Sometimes it’s Not About the Gods

17 Jul

There is a large movement in the polytheistic community to push people towards paying more attention to the gods. These people advocate giving more to the gods (and more and more and more) and pretty much being deity-centric in your religious practice, and to some extent- your life. I understand that a lot of these discussions about putting gods first is likely a heavy handed response to what is likely a heavy handed problem- people who completely have no regards for the gods. But I see nothing being gained in returning heavy hands with heavy hands. Heavy hands do nothing but leave bruises.

Because I dislike bruises, I would like to propose a differing view, in which I believe that sometimes, even though you are polytheistic and in a polytheistic religion- its not about the gods. Sure, you can make it about the gods, but sometimes, they are not the center of the universe (in the same sense that people aren’t always the center of the universe. Shocking.)

Allow me to clarify.

First of all, in Kemeticism, the point of the religion is living in ma’at (as I mentioned in this post here). Living is the first priority. You can’t make ma’at happen on a large scale if you’re not living and mixing and mingling with other people and the world around you. So you could argue, straight off the bat, that Kemeticism is at its core about being here and now in the physical realms and living your life and making ma’at happen around you.

And you will note, that entire statement doesn’t include a single mention of a deity.

But let’s examine this from a different angle. I can hear many of my hardcore polytheists responding with “But Devo! They put all of this time and money and effort into the cult centers and temples in antiquity! Surely the gods are the forefront and center of everything. This proves it!”

I would respond with- perhaps.

The temples and cults were more or less the treasury of the nation and the King. They stored the wealth of the country, which is why the cult centers of Amun got so large by the later periods of Egypt. However, despite the cult centers and temples being very large and wealthy, only a small percentage of people actually worked inside of those temple complexes. Even fewer ever made it to the inner sanctuaries and levels of the temple itself.

Out of all of the population of Egypt, only a very small percentage would have been wealthy or literate. And only a small percentage of that small percentage would have made it into the temples where gods were the focus. And let’s also add that those priests who “lived for the gods” also had long vacations from the temple- where they probably did very little that is god-centric.

So I repeat that its entirely possible that not everyone cared about the gods, or lived for the gods, or made everything they did about the gods. I think this to be particularly true if you were dirt poor. You were too busy keeping your fields going and hoping that you didn’t get sick and that you had enough to last the summer than anything else. Like many cultures, it’s entirely possible that the only time that the commoner really focused on the gods was during a festival, or if they really really needed to ask for assistance from a local hekau.

As with everything about the past, it is purely speculation- so instead of only speculating about the past, I’d like to bring it back to the present.

I mentioned above that the point of Kemeticism is to live in ma’at – and I think that’s very important to keep in mind. A lot of newly converted Kemetics will spend a lot of time focusing on their altars and shrines and buying statuary and incense and bowls and plates and all sorts of things for the gods. And while this is great for building a personal practice, I would like to posit that this isn’t the whole point to this Kemetic thing. The point is that mention of ma’at above. We have plenty of articles about offerings to gods and what to give them- but truthfully, the thing that fills the gods most is ma’at.

They live off of ma’at. They breath ma’at. They are ma’at.

So by giving and making and performing ma’at in this world (with or without the gods in mind), you are effectively feeding them. It could be as simple as being a good person, being nice to another fellow human, donating to a charity- anything like that that helps to bring things into balance helps the world, and in effect helps not only the gods, but yourself.

Yourself. That is a powerful thing.

There seems to be a stigma against helping yourself. “Religion isn’t a psychologist” or “Religion isn’t there to help you” “Religion is about the gods, not us”.

And yet- if every Pagan and polytheist you meet isn’t in balance, or isn’t healthy and happy- what good are we do these “all powerful” deities? And even more importantly, if we are miserable and unable to function well- what good are we to the world around us?

Because we can’t forget that we live here, on this planet, in this place. If the world around us goes to hell, what’s the point in honoring the gods? Simple- there is no point because there won’t be a here or an us to do any of the honoring.

I wrote a long time ago about Unconditional Love and how that means loving yourself. And I think that many modern polytheists are forgetting that “myself” is just as much a part of the equation as the gods are. Humans are not the center of the universe, but neither are the gods. The gods don’t have ultimate control over everything that happens in the world (or the cosmos). In the grand scheme of things, gods are but specs of dust- as are we. To entirely forget yourself so that you might have better focus on the gods is not only pointless but, in my opinion, destructive.

As it is said, you need balance in all things.

Are you balanced in whom you devote your time to?

How do you feel about putting the gods second from time to time? Do you make yourself a priority in your life or your religious practice? Should you?


Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Kemeticism, Rambles


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

18 responses to “Sometimes it’s Not About the Gods

  1. Sarenth

    July 18, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Considering that there were Gods worshiped and given space in the home, and not just the temples, I think that the Gods factored into the commoners life a bit more than might be implied from a cursory reading here. I think, too, that since we do not have as many records and the understanding we get from archaeology has more to do with the rulers than the ruled, I’ll get away from speculation here.

