If Your Gods Don't Treat You Right (Smash their Statues Up Tonight)
c. 1987, R. Culain, .K.A.M. (writing as T. Rimer)
Traditional Wicca has within it the seeds of an unusual and productive attitude towards the Gods which is found rarely if at all in other religions. The key to the attitude and consciousness can be found in the Initiation process in our Tradition and several others, which without going into secret material, can be freely described as an oath taken by the Initiate to themselves in the presence of the Gods, not an oath taken to the Gods themselves. We promise to grow, to strive towards our best possibility, to bear the weight of the Karma that requires. The Gods promise to help. Its a two way street. A quick survey of non-Wiccan religious attitude will illustrate how radical the implications of that oath are.
Cringe O Mortal and Know that I am God!
There is a strong element of slavishness in the relationship between most people and their Gods. After all, even the smallest God is bigger than we are, and while we die early and often, Gods die slowly if at all. For a monotheist a foreign God is not only forbidden, she is no God at all, but a mere devil (from deva, meaning little God). No shy hand, the monotheistic religions block out large expanses of the spirit, declaring that one God (theirs) not only knows and controls all, but is somehow both the ground and foundation of being and comprehensible within a human system of religion. Catholics believe that the One Big Guy can be cajoled and, dare I say, manipulated through the Holy Offices; Protestants believe that he can be approached through the sacred Book. The literature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is filled with images of overwhelming love and overwhelming terror. Only their most capable saints and mystics approach Deity without being blotted out in one manner or another, and many of them preach the blotting out of the ordinary self as necessary to intercourse with Deity. Western and near-eastern monotheists truly serve their Gods, thinking them All and themselves an unattractive but somehow divinely Willed smear in the infinitude of Divine Love.
Most eastern religions differ little in the attitude of abnegation, although the terror aspects tend to be less. Buddhism and Hinduism preach the annihilation of Self and immersion in the All; only the Zen and Taoist folk seem to retain the consciousness that "samsara is nirvana", that is to say that ordinary consciousness is not antithetical to enlightenment. Nor is classical and modern Paganism exempt from slavery to the Gods. Both new and old world Pagans often practiced rituals of propitiation in which worshipers abase themselves before the shrine. Modern neo-Pagans often go on at length regarding the power and majesty of The Goddess (as if there were a single Deity, who had somehow suffered an unveiling or sex change) before which they are as naught. Assertions to the contrary are usually met with the observation that "When you see Her as I have you will know the Truth". The difference between Goddess monotheism and born-again Christianity is mostly a matter of style and gender.
There are no Gods and People are Free
In the last five hundred years a consciousness has been growing in the West, from its roots in the rediscovery of the Classical Pagan world in the Renaissance to its bleakest and severest expression in mid-50's existential thought. Built on the tentative assertion of human freedom and the blinding light of technological achievement, the newer consciousness is born of separation from and denial of the Gods and ends in the"desolation of reality" seen by the Celtic Magician and Bard William Butler Yeats. The new consciousness, which in our time has begun itself to age, subjects all things to the criteria of verifiability and repeatability, and by ignoring subtle experience, reduces grosser experience to a series of manipulable rules, a magick indeed.
Its ethical expression is the realization that the most horrible crimes are possible, and that retribution is not at all obvious or immediate. Having tasted of that dread fruit a person can no longer act, or refrain from action, out of fear of the Gods, for if the Gods care it is in a very odd way indeed. AIDS, Dachau and the respectability of Pat Robertson all attest to the inscrutability of the Divine Plan. The existential man of the '50's, who was tellingly always a man in gender, committed evil as an expression of freedom, the greatest good.
Yet all things turn on their axes, and the most extreme expression of a view will often make a sudden dive for its navel and reverse into something rare and strange. The physical laws which reduced all life to machinery and robbed the Universe of her soul have, taken in the extreme of theoretical Physics, dissolved into the gossamer "strings" of the mystic. A psychology which subjected consciousness to a dissection which denied the fact of consciousness has begun turning somersaults and rambling on about "guided imagery". The ethical view that left us without Ten Commandments has freed us to discover our True Wills. Having indulged in nastiness by vicarious or actual experience, some emerge to walk in beauty for its own sake, not from fear or compulsion.
Few things exist in unmixed form, and for a person who has tasted of both slavery to convention and unconventionality the most likely path is a return to a new slavery. Born-again Pagans embrace the Goddess with the same monomaniacal fervor as the Christians do their saviour, and with the same result. New age folk spy the truths of human freedom, declare that reality is molded by consciousness, and go on a rampage of blame, criticizing the ill for their illness, the poor for poverty, the miserable for misery, as ardently as any Pharisee. Familiar attitudes creep back in, usually cosmetically changed. Still, there is another path.
Take a God home for Lunch
In some ancient traditions a person would smash or bury the images of their Gods if misfortune became too great. Most scholars attribute this practice to naivete or stupidity, believing that our ancestors foolishly felt that the forces of Nature could be manipulated by such pathetic gestures. My view is that the Ancients possessed some interesting insight into the nature of divine relationship that we would do well to heed.
