Passing the Point of No Return

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.

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The Great Spiritual Crisis

Before I get into the meat of the post (The Great Spiritual Crisis or How I Learned to Stop Shooting Myself in the Foot and Got My Shit Together), perhaps a brief refresher on how I got there to begin with might be in order. It’s been a long enough time that people have probably forgotten; hell, I forget myself sometimes.

I discovered Paganism in my early twenties, first through very questionable material that could be bought in bookstores, then gradually less questionable material found online. Making those first tentative steps from reading to practice, I met Hermes, who quickly claimed me for himself and went right about restructuring my life; several sudden out of nowhere changes and strings of dramatic coincidence that left me with very few doubts, and a great sense of security in that connection (kind of a rarity for me). I was a member of ADF and in the Hellenic Reconstructionist community, eventually I was sort of on the periphery of the spirit worker circle; I knew and was very friendly with a handful of individuals who were well known participants thereof, I brushed up on the edge of the wider circle as a silent lurker but most of my exposure was through a smaller group of individuals who were then all mutual friends.

During the latter half of the functional years there was a gradual shift away from the former groups and more firmly into that last; accompanying that was a shift in my religious practice. It wasn’t my calling to be a layperson or a holiday Pagan (not in my nature either – full on life consuming obsession or don’t bother, for better or worse that’s how I can be), and while I appreciate all the studying I did on ancient and modern tradition, I didn’t feel the connection with the culture that a lot of other recons seem to; it was a means to an end not an end in itself, my interest was solely with the god. Boundaries started to blur a little, things got more intense, and I found myself being pointed in an altogether new direction.

I accepted a new role with him, a new responsibility, and took vows to that effect. Once I was more open about this, but that was a long time ago and I’ve since changed my mind; for many reasons, I’ve gained a deeper respect for privacy, some details do not need to be (and maybe should not be) shared. Said vows and responsibility do not involve the community or any other individual people, so there is no pressing reason why anyone else needs to know; you’ll just have to bear with me on it, I promise not to bring it up a thousand times in teasing hints and glimpses.

I mention it because it was after those vows that everything went to shit. Like, right immediately after. In retrospect, the connection between the two is so obvious it’s painful. Not that I understood it at the time, or for a long time after.

It was an…initiation crisis? Is that the right word? The sort of breaking and remaking that happens when you let the gods in, give your life to them. I was not then (and am not yet) in any way fit to fulfill that new role; oddly (or not) it brushes up against near every weakness, trauma, social deficiency and life experience gap that I have. I was never going to naturally grow into someone who could, poof, done! No, this was always going to be necessary, and it was always going to be unpleasant – and will be unpleasant once more in the future I have no doubt, but this time at least I will understand what is happening.

It seems hopelessly naive now, but at the time I wasn’t expecting anything of the sort. Much earlier, when I recognized Hermes as a patron (to use the common phrase) I solidified it with a ritual that did involve some formal vows. I suppose I had thought it would be similar, an acknowledgment of the situation as it currently stood, and things would just continue as it had been, no fireworks let alone a mass explosion. I probably knew a little more going in than other people get to ahead of time because of the company I was keeping – though in other ways that same company left me more unprepared for the individual experience than I might’ve been had I gone in blind and took things as they came. Maybe there is no real way to be prepared?

Had someone sat me down before hand and explained what might happen in undertaking this, would it have made a difference? It’s easy to think you can handle something in theory, the reality doesn’t always turn out as you’d expect; I suspect that would’ve been the case. Though if I had known, perhaps I could’ve braced myself for the onslaught, perhaps I would’ve recognized it for what it was sooner. I do not think I needed to lose as much time to it as I did.

I made a very crucial, but likely common error, in trying to trace the problems back to the source, when I could no longer deny that there was a problem. Some of it was a matter of unfortunate timing, some of it was the environment I was in at the time, but some of it I don’t have any other excuse for. I laid the blame for it at someone else’s feet. Particular someones. Everything stemmed from my close association with them, they were poison people, their ideas were poison, their practices and standards are poison, and I got to purge it all out of my head, out of my practice, and then all will be well.

