I still have several other posts that have been waiting around for months to be written…hopefully, they’ll be done before the end of September. However, I think the following (new one!) would be a useful one to do now, and to discuss a bit further, because there seems to be an awful lot of misunderstanding over some of these issues at present. (And, I suspect, a number of people who might even want to know some of this or hear/read about it aren’t going to read it because I’m saying it…oh well. I would never force someone to read something by me, and actually never have, so anyway…)
Something that Kenaz Filan recently said about polytheism is that it can be summed up in three phrases: “the Gods are real, the Gods are many, the Gods are here.” All of these are superlatively important for a polytheist understanding, I think, but the fuller implications of the last one are often lost on many people, including those who consider themselves polytheists and would never question the first two phrases as being essential to the polytheist viewpoint. Our Deities, for the most part, are not transcendent, even though They’re not entirely immanent either–however, as I also wrote recently, They are (at least practically) omnipresent, though Their attention must be caught through prayer and other things since They may not be paying attention to everything and everyone all at once.
The Deities, thus, are accessible quite easily (though not always simply!) under a variety of circumstances. If one is in a devoted relationship with a Deity, therefore, it behooves one to constantly check in with one’s Deities, especially on spiritual and religious matters, but perhaps on other things as well depending on what negotiations, vows, and agreements exist between one and one’s Deities.
Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission”? I’ve always found that to be a horrific statement, an entitled bit of nonsense, and something that can cover a great many sins (yes, I used the word “sins”!), up to and including rape and all sorts of violations of consent. Ultimately, what it emphasizes is that some people don’t want to entertain the possibility of hearing “no” in relation to a given action they want to undertake, and thus they’d prefer to feign ignorance that such might be objected to on someone else’s part, and then instead say “I’m sorry” (even if they’re not) and expect that all will be forgiven…because that’s just the “Good Christian Way,” innit? I’ve heard that statement many times from people in the Navy (the community where I live now, which is where I grew up, is a Navy town, and as a result almost everyone I meet on a daily basis, and almost all of my students, are connected with the Navy in some fashion or other), and while I can understand where it comes from in some cases where the over-bureaucratization of the military and other institutions might be concerned, at the same time, using that phrase as a proverbial statement that becomes a guide for one’s life is not at all positive.
Thus, where Deities are concerned, and especially if one is in an ongoing devotional relationship with those Deities, one can never ask enough if what one is doing is the right thing, and is what the Deities in question want us to be doing for Them. Some people whose opinions I respect greatly have said such things as “Deities don’t care what kind of underwear you wear,” in terms of how some areas of life are probably not of interest for Them; and while that may be true for some Deities, for others, where certain people are concerned, They might, and there’s no reason They can’t or won’t, nor shouldn’t…they are Deities, after all, right? (Thankfully, I’ve not had any hard-and-fast rules given to me by Deities about underwear…but who knows?)
Now, here’s something I have to tell you that I’ve learned the hard way…and by “the hard way,” I mean through repeated failures, which are becoming fewer and fewer only over the last four years or so. We are so used to operating in a religious paradigm (monotheism) in which the divine powers are utterly transcendent, and other than the specific laws they’ve left in revealed scriptures, and sometimes what gets extrapolated from those, or what becomes the preferred traditions of their various forms of religious practice, that we don’t think we can or should ask for specific divine guidance or answers about some of the most important issues in our lives–“What makes you so special that God should speak directly to you?” If that is not the paradigm many of us grew up with, then the other most common one goes like this: the universe is vast and expansive and beyond our full abilities to comprehend at present, and we are just tiny specks of life on a tiny rock in a tiny solar system on the outer edge of a very mediocre galaxy that is one of trillions in a universe that is even larger than all of that, possibly even nested in a multiversal situation…and there isn’t much meaning in any of it, and certainly no higher powers to give one any guidance–so, your three options are: 1) realize it’s all meaningless and just try to be nice and get along as best you can; 2) be an existentialist and try to make your own meaning, realizing it is completely arbitrary and not binding on anyone else, including yourself; 3) understand and accept (but only in a limited fashion with many caveats) a particular religion’s understandings of things, only if they don’t conflict with science, don’t claim to have ultimate universal “Truth,” and it is realized that they are also arbitrary and ultimately a shoddy bulwark against the true tide of meaninglessness that the actual universe consists in and in which it is utterly submerged. Pretty fuckin’ bleak, huh?
