I know many Pagans for whom a relationship with the gods is an intimate connection full of wisdom and guidance. In my own life, I have never felt the pull of a particular god or goddess, I am merely interested in their mythologies. In the practice of my Druidry, my gods are the forces of nature. The Wind, the Sea, the Earth and the Fire. Most Pagan traditions tend to see them as the primal forces of nature, divine in their existence. I see them as the forces that designed the lines of my own body as much as they designed the lines of the Earth itself. This is not to say that it was an act of will that caused creation; I believe that creation itself was as natural and fundamentally primal as any of these forces. I recognize creation as the final element, that of Spirit and Awen.
For many, the existence of the gods and the worship of them is part and parcel of establishing relationship to the divine essence of nature. Most of our deities are derived from elemental forces – Thor, the god of Thunder, for example. Poseidon or Manannan Mac Lir, the gods of Sea and storm are other examples. In Pagan antiquity, our ancestors put faces to the gods and gave them names, yet at the core of that practice lay the primal forces of nature and later gods were the combination of those forces as they appeared to us in the context of seeking relationship with nature. This of course, is my own personal assessment and not to be confused with an overall truth.
One of my favorite stories is that of Brennius, a Brittanic King who managed to invade and subjugate mainland Gaul. He then led his army to the Temple at Delphi in Greece where he commenced to sack it. When he observed the exquisitely carved stone busts and statues of the Greek gods, Brennius laughed at the Greeks for thinking that the gods looked like men and women. What I like about this story is that this is a person for whom the gods have no faces because to him they remained the abstract forces of the natural world. While I am not accustomed to laughing at Greeks (or anyone else who puts a face to the gods) I do feel as Brennius did. My gods don’t have faces.
I have heard people talk of visitations by their gods and I do not doubt them. I tend to think of the gods of our ancestors as beings to whom they attributed certain things, perhaps beings that interacted with us through nature, sentient, aware and powerful, yet not perhaps as powerful as the term “god” might imply. Quite frankly, I don’t honestly know and won’t try to pretend. Visitations by the gods for me are simple and always have been. It is the churning of digestive fluids in my stomach that break down food, it is the rain and the thunder, the lightning and the wind. It is every time I have to use the restroom and every time I feel the heat of a midday sun. I do not need to name these things as gods to know the divine power of nature itself; the wilderness lives in me and is brought to me every day with the recognition of aging lines on my face, the grey shock of hair in my beard and the feel of the grass under my feet.
It makes me wonder though – what, exactly is the role of the gods in our lives?
I recently saw and read a blog post about the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that suggested, both before and after listing off the many attributes of the goddess Hecate, that people should call upon her to right the injustice of our culture. I have to admit that this seems a bit odd to me. I understand that people find solace and comfort in the worship of their gods and goddesses but considering our track record and supplication attempts, I doubt that the gods will be swooping to aid us in reversing the Supreme Court’s decision. We are, after all, talking about humanity, which all too often rejects our own connection to nature and especially in our treatment of our mothers, daughters and sisters.
It makes me wonder though – why should the gods help us?
When I talk about entitlement culture, I am not speaking of those who are in need of assistance like EBT and housing. What I am talking about is the cultural expectation that we deserve something. This paradigm can be most easily expressed in the American cultural standard of living which exceeds most everywhere else in the world. I have heard many times from foreign nationals that Americans are among the worst tourists in the world, shouting loudly and often that they are American as though that trumps the local custom, language and law.
I know musicians and writers who are incredibly talented and I would happily buy every album or book they wished to provide, twice. As talented as these people are, they are not entitled to anything simply because they developed talent. It is, in essence, the forces outside of their control that will choose whether or not their writing or music will take off. Disregarding that a lot of that piece has to do with marketing and whatnot, most artists of one kind or another are discovered only after they work hard to bring their talent to people who will get them noticed and they take off in the popular imagination. Even these talented people are not entitled to something and most of them have more aptitude for music in their big toe than the the majority of what passes for music and literature these days. The point is, the idea that we are entitled to anything, even life, troubles me greatly as a human being. None of us are guaranteed anything but the moment we are in. As I write this, a meteorite could be careening towards my seat in front of the computer as I blithely type on. Who has a right to exist when we could die at any moment? The right to exist is entitlement culture at its finest. There are many mainstream religions that will tell you that their god’s divine law demands that every fertilized egg in a uterus is a living being and yet these same people will cheer when we wage war in the Middle East, killing innocents in greater numbers than our abortion clinics ever could. Children die all over the world from starvation and malnutrition, women and children in our own country die from being beaten and abused to death and yet let’s make certain that Hobby Lobby can challenge the Affordable Care Act, because you know, the zygotes are being purged.
I am not one of those people that concludes the gods exist because we believe in them. I cannot explain where the deities of ancient cultures came from any more than I can explain how the Inca had such a complex understanding of the movement of celestial bodies they could not observe with the naked eye. These things are mysteries and while I have lots of theories, I certainly have nothing I would call an answer. However, answering as though the gods are everything our ancestors believed them to be, not the poetic creatures that we have made of them, why should they help us? Have we been good little beings that have consistently worshiped and offered to them throughout the centuries and immediately deserve the intervention of a divine hand? Is that truly what they expect of us? Or have we, with our focus on the present and immediate dangers that our selfish entitlement to the resources that the Earth herself has on offer, gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place?
