If you’ve been reading around various polytheist blogs lately, no doubt you’ve come across a particular debate over whether or not “superheroes” are the same as “heroes” in terms of traditional Graeco-Egyptian polytheistic religion. There are loads of different voices on this, and more coming every day. I would draw your attention to the following posts in relation to it, however:
Then, there’s various posts by Sannion, both at PaganSquare and in his own blog here, here, here, here, here, and here–and the last of those announces that the next Wyrd Ways Radio show with Galina Krasskova and Laura Patsouris will feature a discussion of this very issue, with which Sannion will also be involved. (I will not be available, alas, but I recommend calling in and/or listening for everyone who is interested and able!)
Further, and speaking of Galina, we have Galina Krasskova’s post on these matters, which is quite excellent, though I don’t entirely agree with a few points on an historical basis (on which more in a moment).
Another Patheos.com blogger, Sterling, with apparently no connection to the other posts linked to here or this wider discussion (at least that is stated in this blog entry itself), writes about “Writing Fiction as Spiritual Practice.” I cannot in any manner agree with or support the assertions she makes about “bardic” practice in this regard, or its nature in relation to “druidry,” which is its own huge topic and tangential at best to the present matter (though not entirely), but nonetheless, there it is.
And, last but certainly not least, Dver’s post, which is relatively short and to the point–a virtue that I will not be replicating in my discussion to follow…!?!
Before I move any further in this discussion, I want to make the following point very clear: all of the links I’ve given above are written by people that I like. Some of them I have met in person on several occasions, and I consider them co-religionists and colleagues in every respect, even though we do not agree on every single thing; some I have interacted with online for years, and have spoken with on the phone briefly; some I have only written comments back and forth with on blogs, and an occasional e-mail; some, I have only written a comment on a previous blog post once, that I can recall off the top of my head; and one, I’ve only read a few of their things before, and have not commented. They’re all nice people, and they’re all good people. Some of them are definitely my friends; the others have the potential to be friends in the future with further interactions and shared experiences. (It is those shared experiences that move a person from “acquaintance” or “associate” to “friend,” in my view.) It is very possible to have severe differences and disagreements with friends and still remain friends, in my opinion. The above links reflect a variety of opinions, which cannot coexist with one another, and thus what I write to follow will not necessarily agree with everyone on every single point, or on overall thrusts, either. I am not condemning anyone who does not disagree with me, nor am I even suggesting to them that further knowledge, discernment, or experience will help to better guide them to my own way, which would (by definition) be “doing it right”–that entire last clause there is nonsense, and was stated sarcastically, and I do not for a moment hold that the way I do things is by any means “right” in an unqualified and absolute fashion, nor is it “right” for anyone and everyone, nor is it necessarily even “right” in all situations for myself, at least as far as my current experiences are concerned.
[The above has taken more than two hours to write because of certain computer and connectivity issues I’m experiencing at present–so, in what follows, the links back to my own writings will be few, if any; my apologies for that. This is why the search window in the upper right of every page on this blog is a good and useful thing, and which is something I’d recommend that every WordPress (and other!) bloggers include for the convenience of their audience. Anyway…!]
To first discuss one thing that I think might be part of the motivating factor in this matter for some (but by no means all) people, including one listed above, I would like to reiterate something I commented in Sannion’s PaganSquare blog on this matter. I think the notion that reading superhero comics and watching superhero films as somehow equivalent to ancient hero cultus is an example of the “one stop shopping mentality” that I’ve written about before on Patheos.com (and here, I think). There is a sense among many pagans of all stripes that every aspect of life can be sacred, can be service to the gods, can be filled with holiness, and therefore it should be. There is nothing wrong with that at all, and I agree fully with that aspiration; but, it is mostly an aspiration and not a reality for most of us. The mistake comes when it is automatically assumed that because any aspect of life can be sacred, that therefore it already is just by sort of saying so in a blanket fashion, and realizing it is such in one’s own mind. In my experience, that doesn’t work, and hasn’t always worked.
To take just one example among many, I’ve talked quite a bit about Sterculinus here over the years, and how one particular epiphany about him seemed to be echoed in a very bodily reaction, i.e. diarrhea. Now, that doesn’t mean that every time I take a shit, I’m doing honor to Sterculinus; in fact, my failure to thank him on every occasion that I’ve taken a shit in the last five years is a major failure on my part, and one that I hope to be better about in the future. It would be easier to do this if I had a shrine to Sterculinus in my bathroom, but I don’t have that at present, and can’t make or maintain one (for various reasons); it is thus even harder to do this if one is using a public restroom, or a bathroom at someone else’s house; but, nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that every opportunity I have to thank Sterculinus when taking a shit should not be used in the best way possible in order to build one’s entire life into a holy and sacred life as a polytheist.