Not surprisngly, I find problems with both of these viewpoints, but we don’t need to get into why for the moment. However, what both views highlight is that one shouldn’t ask, either because it is rude and tries to circumvent one’s free will to learn of divine preference (which is why monotheists hate divination, astrology, etc.), or because there is nothing and no one to answer any questions, and so it’s either human institutions with their political hegemonic agendas, or insane voices in one’s own head doing the answering. Again, the “whys” there are not applicable to polytheism.
What I’m suggesting here is that, as polytheists, we need to ask, and ask more often.
[Now, if you’re of the “Many Gods, No Masters” viewpoint, or you don’t have devotional relationships with Deities that are close and that have requirements for behavior and prohibitions on various actions or associations that are consequent with them, that’s fine–this post is not for you…and, I’d add if you’re in the former category and have thoughts about objecting to any of these arguments that aren’t applicable to you, I’d point out that it isn’t your role to decide what people might want to do with their freedoms, and if you value freedom and sovereignty and consent as much as you say you do, then it might be best to respect those things where they are being exercised, especially if they aren’t impinging on your ability to do the same, which in the present case, and in many others as well, they’re not!]
At some point in our lives, I suspect we’ve all had the experience of someone giving us some gift or other that we really didn’t want, didn’t need, and could do nothing with–whether it’s the Beta videotapes of the ’80s when we had a VHS player, or My Little Pony when we would have preferred Strawberry Shortcake, or it’s a light blue rayon t-shirt when we’d never wear that color/fabric/style/cut/etc., or the gift certificate to the gourmet vegetarian restaurant when we’d rather have a slab of meat…you get the idea. “But it’s the thought that counts!” is the frequent refrain in these situations, and yet I’ve always said that if there was really thought involved, the person in question probably wouldn’t have given a person what they did! It doesn’t take very much inquiry into someone to figure out what sorts of foods they like, what kinds of media they are able to consume based on their available equipment, what sorts of books or clothes or toys they like (though, I’ve always stuck to the rule that “If you don’t live with someone 100% of the time, don’t know their size, and aren’t doing their laundry, DON’T BUY THEM CLOTHES!” since you can’t be assured, even then, that you’ll be getting things right…subtle differences in the cut of particular garments can make all the difference between something working well on someone and them liking it versus hating it), and if one can’t gather these bits of information by observing the person’s behavior, then one can always do that thing that people hate to do and ASK! It saves a great deal of difficulty, uncertainty, and potential resentment to just do that, rather than making guesses in the dark.
If that is true of humans, and Deities receive things from us in devotional contexts–particular offerings, rituals or festivals on certain dates, particular prayers, and other such acts and gifts–and likewise can be contacted in various ways in order to find out Their preferences, why shouldn’t we do that more often beforehand? I’ve been to many rituals, including those that are standard in some traditions, in which offerings are given, and then divination is done to see if they’ve been accepted by the Deities and other divine beings. What about determining if the offerings are appropriate beforehand, and then doing divination afterwards to see if anything additional is needed, rather than going “We’re throwing this feast for you, now eat…oh, but do you like this food?”
This does get to issues of consent, ultimately, and active, positive, and enthusiastic ongoing consent (an ideal of sex-positive consent culture activists that I think is a good way to live one’s life!) can be sought and received from Deities when anything and everything involved them is concerned. I have expressed concern in certain cases in the past where human consent might be overridden by some Deities or other divine beings, and I am still concerned when that occurs; but if the humans in the relationships involved accept that these things are the case–and not because they “have to” or simply because the Deities are bigger and more powerful than they are (because that wouldn’t be consent, it would be coercion); however, I’m also very biased in that stance, because the Deities I have dealt with all hold consent very highly, and are not in the habit of “forcing” people to do things. It is a requirement for all of my divine relationships that there be total respect for consent on all parties’ parts–and that has even been a requirement that has been observed and enforced by certain Deities with Whom I am in devotional relationships! But, the issue at stake here is not Deities overriding human consent, it’s humans ignoring that Deities’ consent needs to be obtained and confirmed and observed as well, even when someone assumes that a particular Deity will agree with their viewpoint, their action, or something else. Getting too complacent that one’s Deities are on one’s side no matter what is what leads to real difficulties in the world where religions are concerned, in my view.
