On January 20th, the same day as Trump’s inauguration, I had a moment in which the world slowed down and I thought, Huh, there’s a very real possibility that I could die in about five seconds.
“How do I find my patron deity?” is a question that echoes throughout the pagan communities on Tumblr and elsewhere. What doesn’t seem to get discussed very often is what having a patron deity entails. It’ll be different with every deity and devotee, of course, depending on the deity’s personality and the nature of the original culture in question. The dynamics of a patronship with a Kemetic god versus an Irish god versus a Hellenic god are not the same; this previous post demonstrates a bit of that. And that’s just three people in a community of thousands!
Just to be clear, I’m speaking as an Irish polytheist and someone with a strong sensitivity to power dynamics, so much of what I’ve said is influenced by those things. I’m coming from a specific tradition with a specific background. Others will have different opinions and experiences, as evidenced by that first link above. Don’t take my words as fact, only as one person’s opinion.
Overall, I’m an angry person. To those who know me, yes, I know it’s a shock. I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
I’m angry about a lot of things: past traumas, deaths, my mental illnesses, the continued character assassination of Tony Stark in the comic universe, people who invalidate other people’s feelings. And I’m not alone. Anger is probably one of the most common, and sometimes the easiest, emotional responses to a lot of the world’s bullshit. When it comes to abuse survivors, I argue it’s one of the healthiest ones because it indicates that a) the person is a physical space safe enough to feel that they can express the anger, and b) that they have some level of belief, when the anger is directed at their abuser(s), in their own basic self-worth. You don’t get angry if you feel like you deserved what you got or that it ‘doesn’t matter,’ right?
But anger isn’t for everyone, and that’s a good thing! Gods know we need people who are merciful, who are understanding, to keep the rest of us from completely losing our shit. A community of warriors isn’t going to last long if it doesn’t have its healers and farmers and creators and basically everyone else. It’s everyone else that give warriors something to fight for in the first place.
We need more support services for polytheist survivors of domestic violence. I’m just going to put that out there.
A friend recently asked me to serve as a priestess for a teenage kid who had been through some terrible traumas, including sexual violence from partners, and wanted some kind of cleansing ritual. It took some time to tease out the reason behind it, but eventually the kid described an experience that would be familiar to many within the polytheist and magical communities involving another entity. Anyone outside of those communities, however, most likely would have dismissed it as a creative imagination or an indication of mental illness. While the kid obviously does have some mental illness, likely caused by prolonged and repeated trauma from his not-too-distant past, what ultimately matters isn’t what the rest of us thinks should be real but the fact that this experience was very real for him and affected him deeply. Unfortunately, the manifestation of this kid’s trauma response and the way he chose to address it would be seen by many as the actual problem, not a symptom of something deeper.
…aka How I Incorporate My Polytheism into Dealing with My PTSD from Intimate Partner Violence: A Preliminary Report.
Faith shows up in a lot of therapy already. One of the first steps of the famous 12-step substance abuse program involves believing in a power higher than yourself, and there are multiple survivor advocacy organizations coming from the perspective of one religion or another. The only two groups for polytheists I could find for domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV), however, appear to be all but dead, and one seems more focused on issues like addiction. Polytheists can be just as devout, religious, and/or spiritual as those of any other religion, and while advocacy and counseling groups are absolutely essential and effective, it’s more difficult for those of us for whom our healing is closely entwined with our religious practice.
This is why I have a group dedicated to polytheist-oriented DV support in the works in its own small corner of the Internet. But I feel weird proposing such a thing that will, by its nature, involve people sharing experiences not just of trauma but their religious beliefs without being willing to do the same myself, so I wrote this article, the process of which has made me uncomfortable, depressed, and angry by turns. It starts with some background, but you can skip it because the general outline isn’t unlike the stories of many other survivors. There should still be enough context to understand the last part, which is about how my PTSD and polytheistic practice intersect, so if you’d like to take a pass on the TMI, jump down to “Enter the Gods, Stage Right.”
My sincere hope is that this provides something constructive, even if it’s just for one person. Let’s hope I don’t fuck it up, if only because sharing this level of detail feels a little like pulling fingernails and leaving the raw beds exposed to the air.
Hush, this is my article, I’m allowed to be dramatic.
If you go into philosophy or religious studies thinking to find answers to questions of faith, of the divine, of those mysteries that have had so much power over human lives for at least as long as Homo sapiens has been around, you’re doomed to failure from the start. Fair warning: what you’ll find instead is several crises of faith, 2 AM bouts of drunkenness over existential why me‘s, and a hatred so deep for That Guy In Philosophy 101 that the Mariana Trench looks like a crack in the sidewalk. It got to the point that, for a long time, if it couldn’t be replicated in a scientific setting or be logically explained, I would roll my eyes at the religious sheeple who could chew on such bullshit.
And then, like Hume’s sun deciding to sleep in late one day, like the Average Kid who suddenly finds out he’s a wizard, everything changed. It occurred to me that if no one can accurately define what the divine is in any objective way, then how can it be concluded with any certainty that it doesn’t exist? And, well, why not believe?
I’ve seen Pagans dismissing the reality of cultural appropriation as the shrill cries of people “playing the race card,” being too sensitive, or actively looking for something to get offended over. The particulars on why it’s a legitimate problem have been addressed at great length elsewhere, but it’s a subject that seems to make the most people get the most defensive more quickly than any other. Why?
It honestly makes me sad that posts tagged “death” and such are almost always about suicide, self-harm, and depression, not just because these are all very serious subjects that need greater understanding and support but because death is so much more than all those things that are punctuated with horror gifs. It’s more than the transformation described in the Tarot, more than the biological cycle of putrefaction and decomposition. It’s a constant fear in the back of most of our minds, but while you shouldn’t obsess over it and forget to live, you can’t ignore it, either, and pretending otherwise just seems to worsen the anxiety and terror. Even I get existential crises every so often, and it’s a struggle I’ve been waging since I was the little kid with too many nightmares. Facing death, dancing and arguing and laughing with death, can be one of the most powerful things you do. Continue reading “Death’s Gross Empowerment”
For one of my undergrad philosophy classes, I wrote an essay explaining why God’s alleged omnipotence and omniscience didn’t necessitate human obeisance. I don’t remember what class it was for specifically or what I grade I got on it, only the righteous indignation as I sat muttering into my fifth cup of coffee in one of the campus dining halls. Adoration, unquestioning faith, and blind obedience: this kind of absolute surrender to a deity seems to be the most common understanding of what worship actually entails. I know people who have been drawn towards one Pagan path or another but who find the idea of developing a relationship with a deity utterly repelling because of this misunderstanding of what worship should entail.