A stained-glass Brigid's Cross in light blue, red, dark blue, and orange, hanging on white aluminum siding

Ad majorem deorum gloriam: worshiping and serving the many gods

In broadly pagan circles, it’s fairly common* to hear a sentiment expressed about our relationship to the gods that boils down to “we don’t ‘worship’: that’s subservient, and it’s what Christians do; we meet our gods as equals.” My more druidic circles tend to be a little less hardcore about this — we do often talk about worship, for one, though more commonly it’s phrased as ‘honoring the gods’ — but even here it creeps in around the edges. I’ve gone along with it for a long while, because that’s what you do when you’re finding your way, but last night I gave up on the whole rigmarole. If you want to try and have a non-worshipful, equal relationship with your gods, more power to you. But I’m dropping that pretense, because for me it’s a sham.

I’m not interested in an equal relationship with the gods. A mutually respectful one, sure. A reciprocal one, wherein each party receives the benefit and also the burden of the relationship? You betcha. But for me at least, I can’t understand how a relationship between me and one of the Shining Ones could possibly be equal: They are the Gods. I do not merely honor my gods: I worship them. I pray to them. I serve them, with an open heart and a willing spirit. I’m not trapped by this relationship, anymore than I was trapped in my relationship with Jesus and the Christian God.

And on that note, I’m also giving up on de-Christianizing my language. I was raised Catholic, and I was a very devout practitioner of that religion until grad school, when I had a falling out with the local Catholic church that eventually precipitated a falling out with Christianity as a whole, and the beginning of the searching that led me to the Old Celtic Gods. But that Catholic heritage never left me: the cadences of Catholic prayer and song, the rhythms of the Mass, they’re still very deeply ingrained in my soul, and they first drew the pathways of my heart. To shy away from a turn of phrase or a ritual instinct, just because it feels a little Christian-y, is the worst kind of nonsense.

So I’m giving it all up, all that pretense. (Or at least trying to.) And I feel as if the gods, both the ones I worship now and the one I used to, are colluding. I was having a terribly misanthropic evening, and I settled in to read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Bolz-Weber is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, but comes there through a circuitous road: from conservative Christianity, to a bit of Wicca and Unitarian Universalism, back to Christianity during alcohol recovery, and thence to Lutheran seminary and the establishment of the House for All Sinners and Saints, a mission in Denver, Colorado, that is radically inclusive, queer to the core, and a model for the type of religious group I would love to be a part of, Christian, pagan, or no.

At a certain point, Bolz-Weber is talking about the difficulty she sometimes has in playing the public part of pastor and speaker, especially when it comes to talking to long lines of people after a service or talk. She writes, “This always feels like a battle between my misanthropic personality (I don’t actually care about you) and my values (you are a beloved child of God who deserves to be heard) and it’s exhausting” (111). Bolz-Weber is speaking from her position as a Christian minister, but I was instantly reminded of a post I wrote a few months back, about my desire to act as the hands of Brigid in the world. It was timely; I had a phonecall I didn’t want to make for very selfish reasons, and through Bolz-Weber’s words about Jesus, I heard the voice of my goddess telling me to pick up the phone and do her work.

I did, and then I went outside to pray with a candle and the stained glass Brigid’s Cross that hangs by my front door. May I be ever faithful, a Bhrighid, and may I glorify you by my working in the world.

* [Disclaimer: the scholarly parts of my brain get really twitchy when they read things like “many pagans think” or “the prevailing pagan viewpoint seems to be.” And they should get twitchy: that’s lazy research. But here I’m talking mostly about my own, personal experience, and whether it’s categorically true or not, the ‘common pagan ideas’ I’m talking about here are accurate to my own perception of them, and shape the way I think about and react to them. So: caveat lector, I guess, but I’m not going to sweat it.]

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6 thoughts on “Ad majorem deorum gloriam: worshiping and serving the many gods

  1. I absolutely worship my gods. And while it is a *ghosti relationship, it is not equal. It can’t be. Not for me at least. The gods are a powerful and awe-ful, and most definitely not human, as much as we’d like to anthropomorphize them. This has been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve been writing and thinking about patrons and devotees and what that terminology means.

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    1. Yeah, the patron/devotee pairing is odd to me, too, because many people view it as a given: get all pagany, check, find a patron or matron, check, keep on keepin’ on, check. There are many who have strong relationships with particular deities, and that’s wonderful. But it starts to feel rather procrustean, not to mention a little like cultural vestiges of monotheism…

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      1. I do like patron/ess better as a pairing. To save a bit of face, though, I will say that patron/matron is by far the more common wordpair out on the interwebs, in my observation.

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      2. Oh it definitely is, no doubt. Mostly I tend to ignore the gendering all together and if I’m not using the phrasing of “I’m a devotee” (which is more accurate and more common for me), I tend to just use “patron” for them all, regardless of gender.

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