For me, ever since I’ve been working with the Ephesia Grammata (since 2012, and with the Antinous-specific set I was instructed to create since 2014), I’ve been encouraged to use them more and more, but always and especially when any religious matter comes up. Going to do a presentation at a conference? First, ask if the Deities want me to go, and want me to propose the specific sessions I am going to (and then also get guidance on content, etc.!). Something unusual comes up, and perhaps a ritual is necessary? Ask the Deities involved first. A beautiful image of a Deity goes on sale and I have enough money to buy it? Lovely, but the Deity in question might not want me to have it now, so I’d better ask and find out for sure. Research turns up a new syncretism, a new direction to take something, a new Deity that was not known to me previously but has existed for a while, or something else that seems really appealing and important? Doesn’t matter, divination should still be done to make sure everything is kosher (so to speak!) with the Deities I’m already serving. For me, this is how I try and do all of my religious activities these days (and I sometimes fail, but less and less these days), and this “checking in via divination” matter is most especially the case with the Tetrad++, who are Deities that the world-at-large (and myself as well!) are still getting to know and thus patterns in Their preferences are not as well-known or well-defined as is the case for other Deities who have been known for longer. But, it is also extremely true and important where Antinous is concerned for me. At present, I’m working to become more in-tune with Antinous the Navigator, one of Whose main keywords is that He “guides.” How does He guide? Sometimes subtly, but not always; however, He is always willing to answer questions, especially via the means I’ve been given to converse with Him via divination, i.e. the specially-constructed and consecrated set of Ephesia Grammata that I made in ’14 for Him.
[This is why, as part of my daily devotional assemblage that I carry with me whenever I leave the house, I have two Ephesia Grammata sets, so I can ask any Deity or divine being anything that may come up, and I have absolutely no excuse not to! That, and the Ephesia Grammata are also fantastic for protection purposes.]
To give an example: yes, we know that Antinous has a pretty big interest in queer matters; and, I’ve been honoring various queer people who have been killed because of their queerness for many years now in the tradition of recognizing and remembering various Sancta/e/i. Then, in June of this year, the Pulse massacre happened in Orlando. I don’t think it would have been a problem for me to sign a petition, or to attend a candlelight vigil, or to donate to a relief effort for the families, or to sign a book of condolences, or anything else like that in relation to that event without first asking Antinous if it was okay to do so…and I wasn’t able to do as many of those things as I’d have preferred given my own issues with finances, transportation, and location. But, could I do something else? Could I host my own vigil event? Yes, by all means…but, did Antinous want me to do so, since honoring the queer dead is a major part of His cultus for me? Well, there was only one way to find out: divination. And, as you can probably guess, since the event did happen, He said yes. Sure, it was something that seemed to fit with what I know of Antinous in His modern cultic interactions, but I had to be sure that it was not only what He wanted me to do, but then as a result that I was doing it for the correct reasons, i.e. because He wanted me to do it, not because I wanted to and could use it as some occasion to score political points with the wider community for the value of my religion, to look good in others’ eyes, to brag or self-aggrandize as something that fits with the general picture of Antinoan devotion and that looks good on paper, even if it might not have been what He wanted me to do in that situation, and so forth. Even if all of the latter might be possible in a given situation (and even not forbidden!), the underlying reason that anything with Antinous’ name on it should be done is for devotional reasons, and those reasons really should be in-line with what He actually wants and expressed as being desirable or necessary…and there is no excuse not to ask, either.
