(Originally this was to be a response to a comment, but, er, well, it sort of took on a life of its own, and viola, a blog post was born. Thank you, Poppy, for the inspiration. Also note: the you in all this is general you, and I’m using Odin as an example both because He’s one of the two I’m involved with and because He is one of the ones whose name comes up a lot re: abusive gods)
What makes navigating these waters so difficult, at least to my thinking is: how do we judge Them? Do we judge Them as human, in terms of the boundaries we set up and defend, in terms of the cultural mores that we apply to Them or demand They stick to, in terms of the very language we use when talking about our experiences with Them? Ultimately, this is a decision that we each have to make on our own. For me, I don’t expect the Powers to act as if They were human, and humanity is so much not the center of my relationship with Them that it ends up being a non-issue. (The well-being of my tribe is closer to the center, and my tribe is made up mostly of not-humans, so that colors the way I see the world).
I don’t expect either Odin nor Poseidon (nor any of the others I interact with) to pretend to be human, or to have values that line up with my cultural values, etc. However, I do expect Them to have experience with humanity at large, to understand that cultural mores differ in time and in place, to understand the advancement (and the desire for) equality between people across gender lines, racial lines, and all the other lines that there may be. It has always been wrong for any people to be treated as less than real people based on any of this things – I’ll use women and slaves as examples because they are examples that seem to span time and country, or possibly because Hellas is never far from my mind – but it’s more wrong now to treat people as inferior to another group of people because we’re less willing to allow that to go unchecked. (Though how less willing seems to depend upon the group in question) and I do expect my gods to be sophisticated enough to understand these changes and to get on board. Likewise, I expect Them to understand the concept of consent.
When I accepted Odin into my life, when I offered Him vows of life-long commitment, when He adopted me into His Family, I knew things were going to change. I went in wide-eyed and aware. I’d read bits of His lore (the Volsunga Saga especially stood out; THAT is how HIS CHOSEN are treated by Him??!) and I’d interacted with people, both online and off who shared experiences with Him. It’s not like I went in expecting easy street. The physical world changes were hard enough. “Oh, no, this relationship will not do for you. And I’d rather you live elsewhere. Really this whole thing is set up for you to keep on maintaining this way of being that is slowly killing you; I demand you fulfill your calling and damn the consequences.” In a matter of months, I’d ended a near-decade long relationship, moved even further from everyone I knew and loved, and was unemployed for the better part of a whole year. Except for my gods and my dog, my life looked nothing like it had before Odin named me daughter.
The mental and emotional and spiritual changes? So, I had these boundaries, see. One of my biggest boundaries was staying in control of me. I liked and desired reason and logic and order and just . . . neat tidiness. And, above all, cool detachment. No messy confrontations. No reason to draw attention to my person. I clung to those boundaries . . . and Odin systematically crossed each one, destroying it in His wake. These were firm boundaries; they were boundaries I was sure that I wanted to remain intact, these were situations I was sure I did not want to be in, etc., and He paid them no mind whatsoever.
Except, I didn’t really want them. And it makes it sound romantic to say it that way, right? I was as if two people at that point in my life, torn between two different ways of having a life. I was all the conditioning and programming and learned behaviors of a girl brought up in an alcoholic home, expected to take care of people, with that ever-present savior complex that children growing up in addictive and/or abusive homes tend to develop. I was trained thoroughly to not make waves, to not fight, to do what I’d rather not do, to cannibalize myself rather than cause anyone else any undue stress or hardship.
I was also a young woman thoroughly, thoroughly in love with my God and well on my way to being thoroughly in love with Another. I’d caught glimpses of what life might be like, immersed in devotion, in study, in prayer. I saw that these glimpses of understanding – that the division between the Worlds is but an illusion – and I realized that I could live my life as if that division did not exist. I wanted that so badly, and never would have sought it on my own. Odin did drag me kicking and screaming at times, and He disregarded a lot of my “No, that’s too far,” no’s . . . and I’m grateful He did. I like to say that He ignored my denials for the acquiescence of my soul, that the same bit of me that reached out for Poseidon those many years ago was the same bit that was saying, “Ignore her noise; we need this, please don’t stop pushing.”
I’ll admit: when people talk about the Powers abusing them, harassing them, ignoring consent, doing more harm than good, I always know a minute’s pause. Generally it seems to be Odin or Loki they’re talking about (the people whose experiences I wind up hearing about; I’m not saying it’s only those Two) and I’ll admit that when people talk about Odin harming them, I wonder: is it truly Odin? My experience with Pops tells me that He is a smart, sophisticated, powerful shaman and king and god. He tore my life apart, and a large portion of it was grueling, but even through it all I can trace the path to my well-being, to my ultimate healing, to my being empowered, to becoming a being who can function in this world, who can navigate the Worlds and deal with the complexity of switching between realities at need. Do I think Odin is altruistic? Fuck no. I can see how I serve Him in my life, in my living, and how my ability to serve Him was made better by the work w/We did together. I’m not an idiot. But I benefited from His actions tremendously, and having gone through it, I would not change a single thing about it. Even though I was angry and afraid and upset for a long time. Even with the understanding that we don’t all experience the same relationships with the Powers the same way, even with the understanding that the Gods may not exist in a chronological way like we do (therefore the Odin someone else is interacting with may be a younger version of Odin than the one I interact with, with an Odin who may not have gone through a number of His own Initiations yet, who might still be brash and reckless and whatnot) wrapping my head around the idea that Odin could truly, truly, truly disregard consent, could be cold and cruel and horrid without any ulterior goal in mind that justify the means, is problematic and difficult, and I do tend to decide “that’s not really Odin.”
