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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?