How does this “shit” and the superheroes question fit together, you might wonder? If the assumption goes “ancient Greeks had heroes; we have superheroes; therefore watching movies and reading comics is equivalent to hero-cultus for modern people,” then there’s a few things missing there, including (and most importantly) cultus (on which more in a moment). And here’s the major difference between these things: just because someone likes something, and can find a connection between it and spiritual practice or potential cultus, doesn’t mean there automatically is one. But, here’s the corollary that is often missed: it is possible to make such a cultic connection.
To take this in a slightly different direction, let’s say I like to knit. (I don’t.) I might see a relationship between knitting and weaving, and therefore I might consider knitting to be an activity that I could do in honor of Athena, since various myths connect her to weaving. What I make may not be for my home shrine to Athena, but even if it isn’t, that doesn’t mean that my practice of knitting cannot be a devotion to her. However, in order to make it a devotion to her, the very least thing that must be done is a prayer, and possibly even a libation or other sacrifice of some variety, before starting the activity and after finishing it, in order to properly dedicate one’s devotions to her. Just thinking “Athena likes weaving, and weaving is kind of like knitting, so I’ll knit for Athena!” in February of 2006 once, and then occasionally going “I’m doing this for Athena!” once every three months while knitting (and then knitting a bunch of other times meanwhile as one watches television, sits in the doctor’s office, or is in a coffee shop with the local Knitters Natter meet-up every two weeks) is not really a devotional activity for Athena. In order for something to be a devotional activity, it has to be made a devotional activity. I am saying this as someone who often fails to do such a dedication before or after (and during) an activity that could be considered devotional. With writing devotional poems, stories, and other things for various gods and heroes, that has never occurred; but, with going to the gym and other such things, it often has–which is to say, forgetting to make it properly devotional before and after and during. I’m working on that…
This is the problem of the “one-stop-shopping” mentality as far as superheroes goes: I suspect many people are just watching the films and reading the comics and, though they may have a stray thought here and there which links what they’re doing to cultus, they’ve not made it into a cultic activity properly speaking. And, worse still, they have used these activities that they enjoy to replace actual cultic activities, rather than having them supplement their practices. That’s where the one-stop-shopping mentality really starts to take its toll…
Don’t get me wrong meanwhile. I do enjoy watching films, including superhero films–I just saw Iron Man 3 last weekend, and quite liked it. I also enjoy reading comic books, though most of the ones I read are not superhero comics. I also enjoy reading fiction, though I don’t get to do it very often any longer. I also enjoy doing role-playing games, both tabletop and LARP, though I have done neither for more than five years at this point. I have also been to one or two SCA events, and I do enjoy getting dressed up, both in historical and quasi-historical outfits, or SteamPunk, or a variety of other things. Lots of things that require imagination and creativity appeal to me greatly, and to say that they have not been influenced by my religious practices and outlook in the last twenty-plus years (and I’ve been doing role-playing games since before I was officially pagan) would be to lie; but, my activities in these areas, for the most part, have not had an influence in the reverse direction–in other words, my religion has not changed by the fact that I began LARPing in the late 90s, or started doing SteamPunk in about 2007 or 2008. However, my LARPing, my RPG-playing, my SteamPunk, my fiction writing, and my choices of what things to read and watch have been influenced by my religious outlook. It doesn’t have to be a “one-way-only” process, but that has been the reality for me more often than not in the last twenty-plus years.
