us-anything/

        • I’m happy to respond. This is one of the poorest things I’ve ever seen Sufenas write.

          I like Sufenas’ writing. I’ve admired him since his early days dabbling in the Celtic Reconstructionist community and I respect his many contributions. But everyone is capable of a bad line of reasoning now and then. In this case it reads like he is emotionally attached to his idea of what the gods are and is casting about for justification for it.

          I’ll try to explain why I feel that way.

          First of all the basic premise is baffling. “If they don’t owe us anything they have no reason to appear to us.” Seriously, is there no other reason to show up somewhere except obligation?

          Even among mortals that would just be a shitty attitude. If the only reason you or I talk to our friends is to get something out of them, we’re bad people. Or if the only reason is because we owe them something, that’s almost worse.

          But these are gods we’re talking about, beings we say are worthy of reverence. Right out of the box they get our respect just because they’re gods. And Sufenas believes this is the standard for their behavior?

          Here’s a different idea on why the gods talk to you: they like you.

          If you approach respectfully and reach out to them, they will respond. You can build a relationship over time. A good relationship is seldom based on what you can wring out of each other.

          For example, I like my friends. I seek out chances to talk with them even when I don’t need anything. It’s just kind of nice. Like my time with the gods.

          Of course there are other theoretical reasons the gods might appear to us: maybe we’re hallucinating. Or they might just feel charitable. I’m not really that cynical — but there are a lot of possible reasons besides what Sufenas suggests.

          And what if they did want something from us? What does the wind want from humanity? What does the moon want from us? They were here billions of years before we existed. They survived that long no problem, but if we don’t bring incense next week they will suffocate. How does that work?

          The same goes for some sense of duty toward us. The gods don’t owe us anything. In myth Éire gave herself (Ireland) to humanity because one of our kings was really respectful about it. Some of the gods fought it but the land had spoken. So they left. They left us alone here with our kingdoms and they went into the other world. There’s unlimited food there and no one ever gets old or sick. What do they need from us? What do they owe us?

          (That story is a metaphor by the way. None of that ever happened. But it’s a nice illustration of how the ancient Irish viewed the deities.)

          That’s just his basic premise. I want to address his supporting argument too, but I’ll keep it shorter:

          If the gods are not under any obligation to appear to those who are seeking them, or to intervene on their behalf when entreated in prayer or invoked through magic, then people would very likely give up these practices very soon because they would not be successful.

          That goes against everything we know about human psychology.

          For the record, the gods will never intervene to save you. Lugh wouldn’t even help his own son fight at the ford. Instead 150 ten year old boys showed up and got massacred saving him. Humans die fighting for humans. Gods don’t fight for humanity. It’s not like the video games. Apollo is not a combo you can bust out if you know all the right buttons to push.

          I’m just as emotionally attached to my concept of the gods as Sufenas is. I don’t believe in interventionist deities and I’m firm on that. Hopefully my views follow from both the sacred myths, and also from common sense and reason. I really value that in developing my theology.

          I used to hope the gods were real and would help me if I prayed. They do help, but only as good advisors. If you are dying of thirst in the desert they will not make it rain. You won’t be the first. The desert is hungry too, and you were the one who walked in there. If I die in Guatemala Lugh will watch calmly. Everyone who’s ever followed him has died. It’s nothing new.

          • eclipsedasura says:

            I had a thought during a sleepless night that there’s a synergistic element to the relations of gods and people. We’re more together than we would be apart, just like people who coexist achieve greater understanding and become more for it, although it’s not always smooth sailing. Seems like as good a reason as any to me.

  2. The myths are chock full of various Gods and Goddesses bring about terrible vengeance for slights, so I do not think we can just write off that they can be vengeful. I do also think that what they can do has become….limited, either by a lack of belief to open up the “gateways” needed to truly influence, or some other reason.

