Doing the will of the gods
I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately in the polytheist blogosphere regarding obedience to the gods. A lot of that discussion has revolved around disobedience: Can we ever say no to the gods? Should we ever say no, if a god asks something of us? How heavily do our personal ethics or cultural mores weigh against what we understand to be the will of the gods?
I’m not going to offer any opinions on that issue, mainly because it’s not a problem I have ever had. I can tell you damned straight that if a deity wanted me to harm or even give up my bird companion Rembrandt, I would tell that deity to fuck off with as much strength as I could muster. I find myself having sort of the opposite problem, however; the gods seem not to want to tell me what to do.
I’m not a priest or priestess. Until very recently, I had no special relationship to Antinous or his pantheon; I was simply an enthusiastic devotee. Being a Magistrate of the Ekklesia Antinoou is not especially a spiritual role, but an administrative one, though informed by my devotion and subject to correction by divination. The council of Magistrates exists not so much for the benefit of the gods as for that of the worshippers, in my opinion. So I would still say I’m not particularly special, except that I’ve been entrusted by my god to work for and with a particular group of his people.
The first time I participated in the Elevation of Trans Ancestors, I encountered the Tetrad++; they likewise encountered me and identified me as one of theirs. Since that occasion, about fourteen months ago now, I have repeatedly asked of them, and of Antinous, what do you want of me? What can I do for you? How can I best serve you? What is your will?
I’ve prayed about it, written privately about it, used several forms of divination. What is your will? Should I pursue another master’s degree? Should I take this or that course of magical training? Should I make my devotions like so, or some other way? And it has frustrated me to no end that my gods don’t, perhaps won’t tell me exactly what to do. I get inspirations, and occasionally what one might call assignments. I am assigned to participate in the Elevation of Trans Ancestors for the foreseeable future. But unlike with some people, they don’t seem concerned with what my day job is or what sort of magical training I have. Despite my complaining, there’s one thing the Tetrad++ in particular has definitely asked of me that I haven’t done, and nobody has smitten me for it yet. They want me to do some sort of regular dance or physical exercise, as an offering to them and as part of my self-care. Directions about self-care were in the first, most direct communication they gave me, and I resisted them for over a year. I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes… and it’s more important than ever now that I get regular exercise.
The other day I finally turned a corner on this issue. If my day job is acceptable, and if my writing is accepted by my gods as a form of service to them, perhaps what I do for my spiritual practice is up to me, because it’s primarily for my benefit. So I asked myself what I need, on a regular basis, to feel like I have a proper spiritual practice. That question turned out to be easy enough to answer.
First of all, I prefer to do some kind of devotions both in the morning and in the evening. Years of praying the Daily Office as an Episcopalian have accustomed me to having a set of regular, repeating texts for prayer; I’ve been slowly writing those prayers for myself, to accompany simple daily offerings of milk, water, incense, candles.
Second, I need some sort of daily spiritual reading, preferably in small chunks. This has ranged from reading and re-reading PSVL’s books to the Rule of St. Benedict to books by Julia Cameron that have a short entry for each day.
Third, I need to write. For several years now I have used 750words.com as my home base for a daily writing practice. Prayers, hymns, poems, stories, blog entries, and journal-ish blather all land there, with the goal of amassing at least 750 words per day.
Fourth, I need some sort of practice of self-development. For some time I have thought of this as pursuing some magical training, but I believe I need to cast my net more widely than that. Various forms of inner work, magical work, self-help might qualify and satisfy my urge to work on myself.
Fifth, and last but not least, I need a community. Finding a community is often an impossible task for a pagan or polytheist; I know very well that there is one other Antinoan active in my state, and indeed on this coast, while most of the others are on the West Coast. So I cheated: I went back to the Episcopal church I began attending a couple of years ago.
The great secret of the Episcopal Church is that it really is orthopractic. True, the Sunday Eucharist calls for the recitation of the Nicene Creed, but nobody really cares if you don’t bother to say it, or if you mumble it with reservations. No one is going to ask you to explain the difference between homoousios and homoiousios, or defend the filioque clause, or even affirm your belief in a literal Virgin Birth, before you are allowed to take communion. (Although you may run into a few theology geeks who can explain what difference the iota makes, and they might attack the filioque clause and/or defend the Immaculate Conception, considering how much alcohol has been consumed.) If you behave decorously, put something in the offering plate, and contribute to the congregation, nobody much cares whether you “believe in it” at all.
The pastor who was in charge when I started going there has left, in somewhat uproarious circumstances; however, I didn’t go back there because of him. I went back to hear good music sung, and to sing familiar hymns with other people, and to be with people who are kind and supportive and who care about things I care about, like liturgy and music and good art and social justice and peace. And those people, who had not seen me in over a year, were happy to see me again and to have me among them.
Perhaps I am not special enough to get individual marching orders from my gods. That’s okay; I’m not sure I want to live surrounded by prescriptions and proscriptions like some people do. But I know that I share my gods’ values, and vice versa, and that if I’m acting in accordance with those shared values, I’m doing the will of the gods.