Our Gods Are Not Jealous Gods

SS 2012 17I’m a Druid. My practice is inspired by the beliefs and practices of the pre-Christian, pre-Roman Celts – and by the Gods and spirits who inspired them. I’m pledged to two Celtic deities and I regularly work with and for several others. But Saturday night, for the 13th consecutive year, I took off my Druid robe, put on a plain white tunic, and served as a priest of the Neteru – the Gods of Egypt.

It seems like every year when we get close to Summer Solstice, someone asks “aren’t your Celtic Gods jealous of your attention to the Gods of Egypt?” And every year, I cock my head slightly (as one does when someone says something that’s curious and unexpected), think for a moment, and then say:

“Our Gods are not jealous Gods.”

Jealousy is not a virtue. In the Old Testament, Yahweh loudly proclaims “I am a jealous God.” That statement subtly affirms the existence of many Gods, but that’s another rant for another time. He’s not the only one – the stories of our Mediterranean and Northern European ancestors show numerous examples of deities being jealous.

But jealousy is not a virtue. Its roots are not in love and power, but in possessiveness and insecurity. It seeks a relationship of control and often abuse, not one of respect and reciprocity. Why would a God ever be jealous?

Perhaps the Gods have mellowed and matured over the past couple thousand years. Perhaps They were never jealous and the stories of our ancestors were colored by the cultures of the people who wrote them. I don’t know – I’ll leave that speculation to the Pagan theologians. What I do know is that none of the Gods with whom I am acquainted have ever expressed the first bit of jealousy toward me, or toward the vast majority of Pagans and polytheists who talk about such things.

The Gods often work together. We intuitively understand that deities of the same pantheon often work together, even though sometimes They’re at odds with each other. But get a follower of Odin and a follower of the Morrigan together and the conversations quickly turns to “horse trading” and “back room deals” and “a common plan.” Whatever grand battles are going on that we can’t see, it’s pretty clear Odin and the Morrigan are playing on the same team.

Cernunnos 4x3 smallAre Cernunnos and Horus working together behind the scenes? I have no information on that one way or another from any source – my intuition tells me it’s possible but unlikely. I find it much more likely that when deities notice others from different pantheons working toward goals that are similar to Their own, at the very least They don’t oppose Them. If that means some divided loyalties among Their human followers, so be it.

However, any time I mention Gods working together, someone says something like “yes, They’re all working together for love and light” or “They’re all following the divine plan.” No.

Horus 10.05.14There is no One Divine Plan. If there are multiple beings with their own thoughts, dreams, and agency, there will be multiple plans. Arguing that all the Gods are all working together toward the same goals implies there’s some supergod somewhere setting those goals. We have a name for that idea: monotheism.

Polytheism isn’t just the affirmation of many Gods, it’s also the theological and philosophical implications of the existence of many Gods. Near the top of that list are diversity and multiplicity. The Gods are not one, but They work together when it suits Their purposes. Sometimes that includes sharing followers.

Monogamy does not require jealousy. You can be completely devoted to your partner without being jealous of their friends – even the friends they find attractive. Jealousy is about possessiveness and control, which are not part of good, healthy relationships.

I have a few (a very few) polytheist friends who say “Deity X claimed me and said ‘you’re mine and only mine.’” I have no reason to question their experiences. Henotheism – the exclusive worship of one God while still affirming the existence and worth of other Gods – is a valid religious approach. But the fact that a deity wants an exclusive relationship does not mean jealousy is the reason.

Perhaps the deity in question wants something big and knows the person wouldn’t have time to work on it if they were also devoted to other Gods. Perhaps the person in question has the religious version of “oh look, shiny!” and can’t accomplish anything without someone keeping them on task. Perhaps two deities are in conflict and one wants to make sure Their followers aren’t helping an opponent. There are many possibilities for why a God might stake an exclusive claim that do not involve jealousy.

The Gods want what They want. Do not mistake a lack of jealousy for apathy. The Gods want what They want and They want it passionately. Even while I’m in preparation for our Egyptian Summer Solstice, I’m maintaining my nightly prayers to my “usual” deities. I’m maintaining the weekly offerings They’ve requested. And because multitasking is the only way I know how to work, I’m working on three rituals for later in the year that will involve Them to one degree or another. As long as They get what They want, They don’t seem to care what else I do in my “spare” time.

I strongly suspect that if I started to abandon the Celtic Gods to become a full-time Kemetic priest, I would be loudly and forcefully reminded of the commitments I’ve made, and I’d find myself on a rather short leash in the future. They want what They want.

I don’t recommend actively looking for more deities to serve – religious depth is almost always better than religious breadth. The vast majority of us have jobs, families, and non-religious interests that make claims on our time – one patron (or at least, one pantheon) is enough for most of us.

But sometimes other deities come calling. Sometimes They have offers or requests we really want to accept. Sometimes we get caught up in Otherworldly alliances and find ourselves “loaned out” to Someone we’re not familiar with. You have sovereignty, even before the Gods – you get to decide if you’ll say yes or no. Make your own decision for your own reasons.

But don’t let fear of a jealous God keep you from doing what you want to do and what you’re called to do. Our Gods are not jealous Gods.

Neteru SS 2015 600x300

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.