Called by Problematic Gods

Called by Problematic Gods October 21, 2018

Long-time readers know there is no subject about which I do not have an opinion, which I am more than happy to share with anyone who cares to listen or read. But occasionally I get a question I don’t feel qualified to answer.

Fortunately, I have a lot of brilliant friends.

This came in the last round of questions for Conversations Under the Oaks:

What’s a woman to do when she feels like she is being called by a god with not such a wonderful reputation with women?

For as long as I can remember I have been called to the ocean. I feel a deep connection to it, and before I even knew who Poseidon was, was very drawn to any image or sculpture of him. As I’ve grown older I’ve felt even more called by him. But when I researched more about him I discovered stories of him raping women. As a modern woman who is a sexual assault survivor myself I was quite upset when I learned this. Why would this god be reaching out to me? Could I look past it?

In this age of #MeToo where that completely applies to me, what is a woman to do when the god she feels drawn to is known for many things, some great and wonderful, but for rape too?

My first response was to recommend my recent post Gods Behaving Badly? Myth, Virtue, and the Limitations of Modern Thinking which deals with how and why these stories aren’t meant to be read literally.

But that wasn’t sufficient for this querent.

I don’t take the stories as scripture either, but still, how does someone who has been raped deal with being called by a god accused of rape? Even if you don’t take the story as scripture, it’s still there, as if in bold capped letters. I surely can’t be the only woman who has ever been in this position.

At this point I realized I’m not the right person to answer this question. I’m a man who has no first-hand experience with sexual assault and very little second-hand experience.

So I called my friend, fellow ADF Druid, and fellow Texas polytheist Rev. Lauren Mart. I shared the questions (but not the identity of the questioner – I didn’t have permission for that). This is Lauren’s response.

Rev. Lauren Mart

You absolutely are not the only woman who has ever been in this position. And, in fact, this was something I struggled with mightily as I learned to work with and for my patron God. For you see, the main surviving story about my patron God is one where He sends His best friend with a sword to go threaten the living daylights out of a beautiful woman until she agrees, under fear of pain and suffering and death, to marry Him. Which she does, and they live happily ever after, or whatever.

Also, there’s a couple of extant statues of Him, and He’s a fertility deity, so He’s uh… usually depicted naked, and well-endowed.

As a woman who is a survivor both of rape and of sexual abuse, I can tell you that people’s first reaction to my talking about my (very close, very personal, but not even slightly sexually intimate) relationship with my deity is “isn’t He the rapey one with the giant penis?” was not something I was ready for when He first entered my life.

Here’s how I handled it.

First – I made sure I did a very thorough reading of myths. Poseidon has a lot of myths that He interacts with, and it’s good to know all of His lore, not just the uncomfortable bits. Not because they excuse the uncomfortable bits, but because they let us paint a picture of a deity who is more than just one aspect of what historians have written about Him.

Second, I did a lot of research into the culture and how women were treated in that culture. Was this myth a product of a male-dominated culture where women were considered property, and their virginity was sold to the highest bidder? If yes, then take any myths about women being raped and turned into monsters for it with a big ol’ grain of salt, because one of the things myths do is teach young people the values of their culture, and if you’re a dad and you want to secure a good future for your female children in your culture, a story like that might just be the kind of thing you’d like to have in your pocket to keep her suitably scared, as horrible of a thing as that is for us to contemplate today.

And third, I did a lot of spirit work. Both myself and – when I was out of ideas for myself – through a Spirit medium who did oracular divination and could speak to Him directly and report back. I paid her well for this work, and you should expect to pay for it (either in barter or in actual dollars) if you ask a spirit medium, witch, or Gods-blessed diviner to do this work. Not everyone who can read tarot cards can talk to the Gods. Also, a Poseidon’s person/devotee who does trance work or any other kind of divination might be able to help (and if you don’t know any, I know a few, and may be able to make some connections on your behalf – let John know if you’d like me to help facilitate that connection.)

Why do the spirit work? Because I needed to make very clear to my own deity that there were things that were going to be totally off limits, due to my history, and things that were 100% not okay with me, and I needed to hear what He had to say about that, and how it related to the work I do now. In the end I was able to work through it, with about four months of deep spirit work, and He and I negotiated a peace/agreement about what would and would not be part of our working together.

That was in 2013, when I was a little baby polytheist. Nowadays, He and I work together intimately throughout His holy days, and it has never come up. He’s never pushed those boundaries (though heavens knows He’s pushed about every other boundary I have), and there’s never been a hint of inappropriate sexuality or forced sexual power in my working with Him.

In short, thanks to the work I did, the knowledge I gained, and the communication we had, I went from feeling unsafe around this deity to feeling safe, at least as regards sex and sexuality and consent. He has never pushed a boundary without my consent, and has been very considerate of the times when I have backed off from something.

Poseidon sculpture in Copenhagen Port. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Does this mean He’s a different God than He was a thousand years ago when His myths were being written down? Maybe – maybe He’s learned something new. Maybe in this modern world He has grown into something bigger than those stories. Maybe He’s willing to put aside one aspect of himself and His history, so long as I am willing to do the same, so that we can work together.

It’s a hard thing to truly explain. I don’t feel safe – He is not a safe God, and I’m sure John would agree with me that most of our Gods are not “safe.” But I did the work to set the boundaries and I know that at least that one aspect of myself is safe to be around Him.

That’s how I dealt with it – as a modern woman, with a history of sexual abuse and assault, and a deity who is in many circles known only for His phallus. I hope you can come to the same kind of accord with Poseidon. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know, whether that’s to help with connections or just to have an ear to talk to about difficult subjects like this.

Blessings of the many Gods to you,
Rev. Lauren Mart, ADF

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