It’s easier to blame others than it is to take a good long look in the mirror. It worked out as well as such things usually do.

Wrong assumptions can have a degree of truth in them, as this one did. It was my association with them that started it, they got the ball rolling (entirely unintentional on their parts), but it was less a deliberate sabotage, or malicious neglect, more like stumbling onto a hidden landmine that set off so far away you never know what you did. If it hadn’t been them it would’ve been someone else, or something else, a light breeze would’ve done the job. I’d thought I knew myself better than I really did, I’d thought (more naivety) that I had my shit together more than I in fact actually did. My psyche was a jumbled mess of psychological scars and broken bits held together with store brand scotch tape and hope, I knew just enough how it worked to get through the basics of life, but I was adding a lot of stressers to the mix, even before giving a god free range of the place. It was going to fall apart sooner or later, with or without all this, it needed to fall apart because it wasn’t stable and wasn’t healthy.

As I said, there was some unfortunate timing involved in this. That association had come to an end in a, shall we say, less than ideal fashion. All the result of very mundane personality clashes; some friendships only come about because of the distance the internet provides, they don’t all translate into meatspace reality, some in fact go very bad very quick without that distance. Things had deteriorated by that point when the blow up occurred, enough so that it was just starting to dawn on me that there was something going on, something wrong. You can see where the mistake was made – it was not a full mistake, the connection was there, I noticed it at a time when I was mad for other reasons, and so I ran with it.

I was also encouraged to think this way, at the time and for a long time after. But this is getting a bit long as is, so I think I’ll save the other, outside factors that helped push this already unpleasant ordeal into the half decade time sink that it turned into, for another post.

I’d thought the whole situation was external, that I’d gotten lost on (lead down) the wrong path, and I needed to find my way off of it in order to get it working again, find that right path I had in fact never left (just stalled while some internal maintenance was done). And so in going off to look for something I already had in hand, I created the mess I was trying to solve and spent years lost in the storm.

Leaving the storm, and some of the reasons it was such a struggle, that will be next.

Issues of Ownership

I sometimes describe my religion as being “Hermes Owned and Operated.” In lieu of simple labels, it seems accurate enough and most people do understand what I mean. Of course, it is also supposed to be somewhat tongue in cheek.

The first time I ever referred to myself as owned was in a Livejournal entry as an offhand joke while I mused on my first year of being formally dedicated to Hermes. It might have been forgotten entirely, but that someone I then had barely even heard of decided to be personally offended by what I had said, launched a tirade against me elsewhere, presenting the situation in an overblown and highly distorted form making it seem that I said a whole ton of shit I never once implied. The ensuing drama assured that the phrase stuck in my head.

I have not continued using the phrase entirely out of spite. Having had time to think it over carefully, there is a degree to which it is very applicable.

I find myself generally dissatisfied with the term “patron god,” though it is one that I have been using for years now because it is a term that people in the Pagan world know and recognize. It is a problematic word however because its definition is a bit too flexible and not universally agreed upon. People use patron to describe the god they are fully devoted to and serve in a formal and often public fashion, to a deity they have a moderately close relationship with though without the mundane life interference or call to serve, to whichever deity they happen to worship more than the others for whatever the reason (their job, mutual interests, just think they’re cool). Some people hold to a more conservative definition (as I do) others far more liberal. It can, and has, made for a confusing situation.

I do believe that a different term is needed to describe those with close relationships with their deities but who are ultimately still another faithful worshiper like any other, and one for those whose deities strongly interfere in their every day lives and who do feel called to serve those gods (whether that is through a community or in a more direct and private way). It has nothing to do with issues of specialness, wanting to paint myself like I’m better than anyone else. Its because the relationship dynamics are different, the expectations are different. Thus I believe descriptive terms should reflect that difference without my having to give an extra explanation.