Suppose that the worst fears of the Bible's Jehovah are true, and that we can indeed become "as Gods". Might it not be that the Gods were once "as humans"? In our evolution towards divinity,which is the highest possibility we can conceive, we can invoke the aid and friendship of those who have walked the path before us. They share with us their wisdom, experience and power; we share with them our newness, energy and delight. We see their world through their eyes, they see our world through ours. A symbiosis and friendship is possible if the human and the God are sympathetic and strong.
Sometimes the best of friendships go astray, and sometimes friendships are outgrown. A deity may no longer serve, may renege on the terms of the friendship, may lead us down a path we do not choose to walk. Right or wrong, it is our path, not theirs that we tread, and right or wrong we smash their statue. Not because they are indwelling in the statue, although they often are; not because we hurt them, although we may, but because psychic realities take form through the medium of drama, and the burial or dismemberment of the image of a God is high theatre. A changing of the Gods is not to be undertaken lightly or often, but to be conceived as a possibility of change which ennobles the relationship, as the possibility of divorce serves to lend worth to the free decision to remain in a marriage.
There is even a minor recognition of this truth in the Old Testament, in the rather cryptic tale of Job. Seemingly for a lark Jehovah boasts to Satan about how loyal Job is. Satan is clearly Jehovah's business competitor and friend, not the sinister figure the Christians created later. When Satan expresses the view that Job's loyalty comes from the good fortune Jehovah has showered on him, Jehovah turns Satan loose on the poor mortal to do his worst. In true biblical form -- these monotheists don't mess around -- Satan decimates Job's livestock and livelihood, then his family, who are seen entirely in terms of property.
Job's health is the final casualty, until the poorman becomes a suppurating wreck on the brink of a death Jehovah denies. Job's friends offer some interesting advice. Some, like the New Age Pagans, cry "Oh Job, what evil have you done to bring God's wrath upon you!". Others offer more practical advice -- "Curse God and die". Job is free to do whatever he wants, which I think is a major point of the story. Cursed or not, blessed or not, at fault or blameless, he can and does choose his Deity. While the wisdom of his choice is debatable, the realization of his freedom is liberating. The ending is less than satisfactory for such an excellent buildup. Job sticks to Jehovah, who puts on a magick show of brute force to frighten Job's friends, then restores Job to his former affluence. As for Job's wife and kids -- c'est la guerre!
We teach our students to choose their Gods, and choose them well, for as Dion Fortune noted, a person may be judged by the Deities they choose. In time partings may occur, in joy or in sorrow, and to be stuck in blind attachment to a God is to deny loyalty to the True Will of the Initiate, which must be discovered by living day to day. We who neither cringe before the Gods nor deny them have the rarest of human opportunities -- to walk the tightrope of friendship with them. It wavers high above the abyss, but offers the promise of a freedom which is neither empty nor bitter. but filled with possibility and terrifying excitement.
"A False Greek Absurdity has Crazed The Man" (Yeats)
Loyalty to the self and friendship to the Gods is a middle way open to few, and Wiccans are fortunate to have that opportunity. Although our religion contains trace remnants of both slavish abasement and nihilistic freedom, it holds out the possibility of friendship and co creation as a balance of those opposites. One central point of the Aradia myth and prose Charge is that our Goddess wishes to help us in our enjoyment of life and empower us in the quest for all that is best.
Still, many would say, any God who would be a friend of mine is too small. A monotheist thinking of only One God, vast in demand, vaguely male in Gender, incomprehensible in Power and Authority can only see the call to friendship as obscene blasphemy or laughable naivete. They are deceived by a trick of the mind, through which any object or Person sufficiently large or powerful to overwhelm consciousness, appears infinite. Or another trick, which leads one to deduce a first cause, deny that it can be imaged, then produce and worship vague images because concrete images are forbidden. Or the cruellest trick of all, our own unfortunate tendency to self-abasement, which declares "I wouldn't care to belong to any club that would accept me as a member."
A God or Goddess who can be walked with in friendship, who can be apprehended through a specific set of images, who can be loved and left can be perceived as extremely threatening. An imperious projection of the baby's view of the enormous Parent, or the adolescent's rejection of that Parent is usually the rule.
We are in charge of our images, and to a great extent, of our lives. If we choose the image of a Wise Old Woman, or a Dancing Hunter or a Faun or Maiden we choose to move towards whatever aspects of Divinity that suit our nature at the time. Let us not limit ourselves, or the Gods, to one or two, but choose them well, and timely, and with grace and precision.
It is true that the forms we embrace in Wicca have some specificity; we aren't generalized folk who will worship anything that walks as long as its name isn't Jesus, Jehovah or Allah. But when a form we have embraced no longer suits us, we must allow ourselves and our students the power and authority to choose another form. And if the form we choose is outside the Craft, then let us have the courage to say "I have stepped outside the Craft" rather than whining that the Craft embraces all paths and all Gods. It does not, but it does embrace the possibility of departure, and the possibility of return.
Wicca allows us the rare possibility to explore vast territories of the human spirit. Let us encourage our students to respect the Traditions because they choose them, not because they must. Let it be the same with our Gods.
All articles copyright AndredsWeald, Tana and Robin Culain, all rights reserved
Permission to reproduce is granted without charge for Wiccan educational purposes only. Permission for defamatory purposes or promotion of intolerance is expressly denied.