Deities, Starting Out, and Fear

I was kicking around several different titles for this post, but it encompasses a couple different topics that I think a more direct and to the point title will suffice. This is probably going to be another one of those unpopular posts, just, fair warning.

This post was–as many of my posts have been lately–inspired by a post on tumblr (my new favourite Internet past-time: checking out the pagan tag) in which a new Pagan remarked that they’d just start honouring Pan because he was a “standard deity”. Now, I don’t know the full story, but what I gathered was that this person, being a former Catholic, seemed a bit flummoxed when it came to this whole polytheism thing.

Before I go any further, though, I’d just like to say that this post is NOT a response to anyone in particular, although as I get into it it might seem that way. This is something I’ve seen all over the place.

Now, I do find this idea of “standard” deities amusing, as if there are deities who naturally come with training wheels and are therefore “safe” for a newbie to work with. (As an aside, I can’t ride two-wheeler bikes, so I have to ride those awesome three-wheelers with the basket on the back.) Aside from the fact that even the gentlest, most forgiving deity has their dark sides, the idea that some deities are “starters” like in Pokemon is just, well, kind of insulting.

I mean, yes, my starter Pokemon usually ends up being the strongest member of my team, but still.

The thing is, there’s kind of a grain of truth to this idea. You could even turn it into a drinking game: go search around for Neo-Pagan/Eclectic Wiccan sites, pick, let’s say, ten of them, and count how many times these deities show up, take a sip for each name on the list: Hecate, Pan, Cernunnos (often paired with Herne), Cerridwen, Gaia (actually, this one’s kind of cheating), Diana (for the love of everything, don’t do this on a Dianic website!), Persephone/Kore (often paired with Demeter), Inanna and/or Ishtar, Sekhmet, Isis (and they’re almost never honouring her in a Hellenic context).

On second thought, don’t do this. You will probably be very drunk by the time you’ve reached the fifth website.

Now, perhaps you could chalk this up to the fact that most of these deities have fairly well-known cults, were popular in their day, or are the sort of deities the average person will hear about in their everyday life (due to the above, or pop culture). Some deities *coughOdincough* also seem to be more aggressive when “recruiting”. Or, it could just be a case of someone saying “Okay, everyone’s honouring so-and-so, I should too.” This is actually how I felt when it seemed like every Wiccan had Cernunnos and Cerridwen as their God/Goddess set, and I just wasn’t feeling a connection to them, but I thought “This is what I’m supposed to do….”

Yeah, I know, I was an idiot.

On the flip side, though, there seem to be deities that many Pagans view as being “Paganism(s) 201” deities. You know which ones I’m talking about, right? Usually the more “warlike”, “fearsome” or “dark” deities: the Morrigan, Kali (at times) Sekhmet, Sutekh, Loki. Actually, pick any deity with a….slightly unsavoury reputation. These are the deities I’ve actually seen people warn newbies away from “Oh, don’t honour the Morrigan, she’s really intense and she’ll kick your ass if you’re not careful.”

This is all a bunch of bullshit.

It’s true that no deity is 100% “safe” but at the same time, no deity takes their MO from the Evil Overlord List, ’cause, you know, then nobody would want anything to do with them. Seriously though, even the “scary” deities have their softer sides. Go look up Ramprasad’s poems to Kali and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s one:

O Mother, who really
Knows Your magic? 

You’re a crazy girl
Driving us all crazy with these tricks. 

No one knows anyone else
In a world of Your illusions.
Kali’s tricks are so deft,
We act on what we see. 

And what suffering-
All because of a crazy girl! 

Who knows
What She truly is? 

Ramprasad says: If She decides
To be kind, this misery will pass.

Not that he never composed poems in which Kali is the more familiar “fierce, skull-wearing, god-crushing, demon-slaying goddess” but just look at this, this isn’t scary Kali, this is playful, trickster-like Kali (who drives a person crazy, nonetheless).

And I think some people do this without even realizing it. They see that someone’s written something about a deity that they love, and perhaps this person sees a lot of things about this deity that tend towards the more, shall we say, wilder aspects of the deity, and perhaps this person who is being poked by this deity starts getting worried, and starts thinking “Man, look at what happened to this person, am I going to end up like that?” and they just don’t respond to this deity, because they have this idea of what the deity will be like in their head, and maybe what the deity really wants from them is something different.

