Breaking the Narrative

21 May

One of the best and worst things about being a creator is having the privilege of seeing how your creations grow after their birth. When I take the time to craft a post, I never know exactly how my new “child” will grow after I hit the publish button. Will this post take off and be reblogged a ton of times? Will it be a dud? Will it make anyone angry? It’s always a mystery until after it’s too late to do anything about it. Because of this, each post is a sort of social experiment in a way. You put something out there like a piece of modern art, and you get to watch what everyone does with it, because it’s out of your hands once it’s out there for the world to see. And many times, I love watching what people do with what I have created.

As it just so happens, one of my creations was recently rediscovered by none other than Krasskova herself and brought back into the light after having been in my archives for nearly 2 years. For any of you who have been around TTR for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize the post “On Being Broken“, which was a series of pieces that I wrote a few years back where I examined, challenged and reflected on the nature of devotee-deity relationships, boundaries, and lines in the sand.

I have a very deep fondness for this series. That’s probably because the posts that comprise this series were the product of a lot of hard work and religious rooting around on my part (read: shadow work). Plus, I felt the topics were very important and rarely discussed in our community, and I was so very happy when I realized that I hadn’t alienated everyone upon hitting the publish button. For all intents and purposes, the social experiment was a success.

It was such a success that this post is actually my most popular post for 2013. That’s saying something, considering it was published in the fall and didn’t have many months to gain traction.

So it should go without saying that I was initially excited to see where people were now going to take my post. The social experiment was not done, and I was interested to see where this next “chapter” of my creation’s existence would lead.

Sometimes it’s not always so fun to see where people take your work. It’s part of the tradeoff for being a creator, though. Sometimes you wish people wouldn’t touch your work. Sometimes people use your work to springboard them into places you don’t want your work to go (such as racism, yaaaay).

Shortly after Krasskova’s initial post, I found a couple of different Heathens showing up in my comments section, as well as a another Heathen blogger responding to both myself and Krasskova. This also happened to coincide with a lot of discussions on other venues about the nature of gods as well as discussions about trust and faith and the gods. And it was at this point that I began to notice a trend forming.

That trend is that our community has an acceptable narrative when it comes to devotees and gods. And if you don’t happen to fit into that narrative, your voice is ignored or dampened- if not erased entirely.

When I say narrative, what I mean is that there is an acceptable storyline or way of going about things. If you happen to fall outside of that acceptable format, you are usually shunned or ignored. You’ve probably heard most of the popular or acceptable narratives from the pagan community when it comes to devotee-deity relationships:

  1. Gods are always loving to us. They always know what is best and what we need, even if it makes no sense to us. So when the gods push us, we should do as they say because they always Know Best.
  2. Gods would never be cruel or mean to us without reason. Everything they ever do is with our best interest in mind. So even if they do something that seems mean, it’s really just for your own good, so you should follow along because they always act with your best interest in mind.
  3. Gods always know what you need in order to become a “better person”. So you should do whatever your god tells you to do, because they know what you need even more than you do.

Does that sound familiar? It should, as these the most common narratives and “unspoken truths” that seems to exist in the wider Pagan community. In a way, I might argue that our community was built on this sort of mindset, as almost every single generic paganism/polytheism book has reinforced this sort of mentality and mindset. It’s this very mindset that necessitated the need for my original post in the first place. And what is so bitterly ironic about everyone jumping in on my post (and this topic in general) over the past month is that this narrative was perpetuated and played out right in front of my own eyes. The people that were responding to my musings were, in a way, missing what I was trying to say and perpetuating what I was trying to put a halt to in the first place.

Indirectly, my social experiment had revealed something very telling out about our larger community. And by looking at the trend that was forming, the answer to the very prominent question that I had posed in my original post became very evident to me.

For those who don’t remember, the biggest question I left in my original post is “Why don’t we talk about this? Why haven’t we addressed this in any capacity?”. And I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out why: it falls outside of the acceptable narrative.

If you go through the posts that each person wrote (no I am not linking to them. If you wish to see them, you can go through the pingbacks on the original post. I have personal reasons for going this route) or any of the recent posts on Tumblr that talk about this stuff, you’ll notice a few common themes. One is that gods have a Divine Will that shouldn’t be questioned or challenged. Just because it “doesn’t make sense to us” doesn’t mean it’s not right. The god shouldn’t have to change their ethics for us petty mortals. Instead, you should change to facilitate your god. If you’re refusing to change your ethics, it’s probably because you don’t want to grow or change and your ethics shouldn’t come between you and your devotion. Any disconnect between you and the gods is all on you, probably because you’re human and apparently we suck.