I do think there’s a horrible potential for error, though, when people begin to mistake these activities for spiritual practice, or to take the engagement of active and creative imagination in them for the same process which often goes into devotional or cultic activities. Both actively engage the imagination and creativity, as I’ve said repeatedly (and perhaps unhelpfully!) here; but, there is a difference, and it is the cultic factor mentioned above. I’ve cringed horribly when I meet younger pagans who think that paganism and the gods are role-playing games, and that they have “gifts” and “abilities” and “talents” and so forth with this or that, as if they themselves are characters in a role-playing game and that the gods are their “dungeon masters” who have allowed them to have those “gifts” and “abilities” and such. I had a long conversation with someone in Ireland once who played way too much World of Darkness/White Wolf tabletop and LARP, and thought that paganism worked the same way, and that the various gods have “levels” and “power” and so forth analogous to RPG stats from Deities and Demigods (or Legends and Lore, etc.). It saddens me that even at PantheaCon, there have been multiple years in which a workshop is offered for teenage pagans on “Dungeons & Dragons as an Introduction to Paganism.” I will happily and freely admit that some of the information, the illustrations, and even (when they were given) bibliographic references in D&D and other RPG books over the years ended up helping me find out information that was later useful to me in a cultic context, and even that some of my early notions of some deities were shaped by their portrayals in D&D and other RPGs. However, actual experience soon showed me how incomplete those pictures were, and how irrelevant they are when it comes to the reality of the gods.
And here, again, is the big difficulty–which, if one plays a cleric in D&D or something like it in another RPG, could be a legitimate in-road to understanding polytheism and engaging with the gods–in all of this, i.e. the lack of actual cultus. If one is playing a cleric, and says “I do a sacrifice to Zeus,” it may be taken as no more than that by a typical dungeon master; but in all the times I played D&D where clerics were involved, that rarely if ever happened. It would be a great opportunity for an evocative role-playing scene, certainly, but it would also be what Jack Chick and co. most fear about RPGs occurring at all. (Fuck Jack Chick, incidentally!)
As much as I like Christopher Knowles’ Our Gods Wear Spandex and Grant Morrison’s Supergods (which I wrote a review of here under my legal name!), I think there’s a common misperception that has come about as a result of those books. Both books discuss how comic book superheroes have been influenced by religion–and specifically, polytheistic religious figures (but not exclusively, e.g. some of the Jewish influences in certain comics)–but, they are not about how comic books and superheroes are a religion, despite their titles. And, the major lack that makes them not a religion as such is the lack of cultus. Does Superman answer prayers? Does Batman get epithets based on how he appears in people’s lives at critical times? Who has dedicated a temple for the Green Lantern? Fan walls in one’s bedroom, fan art, chatrooms, and even gigantic conventions like ComiCon all exist, but none of these things are “religious” in themselves, no matter how similar some of the phenomena in them are to certain religious activities on a sociological or anthropological level. No matter how “religiously” someone follows a particular superhero’s adventures, it’s not likely that they actually have made it a religion and a cultus properly with all of the devotions which accompany such.
And, as much as I like the work (both in comics and fiction and other sorts of writing) of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman, I wouldn’t argue that anything and everything they’ve written is “mythic” (and I’ll talk more on the distinctions between myth and fiction below). Some of it is magical, certainly; and some of it is just damn good fiction. But, unlike Moore, I don’t think that all writing is automatically magic (which is a sense that I get from some of his discussions of magic), or all fiction is. Writers have considerable power, but that doesn’t mean that all they do is magic or mythic or the work of the gods, including when they are dedicated to the gods. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read in the last decade; but, even where it approaches the mythic level in some spots, it’s not a “myth” by any stretch of the imagination, I don’t think. (I love it because it mentions Antinous; but, because it is in a work of fiction, and because people don’t understand the differences between myth and fiction, I suspect that many people never give Antinous a second thought as a person who actually lived but became a god/hero, as they should, and thus I don’t think it can qualify as a “modern myth” involving Antinous.)
Another thing that I think is getting in the way here is the issue of “belief.” There’s the notion that all gods and divine beings, in common with all fictional characters, are “thought-forms,” and thus are fed with belief, and which can therefore manifest in someone’s life as a result of sufficient “belief.” The bare reality is, more people know who Batman, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern are now in the early 21st century on a worldwide basis than have ever known who Antinous or Polydeukion are. So, if that is the case, and belief is all it takes, how come Superman doesn’t come when you call him in prayer? This kind of chaos magician notion that anything which is believed in can potentially be made into an agent of one’s magic is interesting, and possibly workable; but, it’s much different than a polytheistic cultus to a deity or a hero, because deities and heroes exist outside of anyone’s belief in them. (Certainly, a definite amount of people need to know that a certain deity or hero or other divine being exists in order for that being to have any recognizable power in the world; but that’s not by any definition the same as “belief in” such a hero or deity in the common understandings of the term “belief.”) I hate to have to take a page from Augustine of Hippo here, but I do recall that he stated at some point that he didn’t want his notion of god to be something that is the product of thought, because when thoughts go away (and they do!), then that means that his god likewise goes away; thus, thinking about gods and heroes as “thought-forms” sort of does exactly what Augustine was saying, and thus necessarily limits their potentials to do anything or impact the reality of their devotee’s lives. The same is true of the reality of all of our polytheistic deities: even if there is no one to hear them, see them, or sing their praises, they still exist. This is why many gods have yet to be discovered, and why so many that have been forgotten or whose worship has ceased still respond to our cultic activities today, because they are not limited by who is or isn’t thinking about them or believing in them at any given time.
