One day I’ll learn not to ignore omens simply because they don’t make sense in the context of what I believe to be the case. Hasn’t happened yet, though. But now I’m wondering how many other times I’ve done that, because I didn’t make a conscious decision to ignore it, I just assumed I’d misinterpreted or misunderstood it. Either that, or that my discernment was wonky and it wasn’t really an omen after all.
And now, months later, it’s brought home to me that it actually was Cernunnos trying to tell me something. It would have saved me a lot of wasted energy to have simply accepted it to begin with.
I suppose this is part of the polytheism learning curve, though. We don’t usually start off knowing how to do polytheism because in Western culture it doesn’t really exist. We might be peripherally aware of Hinduism but tend not to know how it works. We might learn about Greek or Roman gods at school, but we don’t learn about the religious outlook of their ancient worshippers and we certainly don’t learn that people still worship them today. So we do our best with the information that is available to us.
I think about modern polytheist revivals/reconstructions in relation to Hinduism quite often – not because I believe they’re the same, but because I know that they aren’t. Hindus have deep and developed theology that we simply cannot have because we are new. Our gods may be old, but what we are doing with them is not. (Also, Hinduism isn’t necessarily considered polytheistic by Hindus, but that really isn’t something I understand sufficiently to go into.)
I came across an excellent tumblr post – the promised rant about Hindu deities and their place in neo-eclectic spiritual practice. It’s really worth a read, but there’s one part of it in particular that stands out to me.
I think many people’s impression of polytheistic traditions is shaped by the simplistic way that, like, the Greek pantheon is often taught in school — “so and so is the ____ goddess of ___”. It flattens the deities into representations of concepts.
The problem is, this is nothing like the relationship most Hindus have with the gods they are devoted to. We have nicknames for them, we think of them as friends and family in more than one sense, we talk to them as such and think about them sort of like PEOPLE, not just essences of keywords or concepts. Sure, “lord shiva” is the god of “death and rebirth” and “the destroyer”. I love those parts of him, they’re meaningful and real, but that alone doesn’t say enough about the relationship I have with him. I think of him by his nicknames, I don’t think of him as an abstract cardboard cutout or a symbol. The stories about him aren’t just vague and fantastical but often have aspects of, like, amusing anecdotes you hear about a friend. He isn’t like the paternal judgmental sky dad of Christianity, nor is he a two-dimensional shorthand for some kind of idea. I don’t get afraid of him and I don’t think of him as some kind of static figure. I think of him more like a close friend and really wise mentor I respect to an incomprehensibly great extent.
(Side note: I believe we need to be more aware of that difference in perception when we talk about and worship deities from various ancient polytheistic traditions as well; I feel like it’s possible their historical devotees would have had a similarly intimate and playful but reverent and loving relationship with whoever they worshipped. It’s a mistake imo to think of them as flat and representational rather than complex and rounded and even interactive. They are often “”humanized”“ for reasons.)
And, because it bears repeating, because I found it validating at the time I first read this post and still do now, and ultimately because this is my blog:
I love those parts of him, they’re meaningful and real, but that alone doesn’t say enough about the relationship I have with him.
That sentence alone could describe every one of my developed devotional relationships (allowing for exchange of pronouns, anyway). Obviously we should bear in mind that the author of the post is talking about the way Hindus relate to their deities, but I think the point is really important. Our gods are more than representations of concepts. Going with Greek gods for a moment, Aphrodite is more than a representation of love, Ares is more than a representation of war. ‘Goddess of love’ is a real and meaningful aspect of Aphrodite, but it doesn’t tell you enough about Her as a Person – just as knowing that I can play the flute tells you very little about me as a person. It’s true, it’s real, but it isn’t the point.
I don’t know what I’m getting at here, except that I still don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know that the gods are important. I know that They are more than the titles we give Them, more than Their areas of influence, more than a representation of an abstract concept. They’re real, the things They tell us are real. Sometimes we misinterpret Them, sometimes we think They’re telling us something when in fact our brainweasels are getting the better of us, but when some part of you knows for certain that Someone has told you something you ought to pay attention to it.
Otherwise you end up doing what I’ve done, running around looking for something that was waiting for me back where I started.
I’m given to understand that most bloggers, when writing a thing, have a plan of what they want to write. That isn’t usually what I do and I think that my way leads to things like this, which are a bit fragmented and weird and run off on strange tangents. One day I’ll write like a proper writer – for now, my writing can be as chaotic as the rest of me. But I am sorry if the things I write sometimes don’t make sense.