And this is bullshit, too.

Let’s face it, sometimes people need a kick-in-the-pants kind of deity, other times they need a pat on the head and milk and cookies, or a cuddle, some people get kicked in the pants way more often, other times, you go in expecting a kick in the pants and you get a cuddle. Sure, there are people who seem to think that all deities are all about cuddles all the time, but some people need those cuddles, and those cuddles are the right thing for them at that time, and WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO CRAP ON THEIR CUDDLE TIME?!

And then you have the folks who get neither kicks in pants nor cuddles. Actually, that’s probably how it works for most people. A kick every so often, maybe a cuddle here and there, but most of the time it’s somewhere in between.

So, to all the newbies out there, I’m sure you’ve heard that certain deities like to eat newbies for breakfast. My advice to you is just, you know, relax. All you’re doing is sabotaging yourself, and it could just be that that “scary” deity who is poking you….really isn’t all that scary. A little intimidating, perhaps (that comes with the whole “deity” thing, IMHO) but not, I bet, as scary as your mind is making them out to be. I’m telling you this as someone who has done this in the past.

I just want to close by saying that this isn’t the fault of any one person, and some deities are definitely more of the pants-kicking type. But seriously, don’t push the “some deities are definitely 201 material” thing, it baffles everyone who was first contacted by a “scary” deity.

No deity comes with training wheels. There are no deities that you’re free to worship after you’ve been with your “training wheels” for a decade or so, that’s not how it works.

15 thoughts on “Deities, Starting Out, and Fear

  1. I agree with you for the most part. I think there are probably deities “unsafe” for newbies in the sense that those deities are less forgiving of mistakes. Still, that shouldn’t be a “do not approach” sign; it should be an “approach much more carefully than you normally would” sign. People should evaluate for themselves whether or not they can take it. There’s no sense in putting XYZ deities in Paganism 201 and ABC in Paganism 101.

    As for Kali. . . to her devotees she’s the Divine Mother. . . but she takes no shit. Also, do you know if Ramprasad is talking about Kali as an aspect of Durga/Devi, or as a “standalone” deity?

    1. As far as I know, he only talks about Kali as Kali, but since monism has definitely been a thing in Hinduism since forever, I wouldn’t want to make a generalization. He does seem to address Kali as Kali though.

  2. Regarding Aset and Her Hellenic counterpart, Isis . . . She’s Weret-Hekau, “Great of Magic.” She melts faces off and steals power from other Gods (namely, Ra). She’s not just a snuggly maternal deity, and personally, one of the last deities I’d EVER want to piss off.

    And I’m sure Pan has His “I CAN AND WILL BREAK FACES” aspects/moments.

    That having been said, as you have essentially said, Gods aren’t pigeonhole-able. They have many, many facets to Them. When possible, I think it’s best to approach a deity tabula rasa, without any self-restraining preconceived notions. That’s not to say “do no research, ever.” No. Just, “put the textbooks away for a bit and approach this with childlike wonder, okay?”

    Set, for me, while rough and hard-nosed, is a Father figure of a God. He’s not all rageboners, skull-crushing, and USMC D.I.-style yelling. He has His paternal side, His healing and nurturing side — just as Aset, “the Ideal Mother,” has Her facemelting, “steal all the secret names and powers from Ra” side. But there’s no guarantee that He’s going to be like that with everyone else, one way or the other.

    Gods are fun and capricious like that. 😀

  3. Pan, who gave us the concept of panic? I’m kinda bemused by anyone thinking of him as an “everyone does this”, but perhaps I’m just too much of a nerd.

    1. I could have gotten my facts mixed up here, but as I recall, there was this romanticizing of all things rustic in England, and Pan was adopted as this personification of nature and wildness and such, and this is where the “gentle Pan who plays his pipes” comes from. Fast forward to the rise of Neo-Wicca and you have folks like Z. Budapest stating that Pan is god of teh witches and definitely not a rapist, he’s a PEACEFUL GOD OF NATURE!

      1. Yup. You can thank Elizabethan poets, John Keats’ “Endymion,” and a whole host of Romantic Period English poets and their poems for that portrayal.

  4. As a devotee of Pan, I find this post very entertaining. I totally agree that creating a hierarchy of “basic” and “advanced” deities is pointless and ill-advised.