I am of the opinion the word patron works better for the more intense, service oriented relationships, and that a different word should be used for the god you happen to feel closest to (before accepting Hermes as my patron, I referred to him as my primary deity, that worked for me and people generally understood what I was talking about). I also know that this is not going to happen. Definition wars rarely work in favor of the aggressor, when large groups of people have been using a word a certain way for a great length of time they are not going to appreciate someone barreling over with their chest puffed out insisting that you can’t use that word anymore because I’ve decided to define it according to how I think things should be. I’ve been on the other end of that before, I didn’t take kindly to it and the hell that I’m going to turn around and do the same thing. However right you may think you are, sometimes the only thing that can be done is to find a word of your own to use. One of these days perhaps, I or one of my clever friends will dream up a perfect general term to describe this relationship dynamic. Until that happens, these problems remain.

As well as being tongue in cheek, by calling myself owned I wished to convey the intensity of our relationship and the place he holds in my life (if I can be both funny and serious at the same time than, as one of Hermes’ people, that’s exactly what I should do). For the most part, people understand this and I’ve not had problems with reasonable people understanding my meaning.

I was accused of being a slave in the attack against me, that by calling myself owned I was implying a master/slave dynamic in which I have no autonomy whatsoever. I do not honestly believe that this was an genuine misunderstanding so much as it was it was a deliberate distortion, especially as it has never happened since except with one individual who lets his biases be known loud and clear.

That does not concern me. However, there are in fact those who identify themselves as godslaves, who refer to their deities as “owners” and they do mean it in the master/slave dynamic and they often do mean that they have little or no personal autonomy. And this movement is beginning to gain some publicity. And its more for this reason that I want to clarify what I mean, so as not to confuse those familiar with a different dynamic.

When I finally began noticing the flood of omens that Hermes was sending my way, when I acknowledged that his interest in me was far from casual and that he was my patron and pushing me toward something else, I made a pledge to take vows to him in service after a year’s time; a year because there is no reason to rush such things, I wanted to take the time to be certain that I was doing the right thing, that this was really what I wanted and that it was really what he wanted.

By the time I was ready to make my vows, everything in my life had changed.

My childhood was an abusive one, physically and emotionally; the severity varied by degrees at different points in time, but it was overall a negative experienced marked by encounters with people that beat me, neglected me, ridiculed and degraded me, or betrayed the trust I foolishly placed in them. The recovery process from this took time, and by necessity was something I had to do on my own. It was during this recovery time that Hermes first made himself known to me, and it was largely because of him that I was able to recover at all (by rights I should not be any where near as functional as I am). But I would not be much use to him living in isolation as I was, and continuing to live with a family I simply don’t get along with in close quarters was taking a severe toll on me. So these were some of the things that he fixed.

Within that year Hermes brought me out of a transitional period, and gave me a whole new life. He arranged for me to move to a new city, to have a steady income, a romantic relationship, hell he even gave me a pet as a birthday present. I have a small real life community of friends and acquaintances, and a far larger internet community of the same. My physical health and mental well being have improved a thousand times over.

I’m not going to pretend it was all easy and wonderful, nothing ever is and Hermes is not exactly a god of the easy path. Though the apartment I’m living in now is beautiful and peaceful and I’m alone with my girlfriend, the first two homes were far less than ideal (in unsafe locations, with unpleasant people), and there was a brief stint working at a job that … well, to call that place a massive and constant dramafest would be a severe understatement. But even these were far better than the conditions I was living under before and, right now, things are about as close to perfect as they have ever been, and far more than I thought I ever deserved.