    That said, I am reminded of something said by “God”/space anomoly/space probe/some sort of combo type thing. “If you do something right, everyone will wonder if you did anything at all. I think this is how the Gods like to work now, or how they have to work now. A subtle manipulation of things. Nothing overt, not yet at least. Can I prove that the gift card I got for working a day’s overtime, after the period where the giftcards were to be given out was the work of my gods to help me in a time of need? No. But I believe it is. There’s dozens of examples like that that I have. Can I prove? No.

    But then, I think the same goes for slights against them. Will there be thunder and lightning. maybe. Sandy certainly hit a lot of people, and washington dc. But I think it will be more subtle when vengeance is taken. You’ll fall with a whimper, not a bang.

    Is best always to be well mannered. ;)

    • I have a hard time replying to this, Lucius. If you’re taking the myths literally, I think we are too far apart to even have much of a discussion.

      Separately, if you believe the gods get “weaker” when people don’t believe…. then we are too far apart to have much of a discussion.

      The gods, if real beings, have been around millions of years before the first human beings. They did just fine. The wind does not die because there’s no incense to carry.

    • Arden says:

      You’re right, the character of the gods is said to be ones that punishes slights, and ones that are appeased by promises of fame, further worship, etc. But if this is true, doubt doesn’t mean you’re going out of your way to insult a god, nor does it prevent you from spreading their name, if you’re inclined to do it.

  3. In the last discussion it was the denial of personhood that got me; I have people who I go talk to in much the way you talk to Lugh, though they tend to be fae, not gods, and the ones with ties to the land are more vulnerable to human harm than gods are. Saying there’s no intelligence without brain activity (btw, I’ve read about experiments with EKG readings off plants that may partially disprove that) and hence that it’s impossible that those friends are people, incarnate or not – well, it made me feel, right or wrong, exactly the same as when racists call my dark-skinned friends “monkeys”. I just posted pictures from a photoshoot with a gorgeous Arabic-looking Russian model on VK and have been dealing with the worst filth since then, and when *every bloody day* in Russia I’m dealing with people who deny the personhood or humanity of people I love due to race or sexual orientation, well… it’s horrid. So I speak up because they can’t, because it isn’t safe for them, and how else could I live with myself, living here? I’ve gotten used to speaking for those whose voices won’t be heard.

    So that’s what went into the way I got upset on the last post. So you know. I know it’s not at all what you were thinking of; it just hit the same buttons.

    • Dave says:

      For my part, I’m not certain of the “external-ness” of the gods (or spirits) but I’m willing to keep an open mind, as far as it goes. I’ll admit I have my suspicions and biases like everybody else though.

      I personally think if you’re going to carry on as if they might be “real” then you may as well treat them as such. If nothing else it seems to be more effective than not treating them that way and if they are “real” than you’ve covered all your bases nicely.

      To that end I think the traditional models and knowledge are helpful both as sources of “technique” and as guidelines for “etiquette” as it were. Gives you at least a place to start and I think that’s why “inspiration from the ancients” is a common theme in Pagandom.

      Re: plant intelligence

      I’m not unsympathetic to what you’re trying to say. I think it’s important to understand where scientists, of which I am one, are coming from though.

      Good science, in the descriptive not prescriptive sense, presupposes the world works according to naturalism (among other assumptions) and has much success with that methodology. Good scientists however, should be more humble about rushing to judgment and declaring reality one thing or another, in my opinion.

      Does that excuse half-assed explanations of how things work? Of course not. It just means we should be more honest about how far beyond the data we can infer.

      Also, I would caution you that if plants do have sentience it, likely, necessarily operates in a very different way than animal, especially great ape, cognition does. Difference of degree rather than a difference of kind? Probably but a sufficient difference enough that a substantially different model should be used to uncover and map it, assuming it does exist – and I’m willing to explore that question.

      But I suspect you came to many of the same conclusions.

      • I personally think if you’re going to carry on as if they might be “real” then you may as well treat them as such… To that end I think the traditional models and knowledge are helpful both as sources of “technique” and as guidelines for “etiquette” as it were.

        I think this is very important for anyone who approaches the gods as subjective or psychological. Nicely said.

