Hello again, beautiful creatures. Previously on Outside the Charmed Circle, I encouraged people to establish firm boundaries with the gods who come knocking on their door, to the point of actually saying “no” when they ask you for things you’re unwilling to give. Following on from that, I figured it would be responsible of me to address some of the challenges of actually doing so.
After all, exercising one’s will obviously has consequences. It may well be necessary to say “no” to a god, but doing so can lead to us being in situations which are unpleasant to live through, difficult to navigate, and impossible to explain to someone unfamiliar with polytheistic spirituality. While I understand that some folks’ belief systems disagree with me on this point, I maintain quite firmly that human beings are inherently possessed of the autonomy and agency necessary to say “no” to anyone, from humans to animals to spirits, even to gods.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re always going to listen. After all, we’re talking about gods: ancient, immortal beings with superhuman power and perspective who are not (and, mostly, never have been) human, whose agendas and values may be inscrutable, and whose very conception of the nature of reality is fundamentally, unfathomably alien to ours. To put it bluntly, gods may cherish certain qualities and values in human beings, but that doesn’t mean they share them. A cursory glance through any halfway-decent collection of myths will provide us with multiple examples of forced transformation, abduction, seduction, rape, outright murder, and other instances of nonconsensual divine interference in human lives. If human practitioners of theurgy and thaumaturgy choose to place ourselves in proximity to such beings and mingle in their affairs, we are by definition placing ourselves at risk of having our lives disrupted, even against our will.
…what? You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?
In the hopes of making it a little easier, I’m going to posit a few basic principles to keep in mind when interacting with gods: “rules of thumb,” if you will. These may seem obvious, especially to folks who’ve been working with deities for a while. Nevertheless, I think they bear repeating from time to time, especially when people are in the middle of dealing with such interactions.
Not all spirits are gods.
It might go without saying, but not every being that claims to be a god actually is one. Sometimes, a mischievous or malevolent being of some kind (demon, ghost, spirit) will put on a god-mask and try to fool humans into worshipping, serving, and feeding them. Some of them are ridiculously transparent, while others can be dismayingly successful. This is one of the reasons why I’m a big proponent of doing lots of research before metaphorically jumping into bed with a new god. This can take the form of lots and lots of reading, preferably texts with some historical legitimacy, or consulting experts on the subject, either academic or practical. I’m also strongly in favor of consulting an appropriate oracle or utilizing one’s preferred method of divination to get a sense of who, and what, you’re dealing with.
Not all gods are nice.There are gods of decay and death, gods of mischief and mayhem, gods of slaughter and sacrifice. There are gods you wouldn’t invite into your home for a social event, much less into your head. There are gods who are rude and boorish, gods who are outright evil, and gods who are, from a human perspective, just kind of… well, assholes. I won’t go so far as to suggest that gods get into “moods,” exactly, but a particular god may show different faces to different people, or to the same person at different times, just like any other sentient being. The point is, they’re not all benevolent or beneficent, and even the “nice” ones aren’t always nice.
Most gods don’t care.
Not to put too sharp an edge on it, but the reality is that gods are just too busy with their own affairs—you know, that whole “keeping the universe functioning” thing—to spend much time hounding and harassing humans. If a particular human isn’t willing, it’s vanishingly rare that a god will do anything other than shrug and move along. This is because…
Most gods want willing devotees.
Devotees who are cheerfully, enthusiastically engaged with acts of service and devotion are much better than grudging devotees who’ve been forced into the role against their will. I mean, duh, right? (Whenever I hear someone complaining about being a devotee of a particular god, I’m reminded of nothing so much as that one person who complains about what an oaf their spouse is—but still claims to love them—and I wonder why that god keeps this devotee around. It’s not my relationship to manage, though.)
Gods are smarter than you.
Another unpopular opinion, but if you don’t like the word “smarter,” please feel free to substitute one or more of the following terms: wiser, older, more knowledgeable, more clever, more aware, more perceptive, more experienced, and so on. Put simply, in any interaction with divine powers, humans are at a marked disadvantage in the “knowing and understanding things on a cosmic level” department. Gods have perspectives and level of awareness not available to us, other than in extraordinarily limited circumstances; that’s the whole “superhuman alien intelligence” part of being a god.
So, yeah. Working with divinity is a little more complicated than saying some pretty words and trusting in the good will of the gods. After all, sometimes they don’t have any, and sometimes they’re happy to work with us, but they want things we’re not willing to give them. That’s where the whole “saying no to gods” thing becomes kind of important, as is having a plan for managing the outcome of saying “no” to a being responsible for at least some part of how the universe itself functions.
Next time, I’ll talk about some ways to manage those outcomes. In the meantime, dear ones, take care of yourselves. ♥