Pagans like to talk about other Pagans. Recently, we have tried to define Paganism yet again, philosophised about what constitutes a religious community, who should be included, and if the gods are among them. These are questions that concerns us humans; they are more about how we relate to each-other, than how we relate to the gods. If this sounds denigrating, this is not my intention. I happen to think humans are very interesting and that religion as a human construction is very interesting. In fact, identity politics was one of my favourite research topics in university. And maybe I also just enjoy a bit of gossip. Being such, I do not fully share Sannion’s impatience or disdain for this controversy, this “fighting over empty air” as he describes it. This is not to say there hasn’t been much nonsense and stupidity on show, there clearly was and plenty of it, including a lot of damaging and unimaginative name-calling. Yet, despite his disdain, he has commented on the matter, and said something that has rather stuck with me.
But what does concern me is that intellectual and creative energy that could be going towards honoring the divinities or making beautiful art or a dozen other laudatory ventures is instead being squandered on fruitless navel-gazing, politicking and ad hominem attacks.
All this human bickering may be of some interest to me, but it is nothing to the gods. There is a valuable lesson here, namely not to let myself to be too detracted for no blogging can make up for sloppy religious practice, or come even close to any other creative or productive activity. But there is something else, something bigger, that troubles me.
What would interest a being so old, one that has seen so much? Would prayer do? Would beautiful art? What are we to the gods anyway?
Are we their tools,
those funny men down below,
those strange creatures up above?
I know there are heathens out there who believe the gods probably are rather indifferent to us. Others figure that our human existence serves as a testament to the gods, making us pretty important. A year ago P. Sufenas Virius Lupus wrote the following in response to Galina Krasskova’s statement that the gods owe us nothing:
I do not think that human belief in the gods “creates” the gods, as some people do; but likewise I think human intermediaries to speak to their existence and influences are pretty necessary. Sure, birds and trees and animals can perhaps do that to some extent, but what use is it if there are not humans there to put those observations into words, works, and symbols which other humans can understand? It’s the whole Zen koan of a “tree falling in the woods” and such, really…if no one is there to hear it, whether it makes a sound or not is irrelevant.
Drew Jacob on the other hand writes that the gods do not care much whether we believe, or even if we honour them on a regular basis. If they exist, they exist regardless.
And what if they did want something from us? What does the wind want from humanity? What does the moon want from us? (…) The gods I worship are ancient, calm, wise in their years. They are sages. They will speak to you if you approach, but if you do not? It isn’t their concern.
But why would the gods speak to us at all? In his conversation with Lugh, something else did come up, something that may point to the gods being directly invested in our actions. The tone of Drew’s writing seems to change here, or is this just Lugh talking, with a mind of his own, maybe disagreeing with Drew a little bit?
Do you think I care what you believe?
You have a mission. When you inspire people, I am there. When you sacrifice yourself, I am there.
Assuming that Lugh is the one doing the talking here, he seems to suggest that he is present in Drew’s actions. Now, his very existence may not be dependent on them. He is probably present in many places and many acts of sacrifice. Yet, he is also not fully independent or separate of us. The gods are connected to us. This is what immanence means.
To come back to P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. We humans do act as testament to the gods in a way. But I am not sure if they necessarily care if we sing their praises or recognize their signature. Lugh may be present in Drew’s sacrifice not matter if Drew recognizes him to be. Yet, if awareness of Lugh motivates you to be more virtuous and thus make his presence even stronger, that probably would appeal to him. Devotion and regular religious practice seem to be the most direct way to connect with the gods.
The gods live in many places, not just in our prayers or in our human actions. Lugh, may be immanent in our human courage and adventurousness, more primal gods, like the winds or the moon, may not. And some gods may think birds and beasts far more interesting than we are, and have fewer interest in our human way of thinking in the first place. So in all likelihood there are gods who are invested in how we build our little religious communities, others may not. Other gods may be invested in good art, some couldn’t care less. This is all part of the wonders of polytheism. The only way to find out for sure, is to ask them.