So, let me tell another story, another thing that happened to me this year that marked an important event that…well, not changed things per se, gave me some insight into how things have changed may be a better way to put it. It ties into things that have been on my mind lately as I think through my mindset pre-crisis, mid-crisis and post-crisis; rather than include it in an entry about other things, I’ll make it its own.
Just after moving here, the room mate got herself on speaking terms with one or two local pagans, and we were invited to attend holiday rituals with the semi local ADF grove – I say semi local because they’re not really anywhere we’d be able to get to on our own, but one of those contacts would be driving by where we were anyway and offered to give us a ride. Timing was a little difficult to work out, we weren’t able to accept until the summer solstice.
Once again, it will be necessary to set the scene, where my thought process was in that point in time, and that means getting at least a little bit into those new developments I’ve alluded to that I’m still working out, specifically one of the ways I first misinterpreted. I had thought it was possible that I was being passed to another god. I can see now where I made the mistake (or half mistake, since I never completely bought it, never for more than a minute before going back to being certain it had to be wrong, had to be something else), it’s pretty basic but hey, wasn’t at my best at the time. This is one reason why religious practice got neglected during that last year of self improvement in the former city: I peaked in, this is what I saw, the first thought I had and I said, I can not deal with this right now. After arriving here, I knew it couldn’t be put off any longer, but my not dealing with it then meant it was allowed to quietly fester in the back of my mind, putting down deep roots of doubt while I wasn’t paying attention, making it harder to just dismiss outright.
Before I agreed to go to the ritual, I asked who the ritual was being held in honor of. I always ask this, as there is one deity whose rites I am explicitly not allowed to attend (this is something I’ve written about before, more than once, though never here it seems; perhaps I shall have to do so, soon, while I’m still in story mode). Room mate made the inquiry and the guy giving us the lift told her it was for Helios, with Hekate as the gatekeeper.
(If you’re unfamiliar with ADF’s ritual structure, suffice it to say a gatekeeper is a minor, functionary role in the ritual – Helios is the guest of honor, the gatekeeper is just opening the way. I hope that makes some sense, because a more detailed explanation would take us far from the point)
So we arrived, in time for the pre-ritual briefing, where it was affirmed that the guest of honor was Helios and the gatekeeper was going to be Hermes. Yes, it was previously going to be Hekate, but the ritual organizer had some sudden last minute bit of divine inspiration, or whatever you want to call it, but she got the feeling it needed to be Hermes and she decided to run with it.
Must’ve been some very sudden divine inspiration, I’d only asked two, three days prior. I don’t know if any of you can relate, or even just imagine, the experience: where you can feel the god’s presence, very immediate, very sharp, and you know they’re looking at you, and you know they’re smiling, and you can feel that growing prickle of dread/excitement, where you know something is about to happen and it is possibly going to be wonderful, and possibly going to suck.
(And I should probably add, just to make absolutely clear, the people in this group did not know me, I’d never met or spoken to any of them previously, just the one guy that gave us the ride and even then it was only maybe twice, briefly. So it’s not like I had any direct mundane sort of influence over this, where someone might consciously think oh hey, we got someone dedicated to Hermes coming, why not have him as the gatekeeper instead? They wouldn’t have known.)
It did not suck, but it was…intense. More so than it had been for a while (not that even that level of intensity is ever an every day thing, for anyone, so I imagine). I didn’t stay the whole ritual, sometime between calling the gatekeeper (which was when it started) and maybe just after Helios (I can not remember, I wasn’t able to pay attention), it came to the point of either leave this space or fall over backwards, I decided to go. I found a quiet corner on the property, where I could sit down and have this moment; I didn’t rejoin the group either, I stayed in that spot, slowly recovering, until it was time to leave.
Message received, loud and clear: I was not being passed over, that was a misunderstanding on my part. But it was the way the message was delivered (well, aside from the dramatic show of inviting himself to a ritual he knew I’d be at, that is), the particular phrasing of it, that’s come back to mind these last weeks.
You made vows. Binding, life long vows. And you have not been released from them.
There has always been a debate about choice, when it comes to divine relationships, who is doing the choosing. Seems these debates are still happening, or so I see from one of the very few Pagan blogs I still pay attention to, though with a different head ache inducing argument (as opposed to the head ache inducing arguments I remember, or the head ache inducing arguments of the future). My own views on the matter have always been on the…traditional side, I suppose you could call it.
