There are people who call themselves priests or priestesses in the pagan community who are very interested in discussing why deities other than those they worship are terrible. This is a really unfortunate turn of events for the pagan community. Really, it’s unfortunate when a priest or priestess of any faith turns their energies to telling everyone who will listen why any group of people, or any deity, is inherently bad. Toxicity in the clergy trickles down, no matter how well disguised it may be, and impacts the community.
Sitting quietly among one particular group of pagan strangers, none of whom knew I was Jewish, I noted that every third conversation was about “the Judeo-Christian god” and how stupid “Abrahamic faiths” are. I noticed that not one talked about his or her individual practices unless directly asked. I noticed that people asking was rare. I am sure that this is not every pagan group. It does, however, show that the problem of negative talk exists in some places.
You never, ever know who you are sitting with, or who is listening. That newbie pagan who just joined your group may leave to become a Sufi Muslim or a liberal Christian. They will carry your words with them.
Your words and deeds are all that the outside world knows about your religion. They secure your religion’s future converts, or drive them away. They can stir up sympathies in your opponents, making them likely to support your future freedom. They can also infuriate people who might have been for you, and cause them to write you and your entire community off as a bigots.
I’m writing, actually, because I can relate. I have been there. I’ve been that person who couldn’t shut up about a religion I wasn’t practicing because I was furious at its clergy and its deity. I had lots of great ideas, none of which anyone wanted to listen to, largely because I couldn’t talk about religion without negative speech about Him. It stunted my spiritual growth, tied up energy I could have used for other things, and it made me a less happy person than I would have otherwise been.
Then, I got better. I’d like to share what happened to me, so that if you have this problem, you can get better too.
How does this happen?
When I was in my twenties, I left Dionysos. At some point I realized that, philosophically, a polytheistic path just wasn’t right for me. I was fairly shocked when he flat out told me that, as my deity, he forbade me to go and convert to another religion. He told me to stay. I said no.
I don’t need to go into details. I will only say that the result was highly unpleasant, daily, for several years. He kept telling me he’d stop if I agreed to come back to him.
I approached Hellenic clergy to ask them what to do. Answers were mixed. Some did not believe me, going so far as to say that I was imagining it. Some told me that my refusal to worship him was Hubris, and I was getting exactly what I deserved. This one still rings in my ears: “The gods are in control. If one chooses you, it’s not up to you to decide whether or not to accept that choice.”
Correspondingly, I’m sure that Christianity can be hard, even terrifying to leave. If you left Christianity, you may, and certainly should, feel like a hero in your own personal epic for making a stand against a god whose religion tells you that you must do or believe things that you feel are wrong. You’ve faced threats of damnation from clergy who tell you that you don’t get to choose. You overcame that fear to do what you believed was right.
Yet, in exercising our basic human right to choose whichever faith we want to follow, we may have had to harden ourselves. We harden ourselves against people, first, who tell us that we don’t have a choice or that we are property of a deity. We have to harden ourselves against people who say that what we want doesn’t matter. It’s hard, incredibly hard, not to be angry. For those of us who have felt a divine hand reaching out, not to comfort, but to hurt us, making sense of the world in a way that doesn’t involve bigotry is doubly hard.
In order to make sense of my experiences, I began to believe all sorts of absurd things that don’t bear repeating here. None of them were complimentary. I looked for confirmation of my biases in the texts of both the Hellenic and Hebrew cultures, and of course, found it, exactly because I was looking. My eyes were out of balance.
When you hear people wholeheartedly condemning the Jewish deity or the Christian deity, or any deity, and they tell you that they have textual evidence to support the uncomplimentary things that they have to say, then their eyes are out of balance.
Always remember: history and religion are nuanced. If you take any set of cherry-picked facts out of context, even with citations, you can prove just about anything to yourself.
Why it’s Bad
At some point, you need to stop leaving a religion, or you’ll be stuck there forever. If you talk about a deity every day, even in the negative, then they are an important part of your life. If you talk about the deity more than their followers do, then, in a strange way, you are closer to them than their followers.
I didn’t know it, but it was thinking about Dionysos, fighting with him, feeling the need to respond to him, and justifying my actions to him that was drawing him to me. In the same way, if you spend time talking about the angry god of the Old Testament, you are drawing that deity to you, whether you know it or not. You are feeding power to that dark thought form and empowering it.
Because my negative talk was passionate, the invocation was powerful. I noticed that even people who had no idea what was going on, had no idea who Dionysos was, looked at me and thought I’d look better in leopard-print, saw wine bottles and grapes and somehow thought of me. The more I thought about him, the more like him I became, just as any priest or priestess of a deity might become like their god. People looked at me, saw his energy around me, and then were totally confused that I wasn’t pagan. If you are talking smack about the Abrahamic deity, and especially if you do so in anger or disgust, you are invoking It and slowly becoming It.
One day I looked in the mirror and I saw myself as I had become. I looked old, bitter and haggard.
People said to me, “Are you sure you want to be Jewish? You speak of what you do in such a joyless way. What’s good about Judaism? Do you actually like anything about it?” Another friend compared me to a homophobe, a person clinging desperately to Judaism because I was afraid of how pagan I really was.
Rightly so. If all you know about my Judaism is that I think polytheism is dumb, what does that say about my faith? It says that my religion has no positive traits of its own, and that it relies on false accusations against other religions to stand up.
If all that I know about your faith is that it believes that the Abrahamic god is a jerk, what does it say about paganism?
How to Get Better
In my journey, I had to realize that the deity who hurt me wasn’t evil. I had simply mishandled the Divine Fire. He behaved according to the rules and edicts of the ancient culture he belonged to. I had simply been ignorant of what those edicts were. The same deity who had maenads rip Orpheus to pieces for spurning his love also rescued a mortal woman who was stranded on an island by her husband. He is the deity who reconciled between Hephaestus and Hera when the two had what seemed an insurmountable conflict. Like all deities, Dionysos is a nuanced individual with strengths and faults, inspirations and blind spots. The god of the Old Testament is no different.
By invoking him, I was keeping the door open. The rest was just him acting out on his nature. If I wanted to change him, I had to worship him. If I didn’t want to worship him, I had to let him go. I had to close that door.
If my story sounds familiar, if a deity hurt you, or if you are just having trouble letting go of your former religion, make a resolution to stop the negative thoughts and negative talk. Know that you can’t do it on your own, and seek help from a deity you trust.
Aliyah Bat Stam is a kabalist, Jewish educator, ceremonial magician and Torah Observant Jewitch. She exists primarily for the purpose of irritating people who like to put things into boxes (literal or physical), and secondarily for the purpose of making people of all ages think. In her spare time, she likes to study Greek and Hebrew mythology, and jump up and down shouting at the guy on the O.U. Daf Yomi recordings.