II. How did you first become aware of this deity?
A young girl is on her hands and knees at the water’s edge, keening into the sea. There is no other word for the sounds coming from her, the sounds of a spirit bound too tightly slipping its cage and splintering from the force of it. She feels herself shattering, and no amount of trying to hold on will stop the process. She is beyond fear, beyond worry, beyond hope. She has given over to this moment, and she is caught up in fury, in desolation, in these big, crushing waves of emotions that are too big, too wild, to be held back. Her spirit has tasted freedom and it will not return to its meager existence. Her spirit knows the depth and beauty of the worlds, and it calls out for rescue.
He comes clad in moonlight and darkness, in denim and leather, in flesh, bone, and magic. The young girl does not hear him, does not see him, until his arms have already scooped her out of the surf and wrapped her snug against him. He is warmth and spice and gentle, gentle strength, and he strokes her hair while she continues to cry. He gathers the pieces of her shattered being that have scattered along the sand, treasures that he will hold onto in safe keeping until she’s ready to take them back. She does not see this; she does not see anything in the outside worlds as she is trapped in her grieving. She cries for lost childhood, lost innocence. She cries for her pain and the pain of loved ones. She cries because she cannot kill her feelings and she has tried, oh how she has tried, for so many long years. She cries for having ever dared hope that an ending would come sooner, and for the disappointment that it never has. She cries for having been trapped, for having been alone, and for wanting, still, to not have to feel so alone. And she cries for so many other, unnameable things.
As the keening turns to sobs and the sobbing begins to taper off, the young girl begins to take in the worlds around her again. She can hear the steady crashing of the waves upon the shore, the ssshush-ssshussh-ssshussh as the water races up the beach and then retreats. She can feel the cool night air upon the bits of her skin that isn’t cocooned in warmth. Through burning, swollen eyes she can see the light of the full moon dancing upon the waves and casting the landscape in a nice, gentle silvery-white light.
She can feel the arms at her back, the hand stroking her hair. She can feel the rise and fall of his chest under her cheek. Her ears pick up small, wordless sounds of soothing nonsense, and she realizes he’s been making them for some time. She pulls back far enough to peer up at him. Dark, kind eyes catch her gaze before pulling her back against him. She wonders in a detached way if she should try to get away, but there are still people walking about on the beaches, and the houses aren’t very far away, and they’re out in the open for all to see. Maybe she’s gone fully mad, she wonders, and any pretense of concern disappears because concern is too much work, and she’s so tired of making the effort to care about things like survival.
They speak, and he dares to speak of things like love and hope and awareness. She gives him her anger, and he counters it with detached calm. She rages, and he does not flinch. She offers up her revulsion for her body, weak and flawed, for her whole species, destructive and mindless and insensitive. He takes her revulsion, takes her animal, and places it back neatly within the bounds of nature. He plants seeds for love and for compassion, and he hands her the tools she needs to keep going. This is triage, nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, but the rest will come.
“Who are you?” she finally asks.
“Name’s don’t matter so much,” he says, “but I am Poseidon.”
I’ve told this particular story a lot over the years, in various forms. A version of it can be found in my Savior story in Treasures from the Deep, but the above is my particular favorite. To fully understand what it meant to meet Poseidon in that way, you need to know a few things about me.
I was sixteen during this meeting. Only within the last number of months had my father — an alcoholic with an abusive streak which, at that point, was mostly verbal but only mostly — been permanently kicked out of our house. I was still in high school. I was working as close to full time as I legally could. I was helping my mother pay as many of the bills as I could afford while still being able to pay for my own needs. I was taking care of my brother — though at this point, he was older and it was less stressful than it had been. None of this was new to me; it was as it had always been. What was new was that with my father out of the house, there was breathing room again.
Looking back I can see this for what it was: I finally had the space and the time and the energy to fall apart. I did not have to hold it all together any more; we were out of crisis mode. And because I was so burned up, because I was so cynical and so beyond overwhelmed, and so tired, I did not just fall apart.
I wanted to die. At this point in my life, all I’d known was that life was about putting on a good face and pretending things were okay, even though you knew everyone knew it was a lie. No one protected anyone, appearances mattered more than anything else, and you had to be the strong one because people were counting on you. There were pockets of good things, but by that point I was so used up and I had zero coping skills to help deal with the crisis being over (how do you behave in a normal world, when you don’t have to lie constantly and pretend you’re not lying?) and I didn’t trust humanity in general. If this was life, I’d had enough, and I just get off the ride now, please?
My misanthropy was rooted in my personal experiences, but the truth of our wretchedness was upheld by humanity at large. Look how we treat the planet. Look how we treat one another, and teh other beings around us. No, this was no good.
I was pagan at this stage, had been for four years, but I wasn’t a polytheist. I’d interacted with landwights, and I studied — Celtic and Norse stuff, mostly. I had some interactions with Grandmother Moon and the being I called Mama Earth, and for the brief period of time, right before I broke down, it was to them that I sent my plea.
Poseidon answered. The above happened. But after? After He gave me His name? I argued with Him. I was dismayed. I knew of Him, of course, I was not the least bit interested in Hellenic material, and surely He could be Manannan, or Llyr, or, heck, even Aegir instead . . . couldn’t He? I did not want this rapist god in my life; I did not want to have to deal with all the learning I’d be expected to do in a culture and part of the world and time period that did not interest me overmuch. Couldn’t He be Someone else? Please?
With each hopeful suggestion and heartfelt protest, He repeated His name. There may have been amusement crinkling at the corners of His eyes. I may have seen mirth dance across His features.
He gave me hope, and He started me down the road of healing. When people talk about the gods not being therapists, this is why I always find myself wondering, why not? No one, not one human doctor or therapist, could have accomplished within me what Poseidon has, by making me focus on healing myself and making those inroads, to digging deep, finding the blackest places in my heart and bringing them into the light that is exposure to my god. They are not at our beck and call, but if They do not help us become better people, if They do not help us become ourselves , but the best that we can be, how can we truly benefit Them?
Still, maybe I see it that way because, in all the important ways, Poseidon indeed has been my Therapist. I’ll own that.