In a recent discussion with a group of Pagans about the development of an American pantheon for use in ADF ritual, someone said this:
“When we look at historical evidence to find the ancient deities, we look at what was left behind and what survived for long periods of time, such as the stories that remained popular … These and many other things help us to form a picture of the beliefs of an ancient culture. I’m using the same types of techniques to examine our modern culture … Elvis is a good example.”
I don’t want to be mistaken for a god.
What if in some distant future, one populated by a new batch of revisionist or reconstructionist Pagans, there is an idea that the celebrities we follow in the present day, the politicians we support, the cultural figures we align ourselves with, were deities?
What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?
Perhaps you wouldn’t mind. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for some future Pagan (who I’m sure would be called something other than “Pagan”) looked back at the trace evidence of you and decided to make statues of your likeness, chant your name before pouring oil onto a fire, tattoo your mug onto their shoulder to let everyone know just who their god is. Would you be into that? Does that idea sit well with you?
Let me repeat that I do not want to be mistaken for a god.
At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity. I am also someone who has been in close proximity to a great deal of celebrity in his life, and I can guarantee you that celebrities are also rooted in their humanity. I get wigged out when modern celebrities are elevated to near deific status in the eyes of the public, and I’m even more troubled by the thought that they might one day, in that far off future, be completely mistaken for gods.
None of this seems like a problem if we’re willing to conceive of the gods as archetypes or ideas that affirm something about ourselves. The stories about humans can morph into stories about gods, and those gods can inform future humans about their own humanity. Through learning about our true, albeit fictional selves, the future Pagans learn something valuable about their own identities.
I’m down with that.
But hard polytheism makes it tricky.
If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will be cognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request. If the future reconstructionists do their homework, they’ll know that I like tortillas, coffee, hard cider and pineapple cake with cream cheese icing, and they will prepare such offerings when they want me to — what? — help them with a creative project, guide them on their travels, or — me forbid — change the weather. We will fall into their correspondence charts, and people will write songs about how amazing we were. Tuesday might even become Teo’sday…. or they may suggest that it was always Teo’sday.
I joke a little here, but mainly because I feel uncomfortable by the problems this introduces. I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas, and I worry that if they’re allowed to play themselves out all the way they will eventually call into question much of my current conception of deity.
So, I present them to you in the hopes that you might be able to offer up some fresh perspective.
Do you find any of this troubling? Would you mind much if people in the future venerated you as a deity, or does that idea lead you to reexamine the way you conceive of deity?