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Photo by By Alice Popkorn (CC)

The worship of the gods is not what matters, Brendan Myers says. People and relationships matter.

Even as someone who helps to provide others with the tools to worship their gods, these liturgies of the Fellowship, I find myself reading his words and saying — Yes. This is correct.

This is not the only correct thing, and if someone said with conviction that worshipping the gods matters I might agree with them, too. I might agree if they explain the way in which it matters to them. They would be hard pressed to convince me of why it matters to the gods.

That argument has always fallen flat for me.

To squeeze a deity into a human form, whether that be the literal Galilean (form in his case a body) or the certainty of what a god might want from me (form as projection), seems misguided; perhaps even a misuse of our faculties and energies.

I do not feel threatened by what Brendan says. In fact, I feel empowered by it. He writes:

My path is the path of a philosopher, and it is a spiritual path. It’s about finding answers to the highest and deepest questions that face humankind, and finding those answers by means of my own intelligence. It’s about not waiting for the word to come down from anyone else, not society, not parents, not politicians or governments, not teachers, not religion, not even the gods. In that sense it is a humanist activity, but it is an activity which elevates ones humanity to the highest sphere. That is what matters. This was the path of all the greatest philosophers through history. It was the path of the great pagan predecessors like Hypatia and Diotima and Plato; and also the path of more recent predecessors like James Frazer and Robert Graves. This is the path of knowledge; and knowledge is enlightenment, and knowledge is power.

This integration of philosophy, spirituality and humanism is so inviting to me. His words read rich to my heart, and I’m still piecing together the reason why.

Perhaps in part it is because I am considering pursuing a degree in Philosophy, a new development in the past several weeks. I have been asking myself, Why would one study philosophy? What would be the value for a person such as myself? As I write these questions on this blog, a blog of dialogue and inquiry and uncertainty and personal revelation, I feel like I know exactly why this would be valuable for me.

Yesterday I wrote a short essay for a scholarship application, and doing so brought a great deal of clarity as to why this move would make sense for me.

An excerpt:

I seek a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and a minor in Religious Studies with the intention to one day pursue a Masters of Divinity. I believe that before one can commit one’s self to the service of others one must undergo a process of refinement; a honing of one’s critical thinking skills, something akin to the tuning of a bow. Being human is an art form, but it is also a discipline; one dependent upon the faculties of the mind as well as the expressions of the heart. To study philosophy, accented with the study of religion, would help to place the two in greater context with one another – the mind and the heart.

The gods may indeed be wrapped up in this endeavor. When I light a flame for my goddess, and I invite her to transform me, to refine me, to envelop me and change me into something better, I do it without reservation. My rationality does not dissect this action. This is a relational act. A devotional act. One might say it is an act of faith, and I’m not sure they would be wrong.

But I also see the refinement of myself as something for which I am solely responsible. Should I wish to walk this path and prepare myself for a life committed to service I will need to shore up my strength and charge forward alone. If I make the choice to pursue this line of study, to commit myself for the next four years to being a student of knowledge, it will not be faith that carries me through: it will be conviction, perseverance, and courage. This will be a human endeavor, a human challenge, and ultimately, a human goal.

The gods may be with me, in my heart and in my mind, but it will still be — as always — a solitary journey.

I wonder…

What are you impressions of Brendan’s piece? What does it inspire in you?

What do you think about the study of knowledge? How do you think philosophy plays into an integrated spiritual life?

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  • valerie

    My first thought- He said what I’ve been trying to find words to say for a long time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chkraemer13 Christine Hoff Kraemer

    I’m unclear why “relationships with the Gods” would be excluded from “relationships.” Off to read the article.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Great point, Christine. I hope you expand upon that here.

      • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

        The website is still down, but I am wondering about the same thing as Christine. Being somewhat familiar with his work, I assume he means to say The worship of the gods is not what matters to us human beings. From an humanist perspective, religion is largely a human affair, that I can agree with. Whether the Gods would agree … that is a different matter, one we cannot access with only reason. And philosophy is about reasoning.

