Where Dionysos has a reputation as a “party god,” Zeus is widely known as a philanderer with lightning bolts. For most, the name conjures up the idea of a big, booming womanizer, but such a portrayal reduces a complex entity to a cartoon image. On the other hand, when I asked my fellow Free Hellenics about Zeus, they had a wide range of reactions and approaches to him that are not easily summarized. I won’t quote them here because I don’t think I could do them justice, but suffice it to say, it’s complicated.
From a historical perspective, many Paganisms in the United States grew from a movement to understand the divine feminine. When a strong patriarchy is the only game in town, the arrival of goddess-centered spirituality causes the pendulum, in some cases, to swing very far toward the divine feminine side of things and away from the divine masculine. Dianic Wicca was born from this movement, and some circles that include the divine masculine and feminine diminished the role of the divine masculine to that of a consort to a queen. I see this focus on the divine feminine as largely a positive thing. Sometimes you just need to spend some time with mom.
The greater emphasis on divine feminine was still present in the largely Wiccan community that I entered into during the mid-1990’s. This, of course, assumes a male/female gender binary as the dominant paradigm. It is unfortunate that gender diversity in spiritual practice is largely not addressed. Things are changing, and I hope to touch on these topics where I can, but I also want to express my own joy and celebration around the divine masculine in this post without marginalizing other genders. To use a food metaphor, I want to say “hooray for carrots!” without saying “boo for kohlrabi!” I’m a polyvegetablist, so I can have both in the same dish. But I digress.
So, Zeus: If ever there was a strong masculine father figure, he’s it. If you’re a Pagan who is coming to a Paganism via the goddess movement or converting from a faith or practice that is strongly patriarchal with a desire to seek the divine feminine, Zeus is not your go-to god. In fact, I can see how complex relationships with him might arise because his divine masculinity is so divinely masculine. I remember my early thoughts on the divine were that there was a singular entity that was vaguely male-ish because everyone referred to it as “he,” but I wasn’t ever really emotionally invested in God the Father. After I became a Pagan, my relationship to Zeus began to change and grow as my concept of the divine expanded. I began to see him as a largely positive father figure, but even that is an oversimplification of the way I relate to him. I asked him to protect my eldest daughter at her blessing, I commune with him while doing yard work around the edges of my property, I ask his help when I need strength of any sort, I feel his presence when the sky turns grey, and I have said panicked prayers in a closet or hallway more than once during tornado warnings. My love for him is as common as gardening and as extraordinary as lighting the Olympic flame.“But Sunweaver,” you might say, “how do you resolve all the extra-marital affairs and nonconsentual sex?” As a Free Hellenic, I understand that the myths arrive to us from a time and place very far from here and it isn’t necessary for me to accept what came to be written down as the gospel truth. We see the gods through our own filters and their stories change accordingly. Because the gods are vast, it’s possible to perceive them in many ways and even in Ancient Greece, the stories shifted and changed. When I read the myths, I look for the foundation of the story: “Zeus loves Ganymede,” for example, and I pray about the rest. Details like “Zeus took the form of an eagle” often remain, but the emotions and motivations around the bones of the story often differ from what the ancient authors eventually wrote down. In some cases, I’m sure I’m projecting my own sensibilities, but likely no more so than the ancient authors did. Their relationships with the gods were no more or less special than mine are; theirs are just older.
My pantheon is a vast divine family that is infinitely inclusive, so one might worship Father Strength and still have room in the heart for Apollo the Bright Lover, Uncle Ares Deployed, Aunt Athena the Wise, and so on. We’ve got a lot of gods. In fact, I’m certain the big oak in my lawn has its own tree spirit and the Stones River near here has its own god and attendant naiads. There are as many ways to approach the divine as there are people on the earth multiplied by the number of divine beings and the kinds of relationships and attitudes people have toward living and non-living things. That is to say, a lot. There’s no wrong way to relate to any one of them and those of my dear friends and colleagues who do not have wholly positive relationships with the Father King still learn much from that. But for me, I love that he spreads his love like an oak spreads its pollen. I love his strength and masculinity and I love that he is big in every way. He is present in the wind, the lightning, and the rain. He is Zeus, the Father King, whose eyes are eagle-sharp and whose voice is thunder. Awful and awesome Zeus, ruler of winds and Lord of rains.
And now that I’m reduced to poetic epithets, I’ll stop here. I’d love to hear other perspectives on Zeus or thoughts on other divine fathers and kings.