Hermes had a hand in all of this, his involvement was considerably less than subtle as far as I am concerned, though of course you are invited to believe me on these points or not. It was only about a week after Hermes and I had a long talk about why I needed to leave my mother’s house, a week after he got me to agree to look into relocating within a year, that one of the few online friends I had at the time told me one of her room mates bounced his rent check and then disappeared never to be heard from again, she needed a new room mate and she needed one in about a month (“But I thought we agreed on a year?’ I said. No, we said within a year, he replied, a month is within a year). That coincidence is too much for me to explain away, my healthy skepticism can’t dismiss it; and having some very solid real world evidence of the gods’ influence in your life can be a wonderful thing.

Everything in my life now has his fingerprints on it, and I went through with my lifetime vows. Because of these things, I consider there to be some truth in saying that I am owned when most every aspect of my life, both by his design and my vows, do belong to him.

But my turning so much over to him has nothing to do with obligation, with feeling as though I have to because he’s a god and he’s bigger than me. It has to do with trust, Hermes has earned my trust over the years, has proven over and over again that he has my best interests at heart. Should that ever change that trust could be lost, I don’t think it will ever come to that but walking away is a possibility.

***Warning, the following contains graphic depictions of UPG which may or may not be relevant to your practice, viewer discretion is advised***

It is not my opinion that Hermes is looking for slaves, but for very independent people. Hermes is a god of freedom, as many are though what sort of freedom they each offer can be very different. I believe that Hermes, in part, offers freedom from ties of obligation. His is the freedom of the wanderer, always on the road always moving, very little that can really hold on to him or keep him down. Which doesn’t mean going through life with no ties (unless that is what you need), but that ties are not something foisted upon you, that you just owe them some loyalty and you have no choice. You need to choose your own ties, and choose them very carefully; who do you want to be a part of your life, who do you want to extend your loyalty to, that you want to be obligated to?

I choose to bind myself to Hermes, I choose to belong to him. I choose that every day. And if one day I should find that it is no longer my choice, for whatever the reason, I do think he would rather I stop making that choice and walk away rather than remain unhappy at his side because I feel that I have to. I don’t see that day coming, but I know I have that option.

If I were ever to take that option, I know I wouldn’t walk away for free and a lot of the benefits I experience in my life may well vanish. However uncomfortable some people are with that, it is to be expected; reciprocity lies at the heart of every relationship especially divine ones, its a give and take. With extra privilages comes extra work, extra responsibility, and if I were to stop giving, no longer living up to my end of the bargain, he would be well within his rights to pull out as well. It would be no different than a human marriage coming to an end, you can’t go file for divorce from your spouse and still expect everything in your life to remain exactly the same; you might end up losing your house, your children at least some of the time, a large chunk of your possessions, your income, insurance benefits, the list goes on. Ending a divine relationship can be looked at much the same way, especially one that was close, intense and long term.

I have met those who consider this another form of slavery, them holding this over your head in order to keep you in line. Even beyond the very me centric notion that the gods should be expected to give you everything without you having to do much if anything in return (like I said, extra benefits extra work), I find this insulting on a more personal level.

I am not in this for what I can get out of him, I would not deserve this relationship if I was. Even were all these benefits to disappear tomorrow (and I’m sure some will sooner or later, life can not be wonderful all the time and no deity can make it so however much they may like you or not) I would still be here. I’m here because of a deep affection I have for him that has built in the years I’ve known him, that makes me want to serve him in whatever way he needs me to. Its that affection that keeps me at his side, and will keep me here so long as it remains.

Playing with Tricksters

There are several distinct patterns that continually come up in my spiritual life, certain things that all or at least most of the beings that come into my life have in common. One of those commonalities is that of falling under the modern archetypal classification of Trickster god.

My divine boss, Hermes, is a trickster. One of the deities he introduced me to, Loki, would be another very notorious trickster. Odin has more than a few trickster traits, and while I wouldn’t say Dionysos is a trickster his intensity and complete dissolution of boundaries can make people uncomfortable with him in some of the same ways. The two animal spirits that have emerged so far, Spider and Raccoon, both likewise have trickster qualities.