        I hope Brendan’s website will be up and running soon. For now one can only speculate. Maybe you brought too much traffic to his domain Teo :P

        • http://twitter.com/Fellwater Brendan Myers

          The web site is back up and running now. :-)

          • http://paganlayman.wordpress.com/ Soliwo

            Great. As you wrote yourself, I did not find anything very surprising or controversial. Yet it is a current issue in the pagan blogosphere. This week there has been rather a lot of writing about sacrifice, how a deep relationship with the gods comes at a (social) price. For myself, if I would have to choose between my friends (if they are any good) and the gods, I would choose my friends. However, the gods have not asked such sacrifice of me, and I have not experienced the gods as beings who would require such things from me. I doubt whether the gods are objectively real, and I doubt whether the gods care much for worship. I doubt and doubt and yet I come back to them. In the end, much depends on one’s experiences of the gods. If I someone has a direct relationship with a god, it would be rather ungenerous of them to call themselves humanists, if that means that the relationship is fully focussed on human needs and interests. Though of course, experiences are also informed by one’s word view, so it is an egg and chicken situation it seems.

            I would appreciate some further explanation on your understanding of humanism. The word is used by so many and sometimes in conflicting ways, especially in the Pagan community. I always think of Erasmus and Thomas Moore, and I am quite certain most humanistic pagans will not consider the latter very humanistic. I somewhat dislike the word, as its very name seems to position the human species above animals and plants or the earth itself. And ‘inclusive humanist’ isn’t very pretty either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

    You know my thoughts on the piece from yesterday, but my overall impression is that it is well written and thought-out. It is obvious he put some time into it.

    As for the study of knowledge, I think it is vitally important. Knowledge of nature, knowledge of the universe, and introspective knowledge gained through our own insights are all terribly important. Also, the word philosophy is so *vague* and means so much, it inevitably plays a role in the entirety of everyone’s life be their philosophy well developed or undeveloped, it exists for everyone. As such, asking how it plays into my spiritual life is sort of like asking how having skin plays into living, it does because by virtue of my existing it exists. By virtue of ever having a viewpoint on life, I have a philosophy, by having a view on the Gods I have a religious philosophy.

    As for why worship matters to the Gods, I’m going to first say what does “matter” mean? If you mean why is it important, I can’t say and I don’t think it is “important” in any real sense, but I do think it is appreciated. If it was not appreciated (even if it was not important) then they would not bestow blessings on us nor take notice of us. To say that worship is completely irrelevant to the Gods is to say that we are completely irrelevant to the Gods.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      I think you could expand upon “how having skin plays into living” in a variety of ways. A closer examination of the way that skin is a part of your life, an extension of yourself, might inform your perspective on a number of things. It might cause you to think differently about encasement, heat, movement, limitation, or fragility. It might inspire you to poetry, to song, or to debate. I don’t see it is as a pointless act to think about skin, nor do I think that the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence is tangential or frivolous.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

        I never said it was pointless, I said that asking how philosophy plays into your religious life is like how asking how skin plays into living. Regardless of the approach to skin or things your skin inspires, one point is undeniable and universally true, having skin is necessary to life, in the same way having a viewpoint on life requires a philosophy of some sort. Neither of these are pointless to ruminate upon, but asking the question is a sort of odd redundancy, a funny one really, since philosophy is ever present in all humans blessed with the ability to speak and think (and I don’t say that jokingly.)

        I don’t want anyone (at all) to think for a split-second that I think the study of nature or reality as frivolous, I am a devotee of Athena for the very fact that I *do* think it is important. I just think that asking how philosophy plays into anything is just a strangely redundant question. It does and always will play into a great number of things, whether the philosophy has a name or just naturally arises.

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          Sorry if I misread you, and thanks for the clarification, Connor.

          In the context of my post, the question — How does reality play into spirituality? — is really a question about application. For me, there is cause to question how the study of philosophy is applicable in my life, or in the life of someone who wishes to be of service to others.

          Do you see how that question fits contextually?

          • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

            I have found that for me there is no separation between my religion and spirituality and reality. They aren’t things which share separate compartments in the storehouse of my mind, they are the same thing. My faith is my reality, I can think of no other way to word it, so I can’t really answer that question in a meaningful way, I don’t think.

            As for the study of philosophy, I will readily admit that I haven’t a clue. I hate the writings of most of the philosophers (old and new) I have read, so I don’t feel that I’m in a position to say how studying the philosophy of others benefits one’s self or one’s service to others. If you would like, I have a dear friend who holds a PhD in Philosophy and who has taught all over the world, perhaps I could put you into contact and you could discuss it with him? He is absolutely brilliant, I assure you, if a tad eccentric. I’ll have to get his approval, but if I know him as well as I think I do, he’ll be alright with it.

  • lucystrawberry

    I’m extremely grateful to be a member of a 12 step fellowship who comes at a relationship with my higher power from a completely different perspective.

    As in, my life–literally, my continued existence– depends on that relationship.

    Continued healthy and happy living depends on complete and joyful integration with the will of the Divine.

    Why do we see bowing and obeying the will of the Divine force as a denigrating or somehow humiliating experience? Humbling, perhaps. But humiliating? Never. Submitting to god’s will is hard. it takes spiritual discipline and courage. But I have been shown repeatedly, time after time, that when I let the Divine lead, I am led to better places than I would have taken myself.

    A state of humility is only a state of being teachable. Being humble before the Gods, or before God, or the Divine, is simply being in a state of being ready to learn.

    I understand that Brendan and I see the Divine in a fundamentally different way. He sees the gods as ” just the people who happen to live on the other side.” I would not submit to that, either! I see the Divine is the universal force of love and the endless demand for change and transformation. It is the endless cycle of death and rebirth and loss and gain. It is the ebb and flow of the tides. It is sorrow, it is joy, it is pain and comfort. It is the grand design. Maybe this sounds simplistic. But it feels deep, and old, and true.

    I submit to it because it is reality. Because fighting against it means denying the reality of nature, the reality of the earth and the air, fire and water. Because relaxing into it means I am going with the flow of life, not against it, and I can witness the beauty of life as it unfolds.

    The program I am a member of emphasizes service. Service is one of the most important facets of my life. As Brendan says his path is the path of a philosopher, mine is the path of service. I have led other women through the wilderness to a place of being humble before the divine and I have seen the unbelievable changes it has wrought in their lives. They have been set free from the bondage of self and have been brought to a state of being of service to others and to their community.

    Why does it matter to the Gods whether we worship them? Because when we are in a state of worship and humility, we are freed from the bondage of self. Only then capable of living our lives to their highest ideals for us. We are only then capable of being of maximum service to the earth and to other humans. Because YES–relationships and people are crucial and deeply important. And we need to serve those relationships and our communities to the maximum.

    I proudly worship—I proudly submit—I proudly humble myself. I do so with love, and gratitude, and hopes of being of ever more service.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

      I’m a sober alcoholic and Brighid is my Higher Power, I love everything you said especially about humility and service. I get frustrated sometimes when folks talk about it from a humanist angle or try to intellectualize it and it’s because of that different perspective that you mentioned. Like you, my career, my relationship with my wife and children and my very life depend upon my relationship with her and the ongoing effort to align my will with hers, to humble myself before her so I can get my ego out of the way and break the cycles of my addiction and the ugly behaviors that come along with it. When folks talk about faith not being necessary, I suppose for them it might not be, for me it certainly is. For all the Deities i’ve prayed to, and all the ways I know how to I still come back 90% of the time to ‘please reveal your will to me that I might do it’. In effect, help me to be a better servant to you, help to get my ego out of the way and be guided. She is my light and my daily repreive and I adore her and simply can’t imagine relating to her in a way that doesn’t stem from gratitude and devotion, it defines me, I don’t pretend to know what it means to Her but I know she loves me and is willing to guide me and that’s enough.

      • lucystrawberry

        WOW! Thanks so much for sharing, Eric. I love everything you said and I relate so much regarding how you feel about your HP, that sense of gratitude and love and wonder, and sense of being loved and known entirely.

