The Road From Hate To Understanding

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.

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  • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

    What a story … So in Judaism you have found what you were looking for? Would you consider yourself to be a Jewish polytheist, since you do still recognize the reality of Dionysus? How does your Pagan past form a part in your current practice/ theology?

    Interestingly, I do remember other Pagans talking about breaking up with deities, and the hardships it involved. In any case, I agree with you than any individual has a right to say no to any deity. We have agency, and if the gods exist, they should now this.

    • Aliyah bat Stam

      It’s an interesting question. I don’t think there is a single Jew who has studied Shas (the tradition, including the Talmud) who doesn’t recognize that other gods have power. The general consensus is that the power of foreign deities is to be avoided, since it interferes with our ability to serve our own tribal deity, for whom we are “a nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6) 
      Also, the commandment “Lo yiyeh l’cha elohim acherim al Panai” or “Thou shalt not have other gods before me” Actually translates to “You shall not have other gods on My face.”

      The word for face is related to the word for “insides.” So, the injunction is against understanding our tribal deity as being sub-divided into the deities that other nations worship, or viewing foreign deities as masks that our deity is wearing. It also idiomatically means something like “all up in my business.” It is really an injunction against becoming culturally muddled, on a theological level, about who who our deity is. Thus, I could not possibly say that my Judaism involves other gods. Shas states the viewpoint that our deity is an individual, that It has inalienable personhood, that It has feelings and opinions, and bases it’s laws on the assumption that no person outside of the tribe worships our deity. The Jewish definition of monotheism is “to worship only one God, forsaking all others” Like a monogamous marriage, only of one nation to one deity. 

      Now, if you want to draw from what I said that Judaism is a hard polytheism, you’d be well within your rights. Every Rabbi on the planet would think that you meant Jews worshipped non-Jewish gods, but I have a better understanding of what it actually means.

      As for my present practice? I think my pagan past colors what I notice and emphasize in my Judaism. I think a lot of modern Jews are influenced by the Christians that surround them, and don’t really notice the fact that they celebrate the cycles of the moon and the harvest in the same way that I do. I think it adds delight to certain observances. 

      On the messier side of things, I still have pagan gnosis. As in, Greek deities still talk to me. I still have a craving for magick. Judaism contains folk magic, but that is some dark stuff right there. I find that my fellow Jews aren’t interested in the same aspects of Judaism that I am. I find myself trying to connect with pagans, mostly out of common interest, not in their gods, but in certain of their practices and their philosophies. 

      • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

        Thank you for your detailed response and for sharing a great deal. I think a lot of Pagans (and non-pagan) other often project Christian notions on Judaism. Pagans often talk of the ‘Abrahamic religions’ or, in Europe mostly, the Judeo-Christian culture. But of course Judaism isn’t just a precursor to Christianity, and I apreciate this chance to learn more about Judaism. I believe that we would have a lot more in common than with the absolute monotheists (the denial of the existence of any sacred reality outside the one singular God).

        • Aliyah Bat Stam

           I wouldn’t blame Pagans for that. A lot of Christians project Christian notions onto Judaism, and they are far more numerous than we are. Many Christians speak as though they, and not we, are the rightful proprietors of our cultural heritage.

          • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

            I do not think Pagans form the cause, but I do think we should following the Christian example in this.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Also, the commandment “Lo yiyeh l’cha elohim acherim al Panai” or “Thou shalt not have other gods before me” Actually translates to “You shall not have other gods on My face.”

        This I find rather intriguing, because it sort of means “Don’t syncretize me!”

        And, I find that hysterical for all sorts of reasons…amongst them the fact that the Hebrew deity, the Christian deity, and the Islamic Allah have all been syncretized together by people who claim to follow these deities; and, monotheists who do interfaith often subsume other people’s deities into the “one god”; and, many monistic-leaning Pagans have also done this as if it is the “right” thing to do.