This is the part that I’m most confused about in terms of recent events: if I am told by my Deities (as I’ve heard others say on several occasions, and as I’ve said myself) that X, Y, or Z political action, civil rights demonstration, justice advocacy cause, or other such thing is something that I should do, and thus I’m divinely sanctioned in doing so, then that gets some respect and recognition (though only if it fits issues on one side of the political spectrum…a side I happen to agree with and support, but nonetheless, let’s take note of the fact that this is how it occurs, and those who have used race in particular [but also other issues, e.g. trans acceptance, etc.] as a religiously-divisive issue have usually done so outside of direct contact with or consultation from Deities, at least as far as I’ve been told…they instead rely on “lore” and “cultural custom” and “folk practice” and so on, as if the will of Deities is encased in amber from centuries past), and people generally don’t comment much on it…to the point that many people don’t say they have or sought such divine sanction any longer, and (I suspect) likely don’t inquire with their Deities whether or not this is something they should be doing, or should continue to do, etc. Their reasons for not doing so may be complex, but if they’re writing about or discussing these things in religious contexts, and especially in polytheist contexts, then my big question is “why?” YET, if I am told by my Deities that I should do a particular religious thing, say making some particular religious statement, being involved with or not being involved with some event, or what-have-you, then no, that’s automatically me just being petty, having personal problems, going crazy, or trying to tell everyone what to do, even when the latter is explicitly not the case and I have made it clear that such is my understanding. It seems that it’s fine to say “the Gods made me do it” where political issues are concerned, but it appears to be viewed as gauche to say “the Deities have asked me to do this” where religious matters are concerned…which seems quite bass-ackwards to me. Shouldn’t the realm in which the Deities’ direct opinions, wishes, and views be taken into the utmost account and with the greatest seriousness be in specifically religious matters? I would have thought so…!
[I do understand, entirely, that we don’t have very good models for some religious positions being what they are within hegemonic monotheist religions. The assertion that “this is what God wants!” has been used to justify everything from slavery to the oppression of women to death sentences for queer people to “reparative therapy” that amounts to torture to the legal-and-approved-of slaying of apostates and those of other religions, and much else. As most of those sorts of religions don’t have direct relationships with their Deities because their Deities are transcendent, I do question the validity of those positions on grounds greater than the inherent injustice of such positions. But, is there a difference where certain polytheist positions are concerned? I have yet to read any modern polytheist who has advocated for genocide, for slavery, or for any of the other atrocities mentioned above. Even if some polytheists might suggest that everyone follow what they advise–which most don’t, and I certainly haven’t–the polytheists concerned have no ability to enforce any of this in any realistic fashion, nor to force others to do or think as they do. Thus, no matter how strongly their opinions on certain matters are expressed, one is free to ignore them if one wishes to do so. That person might not let you into their ritual, or invite you in to see their shrine, but beyond that, what harm is it causing you for them to express such an opinion? And, if you automatically assume that what they’ve expressed is a result of something petty, political, and personal, and isn’t a result of them manifesting their devotion and carrying out their devotional commitments to their Deities, then I think two things: 1) your reading of them is misplaced, and has no trust that their opinion, perhaps contrary to your own, might be what their Deities–even if you share some of them–want them to do in this situation, which is a diverse and pluralistic reality that should be appreciated and celebrated rather than condemned and excoriated, particularly if you’re one who says that you value such diversity and pluralism; 2) I wonder if you know that good old feminist phrase, “the personal is political,” which is stated as something that is supposed to be A GOOD THING, and if likewise “religion is always political”–abut which I don’t necessarily agree, but let’s assume for the moment that such is the case–then shouldn’t someone’s religious viewpoints take into account the personal and political dimensions of their lives? You can’t dismiss the personal or the political or (and in) the religious only when it disagrees with what you happen to feel on a particular issue without being a hypocrite, and hypocrisy tends to get called out pretty vehemently by certain people in those same crowds and with those same positions, so that’s something to really take note of in yourselves when it does occur, I think.]