        People who have been through spiritual recovery have been given their lives back, their freedom back, by the intervention of the divine…and we’ve witnessed the differences in our lives when we “let go and let god” and when we don’t. It can be hard to explain to people how we somehow GAIN agency and power over our lives when we live our lives in accordance with the will of our higher powers instead of following our own will. I understand it as, instead of fighting against reality and getting nowhere….I am accepting reality and coming up with REAL solutions and options and adapting to situations. Suddenly, I have real power, whereas before I only had a false sense of control.

        Maybe it just doesn’t make sense or isn’t necessary for other people because they just didn’t get themselves into as much trouble as we did! In the end, my friend, it doesn’t matter. Today you and I are sober, we are free from the bondage of self, and we just need to live our own truth with humility and kindness.

  • John Medellin

    I suppose why people keep having knee-jerk reactions on this same debate that has been going on in the community more and more is that by saying that his path is that of a philosopher or a spiritual path, Meyers, whether intentionally or otherwise, implies that deity-centric Pagans and polytheists are less philosophical, humanist, and/or spiritual. It sounds more like he’s really impressed with himself than it does like a treatise on spiritual principles. I think what he means to say is that *he* is more philosophical, humanist, and/or spiritual when he approaches religion and our gods from this vantage point. However, the opposite can be said for others.

    The ancient world was replete with people who worshipped in their own way. The cosmopolitan Romans were quite different in religious practice from the farmers who lived not far from the cities simply because the nature of their lives was different, and thus their relationships were as well. I do agree that relationships are what is important, however, I think that the relationships with the gods are some of the most important in my life. And I, for one, do count myself as a spiritual, philosophical humanist. And I do subscribe to hard polytheism. They do not negate each other. They inform each other.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, John. Glad you’re a part of this conversation.

      We seem to be reading Brendan’s piece quite differently, which is interesting to me. I didn’t read into his words any implication that someone else was ‘less than’ he, nor did I read a spiritual treatise. It read to me like an attempt to express how these aspects of himself are integrated. He even talks about how he connects with his unnamed-goddess — a practice that seems to mean a great deal to him.

      I can’t speak for Brendan (nor would I — I think he’s perfectly capable of expressing what he things), but I’m not sure that he means anything other than what he says.

      With that aside, I wonder if you might explain a bit how your spirituality, philosophy, humanism and hard polytheism inform one another. That is intriguing to me, and I think people would benefit from hearing your perspective.

      • John Medellin

        Well, to be fair, I did not read all of Brendan’s piece, only what you had highlighted here. So, perhaps I should look at context before I start wagging my finger. I apologize for that and go take a look at the whole piece.

        In terms of these things informing each other though, I have come to many of the same types of conclusions that Conor seems to have. Philosophy is a wide-ranging word, going from the very academic to the very mundane. A person’s philosophy is integral to a person’s existence because it pervades their day to day life whether they realize it, or will it, or not.

        For me, the ideas that I have about the gods being individuals came not from a book, but from experience. I only later found that other people seemed to think of them the way that I did. I use my relationships with them to inform ideas about relationships with people and places in my life as well. In this sense my spirituality informs my philosophy. Further, if I find personality or character traits in spirits that I have found in people whit whom I’ve had bad relationships, I give that spirit a second look. Sometimes I find that I just didn’t like that characteristic in this person, but it is not off-putting in a spirit or deity. At other times, I choose to keep a distance from that spirit, even if respectfully so.

        In regards to humanism, I pray for imbas, or awen, and ask for these spirits’ traits and virtues to be reflected in me. I frequently find in these situations that I will have the opportunity to manifest whatever traits or virtues are in question, but it almost never simply happens to me. This can be thought of as humanism in practice in my opinion. You must be willing not only to refine yourself in thoughts, but in deeds as well. That is one thing that I think this post, and what little I’ve read of Brendan’s, seem to hit on perfectly.

        Similarly, we should look not only to deities, who can be somewhat fickle in dealing with humans to be honest, but also to the people we now refer to as “Ancestors.” We look towards our fellow humans who walked here before and what they accomplished and what we can accomplish likewise. Or sometimes, what they hoped we would accomplish.