        It is the most effective approach, and as far as I can tell the reason many hard polytheists are uncomfortable with “soft” theism is that they think we don’t follow such models – that we are somehow belittling the gods.

        • Dave says:

          I’ve also heard it said that the gods take offense at being worshiped by people who don’t believe in them as “real”. Were I a god I might be amused by such worship but I doubt I’d regard it with suspicion or react to it in anger. If someone comes to your house and brings a bottle of wine does it matter what they believe? How would you know? If a god could know what you believe and did take offense why would – anyone – want to worship them?

          • I don’t know if I’d use the word “amused.” My sense is that the gods, if they are real, understand how difficult it is for us mortals and appreciate sincere effort. There’s a west African proverb – if you have nothing to offer, offer snails; if you can’t even get snails, offer dirt.

    • I understand, Kira.

      The best way to engage with the deities is definitely as persons. And, since our own consciousness also arises from our brains – and we are persons – literal personhood is not necessarily out the window even with a psychological theory of deity.

      Saying there’s no intelligence without brain activity (btw, I’ve read about experiments with EKG readings off plants that may partially disprove that)

      We don’t need to be brain chauvenists; the current theory of material consciousness states that it emerges from sufficiently complex systems. Most materialists will agree that a sufficiently advanced computer could be conscious; saying plants might be too is not a huge step. I certainly thing there is good evidence for it, based on their chemical signals to transmit information about pain and danger (“screaming”) to other plants.

      With that said, using an EKG on a plant makes no sense to me. It’s like waving a metal detector over a toilet with metal plumbing and saying it proves there’s sunken pirate treasure at the bottom.

  4. “You are in an abusive relationship.” That is possibly the best description I’ve heard of the relationship most people have with their angry, hateful gods. If indeed a god or gods exists, I’m sure they would be wise, calm and gloriously compassionate rather than the abusive, demanding caricatures that have been created in people’s minds. I love your ability to question yourself and your beliefs and share them so honestly with us.

    • “I’m sure they would be wise, calm and gloriously compassionate…” I disagree. A lot of the way gods treat their worshipers does bother me, especially the idea I’ve seen that saying ‘no’ when a god asks you to do something is somehow wrong (I believe we have a right to say no and that this idea that the gods can force people to do something is unsettling if not outright horrifying). But I also don’t think the gods are going to be calm all the time. I don’t think the gods are perfect. Nor are they omniscient. They’re going to be angry or act in ways I can’t understand – part of that being their being a god and my being a human and some stuff doesn’t translate well. They can be calm. They can be angry. I don’t like saying a god -will- behave a certain way. Until you experience that god in whatever way you experience them….who’s to really know?

      • I would say that if the “gods” you’re experiencing in your spiritual practice are angry and coercive, you should reconsider whether you really want to treat them as gods.

        • Wow, quotations, really?

          Just because my gods are perfect always-calm zen masters doesn’t make them not gods. I have never liked gods that are perfect in any fashion. That doesn’t make them not gods. Where you get this idea that anger=coercion is beyond me. I really don’t understand how you read what I said – the gods are not all-wise-kind-perfect beings – and somehow got: “It’s okay for the gods to abuse people.”

          Just because my gods behave in ways -you- don’t like doesn’t make them not gods.

          • Arden says:

            I’m inclined to agree with this. I revere gods that are not always wise, calm, or gloriously compassionate. I wouldn’t feel any connection to them if they were. They are gods who inhabit other parts of the spectrum of the world’s theater.

            That said, they aren’t abusive, but I feel there’s definitely room for difficult, trying relationships with a deity.

            • I think it’s important to note that what we can best relate to has little bearing on what the gods are.

              If we’re talking spirits-of-the-forces-of-nature here, then we’re essentially talking about the executors of the universe itself. They are at least three things: inhuman, several billions of years old, and completely content with the universe as it currently is (else it’d be different).

              Why we’d think we can relate easily to that, or that gods somehow “should” be flawed, human, and relatable, is hard to imagine.

              Of course, there are other kinds of beings sometimes called gods in polytheism too – ancestors, the Good People, etc. I can certainly accept that such beings have their shortfalls.