Rebecca Buchanan had a short message to the Neos Alexandria list yesterday, in which she asked about who everyone’s favorite heroes were, and she specifically stated (I’m paraphrasing slightly here) “not historical heroes like Alexander the Great or Kleopatra, but fictional ones like Perseus.” I responded that the way she asked the question itself highlights one of the problems in this entire debate: namely, the assumption that the “fictional” and the “mythic” are the same thing. I would make the following broad distinction between the two: “fiction” is something that is neither factual nor True, whereas “myth” is never factual but always True. No matter how much someone likes the story, nor “believes” in it, Don Quixote never tilted at windmills, Natty Bumppo never had adventures with the last members of the Mohican tribe, and Tony Stark never made forty-two Iron Man suits. Sure, we can take lessons from these stories, and they can even go on to inspire our lives or shape them in some fashion or other, but they’re not True in the way that all actual myths are True. Achilleus never helped to attack Troy; Jason never voyaged with the Argonauts, and Perseus never cut off Medusa’s head…at least factually speaking; but, all of these things are mythic, and as a result there is a Truth to them that transcends their time and place of writing and telling, and why they are still relevant to us today, and can touch our lives and change them profoundly under the right circumstances. It’s why cultus to some of these figures occurred in the past, and is occurring again today.
[There’s the related issue of confusing “mythic truth” for “scientific fact,” which is a problem that religious fundamentalists, particularly amongst Christians and Muslims, have, and that prevents them from accepting certain scientific facts like evolution and global warming, etc. But, that’s another issue!]
I’ve written about a variety of films and television series here over the years (and will be doing so again soon!), and of the importance of re-telling various myths from the past–indeed, the latter is the mainstay of a great deal of my poetic practice. However, there is something that has been lost amongst some modern pagan writers and storytellers in this process that I think needs to be clarified. When one sets out to do a re-telling of a story, it is always a re-interpretation, even if the only thing that is changed is that one is translating the narrative from one language to another (every translation is also a re-interpretation, therefore!). But, if one is purporting to tell a story that already exists, one can put one’s own twist on it, flesh out some details or motivations that are not specified in the earlier telling, or even add additional incidents to it that happened before, during, and after the narrative that is commonly known; but, I don’t think that one should mischaracterize or reinterpret an existing narrative in such a way that it no longer reflects the ideals of the original culture or divine characters involved and still purport to be “re-telling” the story.
To use some examples from film and television in the last few years which have a common thread, I’ll cite Perseus in the newer Clash of the Titans, Theseus in Immortals, Hector in Troy, and Spartacus in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. No matter what other changes the screenwriters, directors, and actors made in these various pieces, the big change that all of them made was turning these characters into atheists. I’ve never heard nor read any justification cited by any of the individuals involved as to why this innovation was made–whether in deference to modern sensibilities, as a way to “lessen” Christian rhetoric against these “pagan” productions and the mythic realities in which they are steeped, or simply to make some sort of point in terms of the characters’ developments and their lack of direct divine experience when they make these statements (though I suspect this latter point is the least likely)–all of these characters are undermined or even invalidated, in many respects, as a result of being portrayed in this manner. As a result, these various film attempts to update and re-package these myths (or, in the case of Spartacus, mythicized histories) means they are no longer myths in themselves, they’re mythical fiction (rather than mythic fiction–that thing which can occur on some occasions where fiction rises to the level of myth for some reason or other).