My divine line up makes some people nervous, and many have commented that they are glad they are not me. I frankly do not blame them. Tricksters represent that which is foreign, they stand outside of the normal social order, can open doors that let that which is outside into the center and create fires that destroy everything in their path. They represent sudden, massive, sometimes violent and destructive change, something that humans in general have a pathological fear of. They are chaotic and unpredictable, and play by no one’s rules but their own. Naturally, this and the roller coaster like existence that comes from serving them, is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

I have been known to argue with those who insist tricksters, or any chaotic being at all, are just simply evil and not to be worshiped. Leaving aside for a moment my personal dislike of terms of moral absolutism such as “good” and “evil” I am not certain that such terms can be rightly applied to such ambiguous beings. Human being are not the center of the universe, merely one part of an overall whole; the world is not here to cater to you and the gods aren’t either. Something making you uncomfortable does not mean that something is evil, or that it has no place or purpose (which is not to say I believe every being out there was meant to be worshiped by humanity, there are many beings which stand too far outside and should not be approached, but this takes us far from the purpose of this article).

Tricksters are threshold beings, and as such serve a very clear and very necessary function in the maintenance of the social order; they exist in all pantheons in all cultures for a reason, because their existence is necessary to keep the whole intact (for an excellent study of tricksters and their relationship with society, please check out this wonderful and highly recommended book). I would be willing to bet most people will at some point in their lives need the interference of a trickster in order to instigate a needed change. Change is something people are afraid of, and I have known many that remain willingly in the same toxic and empty circumstances, however miserable they may be there, because these circumstances are at least familiar and they don’t know what else to do. Those that are most frightened of the tricksters and what they represent are sometimes the ones that need their influence the most.

The modern Hellenic community, in my own opinion, tends to minimize and water down Hermes’ trickster aspect, turning him into the equivalent of a divine dancing monkey. He is here to do cartwheels, inspire all sorts of random goofy shit, and make you laugh, and that is the full extent of his trickster side. On this I must violently, and irritatedly, disagree. Hermes is not a harmless sprite or a bumbling clown, everything I said above in regards to trickster gods applies to him as well.

This tendency I think is fueled both by Hermes’ overall positive treatment in surviving lore and ancient culture (as opposed to other tricksters like Loki, who is sometimes spoken of as though he were the Norse version of Satan, which is of course ridiculous), and a certain resistance in much of the community to see the gods as anything other than glowy balls of serene perfection, embodiments of pure morality (which usually translates into something like the gods would never do anything I personally do not like, the assumption being once again that humans’ sense of morality governs all things). This is not a world view that I agree with or one which is supported by anything that I see in the workings of the universe as I know it (indeed, often this is argued as I wouldn’t want to worship gods that are anything less than moral perfection, therefore gods that are not morally perfect do not exist, which of course is proof of nothing; I won’t say that a more reasoned argument can not be made, only that I haven’t heard one and I doubt my mind will ever be changed on the matter anyway so please, don’t attempt it). I do not hold the gods up to human moral standards, nor do I think morality is solely, or even mostly, what they are all concerned with. The gods are not always nice, some less so than others, and they don’t always do things that you would consider to be nice. Seeing them as flawed both makes sense to me and represents no conflict in worshiping them, actually I find that idea somewhat offensive; the gods deal with you in all your flaws after all, where do you get off being so high and mighty?

Unlike some others, Hermes does seem to have a very well developed public face, he does move more freely from fringe to center and does deal in the everyday life of the community more than what seems to be the usual. This is the face that most people will see, and indeed it is one where many of the classic trickster traits are more muted (which is still no excuse for thinking him the god of stupid jokes and inane pranks). Which is still not to say that invoking him will ever be a hundred percent safe or that he will ever necessarily behave in the way you expect he will or even in a way you might approve of; how many times do I see people ask him for some luck and then stand there facing the front door waiting for him to come in, when he has already snuck in the back door and left you a small gift on the table don’t ask where it came from.