              • Arden says:

                “I think it’s important to note that what we can best relate to has little bearing on what the gods are.”

                I grok what you’re saying about spirits of natural forces, I really do. But I think the gods reveal themselves the way they are revealed for a reason; furthermore I think that the *way* they express themselves is incredibly profound, mysterious, and significant. It’s not just a heurism.

                But Dionysos holds a special place in my pantheon — not quite as patron; more like ‘guide’– and he’s, well… a pretty consummate *human* god (with natural analogues, certainly, but). And since he’s the god of masks, I think I may be inclined to take a god’s mask seriously– “give a man a mask and he’ll tell the truth,” after all. :) Perhaps you have some insight on this that I don’t.

                I must admit, it is very hard for me to relate to the idea of the angry/terrifying/lying/etc. aspects of gods as “shortfalls.” To me, the gods are what they are.

                • I grok back. I do believe the deities appear with masks and in aspects that can be unsettling. Brighid appears weeping sometimes. Nemhain terrifies followers sometimes. It’s not because Brighid is sad or because Nemhain is a dick, though I understand why people can take it that way, and then we get this flawed/needy god theology.

                  Using the spirits of natural forces theology, Dionysus is the spirit of intoxication, or even pleasure. Viewed that way, his aspects make perfect sense even though there’s nothing human about him.

                  • Arden says:

                    I’m unsure as to why the idea that there is nothing human about the gods is important, though? Or even broadly supportable? (Particularly when gods *directly relate to* human culture – Athena for instance is a non-natural god. You could say she’s civilization, maybe, or order/structure; but I kind of don’t think those things make any sense outside of our human context. Nor do things like masks, theater, etc.) Or why the idea that the images that accompany are purely abstract and symbolic rather than expressions of who they are? Again, these expressions may unfold into something deeper, but I think they are legitimate expressions: not just heuristic.

                    I’m not sure I agree with William Blake in that “all deities reside in the human breast” — but I think that abstractly, there is a point to be understood in that passage.

                    I don’t see the need to think of gods as completely alien from us at all times. I think it’s fairly clear from mythology that some are more alien than others, for one; and though it’s a good exercise sometimes, I imagine, to distance oneself from the gods to help one imagine how much greater they must be, it is also very revealing to take their incarnations at face value (which does not necessarily mean literalistically).

                    But I also don’t have any moralistic imperative to think of wisdom, justness, etc. as always preferable to anger, ferocity, trickery, etc. – in that sense I am categorically against the pagan school that insists that the gods are always wise and just. I suspect that if I did, my theology would have to insist on abstraction. So it may be a moral issue in the end.

                    • I see wisdom as a natural force.

                      The fact that gods wear culture-appropriate trappings and speak to the issues of human society only makes sense, whether they are human-like or not. I don’t see it as a particularly strong argument in favor of human-like gods. Any kind of hypothetical divine force, from an ancestor’s ghost to a transcendental omnipotent being, would of course be dressed in the trappings that human society uses to express or relate to it.

                      More to the point I think the stark differences in how deities appear and are viewed in different cultures, or different theologies, is a strong mark in favor of the idea that those trappings are merely that – human-made trappings – and not in fact an accurate reflection of the deity’s nature. If the gods exist at all then they either transcend cultural and societal markers, or pick them up and put them down at will.

                      In other words, sure, the being known as Athena might appear pretty darn human and civilized to civilized humans, but how did she appear to primitive hominids? How is that being experienced by hares and squirrels?

              • Arden says:

                Interesting– that’s rather Platonic of you.

                Anyway we’re getting into some theologically interesting issues, similar to the ones that face ‘soft’ versus ‘hard’ polytheists (funny considering we’re both agnostic). There are some interesting questions here: do the gods reveal themselves cross-culturally? Could, perhaps, Dionysos be Osiris, or are they separate, and revealed themselves to certain cultures only for a reason?

                This is of course ultimately unknowable to us.