    In my view I do not see a stigma against self-help, but a denial that that is the purpose of polytheism. There is an over-focus on the self, in my experience and view, in Neopaganism and many polytheist communities. To be an effective priest, spirit worker, what-have-you, of course you yourself need to be together, and that, I view, is part of one’s religious duty if you are in that role. So self-help and human-oriented rituals may not be totally out of the picture, i.e. healing rituals, funerals, weddings, etc. but they are not the focus, in my view, of polytheist religion, nor should they be.

    You ask a lot of question, good questions that everyone should ask themselves, polytheist or not. I would like to dig into some of your point and make some counterpoints not to stir up bad feelings, but to promote discussion.

    “And yet- if every Pagan and polytheist you meet isn’t in balance, or isn’t healthy and happy- what good are we do these “all powerful” deities? And even more importantly, if we are miserable and unable to function well- what good are we to the world around us?”

    If we live in ma’at we will live in good balance with our lives, and with Them. They cannot live our ma’at for us. So it may be a person just needs to get to the point where they can live in ma’at and no more, and for others, just maintaining that balance is not their call in life. I think that our use to the Gods, our ‘good’ to Them, can go beyond maintaining balance.

    “How do you feel about putting the gods second from time to time? Do you make yourself a priority in your life or your religious practice? Should you?”

    My thought is that if one puts the Gods first one’s self will do well in kind. If I do well in service to the Gods I will live a good life because in order to do the former I must do the latter. Living well doesn’t mean dying with the most toys, to me, but living a life in which I am a good person and neighbor, a good follower and servant. There are times where, in order to put my Gods first I need to put myself first. I can’t give my Gods proper honor if my stomach is empty, or my family suffers.

    One can live their lives intensely devoted to the Gods and still live a good, whole life. If one is doing so one has to be living in some kind of good balance in order for it to work, so I do not see a dichotomy. At the end of the day keeping myself healthy, mentally well, and so on is part of living that balance. Being a good father, getting to work on time and doing well so I am paid, is all part of living that balance. That does not preclude me from doing intense devotion. Not everyone needs to be a mystic, a spiritworker, a priest, or a shaman, but if one is a polytheist I do believe the Gods need to figure foremost in one’s life, and in so doing, one’s life will need to come into better alignment with Them. In doing that, in pursuing that ma’at, the religious life one leads is a guide, a way one lives, rather than something that takes away from life.

  2. Andrew

    July 18, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I love this. And I think you’re right on the money. As a magician, as a Druid, as a polytheist, as an occasional Christian, and as a celebrant of the Ancestors, I’m oft creeped out by the “godphone” crowd. It’s rare for me to see, hear, feel or encounter the gods face to face, and their demands make me suspicious. Meanwhile, the divinity of the world around me, that I encounter through tai chi and ceremony and outdoor hiking and in the company of others, seems to be far more vital and alive and worthy of praise than the invisible deity allegedly chuckling over my shoulder.

    Michael Wall’s chant goes, ” stepping into clarity / and walking in my power / dancing magic in my life / every day and every hour / I’m choosing to be using the gifts I’ve got / to make this world sublime / for I am one unique expression / of the Great Divine!”

    And in a sense, that’s what I believe. More than anything else — more than gods, spirits, ancestors and all — I believe that I’m here to be awesome, and to help others find their awesome.

    • Eddie

      July 18, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      Uh, you can have a great practice and such without being rude to others. Just because you don’t want to give praise to specific deities doesn’t mean that people who are doing so are doing something wrong, which you sort of imply in your first paragraph. I don’t find the various spirits in the world around me any more or less deserving of praise than my ‘invisible deities allegedly chuckling over my shoulder’.

  3. helmsinepu

    July 18, 2013 at 7:12 am

    We have a two-sided problem. On one hand we have people who, at least in the way they present themselves, are totally obsessed with the Gods, acquiring more statuary, and coming up with special offerings.
    On the other, there’s a large, vocal contingent of “atheist” pagans, who declare that deities are merely symbolic archetypes. This would be fine if they were talking about their own practices, but they almost invariably say that all pagans believe this and that you’d be an idiot to think otherwise. The polytheists react to that.
    I see the complaints about the “self-help” as being more of a problem with entirely self-centered paganism. Paganism as a pop-psych movement. The reaction against any sort of authority, leadership, or expertise is a symptom of this. The total disregard for any historical facts is another, for example the Zeitgeist crap.

  4. TheOprimerVIII

    July 18, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Reblogged this on Luceafar Luceafarul VIII `Lucifer and commented:
    Interesting Dialogue Going On at The Twisted Rope.

  5. L

    July 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Reblogged this on Mountain, Path, and Pool and commented:
    Being someone that’s missed a feast day and several days of honor for my gods in the past week due to anxiety, depression, and general scatterbrained-ness, it’s a thought I’ve been mulling over some.