Those that more closely work with Hermes, who have been claimed and actively patronized by him, tend to see a different face. It tends to be a darker one, one far more aligned with that classic trickster image. One that is far more foreign, more unpredictable, more chaotic and a little less nice in the normal social sense (although he is still hopelessly likable in a strange sort of way). Zeus’ Hatchet Man, as opposed to his Herald. This is something I have discussed with other Hermes’ people who have noticed much the same thing, the few of us that there actually are.

Because Hermes does not appear to patronize that many people, and this is something I have been noticing since I first met and began my relationship with him. He is friends with many people certainly, widely liked and actively involved with the modern community. Often times I see him appear in a secondary or even tertiary position behind a different deity, very often Apollon or Dionysos, sort of as a support figure to the primary relationship. But very rarely is he the primary relationship, very rarely does he reach out and outright claim someone as his own. One reason for this is the simple fact that trickster deities do not claim that many people as it is. Even if all of us need them some times, or can form casual relationships with them, most people are simply not equipped to stand that close to these beings for very long, not equipped to handle the roller coaster ride that life with them always ends up being.

I did not choose my deities, they all came to me, and it is not an accident that I wound up with the line up that I have. There are many things about me that are different from the norm, things that make me unusually fit to live the trickster lifestyle, to walk with and serve these beings. I can not promise that this will be true of everyone grabbed up by tricksters, but it is true of me and may well explain why I was made into the spiritual specialist that I am, why I have the relationships that I do.

* Along the spectrum between order and chaos, my natural balance point is much closer to the chaotic end than it is for most people. I thrive in chaos in a way that isn’t often seen, I like lots of movement and background noise and clutter, and I like things to change on a very regular basis. Rather than avoid change I embrace it, I encourage it. I have had my whole life torn down and remade more than once (which, by the way, is par for the course in serving tricksters; they will do that to you, they will do it often), and I still need to break routine and go to new places, do new things, change my surroundings (which does involve moving frequently) every so often. I will not pretend that I require no level of stability whatsoever, that is true of no one (anymore than someone can live entirely without chaos), and in some aspects of my life stability is the order of the day such as in romantic relationships (that’s right people, I am a monogamous Pagan *gasp*). But most of the time a little stability goes a very long way with me, and it doesn’t take much for me to become bored and fall into a depressive rut.

So many people make it their goal to settle down somewhere, buy a house and live there forever, find a career and stay there until retirement. Most of my blood relatives all live in the same area, they are born there and never leave, my father held the same job for over thirty years. This is considered a normal part of life, a successful life. I can’t remember a time when the thought of ending up like that didn’t fill me with panic.

* I have been a social outsider my entire life. There is a difference between people that really are outsiders and those that are going through certain phases, rebelling or playing with their identity and will eventually grow out of it and blend back into the crowd; I am one of the former. Some have accused me of deliberately trying to be different, and that might have carried some weight except that this began when I was five years old (and I have the documentation to prove it). A five year old is not trying to be different, a five year old doesn’t even realize that there is a norm for them to differ from. Even if I now live in a place where people consider my various eccentricities to be charming (at a distance) rather than horrifying, what was true of me then is, for the most part, still true of me now.

A person serving a deity who is all about community building will likely find themselves presented with a community to be a part of. Tricksters are more liminal figures, they exist at the boundary, and if you serve one you will likely have to do so from the position they themselves occupy. Although I would never want to be anywhere else in life, I do not pretend that life on the fringe is easy (anyone who tells you it is is a liar), and it must be ten times harder for someone that was not born to it. There is a good reason why those who serve liminal deities were almost always liminal people to begin with.

And of course, Hermes does not exist entirely outside of the social order; there is a degree of interaction, and so there is with me as well (which is not always easy or comfortable for me, frankly, I am naturally anti social). I maintain a fringe involvement with various groups, though never as a full community member and there are always important ways in which I remain not one of them, and after a time I inevitably move on.

