A guest post from Aspasía S. Bissas
I blame Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & the Olympians) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods).
All right, I don’t really blame them, but they and a host of other fiction writers and TV showrunners aren’t helping. By turning the Gods into mere characters, showing no real regard for the beings that inspired and populate their stories, they’re setting the stage for an atmosphere of disrespect.
There’s an emerging culture of scorn for the Gods. Not the usual scorn heaped on Them by various monotheists and atheists, but a new form, coming from people identifying themselves as pagans and polytheists, even adherents of the Gods they’re disrespecting. You can find them online, especially on Tumblr, where cursing a God out happens as casually as shipping a favourite couple.
Zeus is a common target for misplaced hate. “F*** Zeus” is tossed around both jokingly and angrily, in both cases usually in reference to His perceived promiscuity and adultery. Hades is another such targeted God, thanks to the myth of His abduction of Persephone (I won’t even start on His name being used synonymously with the Christian Hell).
There’s also a gentler form of disrespect evident, where those who feel connected to a particular God or Goddess decide that they can speak for Them. I’ve seen many a post presenting Aphrodite as a magical gal who sprinkles blessings like candy on all who believe. Although these posts claim to offer insight into the Goddess, they show little awareness of Hellenic forms of worship or the concept of kharis. Neither is there a sense that the writer is sharing personal gnosis; rather, the posts read like wishful thinking or fanfiction, where the Gods exist to befriend and take care of humans.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be close to the Gods, or even with questioning, doubting, or rejecting Them; but our interactions with the Gods should come from a place of knowledge and learning, not from reactionary ignorance. Aside from applying modern human standards and judgments to ancient stories and deities, what these instances of disrespect all seem to have in common is a lack of knowledge, as well as a lack of interest in delving deeper. The Greek myths are not canon, and they’re certainly not meant to be taken literally (the story of Persephone and Hades, for example, represents transformation, not actual abduction and imprisonment—a point many critics seem to miss). Furthermore, much of what has been written and translated about the Gods has come to us from non-pagan, often antagonistic, sources. They can’t be treated as reliable or definitive.
For those interested in the Gods of a particular path, there’s no getting around it—you need to study. Read contemporary sources and scholarly works (and pay attention to potential biases of writers and translators). Read books and articles by other pagans and polytheists. Read multiple versions of myths, and pay attention to symbolism and deeper meanings. Talk to other pagans and polytheists—if something about a particular deity or myth bothers you, ask others what they think. Do you want a relationship with a God or Goddess? Learn how to best approach them. Find out what you can do to forge a meaningful connection.
We don’t have to abandon our favourite authors, ignore what bothers us, or stop being fans of the Gods. But when the urge to disrespect them strikes, maybe we should question our own assumptions, rather than the Gods themselves.
Aspasía S. Bissas is a Hellenic polytheist and seeker of everyday magic. She’s the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding, and can be contacted via her website or Facebook page. She can also be found on Tumblr.