And, news flash, folks: Antinous does say “no” on some things. (He is a Deity, with individuality, personhood, volition, and agency, which means He can choose things, and doesn’t have to say “yes” to everything, up to and including everything we might wish Him to say “yes” on!) This is all the more important and significant when it does happen, dear friends, because in the Ephesia Grammata system, of the seven possible outcomes, only one is a strong “No,” another is a “that’s very difficult” (which I take as “inadvisable, but not impossible if you’re willing to take the risks and are ready for the trouble and its potential results,” which I have tended to respond to with “Then no, I’ll avoid it for now”!), another is “sort of/maybe,” and a fourth is “later.” (The other, remaining three are different sorts of “yes”!) When the absolute “no” response does come up, thus, it is really significant, and really (from a scientific viewpoint!) statistically unlikely, so all the more important to take seriously. Explanations are not always forthcoming, but I assume–or, have faith, if you like–that in these matters, Antinous does know best, not only for what He wants Himself, but also what He would like me to do and what He’d prefer I be in position to do for Him as a result of whatever it is that is being asked. I’ve asked Him about a number of things–on several different occasions, in some cases–on if I am allowed to do a certain thing or take a certain action, and I’ve been told “No” every time on some of them (one in particular i’m thinking of!). It is something I’d love to do, which involves creating a devotional piece of writing that it would please me to no end to be able to write, which is why I keep asking (after a respectful amount of time has passed since last asking, and some other signs emerge that suggest it may be appropriate to ask again)–and though it would bring me joy to do it, the answer I keep getting from Antinous is “No,” and not “not now/later,” nor “it’ll be difficult,” or even “maybe, maybe not,” it’s the out-and-out “No.” End of story. If my devotional service to Him is to mean anything, then I have to take that “No” seriously and honor it, and depending on a variety of things, I may not ever ask again, and may simply abandon the idea altogether since it seems to be something that He doesn’t want (no pink bunny pajamas and slippers for Him!), though I have also not been given any signs that I should absolutely never ask again, as I have on some other matters on which I’ve repeatedly asked…!?! So, the trial-and-error here that is part of learning the hard way involves a lot of error, which is hard–often my skull is too hard, but I learn eventually…usually. 😉
When using a mechanical form of divination like the Ephesia Grammata, one of the great advantages is that it is not very open to interpretation–yes, systems of divination involving sortilege always seems to have a bit of that, but since the fundamental answers can’t be changed here (“Yes” is always “yes,” and “no” is always “no”–there’s no “Well, it’s the Death card, but it might just mean a new beginning!” since it is always an answer in response to a specific question), and thus is pretty immune to being influenced negatively by what one’s emotional state happens to be when asking a question. The question is asked, the answer comes, and it’s that simple.
When using a binary system of divination like the Ephesia Grammata, though, the real art is in the asking of the question, and the specific wording of it, which it sometimes takes me a while to get the hang of. I might start to ask the question one way, and then stop myself, and re-ask the question with a better wording to make sure I’m inquiring about the most appropriate thing. Look at the difference that I found I was making by accident when asking Antinous certain questions with His set of Ephesia Grammata: “Should I buy this book?” or “Does Antinous want me to buy this book?” Sometimes, I’ve asked both questions–whether on purpose or on accident after realizing the first question is not the right one to be asking–and the difference in answers is very telling (and sometimes it isn’t, because the answers are the same!). If I were to ask the above, and let’s say the answer to the first was “no,” but the answer to the second was “Fuck yeah!” Then, it might be because I’m in financial difficulties at that moment, and by all accounts I should probably not be spending the money involved; however, because it will be important for something Antinous wants me to do, He’d prefer that I do buy it right then, despite the difficulties. So, you can guess what my response and resulting actions would be (bibliophile that I am!). What about the same two questions with the answers “Yes” and “No,” instead–what then? Perhaps it’s a book I’d like for my library, which is part of some set or series, and thus I should get it at some point, but Antinous has no interest in me buying it at that particular time…and why this is might be for any number of reasons: it would be a distraction to some other piece of work I need to be doing for Him, or it’s something He doesn’t really feel strongly about and thus doesn’t “want” me to do it in the sense of it being a priority for Him in His overall plan for me, or it could mean He actually doesn’t want me to buy it because of some further reason that isn’t apparent to me then. I might ask further questions after this to clarify why something is the case, but it would be to figure out what I’m missing, not to try and get around the answer given or to attempt to reverse it. (I’ve learned that the hard way, too, when I try to ask the same question again after a few others to clarify the situation, and I still get the same “No” answer later!) Much depends, then, on how the question is asked, and if I say “Does Antinous want me to ___” as opposed to “Does Antinous not want me to ___” and the answers are what they are, then they have to be dealt with. (And on the latter, it’s kind of ambiguous…does “No” mean He doesn’t want me to do something, or that He doesn’t “not want” me to? So, I’ve found if I’m asking a question of that sort, it’s better to say “Does Antinous forbid me to ___” and then it’s either “Yes,” He forbids me, or “No,” He does not forbid me.)
