“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.

So what’s a patron deity?
Historically, a deity was a patron of an organization or concept rather than an individual.  Ex: Athena was the patron of Athens, so while she may provide assistance to an Athenian by virtue of their citizenship, her ultimate concern would have been the welfare of the city as a whole.  A private citizen’s welfare probably would have been secondary.  Clergy may have dedicated their whole lives to a specific deity, but this wouldn’t have made the deity their patron per se.

I don’t know when the idea of patronship became ‘privatized’ and so widespread, but I honestly don’t care except in how it pertains to our relationships to the gods right now.  Why are we looking for own personal patron deities?  Is it because we want to feel like special snowflakes handpicked by a god?  Maybe the individualistic, experiential nature of contemporary neopagan/polytheist practice makes this the next logical step in our religious practices?  Or is it because we have a powerful longing to feel such a deep connection with the divine?

The more I think about the term, whatever it meant historically, the more it seems appropriate: a patron gives support and resources, and the recipient uses them to create something of use for themselves of the community that also brings honor to the patron’s name.  There’s practicality and, most importantly, reciprocity.  There’s an exchange of promises made, implicit or explicit, and opportunities to demonstrate one’s reliability and earn respect, which in turn deepens the trust in the relationship and thus the power of help and action being exchanged.

Nowadays, I define it as the deity (or deities) for whom you spend the bulk of your time and energy and whose aid/guidance/support/etc you rely on most. Though perhaps not the only one, they’re your primary teacher and challenger, guardian and adversary.  At the end of the day, they’re the one hooked deepest in your heart.  YMMV, however – it’s different for many people. But first, a reminder:

You don’t need to have a patron deity to be a polytheist or pagan.

The question of godspouses, godslaves, and godshards are more complicated and beyond the scope of what I’m talking about here, which is the more common standard of worship or veneration.  The following are the things I personally believe to be most important in regards to patron deities (and a million thanks to River Devora, who gave me the words I didn’t have for some of these):

  • Consider why you want a patron deity in the first place.  Bragging rights?  Better back off for a while and grow up, then.  Guidance?  Support?  Much more substantial.  A mix of everything?  Well, we’re only human, and I’m cool with ulterior motives behind the altruistic ones as long as they’re kept in check.  Pride goeth and all that.
  • Understand your motives.  You know that trope where one protagonist is hiding something from another protagonist and it gets revealed at the worst possible moment and everything gets cocked up, and it wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if they’d just been honest at the beginning?  Don’t do that. Shadow work is meant to help you better understand yourself, which may mitigate getting blindsided by something you didn’t know about yourself or trying to keep a secret that negatively impacts your relationship when it inevitably gets discovered.  This doesn’t mean you should just spill everything, but be straightforward, even if it’s to say, “I don’t want to talk about that right now.”  Know your mind, basically. It’s a form of protection and, in some cases, a weapon.
  • Carefully consider the deity’s nature and what you’re looking for.  Some deities are more concerned for the ‘bigger picture’ than your personal welfare.  My relationship with na Morrígna, for example, is very clearly one of service to my community, whereas my relationship with Anpu is much quieter and turned inward.  Also, let’s say you’re a pacifist; would a deity of war be someone you want to spend time with?  This isn’t so straightforward, since there are things a pacifist can learn from such a deity or things a warrior can learn from a deity of peace, but it’s still something to consider.  Also, deities aren’t one-sided but multifaceted.  You might find that you get something out of the relationship that, from the outside, seems strange or even counterintuitive.  (I know a healer devoted to the Morrígan, for example.) But strong relationships are conducive to seeing more subtleties and nuances, and they can inspire the people involved to do more for one another than they might otherwise do for a mere acquaintance.
  • The relationship should be balanced.  You have rights.  You have boundaries that should be respected.  Even a surrendering of power should be by choice, as in sacred D/s.  Being mortal is absolutely not the same as being inferior and, in many ways, is a greater power in itself.
  • The relationship should be reciprocal.  Don’t take and not give anything in return of equal value.  On the other hand, don’t give without receiving anything in return.
  • Trust your intuition.  Probably one of the hardest things, honestly.  Practice divination.  Consult a trusted diviner or clergy person.  “Study” your own self to figure out what is you and what is not.  Be discerning, but remember that you’ll have to take a leap of faith and trust yourself – and the gods – sooner or later.
  • Oaths must be honored.  Be very, very careful about any promises you make.  You will be held to them, one way or another – and if not in this life, then possibly the next.  Better to start out conservatively, maybe with a trial period, rather than swear everything you are to a deity with whom you don’t have much experience.  There’s no race to any kind of finish line.  Do your research about the deity, its originating tradition, and yourself.
  • Deities aren’t Pokémon.  You might find yourself dealing with a variety of entities as time passes: deities, ancestors, animal and land spirits, fae, whatever.  But having a big inventory doesn’t automatically make you better, and I believe that you should only deal with as many entities as is practical.  Is there a reason to deal with this entity?  Do you have the time and energy to maintain a relationship with them in addition to the others?  Better to have strong relationships with fewer than shallow ones with many.
  • Deities aren’t interchangeable or there to be “used.”  There’s a reason deities revealed themselves when they did to the culture or people they did, and those interactions established a precedent.  Even if you’re a soft polytheist or atheopagan, even if you’re eclectic or practicing multiple paths, they should be treated with respect as individuals, not novelties or tools or fill-in-the-blanks.
  • Not being ‘tapped’ does not invalidate your worship, veneration, or belief. Not everyone gets called to a deity, and that’s perfectly fine!  Hell, that can be a blessing sometimes.  Choosing a deity yourself and putting in the work to build that relationship is just as valid.
  • Not having a “godphone” does not lessen your value as a worshiper or polytheist.  Some of us simply don’t experience our deities as clearly, as often, or in the same ways as others.  Sometimes never.  That’s okay.

Basically be conscientious, self-aware, respectful, knowledgeable, and practical, at least until you guys sort out what works for you.  Don’t rush or half-ass it. Seriously, the gods have been around for a while, they’re not going to disappear next Thursday.

Some resources:

Originally written for The Pagan Study Group.