A friend has a place they meet the Gods called the Roadhouse of the Dead. After hearing my friend talk about it I decided to go see it for myself. The Roadhouse is an ethereal rather than palpable place, and I was curious if I would see what others saw there. I walked in and immediately recognized Ares tending bar. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I looked around and saw Gods I knew, but dressed differently, behaving differently, from how I had encountered them before. It was quickly apparent that this was not a place conjured by human imagination, but built by the Gods. I was on their turf, and the rules were different.
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it, I’m crawling on your shore. – Emily Saliers
Too often we expect the Gods to play by our rules. We expect them to be tame, to come when we call, to behave as we expect, to want what we want, and to rally around the causes that are dear to us. We have defined their roles in our lives narrowly. They are not a static concept, a mere myth, or a set of patterns/characteristics that we call archetype. They are real, sentient beings of power with their own perspective, own emotions, own relationships, and own agenda. As John Beckett notes (with some blunt criticism for me as well):
It’s necessary because some people see the depth and meaning in polytheism and they’re attracted to it, but they’re afraid to embrace it. They feel the call of the Gods or of a God but they’re afraid to respond. They’re afraid to respond because polytheism is theism, and theism is scary. And so they try to have it both ways – they try to have the Gods but keep them limited, to make sure they only worship (excuse me, “work with”) safe Gods.
Of course, it is far easier to engage with the Gods at only the most superficial level. A couple of personality traits, a handful or correspondences, and a need to lend their authority to whatever is important to you. Except that you aren’t actually engaging them. What you’re doing is akin to watching Desperately Seeking Susan once and then claiming to have a deep relationship with Madonna.
If the Gods want exactly what you want, are you actually engaging them? Or are you simply entranced with the magnified reflection of your desires?
Not so long ago, I found myself deeply disturbed that the Gods were not interested in the things that I felt to be of the utmost importance. I became angry, even accusatory, flinging what I perceived to be their ambivalence in their face. I demanded they get with the program, and aid me in what I believed to be important work. The response I received shocked me and, slowly, changed my life. All the work, effort, and study I had put forth for years in service of the “Pagan Community” had nothing to do with them. It was no more relevant than if I had put the same effort in at a church, synagogue, or Buddhist temple. I had insisted on home field advantage in my spiritual life, that the Gods come to me, and do my will.
One thing I have noticed about people who have deep relationships with Gods: they are often in awe of the strangeness of their encounters. There is even a slight embarrassment as they recount their tales, as if they don’t expect you to believe them. No, not Asgard but a dive bar is where they met Thor. Yes, Hera is a chain-smoker. Set loves Viking metal. For me, Hephaistos appears in coveralls, birkenstocks, big bushy beard, and a liberty cap. His hands are clean but stained with grease around the nails and in the creases, and there is no falter in his step.
Such encounters leave us conflicted and confused, because they don’t meet up to expectations. To my knowledge at least two people have had the Theoi tell them to join a Christian church. Some people have recounted that their UPG tells them the myths we hold so dear are wrong, or at best incomplete. Sometimes the messages received are so personal and troubling that we don’t dare share them. It’s been 16 years since my first encounter with the Gods, and I still don’t feel comfortable sharing that experience with anyone.
What seems to be clear is that developing a deep relationship with the Gods is easier if you meet them on their terms, not yours. If you come to them ready to listen, rather than needing to talk. And when something strange or uncomfortable occurs, sit with it. It’s probably important. And if the Gods appear, sound, and behave exactly the way you expect or desire? That’s a red flag.
In this reflective season, it’s a good time to take stock of your spiritual practice. Maybe you might want to try engaging the Gods on their own terms more often, and be open to how they present themselves and their wisdom. You might find yourself speaking to them in a cave or a shopping mall, or in a roadhouse at happy hour.