It’s hard for me to imagine that these beings, whatever they may be, would bother to lift a finger to help reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. First off, the “supremes” (as my law professor used to refer to them in class) would need to believe in Hecate to understand what she was saying. Considering that their decision was clearly limited to 4 forms of female contraception, I doubt that they pay any goddess heed, including Hecate. I mean no offense to the gods, again, whatever they may be, but I don’t see them as being instrumental to our desire to affect drastic change in our human culture. That is totally and completely on us.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are people who think that invoking the name of a god or goddess may hold some power over the SCOTUS but let me be the first to try and gently explain to you that deities most certainly do not. If any supposed supreme being won the day, it is the god of cognitive dissonance that Christians like David Green (CEO/Founder of Hobby Lobby) claim looks and talks just like Jesus but bears little resemblance to his mythology. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I sincerely doubt that Jesus would have looked upon many of the things so-called Christians have done in his name by extrapolating their own fine print from what seem to be pretty straight forward instructions: Love one another without judgement. As a basic tenet of any faith, that seems like a good place to begin. I tend to wonder if so many people would use birth control in the first place if we lived in a culture that was this wealthy and made it a priority to protect and care for everyone. This of course is the very foundation of Christian charity and as far as I can tell, it holds no caveat as to whether they are Christian themselves or abiding by what amounts to the presently evolving “Christian” version of Sharia Law.
Certainly the hypocrisy inherent in misconceptions about modern Pagans sacrificing children is lost on those who routinely insist that a woman carry a child to term no matter her circumstances, only to call that same mother and child a vacuum for social services and demand that they must fend for themselves. This seems to be the push from many who consider themselves “Righteous.” Is that not a greater level of human sacrifice than even our ancestors (every one of whom practiced it, including many stories in the bible) were capable of? What would you call protecting people until they are born and then letting them starve to death because you don’t want an extra few pennies in taxes to feed them? Human beings are opportunistic and always have been and this decision, this very court case, seems clearly opportunistic in its scope. This is a chance to bring the war on women and the war on the poor into the same target zone. “Damn those welfare recipients!” They say, “They’d better think twice about having sex now! I have a company to run!”
Please understand that this post is not intended to simply beat up upon Christians. I know more than a few people on that spiritual path that are fine, decent people. What makes them kind and decent is the fact that while they may disagree with me on many points, they know that they cannot force people to believe as they believe, and choose to Love them instead. I’ve read the bible and though I cannot quote it chapter and verse, I notice that Jesus never said anything about the Supreme Court or America.
Where was the call to Hecate for justice before SCOTUS rendered their opinion? Where are our prayers and supplications and public outcry when women are raped and burned and slaughtered at the expense of their bodies every single day? Yet, because women are now unable to get 4 different kinds of birth control we should call the gods to rain thunder on Justice Scalia’s head? In my opinion we need to begin owning up to the fact that we crashed the family car into the neighbors tree and stop asking our mom and dad to pay for the repairs. I in no way endorse the SCOTUS decision – I find it disgusting – but I also take responsibility for the fact that I sat around for years and did nothing of value while my country has been slowly stolen out from beneath my feet, and I am certainly not alone. Let’s leave the gods out of this unless we are asking them to stand with us, not interfere on our behalf. That way lies folly and ultimately disappointment. The problems of humanity that affect humanity should be left for humanity to fix. If we are going to call to the gods for anything, we should call to them for insight and wisdom as to how we can affect real and lasting change in our world that honors the Earth. If we want to face the truth, should the gods choose to do anything, it should be to purge the world of human beings so that the millions of other species that exist here can live a bit more peacefully.
We have no right to exist and it’s time we accept that fact. Put more specifically, we have no greater right to exist than any other organism that resides on this planet and I can damn sure testify to the fact that we have done a lot more to damage it than any other species to ever exist. If I am wrong about that, I would posit that since the species that bested us in the trash department can no longer possibly exist, you can bet that they long ago disappeared down the garbage disposal of evolution, only further proving my point. Were the gods to come to the aid and defense of anyone, I would hope it might be the millions of species that we have forced into extinction in the name of “progress.”
Let us call to our gods for guidance, vision, connection and inspiration. Let us call to them because their presence is a healing and positive force in our lives and in the lives of others who believe as we do. Let us call to our gods in our hour of need because we seek their wisdom and we are entering into relationship with them, not because we expect them to kiss it and make it better. We are not powerless and ineffective in our own culture and when someone lays it upon the gods to seek justice for our own depravity it concerns me that we are losing touch with what it means to be Pagan.
To me, this is the most dangerous kind of hubris, the idea that the gods dote upon us. The myths and tales of Pagan antiquity clearly indicate that the gods do so only when it suits them and never simply because we ask and pray. When we have done so, should they grant us a boon, it always comes at great price. Yet, when we have entered into relationship with them, the odds are more in our favor. Not every time, but still, a substantially larger portion of the time. Let’s dispense with the theatrics and clean up our own mess here.
The gods are visitors to us in a constant stream of nature and wildness. Beseeching them to smite our enemies makes them less than the forces of nature which have no moral obligation to us and is not endemic of sacred relationship or justice. I listen to the wind that it might open my ears to the rush of nature, I listen to the fire that it might ignite the burning spark of action in my muscles, I listen to the Sea that it might wash from me my reluctance, and I listen to the Earth beneath my feet as I march forward.
That is my opinion and thank you for reading.
July 8, 2014 at 6:54 pm
As an addendum: Recent reports have suggested that SCOTUS has updated and clarified their ruling to include all 20 forms of Birth control routinely covered by health insurance. I may be moving to Canada or Europe in the near future…just kidding…