                More importantly, I think “trappings,” like ritual costumes and masks, are not in a deistic context lies-that-help-you-see-the-truth: they are expressions of being. The being may be far greater than any one expression, particularly one fit for human viewing, but I don’t treat them as disposable.

                A piece of art may not express an entire person in it, but it is still a deep glimpse into that person.

                And because if we grant polytheism, there are many gods, I see no reason not to take all that is attested about Athena and assume she’s not really interested in nature. It’s an interesting exercise to think of how she might be viewed by a hare, but she’s given us no reason to think that is the case. Meanwhile, other gods are certainly interested in hares (Pan and Artemis, for instance). Hell, in that situation the hares may have hare-gods.

                I suppose most importantly: if the gods did assume cultural trappings on an arbitrary basis for our own sake, and if the gods *are* wise — though that begs the question of why some gods are gods of wisdom and others aren’t! — they did so for a reason, and we can to some significant extent take those trappings at face value and assume they will reveal the nature of the god to us.

                • These are all really good points, and I really have nothing to detract or add – except perhaps to note that “nature” here shouldn’t be construed as trees-and-critters, but as the material universe. Perhaps if I said the gods are personifications of “forces of our material universe” it would be clearer than “forces of nature.”

                  All the societal forces you talk about are certainly forces of nature in that sense.

    • Thanks Peggy. And I totally agree.

      One of the interesting things about the human brain/mind is that we tend to err on the side of assuming there is a purpose behind anything that happens, even if there isn’t. That means that when bad things happen or we are unhappy, it has to have a reason – the easiest reason to imagine is that we are being punished for something.

      In other words, we would rather imagine we live in a cruel but fair world than face the reality of a sometimes random one.

      I think that’s a big reason why people imagine “hateful” or angry gods.

  5. Jaguar in Arkansas. says:

    The first priest, priestass, or whatever that said “if you don’t do what I say the gods want, they will punish you” started a power trip that led up to persicution, jihad, the burning times and every other religously motivated bit of nastyness that’s ever happend. The gods just “are” and to celebrate and worship them is a good thing. All the “wrath” and “holy retrabution comes from the dark heart of humanity in an effort to control others. Just my take on it, and please excuse any spelling errors.

    Goddess Bless.

    • Jaguar, I can’t disagree more.

      I have never seen any evidence that the historical roots of religion came about that way, and you haven’t presented any – because there is none.

      As far as we can tell, religiosity is a natural tendency of many humans, and has been since the first tools and graves in the stone age. It has been used many times to try to control people politically, but that seems to have come long after, possibly not until the first agricultural civilizations only a few thousand years ago.

  6. “The Gods are Switzerland.” I like that .. evocative and accurate. Do the Gods never punish us though? Tall statement spoken with an assurance only possible from us comfortable westerners. Australia burns, poverty and suffering is endemic, the oceans are turning to blood, the great titans of the poles vanish overnight. Mankind is arrogant and the Gods are immediate. We abandon the Gods of wild places, the dead, the animal spirits and the response from the Invisible is direct, without equivocation and decidedly wrathful. We could argue in a circle, one saying ‘this is simply the arrogant blindness of mankind’ the other ‘this is our punishment for arrogant blindness’. Somewhere an animist is shaking his head at the lot of us.

    Polytheism and the nature of God-Kings gave us our wrathful array. We can thank the old pagans for establishing that mandate. The Druids wept over their lack of human sacrifices, comforted by the Aztec’s that those Christians would get theirs. When Buddha reached out a hand to lift the Untouchable from his dirt hole he said, “Kali is a whore of the Brahmins.” The Gods became wrathful when we fashioned them after ourselves instead of rocks and tree’s and star dust.

    • Listing a bunch of bad things is not an argument for the idea that the gods caused those things to punish us.

      Especially since the remaining polytheists and animists in Asia, Africa, and Australia often have the worst of it.

      But I doubt that will convince you. Instead, let me suggest this. If you really believe that climate change and poverty are the tools your gods use to teach us a lesson, do us a favor: give them the finger, urinate on your altar, and stop making offerings.