Contra one of the points that Galina made in her post that I linked to above, heroes for whom we do cultus don’t have to have actually lived. Yes, many heroes that I worship actually did live: Antinous (who is often honored as a hero rather than a god, even though I usually approach him more as a god in my own practice), Polydeukion, and a number of others. As a major person who is involved in hero cultus of various kinds, thinking of heroes as particularly important and elevated ancestors is one way amongst many of considering how humans can become divine (to whatever degree) for those who have never felt comfortable with the fact that in animist and polytheist religious cultures, the difference between humans and divinities is often much more thin and a more permeable separation than many other religions have preferred to portray such distinctions. But, then we must ask: do we have evidence of an actual physical and historical existence for Achilleus, Eunostos of Tanagra, or Cú Chulainn? To my knowledge, no; even though we have hero-shrines for the first two of those in various places, and many places in the landscape in Ireland that are said to have been places in the life of that hero, to say that they actually existed and had lived human experiences upon the earth which we currently inhabit would be contrary to established fact, to a degree nearly as egregious as the faith placed in the veracity of Christian martyr tales. As polytheists, I think it is important that we admit these things when they do seem to be the case based upon the best possible knowledge and evidence that we have at present, lest we fall into some of the same errors of “factualizing myth” that Christians do. But, even if Achilleus, Eunostos, and Cú Chulainn never walked the earth as we do, the fact is that they do respond to cultus, that they do exist independently of anyone’s belief in them, and they do in every other respect fit the understanding of “hero” that we have inherited from the ancient world. They are not morally perfect exemplars of virtue in every respect (particularly Eunostos–he wasn’t “bad,” but he became a hero because his spirit was terrorizing the community where he was killed, and the Delphic Oracle suggested that he be appeased by being given hero cultus…while his situation was unfortunate, does that sound exemplary and virtuous to you?), but they are powerful and were recognized as such by their cultures, and have been likewise recognized as such by devotees today.
The word “fanfic” has come up rather a lot in this entire debate, and I even used it in the title of this post. I do think there is a fanfic-like element to a great deal of devotional writing, not only in modern paganism, but in Christianity as well–and I’m not talking about Left Behind and such, I’m talking about many of the Gnostic and/or apocryphal gospels, as well as some of the canonical ones. Just like in fanfic, there is the phenomenon of the “MarySue” character who represents the author or the originator of a given theological tradition, who then gets to have a much closer (and even sexual) relationship with Jesus as a result–look at The Gospel of Philip (in relation to Mary Magdalene), The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Mark (particularly with the inclusion of the Secret Gospel of Mark), and even The Gospel of John. As I said above in relation to knitting, RPGs, and other matters (including reading comic books and watching superhero films), and which I here include fanfic in relation to, there is no reason that these things can’t become devotional; but, they aren’t automatically just because they’re done by polytheists about polytheistic topics. Nor does fanfic automatically rise to the level of myth simply because it is done by a polytheist about a polytheistic divine being.
Some people have misunderstood my writings about the Tetrad Group in relation to this phenomenon. I have also written fiction about Antinous and some of the other deities, though; and, I see a big difference between them. The fiction I’ve written in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Thoth anthology and sci-fi anthology were “devotional fiction” in the sense that I wrote them in order to get more attention to Antinous and some other deities as a way of demonstrating my devotion to them; I did not intend for them to be used as instruments of devotion for those who read them. I explored intriguing and imaginative ideas in these pieces, which were “fictional” but not necessarily “mythic.” The fiction that I wrote in Etched Offerings on Antinous (and Hadrian and Polydeukion and Herodes Attikos and Julia Balbilla and Diva Sabina, etc.!) was also devotional, but I did intend for that piece to be “more than” just something that drew attention to Antinous; it was an active exploration of possibilities in order to understand all of the various ways that Antinous and those who were touched by him in life might have reacted to him under different circumstances, sometimes with wonderful results, sometimes with horrific results…one never knows how the contact with divine beings (whether it is the divinity within someone while alive, or the divinity they become after death) will impact a given individual, no matter how close or far away from the person they happened to be in life and after their death. That piece was a one-of-a-kind thing that I don’t think I could replicate under any circumstance; it was closer to “mythic” than “fictional,” but it may not succeed in that fashion for anyone other than myself (and if that’s the case, I’m perfectly okay with that!). Much of the narrative (and other) poetry that I write is devotional, and is likewise intended to be used as an instrument of devotion, either as actively-used prayers, hymns, or invocations, or as inspirational material or as something to contemplate and be entertained with during the course of a festival or ritual dedicated to a particular deity or hero. There are many other possibilities that could be explored in my own writings as far as examples of “mythic but not fictional” or “fictional but not devotional” or what-have-you are concerned, but I’ll leave those there for now…