But, even if we allow that one particular god may have different Faces and Hats, and even if we allow that the gods are not pinned down by linear existence like we are, and even if we allow that the stories we’ve heard of them may be bullshit, and even if we allow that one god might slip into the name of another (I suspect this with Poseidon and Zeus and Hades, for the record; that They play loosey-goosey with Each Other’s names), and even if we allow that less friendly to humanity, more predatory beings may respond when we think we’re dealing with a god or benevolent spirit, at no point is it useful or helpful or even my place to decide “That’s not really Odin.” Because whether it is Odin, or whether it is an Odin, or whether it’s Loki playing Odin or whether it’s a bottom feeder responding to ‘Odin’, your experience is that Odin showed up, did these horrible things, disregarded your will, disrespected your boundaries, and caused you both hurt and harm. Doing anything less than allowing a space for these stories, and doing anything less than addressing that this is a problem and needs to be acknowledged, is wrong.
There’s a certain amount of mental awareness and a willingness to take long, hard looks at ourselves when going forward in these relationships. There’s a certain need to be able to really know where our boundaries are. For some people that’s going to be easy. For others, it’s really not. I suspect that a lot of my initial crap would have been helped with the aid of a therapist, but I was lucky to have a great support network, and I was lucky in that my mind is one that loves to poke and prod and dig deep. I’m introspective by nature. The idea that part of me could really, really, really want something while part of me could really, really, really want the direct opposite of something was easy enough to swallow.
My working rule of thumb when it comes to me, when it comes to my interactions with my gods, and when it comes to consent is: does Their disregarding of my will serve to better me as a person, not just in Their terms, but in my own? Because, They are Powers, They are Gods, and it is possible that They know better than me. The reason They even get this leeway is because They have already proven that They are trustworthy. This is key, this is something that you only get through experience, and this is something we need to maybe talk about more. The Powers are not trustworthy just because of whatever name we call Them by. Odin and Poseidon are allowed to have the ultimate say about things in my life because I trust that They will not abuse that power, and I trust that They will not abuse that power because so far They never have. There is an underlying choice every day, and really with every situation that ever comes up, to grant consent to give up my consent, and it’s understood that this is a daily, sometimes hourly choice on my part that I could revoke at any time. If you are starting out with trust non-existent because there hasn’t been time yet to build it, or because it’s been broken, you are not obligated to continue contact. You are not obligated to not fight for your right to be treated in a particular way. You are not obligated to be a doormat, or a punching bag.
We are obligated, though, to know how far we’re willing to be pushed – because for all that They are sophisticated, powerful beings, They are not human. They’re not even mortal. They do have experience with humanity, so They may have some idea of what we can withstand, but They are also not you, and you ultimately are responsible for knowing your boundaries, your mind, your will, and your limitations. Which a lot of us don’t know right out the gate, and it can be messy – so it’s important to know how messy is too messy. Poseidon in particular has always stressed that I am carrying o/Our relationship in this world, and so this world parts are my responsibility. We’re not equal by any means, but we have equal say in our relationship, and that’s true of me with Pops as well, and I think it’s necessary – at least, unless giving up that equal say is part of your path, but that goes back to consent and the ability to say no, and to have our saying no seen as a respectable choice of will, of agency.
What of the lore? How do we reconcile the Odin so many of us experience – shaman, healer, vested interest in humanity in general and various people in particular – with Odin of the lore who abandons His own, embodies horrid, misogynistic tendencies, and is deplorable at times? How do we reconcile any number of the gods with Their various rape stories, while striving to shake off the rape culture from our polytheistic culture? My advice: drop the lore.
When Poseidon first showed up, I was 16 and I was not interested at all in Hellenic anything. The only thing I knew about Him beyond His being a sea god, were the rape stories. Medusa. Demeter. There are others. I was a broken thing, stretched to my limits and beyond, half-mad and ready to walk out into the water and just be done with it all. He was gentle and kind and, most importantly, He set me free. He gave me hope, He showed me love. He offered me a way to keep living, and He promised nourishment. I was not a polytheist when He showed up; I wouldn’t be for another year or so, but He stayed with me anyway, and He was good. He was gentle and He was patient and He was kind. I was never, ever afraid of Him. I’ve never been afraid of Him, not in a mortal way. In holy Awe of Him, yes, but that’s expected.
I refused to study any of the Hellenic source material until after o/Our relationship was on firm footing. (Really, I didn’t study any of the Hellenic stuff until I’d started studying the Heathen stuff, and Poseidon decided it was time). I purposefully did not study it because I did not want it coloring our relationship. They said He was a rapist. That wasn’t part of how I knew Him, and I wanted to know Him on His own merits.
The stories are written by people. They were written with agendas beyond telling a history of our gods – as if we have access to Their history, as if we can ever know Them beyond what They are willing to share with us. They have limitations to their usefulness. They are not scripture. They are not gospel. We are not a people of a book, and we need to stop acting like we are. If the lore does not line up with what you are experiencing with a god or a power, ditch the lore. The yard stick needs to be: is the Power helping you become a better person as you define it. The experience need not make you feel happy (doing things that make you happy does not always make you feel happy, as Gretchen Ruben says). If the lore is not a useful tool for you, get rid of it. If you don’t want to drop it, then for the love all that is holy, apply context. Commit to a critical reading of it, and never forget that it was never meant to be gospel, that – especially within the Heathen lore – many of the writers had agendas that had nothing to do with respect for our gods, and that some of them really, really had a hate on for some of the Gods. (I’m looking at you, Saxo.)