      As my Indian friend says, poverty conditions in India are so bad they can’t be imagined by Westerners — and it’s not for a lack of praying.

      • See .. the circular argument. Have no fear good brother .. I have pissed on many an altar already and that is some damn fine advice right there. If climate change and poverty are not the works of the Gods (either in the external or internal sense you’re using here) then what is their source? They certainly have not happened on their own.

        Personally, I see no need for division. We suffer and rightly so. If the Gods can be relative, then they can also be held responsible. If our collective concept of God passes for God, then God is wrathful and is beating us silly. Surely, you can’t argue that.

        Also, you simplify my argument overmuch. I did not simply list bad things .. I listed things which we as a species are directly responsible for and which through the vehicle of our willing ignorance have placed us in a position inimical to nature and perhaps long term survival. Which even by your own model would translate into a wrathful daemon scenario. Fuck up .. get punished. No altar necessary. Or organized religion. Those certainly do help though.

        Your Indian friend is full of shit and should visit Mexico city, or the Attawpiskat resevre in Northern Ontario.. No offense intended. God-kings are wrathful .. always have been and always will be and we are all kidding ourselves if we think we got rid them all those years ago.

  7. I love this post. You have put into excellent prose what I have tried to educate others about for some time now. Thank you so much for writing. I will be following your blog now and look forward to ravishing your prior entries as well as seeing the new ones!

  8. This post really made my heart skip a beat because I experienced something similar recently but with Brighid. She basically told me the same thing only more along the lines that she is fire, whispers of inspiration, healing, and even if I didn’t believe she would still exist.

    • Points to Brighid.

      She has a habit of dropping knowledge bombs, in my experience. With the Brideog tradition on Imbolc eve, she is just about the only Irish deity who routinely (well, annually) possesses people. And she has had some very powerful things to say when she does so.

  9. My significant other and I got into a discussion about these same concepts this morning. While an enormous part of my spiritual and daily life is the concept of *ghos-ti or “a gift for a gift,” his experiences with the spirits and other non-corporeal beings have led him to believe that any being who would ever make a request or have any interest in being “worshipped” isn’t worthy of that sort of attention; beyond that, he also posited that not only do we have nothing to give these beings, but that neither do we have anything more concrete than allyship to receive from them. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t have positive relationships with certain beings and spirits, but he wasn’t interested in elaborating on the nature or purpose of those relationships; though I know he thinks that any benefit received from prayer or magic is from something much more primal than what most consider their gods and spirits to be, something that would never even postulate an opinion on human worship, such as “magic” itself as an underlying connective current. We get so caught up in ourselves and perpetuating and defending our own existences that we forget that the gods and spirits or powers or whatever we might call them have been around far longer than we have been roasting them meat and dumping out wine bottles in their honor! Even in primarily offering my lifestyle choices and positive decisions, love, gratitude, compassion, service to mankind and the Earth, etc. as libations I seem to have strayed from this simple knowledge.

    At one point in our discussion, as I stared at him with mouth agape, he stood up and spun in several counter-clockwise circles flipping off and spewing profanities at whatever beings were watching (I guess his version of pissing on altars; and the feeling of being watched went away in an instant, haha). I have never been concerned about being “struck down” or that any of these non-corporeal beings would ever abandon me (you hit the mark above: “The wind does not die because there’s no incense to carry”), but I do bite my fingernails at the thought of losing the relationships I have among the gods, spirits, and dead because I do feel that they are beneficial at least to my psyche and (half-?)jokingly buried my head under a pillow so as not to be involved in his hubris and then hollered an apology to the sky in defense of my own cosmic karma; but they obviously didn’t have a whole lot to say on the matter during his silly little pseudo-banishment.

    Until today I don’t think I had actually encountered anything quite like either of your opinions (which I realize differ signficantly) and I definitely have a lot to consider, between that bizarre 3 AM discussion and the opinions and experiences you’ve shared here; and I think I might take a leaf from your book and just ask some straight-up questions. You both have definitely proven that it doesn’t hurt, and in giving some thought to these things, I realize that I WOULD actually be surprised if any being out there worthy of my devotion replied with greedy materialistic demands.