But, the poetic pieces I’ve written for the original four member of the Tetrad Group, as well as for Paneros and Paneris, and then for Panprosdexia, were certainly devotional, but by no means were they fictional–they were mythic, and cannot be anything but in my mind (and, as I understand it, in the Tetrad Group’s minds either, and those of some of their other devotees as well!). This does not by any means indicate that those myths were “transmitted” to me–it took an active and devoted and difficult process of discovering their myths to write them, and not just sitting down and saying “I’m going to write this.” That’s the poetic process that I think gets misunderstood far too often where what is sometimes called “bardic tradition” occurs in the modern world; the fiction and storytelling brain is not necessarily on the mythic level at all times, and it takes a close relationship with the deities involved and an active and engaged devotional practice with them to be able to tap into the mythic rather than just the fictional where these things are concerned. I also think that many texts in modern pagan and polytheist practice that are claimed to be “channeled” directly from deities probably aren’t, because such claims then demand a respect and lack of questioning be given to the resulting piece, which (to be honest) isn’t necessarily due to it on an artistic or a practical craft level. A text that seems inspired or that comes as a singular download for a person is not necessarily “channeled.” The lack of a general understanding of sacred poetic practice, I think, is largely to blame for these mistaken attributions…but, perhaps that’s something else to discuss at another time (and I have discussed it elsewhere on this blog, too). There is a way in which this fact in relation to the Tetrad Group’s poems thus far places my versions of their stories in a position of authority that I’m not entirely comfortable with; but, at the same time, it’s not something that anyone can really challenge at this point because very little has been written about them by anyone else, and if anything has been written by others, it is because they’ve already encountered my work (at least for the most part). This gives it an importance that is likewise present for things like the Homeric Hymns, simply because of their antiquity and the fact that they give the first narrative versions of many important myths about the Greek gods–a “seniority,” if you will, which exists independent of whether or not they fully or properly reflect cultic reality, common beliefs, or even the “best versions” of a variety of myths. Having this position, and what some people have said (as well as the deities themselves) in terms of what this reflects about me and my role in relation to them (which, you’ll note, I’m not actually saying!), is not something I’m entirely comfortable with; but the fact that I’m at least broaching the subject here indicates I’m in a process of becoming more comfortable with it, for good or ill.
The amount of power, influence, and control I have in shaping their mythos, though, is not the same as a fanfic writer. I can’t just “make up” another member of the Tetrad Group on the whim of inclusion for some marginalized group. Every member of the Tetrad Group was not “made up,” they were discovered, in the same way that new species of animals, plants, insects, and other biological beings are discovered–one has to be in the right (metaphysical?) place at the right (metaphysical?) time, and if one’s perceptions are attuned in a particular fashion, these things are discernible. I’ve been lucky when it has occurred so far, and with Pancrates, Paneris, and Panprosdexia in particular, I was lucky enough to have had help from others as well when the moments of discovery occurred. But, I can’t “take requests from fans” and write someone new into their myth on a whim, nor can I just start making up further family members for them (even if they’re not a part of the Tetrad Group), though I don’t discount the possibility that those developments may occur with other people. I hope that when it does occur, it occurs in a manner that is consonant with what I’ve discussed above, rather than just the fictional imagination having a heyday with the possibilities involved…I don’t know, we shall see.
(I hope that what I’ve written above does not come off as these arguments often do, i.e. “I do XYZ and it’s legitimate, but everyone else does it wrong!” I don’t always get it right myself, and often I don’t even intend to get it right, as not everything I write is supposed to be devotional or a devotional instrument or the “something more” that the Tetrad Group’s writings have been. Because I see there are distinctions to be made, levels that are either exceeded or not met, and differences in manner and character and mood involved in each of these different activities, I can only assume the same is likely true for many other people; thus, I offer my experiences in this regard as a potential tool for discussion, evaluation, and further consideration and reflection for those who wish to use it.)