        I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that read, “Norsemen do not ask their Gods for help. They impress their Gods.” That might be a slight misquote, and I’m not Norse, either by blood or tradition, but I frequently feel the same way. My gods do not generate fear or complete submission in me, rather they generate pride, courage, and the drive to better myself and the community around me. For this reason, their worship does matter to me. And since I find them reacting and reaching back out, I find that it must matter to them as well, otherwise … they wouldn’t.

        I don’t think that it is a good idea to sit around and wait for revelation or “instructions” from anyone, gods included, but they do seem to care. They do seem to have something to impart. I don’t think that they, or their worship, makes the entirety of Paganism, or my particular tradition, but it certainly seems to induce in people the very blessings that we seek when we enter into ritual to begin with.

        This went a lot of places, but I hope it makes sense. Please feel free to ask any questions if I lack coherency.

  • http://barefoot-witch.blogspot.com/ Kaye MacArthur

    I’d love to give my thoughts on this matter; however, I’d like to do so fully informed of Myers words and, for whatever reason, cannot seem to access his site. Is anyone else having this issue?

    • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

      I am in fact. There are a number of reasons why this might have happened, but if I had to wager a guess I’d say that whoever is hosting it might be having issues with the increased traffic.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      It appears to be down at the moment, yes.

    • http://twitter.com/Fellwater Brendan Myers

      Brendan here.
      I learned that my server was actually hit with a DDoS attack this morning. Nothing to do with my blog post, I’m sure. (I hope!) And now, it’s back online.

      • http://barefoot-witch.blogspot.com/ Kaye MacArthur

        Ah, thank you Brendan. Glad it’s back online so I can read it through. Thank you.

  • Jen

    I had the good fortune of hearing Brendan speak in person last year and enjoyed him immensely. That I don’t agree with him on many points in relation to how I view the gods and my personal practice, doesn’t bother me at all. I wonder what it is in particular about his words that strike an uncomfortable cord in people. Is it, as John says, that “Meyers, whether intentionally or otherwise, implies that deity-centric Pagans and polytheists are less philosophical, humanist, and/or spiritual.”

    I view Brendan’s statements as I’d view anyone else’s statements – as *his* particular opinions/beliefs. John goes on to say “I think what he means to say is that *he* is more philosophical, humanist, and/or spiritual when he approaches religion and our gods from this vantage point.” I agree.

    Brendan says that, for him: “It’s about not waiting for the word to come down from anyone else, not society, not parents, not politicians or governments, not teachers, not religion, not even the gods.”

    Unlike Brendan, I AM more interested in the word coming down from the gods, and in a more ‘in my face’ sense, the word coming down from my land base, spirit of place, the ground in which I work, the plants that I nurture, the animals I care for and those I see in the wilds around me. That is my religion, my vantage point. I don’t feel offended, or like I’m a child having her head patted condescendingly by a more knowledgeable adult when my practice is not acknowledged as having value *to someone else*. I simply feel that my practice, my philosophy, is different than Brendan’s.

    I like what Connor said:By virtue of ever having a viewpoint on life, I have a philosophy, by having a view on the Gods I have a religious philosophy.”

    Let us know how your pursuit of philosophy goes. Best wishes on being granted your scholarship!

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.e.ashton William E. Ashton

    In my practice, I try to maintain relationships with the Three Kindred with equanimity toward all. My practice my be different from some pagans; however, I believe that many pagans engage in the same religious behaviors of there former religions (privileging ‘gods’ over all else, acting in certain ways because of a smite/not smite fate, romanticizing/fantasizing the communications between divinity and themselves), and our practices need to be DIFFERENT from our religious past. Part of creating that difference is to view the ancestors and spirits of the Land as important as the gods.

    Peers in the Front Range (Colorado) ADF community have come to confront me and question my “loyalty to the gods”, and tell me that I should “reconsider my vocation” as I’m enrolled in the ADF’s Clergy Training Program. Because I haven’t had a “Come to Jesus (Herne, Dagda, Thor, Zeus) moment” somehow my practice is invalid, and according to some, I’m off-center from my practice since I don’t privilege the gods over the other Kindred… I just don’t buy it.