    Thank you for sharing all of this, you’ve really given me a lot of food for thought. Sorry for the lengthy navel-gazey reply, I could probably write a whole essay about the thoughts you’ve provoked in me!

    • Thanks for this thoughtful reply Sionnach. I should specify: I do believe in making offerings and I treat it as the foundation of spiritual practice.

      It’s just I approach it with a different mindset. An offering is a sign of respect. It shows that I’m willing to give something, as well as ask for something (even if only guidance).

      I will also say I, personally, would be uncomfortable with your SO’s demonstration. I really do believe the deities are worthy of our respect. I wouldn’t flip off a friend or dis them to make a point, so I wouldn’t do it to a deity either.

      I suggested pissing on an altar above only in a rhetorical sense – precisely to indicate that the deities are better than that and deserve to be viewed and treated as moral, capable beings worthy of our respect.

  10. Pingback: Lights Out and Spirits Wild | Hemlock & Hawthorn

  11. I really liked this post. Your answer is very similar to the answer I got, too. The gods were here long before man and will be long after man. If we work with them, respect them, commune with them, that is jolly. But if we want nothing to do with them, well, that’s jolly, too.

    It’s like, they are happy to have us if we want that relationship, but if we don’t… well, there’s other people who do, so that’s okay. But even if nobody did, the gods would be busy doing god-stuff anyways, so it all works out.

    I really liked this post and all the ones recently. I like how much you are questioning things. Always question!

    • Thanks Fae!

      What I find disconcerting is that often, the hard polytheists who suggest these things really, really don’t like a humanistic approach because it is too “egoistic” and doesn’t treat the gods as “big” enough. But so often they go on to reduce the gods panderers. Beings who are nothing without our offerings and faith.

      I guess I’d rather just accept that I’m a very small part in a very big space.

      • I never understood that, but it’s something that I’ve observed, too. I fully acknowledge that I will probably never understand the worldview of a god, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a relationship with them. And my relationship with them may be entirely different than your relationship with them and that’s okay because there are different gods and different people and different paths and that’s okay, too.

        I guess a lot depends on your beliefs in how the gods evolved. My gods were here before humankind and will be here after humankind, which seems rather impossible if they were dependent on humankind to exist.

        • And my relationship with them may be entirely different than your relationship with them and that’s okay because there are different gods and different people and different paths and that’s okay, too.

          This is very important to remember.

  12. About offerings… Consider that perhaps it’s not so much about what’s being given, but about making space for something new to come into your life.

    I don’t think that’s a complete picture, but I think it’s part of it.

  13. “They are at least three things: inhuman, several billions of years old, and completely content with the universe as it currently is (else it’d be different).”

    I agree with the non-humans of the gods in general. But this response (there was no room to reply to it further up). Yet I am not so sure that the gods are so powerful they could the change the universe with no boundaries. The gods do sometimes oppose each other, and I am not just talking about order versus chaos, the Tuatha versus the Fomori, or the Olympians versus the Titans. Now, I do not take the myths literally, but there must be reasons why Persephone and Aphrodite do not get along well or, in Irish myth, Lugh and Brighid perhaps (who are equal part Tuatha and Fomorian). If we accept the premise of the gods being the spirits invested in natural forces – as you seem to define them further up – some natural forces might work against each other. This may result in a balanced order, yes, but the individual gods may not see it as such. Lugh may be the god adventure, thinking you are quite amusing, but maybe some other god thinks differently. And I do not think the gods just stay in in their separate spheres, one for love, one for war, none ever bothering the other gods. Duty as a value may oppose that of adventure, or maybe love. Now, I am thinking at loud here, so I haven’t all thought it through. Am I making any sense.

    Moreover as I see it, the gods are not all-powerfull because they much share their powers. That’s polytheism. And they are not just the laws of nature itself. They themselves do seem operate within a limited world, maybe to be called Wyrd (I cannot think of an Irish equavalent right now). Maybe as a group, the gods have come to some kind of agreement of ‘good enough for now’, but as individuals?

