The Laughter of Those Thought Wrathful

My monthly column has just been posted at The Wild Hunt.  It’s called, “Something Wet Came Padding In.”

What the priests told me of the gods didn’t make sense anymore, but the gods didn’t seem to care whether I believed the right thing or wrong thing. And worst of all, they didn’t seem to care that I had said no to them. They seemed to have actually appreciated it.”

It’s the shortest piece I’ve ever written for The Wild Hunt (2000 words, about 1/3 the usual), and certainly the most personal.

There isn’t much commentary required for it, but it’s worth noting that my experience of the gods is not quite in alignment with an increasingly dogmatic orthodoxy for which this piece is hopefully a death-knell.

When I first met gods, a friend I’d just met taught me some quick magic and a little theory.  And he also kept telling me that I didn’t want to work with gods, because they will ‘fuck you up’ if you say no to them.  He’d had an awful experience of his own, I think, and warned me against the idea that you should ever submit yourself to something else.

Several years in, I did indeed reach a point where I thought the gods would ‘fuck me up’ if I ever said no to them.  This idea, though, was hardly coming from the gods at all, but from an ever-smaller and ever-more-vocal group of people for whom ‘submission’ and ‘authority’ and ‘obedience’ are defining characteristics of an authentic relationship with gods.

This is actually a mechanism of abuse, though. Exchange the word ‘god’ for ‘spouse’ or ‘boss’ or ‘president’ and you start to notice there’s something awful happening.

We would never accept the idea that ‘no’ in a love relationship is a sign that the relationship is flawed. If a person were to tell us, “I do everything he says because I am in love with him,” we’d worry for them greatly, and maybe consider an intervention.

“I do everything my boss demands” is more accepted, only because we’re all living in a condition of subservience to Capital.  In most cases we’d probably grumble along with the person, nodding and saying, “yeah, fuck bosses.”

And of course, “the president/leader/general/king/nation is always to be obeyed” gets us in some awful wars.

Try saying ‘no’ to a god. Actually, try saying no to anyone.  If they get angry, if they withdraw their love or support or kindness from you because you asserted your own desire, than you’ll learn some really informative things about your relationship to them.  And you might not like what you learn.

And if that ‘no’ doesn’t result in repercussions but instead (as in my experience detailed in that piece), a really pleased laughter, than you’ll learn something even more crucial about where our fear of saying ‘no’ really comes from.

4 thoughts on “The Laughter of Those Thought Wrathful

  1. And this pretty much sums up why I don’t engage with other polytheists that much. I am more than willing to get uncomfortable for my gods; I’m not willing to harm myself for them.

  2. I really wonder if there’s somewhat of a false dichotomy going on here. I mean, I’m not sure exactly which polytheists you’re referring to – if, for instance, I am one of them, or if some of my friends are – but I guess I’m not seeing the same level of black and white thinking being exhibited that you obviously are reacting to. Maybe it’s just that, when we talk about these things, we tend to overcompensate for the “anything goes” crowd of pagans, by speaking more sternly and intensely about the benefits of NOT just doing whatever you feel like, but trusting the gods to guide. I mean, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t occasionally say to their gods (as you mentioned in your piece), not perhaps “I refuse” but at least “I can’t” or “This is breaking me”. I for one certainly don’t advocate blind submission across the board in any circumstance. Though I do think there’s a difference between gods and your spouse or your boss – They might be People in one sense, but They are not actually human people, and They have a much wider view that it pays to trust. Even when it’s hard, or scary, or you don’t feel like it. I’m guessing you actually don’t disagree with that. It seems to me sometimes that all the online arguments are talking past each other, and that in reality many of us aren’t too far from being on the same page. (Not everyone, of course, there are plenty of pagans I strongly disagree with on the matter of the gods and how one should behave, but just saying that there may be more similarities between some of us polytheists when you get down to how these things actually play out in reality.)

    For what it’s worth, in my experience, saying No to a god doesn’t get you flaming retribution or anything. Especially if you haven’t actually promised to do the thing you’re saying No to. It might, however, cut you off from some pretty amazing opportunities. It might, with Dionysos for instance, mean you end up being one of the wand-bearers rather than the true bakkhoi. Not as punishment, but as natural progression from the fact. And of course, different gods have different responses, there’s no God Manual that They all follow.

    1. ” Maybe it’s just that, when we talk about these things, we tend to overcompensate for the “anything goes” crowd of pagans, by speaking more sternly and intensely about the benefits of NOT just doing whatever you feel like, but trusting the gods to guide. ”

      You know, I think you are very right here. I think Polytheists started defining themselves so much as ‘in opposition’ to the humanist and fluff-bunny threads of Paganism that the demarcation line between the two became wider and wider. In some ways, the arguments actually caused both sides to be more hard-line than I think either side ever was.

      When I’d started (and been part of that narrative), I remember hearing some people who said, “you know, I woke up one morning and had to tell my gods that I’m apparently not a polytheist any longer” because of the ever-smaller definition of what Polytheism meant. So it was really fascinating, and honestly quite a good lesson for me, to wake up one day and find my experiences with the gods no longer counted as authentic relationships, etc. To know I’d contributed to this process in the first place both fills me with regret and also a desire to unwind some of that.

      1. Frankly, I think everyone would be a lot better off not paying so much attention to what other people think when it comes to their spiritual lives. Especially not people on the internet they don’t even know. Who cares if other people think your experiences are authentic? Who cares what labels you put on yourself so that other people think you’re cool, or part of the in crowd, or belong to such-and-such group and against such-and-such other group? It all seems like such a waste of energy to me. We need to be looking to the gods for guidance, not to other humans for validation.

        What my actual day to day practice is like, very few people would fully understand or relate to. I only put a tiny bit of it into my blog posts and public “persona”. The reality is much more complex and idiosyncratic. From what I can tell, that’s true of many if not all people.

        The only people whose opinions matter to me are the ones who are my real life friends, who know the whole story, and who I fully trust to support me but also call me out when need be. Anyone else is just never going to really know what they’re talking about, because they don’t know the inner workings of what I actually do and believe. That’s why the internet is of such limited usefulness when it comes to discussions of such important topics, and especially when it comes to relating to other people. We can be influenced and inspired by others on our spiritual path, sure, but we shouldn’t put it all in their hands, or let trends in social groups dictate how we feel about what we’re actually doing, which in the end, is just between us and the gods.

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