There are also elements of “gods always push us to be better and more genuine”. There doesn’t seem to even be a question of if the gods could ever do wrong or push people in the wrong direction. It’s just assumed that the gods always Know Best. It’s not up to us to figure out if a god is actually doing right by us. I guess because we’re humans, and they’re gods.

Another common theme is the assumption that because I am calling into question my god’s behaviours or show a lack of trust in my gods, that somehow I have not put in enough work, or haven’t worked hard enough to trust his motives. It doesn’t seem to matter which venue this topic comes up in, but there always seems to be this underlying element of shame that seems to be put in my direction for even thinking to question what the hell my god is concocting.

You’ll also notice that any discussion regarding this topic seems to treat all gods the same way. There doesn’t seem to be much attention given to the fact that different pantheons may operate differently (a common example of this is when people apply things such as hubris to pantheons that don’t have such a concept in their religious practice) or that gods can act differently from one another. Its as if someone believes that because their experiences have been XYZ, then everyone’s experiences will be XYZ. There is minimal room for diversity amongst gods, pantheons, or relationships in general.

These ideas mirror what most Pagans and polytheists consider to be the socially acceptable narrative for “turbulent times” with a god. I’ve seen it countless times across countless websites, forums, books and platforms. Our community says that this is the Proper Way to deal with difficult gods (or should I say difficult humans, since apparently it’s all our fault for not getting what the god is trying to do for us), and if you don’t operate “properly”, you are “doing it wrong”.

And I believe this is why people don’t want to talk about things. I, for one, wouldn’t want to talk about how my gods dicked me over if that was the response that I was going to get. I wouldn’t want to open up a very raw wound in my heart and tell people about how my gods did this to me for no perceivable reason and how I felt hurt, alone and betrayed, if I felt that people were going to respond as so many often do: “Well it’s for your own good”. “The gods would never do something like that, you’re mistaken”. “It was a part of their Divine Will and you just don’t understand it yet, but you will”.

When people expect to get treated poorly or chastised for being in a situation they can’t control, they are not going to want to talk about it. No one wants to talk about their pain and then get told that they asked for it, or that their pain isn’t real or legitimate enough for concern. No one wants to get told that the pain they are in is always for their own good- but that’s exactly what this narrative does and reinforces.

This type of narrative is unhealthy. It takes the responsibility off of the gods’ shoulders and places that weight directly on the devotee. It ignores the fact that gods can and do treat people poorly sometimes- and sometimes for no reason at all other than they can. It ignores the fact that not all devotee-deity relationships should actually continue, especially if the god is being abusive. And it creates a narrative that perpetuates victim shaming while simultaneously closeting those who have had bad experiences with the divine because they fear backlash for opening up about what they’ve been through. This narrative basically states that anything that doesn’t work out is always your fault, and if you can’t see the benefit in what you’ve been through, then you’re simply too uneducated to bother talking to.

In many ways, the narrative that we use in Pagan and polytheist circles mirrors the victim shaming narrative that we see in our day to day culture (if you happen to live the US). And perhaps that is the reason that we continue to push this narrative out year after year in our communities: we perpetuate what we know, and we perpetuate what is comfortable for us.

One thing I can say about all of this, though, is that I am very happy and proud to say that the Kemetic community has worked very hard to put an end to this narrative since that original post was made. Something that struck me as both bitterly funny and frustrating about the responses that my post garnered this past month is that I don’t think anyone realized that this post is nearly two years old as of this writing (nor did either responder seemingly read the two follow-up posts that went with the original post where I detailed more about how I handled my own troubled times with my gods and my recommendations for people who are in similar situations). Everyone seemed to think that this was new and uncharted territory, and no one seemed to realize that things have changed in my community since that post was “born” onto the Internet.

After my initial posts about how the gods can be less than perfect and how devotee-deity relationships can degrade, our community began to reconsider what it means to work with the gods. More posts came out from other devotees who have had bad experiences, we were able to discuss how to handle situations like this, and there are even posts about how some devotees love their god, but realize said god can be a twatwaffle to other people.

The Kemetic community realized that the narrative needed to change, and so we changed it. We made it more acceptable to have a bad time with the gods. We made it acceptable to be openly frustrated with the gods. We made it acceptable to black list a deity because they were not treating someone with respect.

We took away the limitations of what gods can and can’t do (or will and won’t do) to devotees. We also took away the limitations of what a devotee can do in a situation where a god is overstepping their bounds.

We made it okay to talk about how relationships can go bad. Or good. Or anything in between.

Now if only the rest of the wider community could catch up.

What do you think about the various narratives that exist within the community? Do you find them helpful or harmful? What other narratives would you like to see changed?