    Of course I am ascribing the gods as persons, and maybe ascribing them with human qualities, but is hard for a human describe them in any other way sometimes.

    • O, and another question: you do not think new gods can arise? All the gods are as old as … what? … the big bang? Just curious. All of this is hypothetical in any case.

    • I have never used the term “all powerful” and if that is how anyone is interpreting “sage like” or “worthy of reverence” then I see why we’re disagreeing.

      The gods are, in virtually any polytheist theology, immanent to the universe. They did not create it, they live here just like you and me. The omnipotence claimed by the Christian god is not a polytheist concept.

      However there is a lot of ground to cover between “so omnipotent you can unmake the universe in a second” and “selfish, petty and dies of loneliness if you don’t offer wine once a week.” Moreover the gods are considered in both Classical and ancient northern European religion to love virtue and be exemplars of virtue. This is obviously in conflict with the stories where they do dickish things which gives us a dilemma to solve – unless we take those stories nonliterally, as virtually every Classical account of theology urges.

      So, proceeding to take those stories nonliterally, what should we make of stories where the gods are in conflict? Why do they say the gods fight? Why does Hades take Persephone half the year?

      My personal answer is that these are beautiful and compelling metaphors for nature. In winter the earth is like a mother who has lost her daughter, or a wife in an unhappy marriage; in summer it is like a carefree maiden dancing in the fields.

      To use a favorite example, if you pour water onto fire there is a huge commotion. Steam hisses away and both the water and fire are changed, even lost. You could write a poem describing it as a battle or as lovemaking. But does the water’s soul feel pain and get burned? Does the fire’s soul feel fear and die? They have been doing this since the beginning of time. Nature follows its course.

      This is my theology. Or it was, when I firmly believed in the gods as objectively real spirits. My beliefs change. It’s important to remember that there is no doctrinal authority in polytheism. Belief is personal. I try to encourage people to think about their beliefs rationally, to build a theology that’s internally consistent. But we’re all free. I can sit comfortably with Lucius Svartwulf and Star Foster and BT Newberg and we can make offerings together because the gods don’t care what you believe. They care what you do.

  14. Pingback: Of gods and men: searching for a theology « Pagan Layman

  15. Katie Anderson says:

    Last week I chatted with a woman about a dream that terrified her. She was dining with several gods. Among them, Odin and Loki. Loki’s presence frightened her so. I tried to explain to her that this was a positive boon not a dreadful thing. She expects he will torment her. I think he will likely challenge her and give her a run for her money. Now if none of them are real and its all cerebral, it says more about the differences in our psychologies. If they are very real, no matter if manifested internally or externally I’d say that he’s representing the importance that we both face the changes and challenges in our lives at this time. But the best part is that she’s only focusing in on half the story and totally ignoring Odin. In my own UPG I have also seen both, who have equal shares.
    My view is one in which we approach them, and they approach us. And call me cynical, but every interaction is fueled by purpose, by agenda. There are reasons why some of the gods I approach answer and why others never get back to me. Not out of malice but rather there’s nothing they have to say to me or you or whoever plays first person. And I do feel that those with whom we have relationships do have a need on some level otherwise this thing wouldn’t be happening in the first place.

    • I think your approach to your friend’s dream is very admirable Katie.

      I like what you wrote about why some gods don’t answer a person back:

      Not out of malice but rather there’s nothing they have to say to me or you or whoever…

      But when other deities do answer, again, I don’t see why it “has” to indicate they have a need to. Couldn’t they just be open to us out of altruism, a selfless concern for us? Could it be that a given deity just has a great deal in common with a particular worshipper, and wants to help them as they struggle in life?

      I can imagine selfless motives as easily as need-based ones.

  16. Pingback: Does atheism offends the gods? by roguepriest | Sacred-Queenship

  17. Pingback: The Roots of Theology: My Starting Questions | Magick From Scratch

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