    At the same time however, I haven’t seen Pan as being nearly as “tasky” and “here to recruit you” as some other gods. *coughOdincough* An essential part of his being is freedom, annoyingly so, and whenever I ask him what he wants from me in devotional practice, all I get is “Heh, surprise me.” I can totally see where people would find him approachable and easy to work with. In fact, it seems the challenge with him is that very few people actually get past a shallow easy-going relationship with him *because* he’s not going to push you into that, you’ve gotta climb to the top of the mountain, stand on the edge where that panic hums in you and say “I’m going to stay here, even though I could go.”

    It just reminds me that every god is different and every relationship we have with one of them is going to be different. I agree with warboar to “approach this with child-like wonder.”

  5. This post made me grin with glee.

    When I started in pagan shit, I didn’t start out with training wheels–I got thrown into the deep end of the pool. My first experience with a Being bigger than myself was when Baphomet showed up one night and sat on my chest. Nothing like starting out with a bang. My first pagan event featured a ritual focused on a possessory experience with two of the Norse Gods [Freyr and Gerda] Who scared the living fuck out of me because I saw Them very differently than others present. I have also seen the brutal side of the so-called ‘starter Gods’. I straight up don’t get the people who relate to Sekhmet as a mother-figure [not saying that they are wrong AT ALL, it’s just not my experience] because I had only ever seen Her as an overseer and a destructor. Hell, it freaks me out when my own God, a God of pushing boundaries, is kind and cuddly to me because I have been on the receiving end of so many well-deserved kicks in the ass either by Him or Sekhmet or Whomever Else the Universe has seen fit to throw my way.

    I feel that what is unsafe about the pagan community is the belief that the Gods always put our needs and well-being first, which I think ties into the idea of starter Gods and the ‘fluffiness’ that is associated with Them. People learn the hard way that they are NOT the top of the food chain and get upset when things happen in their lives that betray that. I think this really goes back to a lack of belief that the Gods and Powers exist and that They are somehow manifestations of human desires and I think that, above all else, damages people. I mean, if you believe Dionysus is a construct of the desire to be drunk and partying all the time, you are going to be blown away when He shows up in one of His terrible aspects that embraces intoxication as a way to tear the world down. If you think Loki is ‘just’ a lovable trickster Who enjoys fooling humans, the world will appear to be ending when the World-Breaker shows up and looks at you with His crazy eyes. I think we sometimes forget that, in some ways, the Gods are much like mortals–we all have our multiple facets and some of those are more appealing than others.

    1. I do understand where this person is coming from (especially being ex-Catholic myself) wanting to do what everyone else is doing. At the same time, I knew that there were certain deities that Weren’t For Me, but of course I jumped on all the bandwagons and wanted a Patron God and Goddess to choose me as their special friend, and then I would dedicate my whole life to Them and everything would be great (well, not really, but I would have Patrons).

      And then teenage Gef did not get her Patrons, and she was sad, then she grew up and realized she could just do her own thing.

  6. I heart this post. Seriously. It makes me really glad that I started out as a solitary without anyone giving me crap advice. LoL

    1. One of my role-playing friends said this to me during a huge fight on our board “I don’t think anyone has it in for you, you just kind of do your own thing.” This is basically what I do. I just do my own thing. If my own thing happens to be what everyone else is doing, then okay, but at the end of the day my thing is my thing.

  7. This reminds me of people wanting to know more about dinosaurs as “animal familiars”. I guess once, you go beyond dragons and wolves, you want more awesome “buddies”. Dinosaurs have no interest in contacting or working with humans as a rule. I had to work through my line of extinct animals (i.e. mammals – promammals – back to the beginning) before dinosaurs would even consider speaking to me. Even now, it is slow going.

    I think it is a matter of being human-centric and thinking that you are implicitly the master of the universe or at least the universe likes you. I credit that with New Age thinking that presents “The Secret” “Ask, Believe, Receive” as major tenants. I like to think that as we Pagans mature in our faith, we can see the Gods in all of their awesome terrible beauty.

    I have a patron relationship with Neptune, which is cordial. However, I make no mistake that like the sea, Neptune has His Moods and Fury. I just hang on for dear life, and make lots of offerings.

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