Living with the Gods

I have been enjoying Galina’s posts about Diaspora of polytheistic religions and the impact of the gods on social and civic lives of their indigenous cultures. I find myself agreeing with it, not because it assumes that there should be a sort of reconstruction of a bygone past, which I think is a pretty huge misinterpretation as Galina has often written opposed to concepts of rigid Reconstructionism. Rather what I have been taking away from her well thought out posts is that culture is highly influenced by religious spirituality. When she writes about a rejection (not wholesale rejection but critical examination before determining what is accepted and what is rejected) what I read is that there must be a recognition that the societies in which we live today are products of hundreds of years of Christian domination, even the Enlightenment rose from this environment (which had many benefits, but also consequences such as the beginning of a division of people from a fully ingrained spiritual life and interaction with the world at large). The way which our culture is shaped and how we view things  therefore is firmly rooted from this environment, and in our attempt to keep our social and civic lives separate from our religious lives means that we are rejecting important features of the worship of our gods and how we interact with the gods and the presence of gods and spirits in the world around us (which she pointed as a disenchanting of ourselves rather than the disenchantment of the world that many pagans talk about and the need to “re-enchant” it). Part of this means that there needs to be a readjustment of our selves to our spiritual world and the values espoused by the gods in the cultures that they rose within. These are important part of the nature and cults of the gods and cannot be perfectly separated from them.

Among Hellenic polytheists there is, for instance, a very important role for xenia. Now this can be argued to be a social rather than religious concept if one where trying to separate it out…yet to separate xenia from the religious life means separating and ignoring a very important manifestation and cult of Zeus who himself is the keeper of xenia. By observing the laws of xenia is an important part of heeding what is considered correct social behavior enforced by the gods and as part of the dominion of Zeus (the betrayal of which is widely noted in the Iliad). If the gods were ever separable from the culture context of the lives of the people it is not apparent by any stretch given that the gods themselves have various positions in regards to the control of social behavior, the structure of the government, and formation of laws. That Themis and Gaia are both attributed as creator of laws, that Zeus and Apollon are gods of the city counsel (and Apollon is noted for civic reforms such as we find in the Oresteia, social contracts such as we find him as a protector of marriage, and his position as an oracular god in which he was addressed for any and all actions of the state…not to mention overall correct social behavior in which we see in the Delphic Maxims), meanwhile both Artemis and Athena have been addressed as being benevolent in advising politics. Likewise the Eumenides in Athens were given offerings yearly for the benevolence towards the polis as a whole. These are just a few examples of just how deeply embedded the gods were in the various Hellenic states on a social and civic levels.

That said, where the critical thinking comes in is that not *everything* was sanctioned by a god. People who talk about women’s rights and slavery and what not, as far as I have seen there is not a single deity that protected these social institutions wholesale.  In fact you have deities that endorse the exact opposite, a liberation from these constructs. Therefore women could have certain freedoms under the service of particular deities. and slaves were freed under the authority of deities such as Apollon and Dionysos. As such there is nothing that suggest a necessity of living in a static social and civic system, but holding in common an important factor, that the gods are responsible and honored in such transformations. In the Oresteia for instance we find in the change of the justice system an honoring of Athena and Apollon in particular, and the Erinyes becoming the much honored Eumenides for accepting the transformation. This means that as modern polytheists it is important to recognize the role of the gods in these matters, and to give appropriate sacrifice and due when we are acknowledging social and civic changes. In this way it is a certain mindfulness, which is what I take away from Galina’s discussion on dealing with modernity that rejects divine influence on civic and social matters….but rather to take out and critically examine everything under the affluence of the gods in their civic and social domains and determine how our social and civic lives on an individual level are going to proceed from the auspices of the gods with all necessary sacrifices and adoration. It is a part of making the gods once again a part of of our every day lives and affairs in a meaningful way that fully embraces the scope of these deities and their impact on our lives rather than being relevant in only limited personal ways. It is a way of realigning ourselves with the gods to recognize their overall presence throughout the world and their actions in everything.