Relevant Posts:


Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Kemeticism, Rambles


Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 responses to “Breaking the Narrative

  1. Aubs Tea

    May 21, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    I am very glad that we broke the narrative that we are somehow to blame for shitty behavior. I have often not wanted yo verbalize what I’m going through simply because I know that I will often hear “have trust/faith in your gods.” While I used to perpetuate that victim shaming mentality and openly admit to doing so, I have to say that I’m a better person knowing that my gods can act like dicks. It makes me feel more… secure knowing that I’m not the only fuck up here.

    • von186

      May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      hahaha we can all fuck up together! XDDD
      I don’t blame anyone who came into paganism with bad habits. The wider community and the most readily accessible resources/books/lit on paganism spouts off a bunch of bad stuff. So it’s no wonder people pick up bad habits. But I am glad to see things slowly changing. Esp in our smaller community.

  2. shezep

    May 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Recognizing and bringing attention to the idea that gods are not infallible is a good thing. We can and should question what They are up to. We should keep our eyes open and be ready to defend our rights and integrity. This is an important idea to keep going, because if we have the courage to stand up to our gods now, then what’s to stop us from standing up to our future priests and big names later? They can’t inherit infallibility if the gods don’t posses it first. They can’t pull the old “in the name of” crap without having us roll our eyes at them. This is good.

    • von186

      May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      That’s a good point, too. I hadn’t even thought to connect those dots.

  3. helmsinepu

    May 21, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I can imagine dogs, cats, and other animals having the same discussions. “All humans have our best interest at heart.” Well, they don’t. Some are genuinely abusive. Some humans like one type of animal, but hate another (many bird lovers hate cats, for instance). Even the best-intentioned pet owners can miss something, make a mistake, or accidentally step on the dog’s tail.

    I think the belief that the dominant ‘all gods are one’ idea contributes to *some* of that narrative rigidity, because then all of them share the same motivations and behavior, and operate by the same rules.

    • von186

      May 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      I just find it so ironic that the people who seem the most anti-monotheism (or at least scream it the loudest) seem to mirror a lot of monotheistic thinking and methods. It’s really confusing to me.

  4. Lithel

    May 21, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Yes … 100%. Thank you for addressing this in a manner that I almost never see it addressed, and also on a platform where the people who need to hear it, without feeling belittled or alone, might hear it and find some support.

    As someone who heard countless times, when asking other pagans for help with an abusive situation involving several gods and entities, that I wouldn’t have a problem at all if I didn’t “wish for specialness” and that if I would just “strive for excellence” and “work harder on devotion”, I’d see some improvement, I think it’s important to make it clear that not all situations can be fixed with more and better devotion. Not all situations are a learning experience designed to better the devotee. Some situations are just bad, are just abusive, and should not be encouraged to continue.

    • von186

      May 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Ugh and all of those responses are thrown towards people in other (non-pagan) situations in our society, too. It’s such a bad way to handle things. I can only hope that more people will reconsider their stances on what the gods are supposedly capable and not capable of and quit treating people so poorly.

      • Lithel

        May 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm

        I think there could be much better methods of handling things — with belittling, shaming, and cold shouldering at the bottom of the list. I hope that more people will reconsider their stances, as well. Not in the sense that I wish to spread things like bitterness or mistrust, but in the sense that bad situations can occur; that gods can act with disregard, unconcern, and cruelness; and that it’s important to know if something like that happens, if all efforts to make it right or better result in little to no difference, the first and last conclusion shouldn’t be that the god is 100% right and the person needs to start kissing the dirt. That kind of thought pattern can be detrimental to a longstanding pagan, let alone to someone new to the path. There should be room within a problematic situation to accept other alternatives, including that the god is just as much at fault, if not more.

        After all the charming advice I received, I’d literally started sitting in the middle of shields and wards, both on the astral and off it, wondering how the fuck I could be such a failure, that no matter what I did or tried, I couldn’t fix the situation, and apparently I deserved it, too.

  5. reluctantchristopagan

    May 22, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Reblogged this on Ethical chaos.

  6. reluctantchristopagan

    May 22, 2015 at 11:44 am

    I think a large part of the desperation to see the gods as infallible is just plain fear. By working with the gods, we give them huge, almost inconceivable power over us and our lives. Who wants to believe that that kind of power is being held by someone that might decide to work to our detriment? Just plain talking to one of ’em feels like you’re an insect on a Petri dish; if you don’t make yourself feel reverent, you’re going to feel terrified instead. I sometimes wonder if the gods only pretend to have our best interests at heart, tbh- maybe they just need us to *think* they’re on our side, when really they just want us to do this and that and make as small a fuss about it as possible. After all, we’re all going to be dead within a century -by our very nature, we’re expendable.
    But now I’m going off an a cynical, paranoid tangent. The point is, thanks for this post! It’s really good, and a relief to see that I’m not alone in these kinds of things.

