Last week I had a Facebook friend who complained about polytheists constantly portraying the Gods as uncaring and manipulative, and being quick to smack down Pagans who say their Gods (and especially their Goddesses) love them.
That’s a fair observation – I do see a lot of that. I’ve done some of it myself. I try to be balanced, but a post titled When the Gods Just Don’t Care could cause someone to think the Old Gods are just as bad as the God of the Old Testament, and that wouldn’t be an accurate assessment. The Gods do love us… some of Them… some of the time…
As we explore the love of the Gods, let’s remember that like all living beings, we possess inherent value and sovereignty. Our worth as individuals flows from who and what we are, not from who loves us or even from who made us. Experiencing the love of another being – especially a divine being – is a wonderful thing, but it has no bearing on our personal worth.
Why “The Gods Love Me!” Is Wrong
1. Christian baggage. Many of us grew up in Sunday School singing “Jesus loves me this I know…” and reciting “for God so loved the world…” Even as adults we were told “God is love.” This would be fine if the doctrines taught in many Christian churches didn’t present a very different picture (but not all – Christianity is not a monolith and Christian universalism is quietly growing).
Many Pagans rightly reject the abusive father of the Old Testament, but keep the idea of “God (or Gods or Goddess) is love.” That’s a nice idea and it’s not entirely wrong, but bringing baggage from one religion into another without carefully examining it is never a good idea.
2. Wish fulfillment. Even those of us who had good parents had times when we fought with them. Sometimes we look back as adults and say “yeah, they were right” and other times even now we say “they may have meant well but dammit they were wrong.”
And some of us did not have good parents.
The idea of Gods as parents isn’t universal, but it’s pretty close. Many traditions teach that the Gods or a God created humans. The line between ancestors (who really are our parents) and Gods is often vague. And the parent-child model of relationships is something almost all of us have experience with.
So it’s no wonder we often think of the Gods as parents, or relate to Them as though they were parents. And when we do, we often assume They are perfect in ways our own parents could never be, including loving us and indulging us as we wish our parents had.
3. It doesn’t match the stories of our ancestors or our own lived experiences. At least every couple months I see someone claiming that the Morrigan is a nurturing Mother Goddess who loves and dotes on the writer and who only wants the best for them. I have to shake my head – have these people never read the stories of the Morrigan? Yes, She has children, and presumably She was a good mother to them. But those are incidental details in stories of battle and blood.
I can give you a dozen Morrigan devotees off the top of my head and they will all tell you the same thing: the Morrigan called them to fight and struggle for sovereignty. Filling us with love and light isn’t part of the package.
4. It denies the wholeness of the Gods. In elementary school mythology, we’re told that Ares is a God of War, Poseidon is a God of the Sea, and Athena is a Goddess of Wisdom. When we study further, we start to learn that the Gods are whole beings with Their own personalities, goals and desires, likes and dislikes. They have Their areas of responsibility, but that’s not all They are any more than “engineer” or “writer” or even “Druid” is all I am.
When we focus too much on how much They love us we start to think They’re here primarily for us. We forget They have Their own wants and needs, and after a while we even forget they have areas of influence and responsibility. Eventually, we start to act as though our comfort and well-being is Their primary concern. We forget They’re whole beings.
But The Gods Do Love Us
1. The stories of our ancestors say They do. Hercules was known as “the friend of man.” Thor was “the people’s God.” The Dagda was “the good God.” Isis taught humans healing, weaving, brewing, and of course, magic. We humans are practical creatures. If a God helps us, we’ll worship Them. If They don’t, we’ll move on to someone else. Some Gods demonstrated love for humans over and over again, and that’s recorded in the stories our ancestors told about Them.
2. Love is part of Their virtue. If there is one thing that can be said with certainty about the Gods it is that They exemplify and personify virtue. Virtues are not good because they come from the Gods. Rather, the Gods are good because They are virtuous.
Love is perhaps the greatest virtue. If we can demonstrate and exemplify love, how much better can the Gods do the same?
3. It matches our own lived experiences. I serve a Forest God who wants what He wants, and He wants it passionately. My job as His priest is to serve Him, to tell His stories, and to participate in His work. I am honored to be a part of that work, but it is most definitely not about me.
Yet for all the difficult labor, often for reasons I do not fully understand (and sometimes, for reasons I don’t even partially understand), I have always felt loved by Him. This was true even in the far past when I didn’t know who He was – I just knew I felt safe in the woods.
The Morrigan is a Battle Goddess and Goddess of Sovereignty. I have seen Her do things that may have had some utilitarian purpose for Her, but that I can only describe as an act of love. Yes, She is a Goddess of battle and blood, but love is not always soft and tender.
I know the Gods love us (or at least some of Them love some of us) because I have experienced Their love for myself.
The Love Of The Gods – A Mature View
Why do the Gods bother with humans? Why do They not simply sit up on Mount Olympus (or the regional equivalent thereof) and do Their own things? Trying to figure out the “why” of the Gods is a recipe for madness, or at least for frustration. Transparency is not one of Their virtues.
But for whatever reasons, they do choose to bother with us. We are important to Them, as a species if not as individuals. For all the harm humans have done to the Earth (especially over the last 150 years) we remain the best chance of intelligent life evolving on this planet, and the Gods have chosen to invest Their time and effort in us. While it is always dangerous to speak of the Many Gods as though They were one, it is reasonable to say that yes, They do love us.
They also love Their virtues and Their areas of responsibility. Sovereignty is important to the Morrigan. The forests and the animals are important to Cernunnos. Poetry and craftsmanship are important to Brighid. When we align ourselves with Their priorities, we are likely to find ourselves in Their favor. When we stand in the way of Their priorities, well, that’s not a place I like to be.
The love of the Gods teaches us that we are important, but we are not of ultimate importance. In particular, some things are more important than our comfort and even than our well-being. A good farmer may love his horses and will certainly care for them, but when it’s time to plow the fields, he’ll still harness them up and drive them into the fields to work all day in the hot sun.
We must be careful to avoid bringing baggage from a previous religion or from our childhood into our our polytheism. And we must be careful to avoid assuming we are the primary interests of the Gods – we most certainly are not.
But the Gods are mighty and virtuous beings, and so They are also loving beings. May we be as virtuous in our own lives.