This is quite a beneficial for me as a polytheist because it determines a lot about how I raised my children and with what values that they have which is instructed by their relationship of the child and the oikos as a whole with the gods, and how we make decisions in our daily lives, as well as how we make decisions on a larger scale when it comes to the environment, our home cities, and our political involvement (I have stated before that voting is something given and protected by the gods and as such a gift is one that we should all be utilizing as part of our civic responsibility given to us by the gods).  It becomes a matter of living with the gods and living lives that honor them. It is not a matter of whether or not is a devotional relationship with a given deity or deities, this is not about devotional polytheism….rather it is a simple matter of recognizing the gods in all we do and experience rather than compartmentalizing them as separate from all but certain parts of our lives. It is an awareness of certain responsibilities that we have by making the decision to give worship to the gods, as well as being able to fully recognize and value the gifts that they give us.

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12 thoughts on “Living with the Gods

  1. I haven’t been following this series of hers; it sounds thought provoking. Thanks for the heads up, and for this post which is also thought provoking!

    • Typing on phone and doing it poorly. Sorry.

      I’m having more and more appreciation for how our being social animals influences how we are/how we believe, and how important acknowledging that can be. I’m always going to be doubtful how much our understanding of the gods can be divorced from our biases/goals/cultures. I won’t say that they don’t or can’t espouse particular ideals or traits that we should ermulate, but I know I don’t trust us as a species or as a collection of cultures to ever be comfortable in a situation where we try to speak for the gods for others.

      So, my experience with Poseidon tells me conservation is a thing that matters to him, and healing, and getting the fuck over ourselves as being the super bed rest animals ever – and I’ll talk about that , but I’ve got no interes in speaking for him

      Which I think is a reaction to institutions that would make our connection to the divine be routed through other humans.

      Gah. I had a point. I’ve lost it. I think it was, every time conversation veers into ‘the gods want x’ I get, at best, suspicious.

  2. I also would really prefer all religion out of civic spaces. I don’t want equal prayer time at the start of town meetings; I want no prayers. But that goes back to not trusting people. If I could trust that equal and fair representation could happen, it’d be different. Religious decisions in government? No thank you,not even if it’s polytheism.

    • Technically I would prefer religion to remain out of civic space on an official level. When I speak of civics, given that we are a mixed religious society, I am speaking more of the individual civic life as a polytheist rather than any officially recognized relationship. On an official government-wide level I support separation of church and state which serves to protect minority religions. But it is a different matter when it comes to how we make our own civic decisions and how we relate to our governments.

      • Yeah, I realize I worded my thoughts poorly. I still prefer religion to be kept out if the group is religiously diverse — though that’s largely because I don’t trust people in a group setting to be civil when facing interfaith stuff — and that, largely because we aren’t taught to be, because it’s more important to be correct than civil. Which goes right back to the problems created when religiosity is forced into a false either-or dichotomy, which I believe is a legacy of monotheism.

      • I just don’t think it is that clear cut because our spirituality tends to inform most decisions we make and our relationship with the world whether we recognize it or not….it is still going to make an impact on our choices that we make and how we relate to these things, especially when it comes to laws and regulations that may adversely affect one’s spiritual practices.. I just choose to recognize and honor the role that the gods play in these things lol. But I get your concerns too and share them in situations where anyone would try to use law to enforce their religiousity on the masses….which for me is a separate although important issue!

      • Oh, no! I don’t think we should remove their influence from our lives on an individual level. The secular/religious split isn’t holistic as far as I’m concerned, and my life as a Poseidon devotee influences *every* part of my life, including my decisions and my priorities.

        I’m speaking of group-based actions or decisions, and i suppose mixed civic groups. So, as an example: I don’t really want to involve my gods (or other people’s gods) while setting up a neighborhood watch or something, even though I would include them privately, and even though my ideas of community is guided by my relationship with the gods.

        I don’t think religion should be kept out of sight. I just don’t know that is see its place in general, civic affairs. Unless they’re all inclusive, and i doubt they would be.

      • Ah yes I see what you are saying, and you are right it doesn’t really work beyond an individual level unless you are involved with a cohesive group. Individual level works to satisfy your obligations to the gods as an individual polytheist, just as what others do works with their relationship with their deity (or deities). It is just all part of it for a person participating in a religious spiritual life….but something that doesn’t work well in mixed public groups with few exceptions. So I agree with what you are saying here.

      • Clarity achieved! Sorry. Will try to remember to not post when on pain meds. (But I’m sssoooo booored) thanks for bearing with me.

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