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.

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Why I am no longer a Reconstructionist

What finally brought about the death of my Reconstructionist identity was Hermes himself. He told me it was time to drop the label and take a couple steps back from the community at large (which is not to say I was ever heavily involved beyond list lurking). And since he is really the center of my religious life, what he wants he gets.

That was the final nail in the coffin. Truth be told, this was building for quite some time, perhaps even from the beginning.

I discovered the Recon community after maybe a year or so of reading about Wicca and generic eclectic NeoPaganism and finding it unsatisfying for a variety of reasons. I appreciated the respect people in the Recon community had for studying the ancient traditions, actually respecting the deities as individuals instead of treating them like genies that exist only to do you favors. I signed right up, I thought I had found my home.

One mistake that I made then, and which unfortunately many people still make now (deliberately or not) is thinking its a matter of one or the other; either you are a hard line Reconstructionist or a fluffy eclectic, either you follow tradition to the letter or you do not give a shit at all. This is not even remotely true, its more of a spectrum than two opposing sides, with many different shades and layers in between. Not having ever been a hard line Recon, or even a self identifying Recon at all anymore, does not automatically put me on the side of the fluffy thoughtless eclectics. If that is, in all honesty, what you believe, I suggest you get out there and try interacting with some actual people instead of thinking that you can decide the way the world is without ever having left your tiny corner of it.

There are also, again unfortunately, some very negative and very persistent stereotypes that people on the one side will use to paint the other with wide, careless strokes. It is absolutely not true that all people who identify as Pagans (as opposed to Recons) don’t care about tradition at all, do no studying beyond books found in the New Age section with the little half moon on the spine, and basically do whatever they want because it feels good to them and who cares about the deities involved. Do such people exist? Absolutely, and they are a sadly very vocal segment, but vocal does not equal numbers (in fact, often enough it equals the opposite). I personally know a number of self identifying NeoPagans that are very well read, very devoted to their deities (as opposed to only trying to make themselves feel good)  and are very respectful of tradition whether they choose to follow it to the letter or not (and to be perfectly honest, whether someone wants to replicate tradition exactly or not, I do prefer they at least make their decision from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance). I do know of others who are … well, not so respectful. But to act as though those who are thoughtful and do know what they are doing either don’t exist or are in such an extreme minority that broad brushing the whole faith in this less than flattering picture is perfectly fine is horribly unfair.

And there can be problems in the Recon circles as well. Some have the idea that Reconstructionism is more like a religious reenactment society than an actual living faith, that people mostly just study and analyze and philosophize and talk endlessly but never actually practice, that everyone worships culture more than the gods. And are there people like that in the movement? Oh absolutely. But is that everyone, or even most everyone? Hell no. I have met some incredibly devoted people in this community, and my experiences in it have for the most part been positive.

The stereotypes and generalizations though can be easy enough to buy into, especially if you are new to things and don’t know any better. It can be easy to make the mistake of thinking, “Well, I know I’m not in that camp (whichever you may find more distasteful) so then I guess I must be in this other one.” It can make it harder to let go of labels if you believe, even in the back of your mind, that if you do so you will immediately become that other extreme that you don’t really want to be either.

I was fortunate to have come into the more, some would say moderate segment of the Hellenic Recon community, I wouldn’t brush up against those with far more extreme opinions until much later. Had the lore thumpers been my community I think these problems would have surfaced much earlier, assuming I had even been allowed to have my Recon career in the first place (and I doubt it). But even in the more moderate group, those gaps between where I was and where so many others were became apparent to me very early on. And so the struggle, between where I was finding myself and where I felt I needed to be as someone under a label, began.

Reconstructionism is not a religion, it is a methodology; it is a way to approach religion, to approach tradition. But it is also a community, it is a group of people united in that methodology. Nobody does things all the same, some things will be more important to one person than it will be to another, there are many different interpretations, theories and opinions. Still, there are some themes that do appear to be for the most part community wide, practices or beliefs that most seem to hold as a part of being Reconstructionist. And, for myself anyway, I felt there was a limit to how many of those near constant themes I can diverge from before I have to admit that I am out of line with everyone else.

Practice wise, the differences are not that deep. My rituals are very bare bones, candles and offerings and prayers/hymns and long meditation; I don’t require much in the way of pomp and circumstance, I have found simple works best. When it comes to studying ancient lore and history I consider it a must, if you wish to serve a deity now you do need to know who they were once considered to be, how that service was once done. And although I have no problems with reasonable innovation and UPG (ongoing communication from the gods is what makes this a living faith, after all), sticking to tradition as close as possible should always be the default position when approaching any deity you don’t know; these are offerings/activities they have been known to like in the past, its a reasonable place to begin; now if after the relationship has been established they tell you they want something different that’s fine, but why start out with guess work when someone else has already done the job for you? Keep in mind also I am not one of those people who believes the gods appreciate anything and everything you do for them, I do believe they can be offended, especially by those unwilling to put any real effort into a relationship or show them any consideration as independent beings that exist apart from you.

Its in other areas that I find my path just diverges from others.

1. Many Hellenic Recons believe it is absolutely necessary to worship every deity in the pantheon more or less equally; one person in particular classifies the “worship of the twelve” as an absolute requirement (there are other problems with that statement, but takes us beyond my point). I really don’t believe it is possible to worship all the gods equally, even beyond the issue of patrons there will always be a few you like and connect with more than others. But still, this does seem to be something the vast majority of the community agrees with and observes to the best of their abilities.

