Tag Archives: deities

Disrespecting the Gods

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.

 


Of Gods and Stories

I have no idea how the universe works. Not a clue. Ok, some tenuous grasp of some of the physics, but when we get round to issues of deity and eternity, I make no claims to insight whatsoever. The whole thing confuses and unnerves me, and has done since I was about four and started trying to get my head round such things. I’ve made my peace with not knowing, and have settled into a place of maybeism. Maybe there are Gods. Maybe there aren’t. Maybe everything is part of the divine. Maybe there’s a grand plan. Maybe not. It’s a good way of not getting into fights with people over issues of belief, because, for all I know, they could be right.

From that position, the idea of working with Gods is tricky. I assume you need a very confident, hard-polytheist belief in the literal existence of Gods as autonomous and individual personalities in order to work with them. Maybe they are like that. Maybe the archetype people have it right…

The one thing I do believe in, is stories. Not least because so little actual belief is called for. Stories have power, and that is a power I know how to trust and invest in. Religions are, for the greater part, gatherings together of powerful stories that are meant to show us something. The measure of any story, be it religious, historical or fictional, is the effect it has. The greater Truths about living and dying, being human, being good, being effective… these are more important than whether or not a person actually existed, or whether people a few thousand years ago thought they were looking at a God or a fictional character.

We blur the lines between deity and fiction all the time. Ovid’s dream deities, might have existed as Gods, or maybe he made them up for that story. We’ve turned Thor and Loki into modern movie stars, and we aren’t sure what of the Welsh myths is ancient tales of deity, and what is mediaeval fiction. I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. If a story moves you, and inspires you, that’s far more relevant than whether some people a few thousand years ago thought it was true. If The Lord Of the Rings is your sacred, inspirational text that has done most to teach you how to live, why should that be less valid than taking up a really old story that might or might not have originally been religious? Why should it matter if the story is about real, historical events? Robin Hood is a powerful icon. So are Lady Macbeth and Captain Kirk, for some people.

Stories change people. They give us shapes in which we can reimagine ourselves. They give us ways of choosing and living we might not otherwise have thought of. They give us ideas, hope and possibility. No, I have no idea if Blodeuwedd was really a Celtic Goddess. What I do know is how that story touched, changed, maddened and inspired me. That’s where the power lies.

The truth is out there (X Files). In all kinds of places. In galaxies far, far away, in girls who are shot by religious extremists, and miraculously do not die, in modern heroes and ancient tales. Whether we believe in deities or not, we can see the very real effects their stories have. There is a lot of reason in honouring the power of stories. It is not where they come from that matters, but where those stories are taking us.