Those of us who grew up in Christianity were taught that God is always watching you. Part of that was to deter you from doing what you weren’t supposed to do, but part was the comfort of knowing you’re never completely alone: “God is with you always.” Of course that only applied to Christians: Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith caused a commotion in 1980 when he dogmatically proclaimed “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”
The thought that “God is only a prayer away” is a pleasant one, and many people carry this thought with them when they become Pagans… to such an extent that their concept of “The Goddess” is little more than Yahweh’s slightly more pleasant sister. But when you study the beliefs and practices of our pre-Christian ancestors you find many goddesses and gods: polytheism, not duotheism and not female-oriented monotheism. One of the key attributes of polytheistic gods and goddesses is that they are not omniscient and omnipresent.
Isis is not with you always. She has many areas of responsibility and many followers around the world. She may or may not be able to be in many places at once but she is not in all places at once. That has some serious implications for our relations with our goddesses and gods.
Do you really need Thoth’s help on that math test? Can you get over a headache without Brighid? Do you need divine assistance right now? Whatever the gods and goddesses are they are not our servants and they have better things to do than to tend to our whims. Sometimes they share their plans (or parts of them) and sometimes they don’t, but whatever their goals this much is clear – your happiness is not at the top of their lists. If they lift you up it is not so you can have a nice life but so you can help with the work of the greater good.
They may not hang around forever. Some people have life-long relationships with gods or goddesses, but read the accounts of contemporary polytheists and you’ll find numerous cases of deities coming and going. Sometimes they lose patience with a lack of commitment or a forgotten commitment. Sometimes they only enter your life to teach you one thing or to get you to do one thing for them and then they move on. Sometimes they leave for reasons they don’t explain.
Think you’d be better off with Jesus? Read the writings of Mother Teresa that were made public after her death. She referred to Jesus as “the Absent One.” She felt him call her to work with the poor, then shortly after she began he left. She never experienced him in her life again. There are plenty of Christians with similar stories – just because they like to say “God is with you always” doesn’t mean that’s what they’ve experienced.
Want your favorite goddess or god to stick around? Put some work into the relationship – same as with any other relationship. Spend time in mediation and prayer. Make appropriate offerings. Learn their stories. Live your life according to the examples they set.
Any ethical relationship should be mutually beneficial. If you’re going to ask for favors or teaching or opportunities you should expect to give something in return.
What does a god or goddess want from you, or with you? Why don’t you ask him or her? And then listen for the answer.
If you find yourself in a dire situation, ask for help. You may have ancestors who will hear you. Some deities are merciful. Others are opportunistic. And you may find you have skills and resources you didn’t know you had.
But if you assume a god or goddess is always there you may be very disappointed.