An interesting thing I have noticed during my, admittedly few, years online is the prevalence for Pagans of various kinds to assume that the Gods will always have their/our/humanitys best interests at heart.
If something bad happens in your life, and you are inclined to think the Gods have something to do with it, then obviously there is a good reason this bad thing has happened. The Gods are trying to make you stronger or smarter or more compassionate, or perhaps they are just leading you through the bad so you can get to the ever so much better at the end. Whatever the reason you think of, it usually falls in a way that the Gods are doing something to you for a good reason, and that good reason is inevitably good for you personally.
I wonder where this idea comes from, because from what I can see, this idea is somewhat opposite of what the lore, mythology and history of our religions and the Gods therein might suggest.
The Gods Are Complex Independent Beings
Of course this is entirely dependent on your philosophical beliefs regarding who and what the Gods actually are – but this is my blog, so we will go with my beliefs, that They are independent, living, real, individual beings with Their own likes and dislikes, Their own needs and desires, Their own thoughts, priorities and interests. If you believe otherwise, this post probably isn’t for you anyway and that’s fine.
But if we do believe this is who and what the Gods are, then we surely should be able to recognise that Their desires cannot, possibly, always be aligned with ours. Their interests aren’t always going to be aligned with our interests. What is best for Them is not necessarily going to be best for us.
For all we know, when something goes wrong in our lives – and if They are responsible for it going wrong – the reason may be good from Their point of view, but not so good from ours.
It’s Not All About Us
Humans are only one part of this world, this universe and it’s hardly likely that the Gods only care about us. After all They do rule over and care for other things on this planet and off it too. Something happening to a human is not necessarily going to be about that human at all – indeed maybe the human is completely irrelevant to the situation, just someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Consider, your yard floods out, and the Gods are responsible – which I wouldn’t assume generally, but for this point, They are responsible for it happening. The reason behind it may have nothing to do with you at all. Maybe it happened because there are some frogs in your yard who need a bit of water for the laying of their eggs. This is great for those frogs and their future offspring – not at all great for you. And the Gods probably don’t care about your situation at all, the frogs are happy, that’s all that matters in this scenario.
Maybe it’s not a frog – it could be a tree, a lake, a river, an insect or other animal. Could be anything. But it isn’t always going to be about humans. Because we are neither the centre of the universe, nor are we the centre of the Gods thoughts.
One example of the Gods choosing animals over humans is in the Odyssey when the crew slaughter the cattle of Helios, as punishment the ship they sail on is destroyed by lightning sent by Zeus. Another example is Artemis’ wrath against Agamemnon, sometimes said to be because he killed a hare* and her young and Artemis doesn’t like people killing young or helpless animals.
It Might Be All About ThemA far more common occurrence in our lore about the Gods is that most of what They do is all about Them. The Gods may not be human, but They do have traits that are much like us humans – They can and often are quite selfish. Which is as it should be really, no one can be selfless all the time.
The amount of myths about bad things happening to people because a deity wants something for Themselves is probably uncountable! We could just mention the number of human women who have been pursued by Zeus and the vast number of bad things that happen to them because of it. Whether it be from Heras wrath against them, or the wrath of their own families, husbands etc. These are, for the most part, purely about the Gods and humans are just collateral damage.
Then there are the rules that are sometimes easily broken. Come upon Artemis by accident in the woods when She is bathing? Welp, now you’re a stag and about to be torn apart by your own hounds. Fun times. And what has this to do with your good? What has this to do with humans at all? Nothing, it’s all about Her and what She does and does not want to happen to or near Her.
And sometimes They are just mean. The more I learn and write about Prometheus, the more this becomes obvious to me. Sometimes the Gods don’t only not care about us, They deliberately just want to mess with us. Zeus is actually a very good example for this one. It is very evident when you look into Prometheus that Zeus and many of the other Gods enjoy making things hard for us sometimes. Zeus has, several times, wanted to wipe us out completely. Zeus thought Prometheus was playing a trick on us with the ox trick at Mecone, and that thought made Him happy. In some interpretations of the trick at Mecone, people say that Zeus knew that the trick was on Him and let Prometheus play the trick just so He could punish us humans for it.
It’s Not All Rainbows and Unicorns
There is plenty of lore about the Gods being kind and helpful, making human lives better on the small and large scale. Plenty of people today have experience with this side of Them. And sometimes, yes, the Gods may put obstacles in our path that are for the express purpose of making our lives and selves better in some way. But sometimes the opposite is true too. Sometimes we are nothing more than collateral damage, victims of bad timing. And other times the bad that happens is actually deliberate because, who knows, maybe we just said something stupid and are being punished.
And, honestly, sometimes it seems like some of the Gods actually hate us – so why would They be doing things for our good at all? I think They don’t hate us all the time, but sometimes they do seem to and I would say with good reason, considering how awful we can be.
And there it is, we are not exactly the best thing to have happened to this planet – arguably we are the worst thing to happen to this planet. It seems odd then to think that Gods would always be doing good things for us, when They would surely be better off doing bad to us to preserve all the other things They care about in this universe. We should think ourselves lucky that the Gods do anything nice for us at all.
- Homer, The Odyssey
- Callimachus, Hymn V: On The Bath of Pallas
- Hesiod, Theogony
* The story of Artemis and Agamemnon, and the resulting sacrifice (or almost sacrifice) of Iphigenia, has several different versions. I am not sure where the one about Agamemnon killing the hare himself is actually from, it just pops up online all over the place. It’s possible it’s a misreading of other versions where it is actually eagles that kill a hare that is pregnant – the result is the same, She gets angry at Agamemnon. There is also a version that states he killed a deer that was sacred to Artemis, again, the same result.