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!
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.