And, finally (or close to it!) for the moment, we come to an issue raised in Dver’s post linked to above, i.e. the matter of the difference between a given deity liking something, and someone thinking a given deity might like something. Yes, there is a difference, and I agree it is important to take into account; but, let not the lack of certainty on the first matter limit one’s possibilities in the second matter when coming up with something devotional to do for a deity. One can make innovations, but they should be done in a practical and experiential context, not just in theory in some internet post or discussion. If one has a connection with the deities in question, one can usually get some feedback on whether or not they liked what was done; one can always consult oracles or do divination if one is otherwise in doubt. Oftentimes, people don’t know that they’ll like something until they’re exposed to it, and I’ve had more than one occasion in which someone got me a gift that I didn’t ask for and never would have asked for that turned out to be quite wonderful and enjoyable; the same is true of deities, I think. So, letting lack of established tradition limit one is not a good thing; but likewise, don’t also automatically assume that “intention” is the most important thing, or that “it’s the thought that counts” where such things are concerned.
You may recall my post from Thursday, in which I suggested that Cee Lo Green was Bes for Besia (amongst other things!). That sort of thing is an instance of the point I discussed in the previous paragraph, in a kind of roundabout way, which often gets mistaken for the above in common pagan conversations, I think. Here’s the difference: I’m not actually suggesting, in some sort of syncretistic fashion, that Cee Lo Green is Bes (although wearing feathers and a breastplate, and being short of stature and of African descent, kind of suggests it to me!); but, I am stating that him in that outfit reminds me of Bes. It doesn’t mean that Bes endorses his love of that song, or of Cee Lo Green, or of that outfit he wore; but, it does turn my mind to Bes when I see that video, and thus when I hear that song, and when I see Cee Lo Green elsewhere. It doesn’t make any of these things sacred to Bes, and it doesn’t make my mind’s connecting of these things to Bes into a devotional activity, but it is a chance for me to think of the god and see if my actions can honor him and connect to him in a given moment in my life. (And, very often, I’ll fail at making the further connection for any number of reasons.) It is a mental exercise, which can certainly be fun, and can potentially be transformative and sacred, but it is, ultimately, a mind game more than anything. This is one of the reasons why my own pagan and polytheist practices contain very little meditation and visualization (guided or otherwise), because those types of activities are, by definition, “in the mind,” and thus may not have anything to do with the deities (understood as real, independent volitional beings) involved, any more than my thoughts about Cee Lo impact Cee Lo, or anyone else for that matter. Connecting one’s favorite films, fictional characters, activities, songs, or other things to different deities and heroes is a good thing, and is a further step in attempting to make one’s life be filled with sacredness and the presence of the gods; but, just making those connections and not doing anything about it cultus-wise is not sufficient, and shouldn’t be mistaken for actually doing holy things that benefit the gods and heroes.
I’ve met way too many pagans over the years, dedicated to any number of deities or heroes (or so they’ve said), who do nothing but think about them. There needs to be less thinking and more doing whenever possible with our gods in order for anything to be usefully done for them, for ourselves, or for the greater profile of our religion amongst ourselves as well as in society more widely.
In saying the latter, again, I recognize that I often fail in this very activity. I could have easily written the prayer–in Greek!–that I had hoped to write this evening during the time it has taken me to write this blog post (more than five hours at this point), and I realize that I and my gods and heroes are not the better for my having done so. That’s why I’m going to spend a few more minutes now writing at least a few more lines to the hymn I started earlier before going to bed, even though I have to get up early (in less than four hours) and I would benefit from some sleep. If half the time that has been spent writing about the topic of “Do Our Gods Really Wear Spandex?” had been spent with each of us actually doing devotional work for our deities and heroes during the last week, we’d all be better people for it, and our deities would be better off as well. But, it’s too late now…
So, when you go from here after reading this, make sure you do something for your gods and heroes! It is no replacement for actual devotional work to divine beings to have spent the time to read this, even if having read this helps you and is useful to you in your future devotional works!
And, may I reiterate one more time, I am not seeking to (by any means) ridicule anyone else’s approach to these matters if it differs from mine–I’m seeking to question and critique the approaches I’ve seen in some cases, but that’s a very different thing; and, most certainly, I’ve sought to make my own viewpoint known, to make some suggestions that may or may not be useful to others, and to see if I can add something that might be useful to the discussion, all in a spirit of camaraderie and concern for the common good of modern pagans and polytheists. Have I failed in doing so? If so, I’d appreciate hearing why you think so in a respectful manner. Have I succeeded? If so, I would appreciate hearing why you think so in a respectful manner.
This is all a bit more disjointed and stream-of-consciousness-esque than I would prefer it to be, but I had to just get this all out before too much more time went by…there is still a ton of other stuff that is far more important that I need to do in the immediate future, including sleep! So, I must get to those things. Thank you for reading all of this, those of you who stuck with it!