    As modern pagans we do not have to turn to the sky, asking the gods with outstretched hands, to know when it will rain… we can turn on a television or querry the internet and see just where the weather patterns are. Heck, with enough resources, we can even seed clouds and FORCE the rain to fall, changing the natural patterns of weather. To ‘worship’ the gods in the same ways our predecessors did, in my opinion, speaks to a lack of originality in humanity.

    We are not the same people our predecessors were. We are aware of a MUCH larger world, we are more tolerant (shocker, I know), and we are more skilled at participating in a diverse global community. How did our ancestors ‘know’ what was right to offer to the gods, ancestors, and spirits? They CREATED myths, they fed the recently deceased “Uncle Bob” the same stuff he ate while living (or some societally appropriate food for the dead), they knew if they were our of relationship with the Three Kindred, that their lives were effected, and that their relationships on all levels were effected.

    In closing, many of us are trying to participate in an agrarian religion, while “out-of-relationship” with the land. We’re trying to connect to the gods of our ancestors, but instead of bringing them along, through myth, on our journey as humans, we’ve picked up the relationship where it was left off long, long ago. We relate to the dead as would Dr. John Dee, if we relate to them at all, instead of as family who have recently moved far away, but who we’d still like to stay in touch with.

    Perhaps, if we’re willing, we could take a look at what a ‘right relationship’ path looks like. What sort of behaviors and actions are the virtues of our ‘right relationship’ path?

    Do our virtues speak to the human condition as experienced by pagan folk?

    Can we trust one another, and drop our own ego-bullshit long enough to be able to listen to, and support one another in growing together?

    Of course we can have answers to these unanswerable questions… if we’re in right relationship, which requires a HECK of a lot of practice.

    Blessings y’all.

    • Jorja Flemming

      It seems very sad to me that you strive to be a priest and yet you seem to have such contempt for those of us that believe in and worship The Gods and Goddess rather than ourselves and (or) our own lofty goals.

      Trust me, there are few people that have strived as hard I have, to
      find a way to bring ancient wisdom and practice to a modern setting. I have spent years of my life studying scholarly works about ancient Kemet: her gods, her people, her culture as a way to find what is important to her Gods, and thus her modern practitioners.

      I know that that level of dedication maybe hard for some to
      understand, but the idea that you should throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, is hard for me to understand. It baffles my mind that a pagan would advocate abandoning ancient practice simply because we have moved forward in time.

      The idea that you don’t need the Gods or myths because you
      have the internet is as horrifying to me as the idea that I would “turn to the sky, and ask the gods with outstretched hands, to know when it will rain” is to you. I’m just unsure how someone can aspire to servicing the Gods and Goddess by becoming a “priest”
      but only if he doesn’t have to serve them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.tilley Craig A. Tilley

    I am inspired by your path of study you wish to pursue. I’ve been thinking for at least a year now of taking a religious studies class myself. The only thing that holds me back is location. Knowledge and understanding is a key factor in faith and religion and they can coincide peacefully.

  • William Bittner

    I LOVE the excerpt from your scholarship application.

  • LaurelhurstLiberal

    I’ll admit, I’m a bit uncomfortable with those folks who describe themselves as god-spouses and the like, and who seem to enjoy an intense relationship with their deity to the exclusion of many human relationships. On the other hand, it seems totally normal in polytheistic religion for certain people, and certain communities, to have special relationships with particular gods.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    Re. your application essay. It has been a long time since the academic study of philosophy—once you get past the introductory level—had much to do with how best to live one’s life. And I would expect to find much (often uninformed) hostility to religion in many philosophy departments.

    If you want to study the old philosophers, that might be better done in a Classics program, or one could go the religious studies route with a focus on philosophy of religion.

    Whatever you choose, take a good look at the department’s professors, their interests as revealed by their publications, and the sorts of classes that they teach before committing yourself.