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.
April 22nd, 2019 at 3:13 pm
[…] 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… (Read more) […]
April 22nd, 2019 at 3:15 pm
Thanks again for letting me post my thoughts on Druid Life. I also reblogged this: https://aspasiasbissas.com/2019/04/22/guest-post-disrespecting-the-gods/
April 23rd, 2019 at 6:33 am
I very much enjoy your work, thank you for letting me share it.
April 23rd, 2019 at 1:36 pm
Thank you 🙂 I hope I’ll be able to keep contributing.
April 22nd, 2019 at 3:46 pm
When opinion becomes the substitute for education, this is the result. As you point out, the problem isn’t American Gods. It is the lack of disciplined knowledge. A person may have an opinion on a subject, such as the Gods, but as current events show us, making up our own version of history leads down a dark and dangerous road. As parents and as a society, we need to encourage the seeking of fact, upon which to base our fictions and to understand other’s.
April 23rd, 2019 at 1:50 pm
There’s a scary level of anti-education and anti-knowledge out in the world. You’re so right that parents need to teach children to seek out facts (and also how to simply think for themselves). And we as individuals also need to start taking responsibility. There’s no excuse in a world with so many resources for learning.
Those of us who are pagans or polytheists also need to pay attention to the messages the Gods give us. I mentioned American Gods specifically because Hephaistos let me know quite clearly that He did not like the “Vulcan” episode of the show!
April 23rd, 2019 at 3:13 pm
We agree entirely.
April 23rd, 2019 at 3:18 pm
Oh, and I was very unhappy with the “Vulcan” episode of American Gods. Very unhappy.
April 23rd, 2019 at 3:28 pm
I didn’t enjoy it, either (aside from what happened with Hephaistos) and neither did my SO. It stood out in that series for all the wrong reasons. Glad it wasn’t just us.
December 23rd, 2019 at 5:48 pm
I know I’m late to the party here but I just found this post. Very well written!
December 23rd, 2019 at 10:26 pm
Thank you–that means a lot! And never too late for a writer to get feedback 🙂