I ignored the other deities initially because Hermes was the one dancing for my attention and I felt instinctively that it was important to really establish that primary relationship, so I gave him my full attention. Later on I tried to expand that, I found Dionysos to be friendly enough although far in the background from where Hermes was. But the other deities mostly weren’t there, there were some I found impossible to relate to (as a mostly rootless wanderer, how do I connect with Hestia?), and two told me very clearly to get lost and don’t come back.

I do agree that it is never acceptable to disrespect a god, and I respect all deities for what they are and the place they hold in the world whether its a place that touches me or not. But respect and worship do not necessarily go hand in hand. Just because God X from whatever pantheon likes you is no guarantee his sister Goddess Y is going to feel the same way. And if a deity has repeatedly shown a total lack of interest in you, is it really respectful of them to continue pushing up on them against their obvious wishes?

2. Reconstructionism is, for the most part, modeled on the religion of Joe and Jane Average, and most people in any given religion are going to be general practitioners. The modern Recon community is designed to encourage those who come into it to be general practitioners; the word enforce can always be used for those people who firmly believe this is the only way to be and do not understand that not every person is necessarily supposed to be on the exact same path.

I am more a spiritual specialist, in that my focus is narrowed to one particular field of the human spiritual experience, as opposed to the broader picture. This is not something that I planned on or asked for, I was fine with being a general practitioner, but plans don’t always work out the way you think they will and you can’t always choose your gods. It wasn’t even something I fully realized for a long while, it took time before I started to see the themes and patterns. Some may argue that this is not very balanced, I think that can be debated (for one thing not everyone’s balance is going to look exactly the same), but I do believe it is part of the overall balance to have some people be so focused, it wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t necessary somehow.

Because mindless accusations do get made, let me state for the record: there is absolutely nothing wrong or inferior with being a general practitioner. Before you decide to assume this is all about feeling special with me, I challenge you to find where I ever said that having an “average” devotional life was inferior, or where I ever made anyone feel less than me for not having the same experiences I do.

3. I have contacts in the Norse pantheon as well as the Greeks. Now how offensive or not being dual trad is will depend on who you are talking to, some absolutely deplore the idea while plenty of others have no issues at all. Of course I hesitate to call myself dual trad, as the situation with the Norse deities seems to be shaping up much the same way the Greek gods did: my contacts are with two very specific deities while the rest of the pantheon mostly leaves me alone (although I have been informed Freya thinks I’m cool shit). 🙂

Now here some might throw the eclectic label at me. I can’t stop people from forming their own opinions, but I personally don’t feel the label applies. For one thing, I’m not making my own choices here, these are the being that are coming to me and the others are staying away for whatever the reason, its just the way it is. Though you can choose to believe me on this point or not. Also its hardly a random mishmash system I’m just throwing together, there is nothing random about it. Its all very tightly focused, all very well tied together in any number of ways. Its rather frightening actually.

4. While I do think its agreed upon that understanding ancient culture is important in truly understanding how and why the religion worked a certain way, it may be more debatable how many people actually think adopting the ancient worldview yourself is necessary. Though some think that it is.

I’m not going to pretend that our current culture is perfect, it isn’t, but nor do I hold to some romanticized vision of the past either. News flash, no culture at any point in time has ever been perfect, nothing will ever be perfect so long as people are involved. I am not in ancient Greece, nor do I honestly believe that the worldview would have remained exactly the same more than a thousand years later had the ancient faith survived. Naturally a person’s faith can and will influence their behavior and the way they see the world, but this should be a more organic process and not something dictated to you by others. I have never gotten the impression that my deities want me to reject everything I ever was or believed in in the twenty plus years I was alive before finding them, light it all on fire and automatically adopt someone else’s idea of the world wholesale. My gods prefer me to think for myself, thank you very much.

I’m not overly influenced by the culture that I live in now, I’ve always been pretty far outside the norm and my total lack of desire to fit in and be accepted makes it hard to make a real impression on me. My place in the world is as an outsider serving a liminal god, it wouldn’t make much sense of me to take on the cultural norm of any place or time. Though it doesn’t mean I can’t attempt to understand it intellectually, just like I try to intellectually understand this culture now (so difficult to do).

Many have observed that Hermes seems very at home in our modern world. Indeed there may be many elements to our current culture that are very Hermetic, for better or worse (that will largely depend on who you’re talking to). Though I do agree with this, I also believe that Hermes, being a deity of change, would be able to adapt to just about any culture at all. He has never struck me as being too terribly traditional, and others have had this experience of him as well (though your mileage may vary).

Hermes seems to prefer me to be a free agent, not become overly involved with any specific organization or movement. He wants me free of labels and the constrictions they bring. I got my beginning there, the label pushed me to focus on the studying that I needed to do, and now that I have my grounding it is apparently time to move on. Which is not to say that I ever stop studying, but that it may be time now to broaden focus to include things often left out of the Reconstructionist movement, like mysticism or magic (both things Hermes specializes in, like it or don’t).

I don’t fit in with the Recon movement, though there remains enough similarities that I can still hang in the background on the lists and groups that I was involved with before, I’ve maintained my same contacts through the massive changes I’ve made. I don’t fit in with the NeoPagan movement either. And no, its not up to some arrogant Reconstructionist up on his high horse trying to pin a scarlet “ENP” on everyone he doesn’t like to decide what is NeoPagan and what isn’t; self identifying NeoPagans can decide for themselves who fits in with them and who doesn’t, and they don’t recognize me as one of their own, the differences between me and them are just as great if not greater. Too liberal for the one, too conservative for the other, I find myself somewhere in between. Which is probably perfectly appropriate for me. 😉