An old conversation on a relevant topic.
I’ve been having a great theological conversation with my friend Petros which I thought might be of interest to some of you here, so I asked his permission to share. He agreed and here we go!
I have two questions regarding the nature of the Gods. If you don’t have the time to respond to them that’s okay.
The first was raised after I read Galina’s post. She stated “…They exist and They existed long before we were created. The corollary to that is this: It is right and proper to venerate Them.” Is the fact of their existence enough of a reason to worship them? If I was raised by an abusive parent, I’d have a hard time loving and respecting him/her just because of their status as my parent. Is it possible that some Gods exist that are not worthy of veneration?
The answer to all of your questions is yes.
But where a lot of people get hung up, I think, is in the notion that there’s only one type of worship which is to be applied across the board to all manner of divine beings. Previously cultures had a much richer religious vocabulary than our own – even Catholics maintain a distinction between latria, dulia and hyperdulia, representing the differences between the worship appropriate to Mary, the saints, the sacraments, holy places etc. and that reserved exclusively for the Trinity. Instead of ‘worship’ think of it as ‘right relationship’. The right relationship you’re going to have with a mountain or a river is very different from what you’ll have with a deity or a hero. And as far as deities go you’ve got a whole range of them from the vast cosmic powers to door-hinge or hearth-Gods to more familiar anthropomorphic entities. And sometimes Gods can extend across these artificial boundaries – there’s a level of Dionysos where he’s this primal life-force coursing through all creation and a level where you can have a conversation with him just as you would any close friend.
Now, the basis for having a right relationship with a divinity is respect – and that is owed to all of them simply because they exist. You don’t have to have history with them, you don’t have to necessarily like them, and you don’t have to carry out any sort of rituals honoring them but you should show them that essential respect because without it you’re in wrong relation to them. This respect is basically an acknowledgement of their existence and an absence of desire to see them harmed. It’s kind of like looking out over the Grand Canyon and going “Holy shit! This thing is big and could destroy me. That’s cool. People who throw trash in it suck.” Personally I think we should cultivate this attitude with regard to all things – including our fellow man – but it’s especially necessary with divinities.
Everything beyond that is optional.
The divine realm is so immense it would be impossible for you to be actively engaged in a devotional relationship with all of it – nor should you, necessarily. Ancient polytheist religions generally tend to have a notion of reciprocity as their basis: the Gods impress us in some way so we do things to honor them which induces them to do more for us which causes us to increase our expressions of gratitude. This can even be carried to the point of mystic union, though that’s not really an end goal most of the time. Now, if a divinity does not wish to engage with us in this way we are under no obligation to uphold our end of the deal. A divinity may choose not to be in right relation to us through indifference or active hostility or even as a test to see whether we’ll keep up with our devotions anyway. Likewise, what we do with regard to them is entirely up to us. Out of the vast plenitude of divinities I offer regular cultus (meaning at least one offering a year) to maybe 40 Gods and a slightly larger number of Spirits. If you’re talking about monthly observances that probably shrinks by half. Daily – I can count them on my hands with plenty of fingers left over. And I think I’m doing alright. My choices obviously cut off relations with other Gods (like half of the Hellenic pantheon) but I’m not opposed to them in any way and gladly do what I can to help foster the revival of their worship. (I just think it’s something best left to other people.) There are a few I feel something almost like aversion for but I’ll never let it get to the point of actual hatred, because that just doesn’t seem like a very smart idea to me.
The next question: Does geographical location have any effect regarding the worship of Gods from another region? For example, despite being 1/4 Irish and 1/4 Scot, one of the reasons I’ve never felt right worshiping the Celtic Gods is that from the sources I’ve read, they seem so inextricably linked to specific regions, hills, rivers. Worshiping a God or Goddess tied to a river in Ireland doesn’t feel right when I’m in NorCal. While Dionysos is also linked to areas of the Mediterranean region, his nomadic nature does not seem at odds with non-geographical specific worship. Plus, being here and so close to Napa, it’s not all that different from the environment of Italy and Greece. Also, the idea that we may somehow be displacing the regional Gods/Spirits with our own makes me a little uncomfortable. Are indigenous Spirits and our Gods antagonistic and can we appease the local divinities by honoring them and making offerings to them as well as our Gods?
Some Gods (and many more Spirits) are bound to specific locations while others seem to have no problem moving around with their devotees and some like Dionysos, Hermes, Isis and Odin thrive as wanderers on their own. But even though they are able to freely travel the change of location does affect how they manifest and that’s why you see regional variations in cultus over time. One of my favorite historical eras is Hellenistic Egypt because you get to follow the unfolding of this process through a wealth of primary source material as both the Greek and Egyptian populations were widely literate. (To a degree that Europe wouldn’t see again until well after the advent of the printing press, sadly.)
As far as edging out the indigenous Spirits – that certainly has and may continue to be happening, though I think the overculture is doing a far more effective job of that than we ever could. However, inter-pantheon relations needn’t always be hostile. There’s no reason they can’t be hailed alongside each other, traditional elements fused – and sometimes there is even a merging of the entities. This is how we have syncretism.
I think with such scenarios – and really when we encounter any God or Spirit, period – one should start off by consulting them to see what they want. And if one isn’t perceptive in that way, they can always utilize divination.
In my opinion there’s a couple really big questions you should ask right off the bat:
- Do you want my worship?
- Do you want to be worshiped in the manner of the people who first lived here?
- Are you amenable to other forms of worship?
- Are there any specific restrictions I should be aware of?
Everything else sort of follows from there.