Gods, feudalism and power over

It isn’t an accident that so much traditional spiritual language has a feudal tone to it. Lord and Lady are terms of nobility. Christianity is full of the language of kings, sovereignty and power over. Pagans use ‘Queen’ as a term for Goddess. For a good chunk of European history those who had taken power and wealth by force of arms were keen to create the impression of divine sanction for it. The King in his castle, sucking up the bounty, is God’s representative on Earth. God the Uber-King looks down on all from Heaven – a very literal expression of being over the top of the rest of us.

The stories modern Pagans turn to were recorded, for the greater part, by people who were part of that power-over arrangement. God the Uber-King in league with the physical monarch bestowed a lot of power on the church, giving the church every reason to support the logic of the system. Plus, in a less cynical way, we tend to make sense of things through the filters of our own experience. There are reasons to think that some mythology may have grown out of the deeds of actual people, actual Kings, Queens and rulers. It may be that much of Paganism itself is rooted in monarchic cultures.

The language of democracy doesn’t really work for religion. Any notion of elected to power seems a bit odd when talking about beings who have more power than us. Chairman of the Gods is funny, but lacks a certain swing. Perhaps this is in part because one of the key things we want from Gods, is that they be bigger and more powerful than us and therefore able to protect us from terrible things. Powerful enough to protect you from other things – ie other Kings, has always been part of the marketing for feudalism.

There are other languages out there although I can’t claim deep familiarity with them. From what I’ve read, a lot of indigenous people use the language of family to talk about the spirit powers they encounter. Grandfathers and grandmothers. Brothers and sisters. If you aren’t operating in a patriarchal/feudal structure to begin with, God the father has a very different feel to it.

The language of monarchy and feudalism tends to give humans a sense of power over the non-human world, which is doing us and the world no good at all. Perhaps it is time to start questioning our word choices and habits of thinking. I don’t have any suggestions for word replacements at the moment, except to acknowledge that I find the language of monarchy and feudalism really uncomfortable and I wish we didn’t use it.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Gods, feudalism and power over

  • Leeby Geeby

    Some very astute points you made there. People rarely if ever question the power differences implicit in a lot of language. And I think it’s important to consider such things.

  • contemplativeinquiry

    I’ve read a Quaker book that talked about the Republic of Heaven.

  • Linda Davis

    ‘lady’ of course, need not be used as a formal title, but as the female equivalent of ‘gentleman’ and both can be found in all walks of life, being descriptions of their character rather than position or power. But there’s a strong instinct to use capital letter titles when dealing with powerful deities! Cultural conditioning maybe? In the earliest sources, are they just referred to by their names I wonder?

  • allthesethings2017

    Interesting perspective considering Paganism and ancient religion was centred solely on symbolism and verbal story telling.

  • Ryan

    One of the joys of working in an animist framework: I’ve never used “Lord”, “Lady” and the like (well, not since my old Catholic days anyway). I’m happy to call on the spirits of the Land, the Sea and the Sky and leave it at that. I approach them as equals, as a part of the universe calling out to other parts of the universe. No feudalism or hierarchy in that. If you’re working with named deities, why not just call them by their names?

    But I do like the idea of a Chairman of the gods! 😉

  • lornasmithers

    My patron god’s referred to as King of Annwn and King of the Faeries but I think what he is to these worlds lies beyond kingship – he oversees transitions between the worlds, opens and closes doors, and in some sense is the otherworld – one of its names is Gwynfa, ‘paradise’, this seems to me like the Greek god of the underworld is Hades and so is realm, likewise with Hel… yes we need ways of thinking outside of those concepts in relation to the ‘sovereignty’ of the gods…

    • Nimue Brown

      I wonder how much of it is about translation – because concepts often have to be translated between cultures that don’t have the words to express them, and the idea of being in control of something so easily translates into feudal language.

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