She skipped around the circle, waving sparkers in the air and laughing like a toddler. It was a non-conventional way to cast a Fire Circle, I suppose. But then again what’s convention to a mis-match gathering of MeetUp Pagans holding ritual behind a Unitarian Universalist church?
Could you imagine a more anti-convention convention?
The Fire Circle was a sub-circle, if you will, of an even larger elemental circle. It was intended to provide the participants with some Wicca 101 on the relevance of the element of Fire, and I found the whole thing to be a little boring. I could have been at home reading Cunningham if I’d have wanted some simple fire metaphors. I’d hoped for a Full Moon ritual that dug a little deeper. Instead, I got sparklers.
But then the Fire Priestess began talking about Gods. My ears perked up. Maybe this will rekindle the embers.
Apollo’s good to use… or you could use Isis… or for creative things you could use Brighid… There are good Gods to use from just about any pantheon…
Huh. What an interesting use of the word “use”, I thought. Using Gods to cure what ails you. Using Gods to get what you want out of life. Huh. How consumerist. Pill popping deities; making use of them in order to – what – be pain-free, blissful, satisfied?
It got me wondering – Is that what the Gods are? New Age Prescription Drugs?
Pick Your Poly-Pleasure
Polytheism, by nature, seems to create less pressure for the believer than monotheism, because polytheists have options. If something sours in the God/human relationship, the polytheist can go elsewhere. There’s a pretty big Deity Dating Pool for the modern polytheist, especially if you’re not particular about your pantheon.
Like yoga? Think Vedic. Love Loreena McKennitt? Call on the Celts. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit in the mood for something spicy. Google Santeria. Its all there of you. Grab a shopping cart. Go God gaga.
The monotheist, on the other hand, has a single choice, and if it doesn’t work with the big One, to Hell with ya’.
Admittedly, I’m being a bit flip with my characterizations. There are probably plenty of polytheists whose practice is eclectic and sincere, and plenty of monotheists who don’t feel trapped in their “personal relationship with God.”
It just seems like there are an awful lot of Deity options for the polytheist, and its a popular approach to make use of those options as we see fit. I don’t agree with that approach. I don’t think the Gods should be in service to me. It should be the other way around.
I Like My Gods To Be Big And Powerful
Call me an old fashioned Pagan, but I like to think that Gods & Goddesses are bigger than me, more powerful than me, worthy of respect. They’re here with me and inside of me — yes — but they are also outside of me and expansive in ways that stretch the imagination. This is why they are worshipped. This is why offerings are made to them.
I either believe that, or I believe that the Gods aren’t real. They’re just devices of psychology. They’re fiction. Narrative. They’re all in my head. And, if that’s the case, I should pick and choose which god I want to use. I should let my god or goddess serve me.
But I’m in the “Gods Are Real” camp, and in light of that I feel that I should be very deliberate about how I approach them in speech, action, and even in my very intention. Am I trying to get something from them? If so, am I offering anything in return? How do I speak to them? At a recent ritual I attended, the Priest commanded –literally commanded the spirits to be present.
I don’t have years of context for how most Pagans approach Deity. As I’ve written before, I grew up in the Christian church. To a great degree the Christian God was supposed to remain a mystery. Any attempt to fully understand him was futile, because unknowability was part of his deal. The best thing you could do was learn how to relate to the portrait of him that was presented in scripture, as well as whatever part of him was experienced and expressed through group worship and tradition.
But there’s no common pagan scripture, and in the case of the Fire Priestess I’m not sure I really care to join her in commodifying the Gods.
So what then?
Bring Back The Mystery
I’m not sure what Gods are for certain, and I appreciate that mystery. I think participating in something that is impossible to fully undertand (like science, for example) leads to amazing things. You discover a lot about the world you live in, and the world that lives in you.
In suggesting that Gods are more than just salve for the soul, I’m also not suggesting that they be treated like just any another person. I don’t really desire a BFF relationship with the Gods, nor do I want for them to be my therapists. I do seek out guidance, and I look for signs of their presence in my life. But I think it is a misstep to treat Gods as though they are human, just as it is a misstep to treat them like designer drugs. They are not human. They’re beyond human.
How do you wrap your mind around that? You don’t — I don’t, at least. I just have reverence for the very idea of there being something which exists in that way. Worship, then, is an attempt to further understand where my humanity intersects with that mystery. How do I, a human being, come into contact with a God; with a raw, powerful, mysterious, creative force? How will I know when its happened? What will it feel like?
These are the questions that inspire me to attend these rituals, even after a disappointing encounter with a sparkler. This is why I approach my altar in the morning to make my offerings. Seeking the answer to these questions fuels my religious life.
I Do Really Like Sparklers, Though
We do the best we can, us religious folk. Sometimes we hit on something deep. Other times, we just look a little silly. But, we try.
Perhaps I should cut the Fire Priestess some slack. Maybe she’s got a deeper connection to Deity than I’m giving her credit for. Maybe her sparkly wand and fiery voice did exactly what she’d intended them to do — start a fire inside of me. Inspire me to forge something new — like this blog post.
If what you’ve read here started a fire in you, share your thoughts in the comments. Start a wildfire by tweeting this post, or Facebook sharing it with your friends!