I think most people will go through their lives without any deep interaction with the gods, aside from a nod of acknowledgment during active worship and maybe a clear blessing or two in response to need. The next biggest group will be those who find a particular god seems to give them a little more attention than normal (perhaps due to profession, a smith god for a smith as an example, but it could be any number of things), an exchange develops, more worship from the person and more blessing from the god, and that’s having a patron. I can’t say how common it is, not everyone will find one that’s for certain, but I don’t think it’s very rare either. And then you have the people that the gods intrude more on their lives, make more demands, more sacrifices, not of anything you’d buy or make (or not just that) but of yourself; they offer more, too: time, attention, energy, power, inspiration, letting you into their lives (or, well, they’ll leave the door unlocked, you have to actually get there yourself). These would be the spiritual specialists, with any of a variety of titles, purpose and work to do.
(Yes, I know this may not be the best, most detailed explanation, but I’d like to think it at least gets the point across, for the purposes of the present discussion)
I think even that last category, the relationship can begin from the person’s prompting. They do the work of reaching out, being open and available, make themselves look like an attractive prospect to Someone; maybe it begins as a less intense patronage but, as time goes on, the person is interested in more and the deity can see they’re sincere, they can both meet the demands and withstand the burdens, and it just grows naturally like that. I have no problem believing that. But I also have no problem believing that sometimes the gods choose certain people, sometimes before the person has even started with prayer and offerings, there is something about them that the god will make the first move. Sometimes, the gods may give that person no real choice in the matter. It’s not an even power dynamic here and it never will be; a human being can not compel a deity to give them the time of day if they don’t want to, a deity can make a person’s life very difficult if they don’t do as required.
This kind of thing is very well attested to, in historical accounts, in traditional cultures, you don’t even need to look very deep to find it. There’s no reason to think it would all of a sudden stop just because some people in modern times find the idea uncomfortable. If you do find it uncomfortable, well, there’s good news. You probably have nothing to worry about. No one, anywhere, at any time, has ever suggested this is a common occurrence; it’s very rare, we’re talking a statistical handful of people, and the odds of you being one of them are not very high.
(I should maybe also note that, just because I believe things of this nature can happen, does not mean I believe every individual account thereof. Maybe especially now.)
But back to me. It had been amusing, once, to wonder which of us did the choosing. It was a long time ago now, memory is generally less clear and accurate than you often think that it is; I have told the story many times over the years, but even that doesn’t always keep mistakes and embellishments from cropping in. I remember being drawn to Paganism out of the blue, I remember feeling like I was searching for something, someone, doing my research, going through names until I came upon his and then he was just right there. I remember reading Greek mythology as a kid, and he wasn’t one of the ones I was drawn to (that would be Apollo and Artemis, which goes to show what I knew then) so it never made sense, in hindsight, why he was the first Greek god I called to. There were a few other things that, in hindsight, could be early signs of his presence, of his pulling strings before I knew it. If he did choose me, and set things up to make certain I would find my way to him, it was subtly done, which would not be out of character. I may never know for sure, and it probably doesn’t matter much.
Now, even with the intriguing idea that this may have been arranged before Paganism was on my radar, doesn’t mean I couldn’t have chosen to shrug off his invitation and continue playing video games. I don’t think his choice necessarily implies my lack thereof, and that’s how I always thought it worked for me. I never felt coerced, more…charmed, I suppose, though I never thought of it that way, before. Everything seemed to move and grow along a natural trajectory: he came and I welcomed him, I called and he answered, he asked and I gave, I took a leap and he kept his word. I suppose, in retrospect, some of it may have moved at a faster pace than usual, faster than should be, maybe, from an outside perspective, but it never felt that way in the moment. It felt like something I was building as much as him, something I wanted as much as him, every crazy step of the way.
But then it occurs to me, how would you know? How would you know if you had a choice? If the god doesn’t approach you that way, doesn’t say it at the outset: you belong to me now, so come along, resistance is futile; if he just asks, holds out a hand and asks, would you know? If you always said yes, or at least yes to the right requests, how could you know? Don’t you have to test to really understand your limits? Say no, try to walk away, try to go back, and see what happens. Can you slip back into your old life (whatever life you had), or does everything instantly go to shit?
And another thing, just because you may have started out with a choice, doesn’t mean it will remain that way. Circumstances can change, in innumerable ways. You can lose that choice, you can give it away, by, like…oh I don’t know. By making vows; by making binding, lifelong vows. Something like that, could be a bit of a game changer.
It may not matter anymore, beyond the occasional intriguing late night thought experiment, what the situation really was way back when he first showed up, when I first established worship, or even when he made his first big request and asked me to just trust him. It does matter what the situation currently is, going forward.
I may very well have had the opportunity, the choice, to walk away once. I never took it; instead I pushed forward, pushed and pushed, and passed the point of no return. I do not have that option anymore.
Not that I’m complaining, far from it; in fact, in some ways, I consider it a good thing.