Non-physical relationships can be a real pain to figure out. There aren’t any self-help books on them, and trying to get a communication style that works well can be challenging to say the least. Due to the nature of non-physical relationships, I think it’s common for people to flail and get scared when they need to figure out how to handle some of the bumps that normal relationships can take. You know the ones:
- I think I made my god angry. How do I tell?
- I know I made my god angry. How do I fix it?
- How do I tell if this god is giving me the cold shoulder?
- I don’t think my relationship with this god is working anymore. How do I end the relationship?
- I haven’t been talking with the gods recently. Are they upset?
The truth of the matter is, regardless of whether your relationship is 110% in the flesh (such as with a physical human spouse, partner, parent, child, etc.) or whether it’s only half-physical (such as a god or spirit), a lot of the basics for relationships still apply. But for some reason, many of us have been trained to think that human relationship skills don’t apply to gods, and I can’t really figure out why.
I’m sure some of this has something to do with the Christian overtones many of us were raised in. God is bigger than you and cooler than you and doesn’t want to waste a lot of time with you (but he still loves you!). And then you have a lot of Pagan/polytheist bloggers who seem to imply that the gods are these HUGE BIG SCARY ENTITIES that you need to placate and offer your first born child to, lest they get mad at you. And in other situations, gods are apparently “above and beyond petty human concerns” and therefore don’t get mad or angry or make mistakes.
And when you’re new to Paganism or deity relationships, you probably have no clue what to do or where to turn, and you fear that one wrong move could be your last.
However, my experiences have shown me that the gods are a lot more like humans than we typically want to admit that they are. Yeah, they may have more power in some ways than we do. But at the end of the day, they seem to have a lot of the same basic attributes that we do, and I feel like we should be taking a closer look at that.
Like humans, no two are alike.
Something that is important to remember is that no two gods are going to necessarily handle a situation the same way. When people ask generalized questions such as “what should I give my god to appease them” or “will doing this upset the gods” the answer in response will almost always be “how should I know”. This is because no two gods are going to necessarily respond to something the same way.
For example, Set and Osiris don’t react to things the same way at all. Osiris gets more bent out of shape when I disappear for long periods of time, where as Set is more likely to say “you’re a spitting image of myself!”. When it comes to placating the gods, Osiris is more likely to want something heartfelt and small. Set is more likely to want a grandiose display.
This is no different than comparing two people who have different quirks, tastes, desires and needs. What you do may irritate one, but be preferred by the other. Giving XYZ food to one friend as a sign of thanks may send your other friend with the food allergy to the hospital.
In each situation you must take each god and devotee into consideration. Because what works for my relationship may not work for yours. No two gods are alike and no god will necessarily respond to two different devotees in the same way either. All of these situations carry a huge “your mileage may vary”.
Gods can be petty. Just like us.
I know that a lot of people seem to think that the gods can’t be petty. And maybe that’s true for some pantheons, but I’ll state that it’s certainly not true for all pantheons. For example…
Osiris wanted to humiliate his brother Set and convinced Ra to give him his Atef crown. With the new power bestowed upon him, he basically made Set kiss his butt and submit to his new power until his nose bled. This, of course, went to Osiris’ head so badly that he ended up getting a physical burn on his head from it.
Or you’ve got the Contendings where Horus basically does every underhanded trick in the book to try and win against Set because he is not above cheating.
And of course there is Thoth who will change his story to suit his needs so that he gets what he wants. And he is not above killing mortals who happen to stumble upon his books of knowledge.
Our gods are not above being petty. And if your pantheon is like my pantheon, your gods are probably not above being petty, either. This can influence interactions with them as well as what makes them grumpy or moody. You might think that your deity can’t get upset because you didn’t buy that piece of chocolate cake for them, but the truth is- they can get grumpy over that. I’m not saying that gods are always going to be petty, but it is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. And therefore, it needs to be kept in consideration when developing a relationship with them.
Communication is key with relationships.
One of the biggest determining factors in whether a relationship with another human succeeds or not is communication. A relationship without communication is usually doomed to fail or be lackluster. Turns out that gods aren’t much different.
A lot of people like to ask how they should handle telling a god they screwed up. Or what they should do now that they’ve figured out that they no longer want to venerate this deity. Or they worry they messed up, and aren’t sure how to handle the situation. And in each of these situations, I always tell people to handle it the same way they would if it was another human.
If you screwed up, you’d usually tell the person it involves, and maybe smooth it over with a gift, if its appropriate. If you decide you no longer want to associate with someone (whether friends or otherwise), you usually would have to tell them at some point through some form of communication or another. And if you’re not sure if someone is mad at you, one of the fastest ways to find out is to ask.
And the same goes for gods.
Remember that gods aren’t actually mind readers (though sometimes I wonder about this) and they don’t follow us everywhere they go. Sometimes they aren’t going to know something unless you tell them about it. And sometimes the best way to get over a speed bump is to cut to the chase and talk with them. If you’re afraid of talking with your gods, I recommend you reevaluate why that is, and if your relationship with them is actually healthy. In all of my years of working with gods and spirits, I’ve found that open and honest communication goes a long way, and it’s made all of my relationships (both here and Over There) stronger.
Managing gods can be like managing friends or family. Or friends and family.
I’m pretty sure that most of the people reading this have many different kinds of relationships in their life. They have to manage time with kids and spouses, family and friends, coworkers and bosses, etc. There are many relationships that compose someone’s life, and each relationship has different needs and requirements to be kept healthy. And usually, certain relationships will require more time and/or dedication than others.
Many people struggle with the idea of having relationships with multiple deities. I think this stems from the notion that each god is super special, and so you must dedicate all of your time to each god, and each god must be dedicated to in equal measure. But the truth is, this isn’t necessarily the case. Much like juggling your friends and your family, one deity may require more time than another, and other gods may only want to hear from you once a season.
Whenever you’re trying to figure out how to handle multiple deities in your life, consider how you handle your human relationships. What do you do when aunt Sally’s birthday is on the same day that you and your friends wanted to go to a concert? What do you do when your child gets sick on date night? What about when your boss needs you to stay a little late when you had made dinner plans with your mother?
These types of situations all require different techniques to handle them, and the “right” answer will depend on your closeness with each person. Perhaps you don’t really like aunt Sally, and so you’ll opt for the concert instead. Or maybe aunt Sally is your favorite aunt, and you wouldn’t dream of missing her birthday. Neither answer is inherently correct or incorrect, but knowing your relationships will help you to figure out how to handle these kinds of situations when they pop up. Understanding what each deity requires of you and how lenient they are willing to be during times like this will help you figure out how to juggle work, religion, and several gods knocking on your doorstep. And using the communication listed above is key in figuring out how to make all of these relationships work all at once.
Whenever you find yourself in a pickle with the gods, I recommend that everyone learn to re-frame the situation as if you were both humans, and see if that makes it easier to figure out how to handle things. Because in many ways, the rules that apply to human relationships are equally relevant to non-physical relationships. Learning how one can be applied to the other can definitely make navigating the murky waters of deity-devotee relations much easier.
- Nuances of Non-Physical Relationships
- Building Relations
- KRT: Deity Communication
- Spirit Work is Like Running a Day Care