        As a syncretist myself (but also a hard polytheist), I understand syncretism to be a temporary thing, and a metaphor–”Zeus-Ammon” is “Zeus is Ammon,” but not literally, instead only as a temporary way to understand or translate between the two forces of the deity in a given context (or in more prolonged fashions for syncretistic temples, traditions, etc.).  For Iao Sabaoth, I do not syncretize him to all of the deities that the ancients often did–Aion, Abraxas, Set, Dionysos, Sabazios, Zeus, etc.–but instead only have him as him when I do have contact with him.  And, he doesn’t seem to mind that…!  :)

  • Aine

    I thought this article was great – though I’m saddened to see again the idea that we (polytheists) are not allowed to refuse a god. I’ve seen the attitude that once a god chooses you you are CHOSEN and cannot refuse far too often in the community, and honestly it skeeves me out.

    Excellent article. Thank you for writing it.

    • Jenny Parsons

      Thank you pointing this out, Aine.  If we were to say such things about spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends, instead of gods, people would rightfully call them abusive relationships.  If a boyfriend has no right to make me stay when I’d rather leave, why should Apollo (archtypal bad boyfriend if there ever was one) be different?

      Aliyah, it is very, very hard to stand up to a deity and tell him or her what you want.  The fact that you were able to do so means that you are very brave– you have my admiration.  I hope you are now able to take joy in what you have found, and that your struggles were eventually met with triumph, and then peace.

  • Babymotherandgoddess

    What a post! This really was good for me to read today. Thank you. (Today is my blog reading and responding day.) I have experienced something like this. I was pretty upset with “God.” When I learned that I could make my own choices in life, and thought “God” was the one who had me thinking otherwise, I blamed “God.” I was pretty mad at God for a time… and then I experienced an awakening to Goddess. She has helped me to learn that God isn’t to be feared or angry with. After lowering my guard to non existent with God, I was able to experience peace in the midst of a crisis and scarey time in life. That was the moment of full reconciliation and a great life lesson. I do have my times of still blaming God, but times like this remind me (don’t just use god as a scapegoat – I decide what to do and say and how to live for myself). Blessings. Thanks again.

  • jemand2

    This is interesting to me.  I have a different perspective– I left a deity at around the same time as I left an emotionally abusive and manipulative human relationship…

    and honestly, the feelings and difficulty was quite similar between the two.  I still have a visceral reaction if any of my mutual friends from that time mention my human ex… and I cannot stop a deep emotional reaction, almost PTSD panic, if anyone attempts to proselytize or reintroduce me to the god I left.

    I’m not going to go ask other deities to help me out with this though, I trust none of them and honestly I’m not entirely sure if any (including the one I left) really exist outside of our conceptions of them.  Then again, I’m not exactly running out of my way to trust human men, either, though I have given relationships a chance since then, too.  Just, there *is* a lasting fear, I can manage it, but I honestly don’t think it will ever go away.

    I do not go around badmouthing my ex every day, but on the other hand, I saw no evidence his personality is anything different than what he showed me, that he learned nothing, and I sincerely doubt his later human relationships are any healthier than his one with me.  But then it’s none of my business what his later companions think of him and it seems rather dangerous if I try to go interpose myself between him and her.  On the other hand, I have confronted one of our mutual friends at the time, who has since become more friendly to feminism, on his lack of support in the face of evidence of what he was doing to me, and a fair number of my current friends I’ve made since then have heard at least part of the story– this was one of the scariest and most difficult parts of my life and I’m not going to keep it to myself forever, either.

    I could say the same of my ex-deity.  I doubt he’s any different, I think he’s often dangerous at least to a subset of human personalities, and there exist a few people I care about enough that if I see evidence of him harming them, too, the same way he did me, I would risk getting involved and talk to them about it.  But absent that, it’s not my business, and it seems dangerous to me to stick myself where I don’t belong once I have gotten out and away.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sandrawillow Sandra Willow Lang

    Thank you for the duh moment (slaps head) of course if you focus (fixate obsess) about something/ someone even maybe especially negative aspects of course you draw it to you.


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