Even with rather straight-forward answers, though, discernment must still be exercised. Is it rude to further question why some particular answer has come about–does one really need to know what is being asked? If an answer is what one had hoped for, do we need to beware of feeling that we cannot do wrong as a result of the “divine sanction” we’ve received to do a particular activity? (This is another thing I know all too well–there is no guarantee what occurs will be easy or will be liked!) If an answer disappoints us, rather than going “divination shopping” (which is totally immoral and unethical, not to mention disrespectful, except outside of a situation in which one is asking for divinations from several different oracles/diviners/etc. all-at-once to see what emerges, which is different than getting one answer from one, not liking it, and then seeking a second opinion in the hopes that it will be different and more in-line with what one had hoped in the first place), what might that disappointment or even hurt have to teach us under the circumstances? And, no matter what, whatever we do with the divination results afterwards is ultimately our responsibility–whether we comply with them, or decide purposefully to transgress them, the responsibilities for doing so are our own. We cannot say “we’re just following orders,” so to speak, but if our devotional relationships are important to us, and we do act in accordance with the information we’ve been given, then those are preserved, and whatever the other consequences might be, or what justifications or explanations others might be seeking from one in a given situation, the latter are inconsequential as long as one has fulfilled one’s own devotional obligations.
I’ve said much more than I expected to on this topic thus far, but I’ll say one further thing before I close. Deities all know that we humans have an expiration date, and thus our time is limited in terms of what we can and can’t do, and what our time might be better spent on under particular circumstances, like devoted spiritual relationships with Them. When we are acting in a capacity as a lineage holder, as a group leader, a tradition founder, or in some other manner in which we are also responsible for others who are engaged in devotional relationships with particular Deities, there are further circumstances of obligation to take into our considerations. Deities invest time and energy into developing relationships with individuals, and with particular groups as well, and as a result They have a vested interest in seeing those groups survive and thrive. If the purposes of those groups is to serve the Deities in question in a devoted fashion, and for some reason it no longer becomes possible for that to occur in Their view and in Their preferences, then groups might have to be disbanded, lineages be erased or revised or in other ways altered, and sometimes particular devotees might have to leave or no longer associate with the groups or traditions in question for whatever reasons that the Deities might have in the case of the different individuals involved. It can be painful and upsetting and even entirely off-putting for things like this to occur, especially after a great deal of hard work and effort has gone into some particular matter…but, if it happens, a Deity’s wishes on some matter are revealed, it’s not something we particularly like, and we consider the devotional relationship important enough to take Their wishes seriously and go ahead with what has been suggested, then no one can say we have not done what we should have in light of the wishes of our Deities as they have been expressed to us (unless they have selfish reasons for saying so–and if these aren’t in line with the wishes of the Deities involved, which they might also be devoted to, then there’s a bit question there that is probably uncomfortable for them to be asking themselves and their Deities, and one they’re probably not asking, either).
If you want to go down the road of questioning the validity of other people’s religious experiences, that’s fine, but it begins to sound an awful lot like a certain thing that took place that also involved questions on the Iberian peninsula several centuries back by men in funny red hats…