    • von186

      May 22, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      I’ve wondered that, too, sometimes. Back when I was in the thick of hell with Set (and when I wrote that original post, honestly), I really began to question if he ever actually cared about my well being. Or if he had set out from the beginning to simply recruit me for what he wanted.

      The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, tbh. But I’ve gotten to a point where the intent is less important to me than the actions. So more and more, if Set takes care of me, idgaf if he’s using me as a means to an end or because he actually cares. Took a lot to get to this point, though >.>;;;

  7. cardsandfeather

    May 22, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Along with the fear element, I think there is an element of comfort and security that is present in these sorts of ways of thinking. If the gods are infallible or always have our best interests at heart or never make mistakes, we never have to worry; there is not only the comfort of a perceived unconditional love but also the absence of uncertainty. This being said, I think its very human to look for a relationship like this; we like patterns and stability. Who can blame us for seeking that in our gods?

    While I can’t necessarily define the limits of the Divine, I do think they have a wider scope of understanding (I understand the world much better than my cat; the gods very likely understand the world/universe better than I do). This doesn’t always mean they will make perfect decisions, though. In any event, I think it’s the mark of a mature relationship when things can be discussed (in both human-deity and human-human relationships), consensual, and respectful. At that point, power, wisdom, and end-goals are moot. It doesn’t matter who “knows best”, only that all parties are respected.

    • von186

      May 23, 2015 at 6:39 pm

      “At that point, power, wisdom, and end-goals are moot. It doesn’t matter who “knows best”, only that all parties are respected.”

      Yes. I think that sums up a lot of my thoughts very succinctly. My biggest thing is knowing that my gods are being respectful towards me, and that we are trying to work together to come up with decisions that work for everyone. As someone had said in the comments here, people are more likely to work harder at something if they feel vested in whatever is going on. In the end, its more beneficial for everyone to feel okay with where things are going and the direction that they’re being pushed in. And if I’m really such a lowly human that needs to just kiss ass and do whatever I’m told- why bother to put so much effort and time into me, you know? I’d think the gods would want ppl who think critically, but then again, maybe not.

      Either way, I can see what you mean in your first paragraph, and how that could influence people’s decisions and ideas about the gods. And I definitely agree with the second paragraph, and that at the end of the day, it’s better if people and gods are able to sit down and have respectful conversations about working on things, etc.

  8. cardsandfeather

    May 22, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Just to clarify: my above statement doesn’t mean I agree with not scrutinizing your gods’ and their desires/requests/whatever. I think it should…not only to win back any power from would-be authority figures (human or god) or to maintain our rights, but also to ensure that we ourselves are still behaving in logical, ethical ways. 😀

  9. Amber Drake

    May 26, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Reblogged this on Fire and Ink and commented:
    This is an interesting and important blog post, IMO.

  10. Silver Wolf

    May 27, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Reblogged this on Moon of the Wolf and commented:
    I feel like a lot of this sort of “They can do no wrong” “They are only doing it for our own good” is sort of lingering feelings from Christianity (which a good portion of us converted from, and a lot of the world is very influenced by) that God is all knowing and only wants what’s best for you.

  11. Lucius Svartwulf Helsen

    May 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Reblogged this on Son of Hel and commented:
    Being one of those who did write an article over this resurgent discussion, it is always interesting how our creations do spawn off from us.

    In Heathenism there isn’t much of a discussion in this area, nor really a change in the narrative, for a couple reasons. 1) Heathenism hasn’t always been the friendliest to “divine-devotee” relationships. It’s too…academic, I suppose is the right word, at least in the larger sense. “the religion of homework” doesn’t have much room for a religion of spirit work. But that’s a larger issue deserving of a post. 2) Norse Gods are different from Khemetic Gods. For the most part, they seem to behave differently towards those worshipers who do spirit work, and if they are Harsh, it is the harshness of Scandinavian Winters. Only hard people survive.

    I don’t know how much of the “narrative” is really “Victim shaming.” I know that’s not a real popular view these days. We tend to treat anyone who complains as justified in their complains, as if the victim is always in the right, because they are the victim of some “negative” action. I myself have experienced being Dicked Over (by Freya), and I can’t say that I was in the wrong. That being said, even as I felt I was in the right, so too did Freya. Arguments could be made about which of us was correct.

    It also isn’t true that the Gods have our best interests at heart. That’s a Christian idea, and a pretty wrong one at that as their God has proven time and again. The Gods have the best interests of the Pantheon and the People at heart, but like war being good for the State, sometimes the individual loses. So too is it with the Gods. Sometimes they will do something mean, or cruel, or bad to someone, because that something is needed for the good of the Gods or the Religion. The Gods govern domains, and they will abide by the rules and natures of those domains, but most of those domains are not kind, they are needed. Such is the nature of Life and Gods.


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