* I am a very ambiguous person that doesn’t fit neatly and easily into any category, stereotype or subculture. Perhaps because of this (or maybe this is a symptom of the other)  I am predisposed to see the world in varying shades of gray, believing that, in general, absolutes do not exist (what I like to call a realistic view ;-)). I tend to judge things on a situational basis relative to the circumstances, which is really the only approach when dealing with deities that blur boundaries (they’ll have way too much fun with you otherwise).

* One of the most common accusations against tricksters is that they are not trustworthy. I am not certain that that is really the case (not always, anyway)  but more that, as I said above, they do not play by the same rules that others do. You may come in expecting them to do one thing based on your own usual experiences, but as far as they are concerned they never promised you any such thing. Most of them will keep their word, the letter of it and no more than that, it is up to you to close the loopholes.

I experienced a lot of emotional and physical abuse growing up, and the end result of that is my ability to trust was almost completely destroyed. As a teenager my brain clicked into survival mode and developed a very lone wolf mentality: I look out for myself first and foremost, because there is no one else looking out for me. That was my reality for a very long time, and though things have changed and I have softened to a degree that I am able to trust (though admittedly, I can count the number of people I have ever trusted on one hand), much of that mentality still remains and likely always will. It is not completely necessary that I am able to trust you in order to form a relationship (barring intimate ones) or be willing to deal with you, because I probably don’t, and can’t, trust you out of hand.

For several years, I sought out the company of people that were considerably less than trustworthy, and quite open and proud of that. After years of being stabbed in the back (always by seemingly nice people that smiled to my face and swore up and down they would never do such a thing), there was something almost refreshing about such people, who at the least didn’t pretend that you could trust them. There was a degree to which I felt safer with people willing to lay their darker cards out on the table where I knew they were there, and spending time with such people taught me how relationships with them are negotiated.

One mistake I think many make is expecting that people will behave in the way you prefer they would, instead of paying attention to who they are and how they themselves act. There isn’t always a malicious intent there, just expectation projected on to them that it isn’t in them to fulfill. Never expect someone to behave in a way that is against their nature; if someone tells you they are not reliable, then do not put yourself in a position where you must rely on them. Most people will tell you who they are, the signs are there if you are looking for them, but most aren’t until its too late.

We all have a world view of our own, a list of rules and ethics we live by, and have a habit of assuming that everyone else sees things the same way that you do. That is not a good idea, and that goes triple when dealing with trickster deities who, by their nature, operate under their own rules. You need to be willing to set your own expectations aside, and negotiate on their terms and from within their world view as best you can.

Now, can most people do this easily? Probably not, and that is a good reason for the approach with caution advice. And this is of course not to say that tricksters can never be trusted period, but that is something to be seen over time. I trust Hermes completely, because he has proven over the years to have my best interests at heart (I never took that as a given, and it took a while to get to that point, and it certainly doesn’t save me from getting messed with every now and then); many who are close to Loki report that he is very loyal to those he considers to be friends, though not necessarily to anyone else. And hey, even a normally unreliable person can come through for you every now and then, you just shouldn’t expect it. Never expect more than they have told you, and shown you, that they are willing to give.

I don’t bring up any of these points to suggest that I am special, merely to speculate on why I may have wound up where I have spiritually speaking. There are many different places in the world, many different deities representing those different places, we’re all naturally better suited to some than others; many of the more community oriented deities that are the cornerstone of so many people’s personal practice are unreachable, if not outright barred, to me; you can’t have it all, there is always a trade off, that is just the way it goes. It is interesting for me to see how many ways in which I was suited for this, how much of my life almost seemed to prepare me for it; it lends a certain amount of confirmation to things (for me that is, your mileage may vary).

I also post it to be helpful to others. If you should decide you want to play with a trickster, these are some good points for you to keep in mind during your dealings with them. Maybe you can come out of it, not with the upper hand but at least with a few chips still in your pocket.