    Am I being a “bad” polytheist if I succumb to the numbing fatigue of anxiety and forget about devotions? If eating becomes a chore, let alone prayer? Where is that line between expected self-sacrifice and unhealthy obsession where mental/chronic illness is concerned? If I’m anxious and in a moment where I’ve lost the ability to conceptualize the concept of time, and past and future literally collapse into the present and make everything meaningless, how can I possibly go about honoring the system of nested wheels and cycles that make up the world and the gods? All I can hope to do during times like that is take comfort in knowing that it’ll probably pass–whatever that means–so I can get back to things.

  6. Briar Rose

    July 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    “To entirely forget yourself so that you might have better focus on the gods is not only pointless but, in my opinion, destructive.”


    One of the reasons why I left the Christian college I was at was because it kept being implied (if not stated outright) that I had to give up who I was; everything that made me “me” was evil in some way. When I finally got out of there (I was only there a year, but it felt like much longer), it took another year to get my mind back to a healthy place and even now I’m still struggling.

    “How do you feel about putting the gods second from time to time? Do you make yourself a priority in your life or your religious practice? Should you?”

    Yes, I think its important to put the Gods second sometimes, because I don’t think They want mindless robots for followers. Because if you put Them first all the time, what’s left of the person They called to be a devotee?

    That’s all based on personal opinion, of course.

  7. Elizabeth

    July 18, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    I’m a full-time, oathbound nun and anchorite in an intense devotional relationship to my god, but even I don’t put Him, or the rest of Them, first at all times. Because of who I am and what I do, my gods are the main focus of my life, and yes, They do come first, in all larger considerations. But I don’t think it makes me a bad polytheist, a liar, or a hypocrite to occasionally spend a day away from home not thinking of religious things, or to take an evening off to lie around eating ice cream and watching Netflix instead of praying. Those are mental health breaks — even Catholic nuns in convents have TV nights, and I have seen Buddhist monks on field trips before. The way I see it, putting my own needs first when appropriate makes me a fitter vessel for my gods’ wishes, and keeps me mentally and emotionally healthy enough to keep on serving Them at the level of intensity I do the rest of the time.

    But I wasn’t always a monastic, and what may be appropriate for me now isn’t necessarily appropriate for all. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being the Pagan equivalent of laity, especially if you have other responsibilities than just your individual worship of the Holy Ones. There is a time and a place for everything, and perhaps the best way to approach this is to decide to be fully present and fully there for the gods when it is appropriate to do so — when making offerings, for instance, when praying, when standing in a ritual circle or space — and to express your faith the rest of the time by living a life in moral accordance with your tradition and/or your gods’ wishes, and make your own choices accordingly. Speaking from experience, such devotion — even if it seems intermittent — can be incredibly fulfilling for us *and* honor the gods, if it is done with sincerity and love.

    Devotion doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition, I guess is what I’m saying. Achieve your highest level of devotion and make sure you do it with your whole heart, regardless of whether or not it looks like what someone else is doing, and you’re on the right track. (I’m using the general “you” here, not singling you out, just to be clear.)

    • von186

      July 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

      I agree with this. It reminds me of the concept of quality over quantity. Better to spend only an hour per week (as an example) focusing on the gods, than to try and spend 24/7 focusing on the gods and floundering instead.

  8. kiya_nicoll

    July 19, 2013 at 8:04 am

    The more I reach to do more with the gods, for the gods, more deeply engaged with the gods, the more the gods tell me to go do my life. Or go heal my ancestors. Or go fix my damage.

    So yeah. Maybe I’m a “self-help” pagan.

    Maybe that’s what the gods fucking well tell me to be.

    (I got really frustrated by the people pushing a perspective where the only way to be “pious” was to do stuff that the gods tell me I am not permitted to do.)

    • von186

      July 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

      I have had a similar experience with Set. Set seems to be very “fix your shit” oriented with his followers/tools/devotees.

      • kiya_nicoll

        July 21, 2013 at 10:44 am



      • von186

        July 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm


  9. jewelofaset

    July 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    I agree with this. Part of my work for Aset is knowing who I am; this means I have to do those “self-help” rituals in order to do that effectively. There is a place and a time to honor the Gods, but there is also a place and a time to better yourself.

  10. Jiniri

    August 21, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    This! Oh, all of this… You summed up how I really feel about a lot of this, in much prettier, more succinct language.

    It’s one of the many reasons I don’t consider myself a priest, or anything of that nature. I don’t ‘live’ the Gods, and I’m not hugely active in the community… I am, however, very devoted to living as I feel the Gods would want me to live. For example…Through the college, I’m a peer tutor in Project Literacy, and my job is supporting adult learners in achieving their educational goals (usually stuff like GEDs, but for some, actually literacy) and I do volunteer work at our local battered womens network. I consider this an act of upholding Ma’at, and doing what I can for my community…. To me, that feels like something the Gods appreciate, moreso than focusing sooo hard on them that my day to day upkeep goes to shit. I get the distinct impression that Sekhmet likes me more when I’m tending my shit than when I’m all out of whack mentally, but praying ALL THE TIME.


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