Comparisons Are Inevitable and Difficult to Overcome

One of the more difficult questions that came out of the discussions at Many Gods West was actually not a direct statement made anywhere in the discussions, at least not where I can recall. And to be honest, I was caught on this particular thought for a long while, just a few years back.

What happens when you compare where you are in your polytheistic practice with others that you know? Is it fair to do so??

Admittedly, this is a difficult topic, and difficult to put in terms that are not so personal to me. In fact, I don’t really know a better way to bracket this entire topic, other than to utilize myself as an example. So, yes – this particular blog entry is about me and my own experiences, along with a lot of thinking that I had to eventually get beyond in order to be more of what I have become.

Comparisons are inevitable. Particularly when you get too wound up in the idea of advancing towards being a better [x]. I hold three academic degrees:  a Bachelors of Science in Computer Sciences; a Masters of Information Systems Management; and a Masters of Business Administration. Any professional conference I have attended, conversations with strangers have always started with something close to:  “So, what are your degrees?” Almost akin to the “how big is your penis” conversations that men supposedly hold amongst one another on drunken nights. (I can vouch on my behalf that I have never had one of these conversations before) It’s a quick comparison of how this person may or may not match up to your intelligence level – like a degree seems to be some measure of intelligence. ::eye-roll:: But regardless the comparison is there. We do it in the Pagan community as well…

How many years have you been a Pagan? What degree do you hold in your tradition? What’s your lineage? Who initiated you? All questions I have heard asked of me or others within the Pagan communities that are out there. But it’s the internal measures that caught me. Where I found myself comparing my abilities and experiences as a Pagan against others that I knew.

I found myself comparing my experiences in everything. With the Gods, with Spirits of Place, with Spirits of Ancestors, how far I had managed to get in my Bardic studies in OBOD, whether my experiences with the Gods were as deep as this person….EVERYTHING. And I wound up being a complete wreck as a person, and what I felt was an even worse example of a Pagan. There were nights that I sat on my knees in my living room, silently crying because I felt I was a failure as a Pagan because I didn’t measure up to where I felt another person was on their Path.

This was not a very comfortable moment on my Path. I had found Coyote a short while before. I had just been led to Crow, and I was questioning a lot of what and how I was – as well as a lot that was being asked of me. I was pointed towards one person as an example of what to do, and how to be. And I was completely unsure I would ever be his equal in anything. In fact, I still doubt that I will be his equal in a lot of things. But whether he believes it or not, he has been a mentor of sorts to me – if just from a distance. I was provided this individual as an example. Not a cutout. Not a pattern to follow precisely. Not an image to become a carbon copy of. An example. Particularly, an example of how to be a Priest. I only hope I have become what Crow has intended me to be at this point on this Path – and that I continue to grow towards what He intends me to be in the future.

What happened was that I let my own internal fears get in the way. I started looking at who this person was, how he approached topics, how he handled his own calling to his Gods – and I tried to hold myself up to that precise level. I needed to learn to do ritual the same way. I needed to reach the levels that he has climbed to. I had to do things in [x] time because he had. And that small voice came to the back of my mind, one night on the living room floor.

Be you. I need you as my Priest. Not a copy of him. Aspire to those attributes, but mold those to who you are.

When I responded with the doubtful voice that I wasn’t sure that I could, I was told:

You can. There is no doubt of that.

After a long period of pulling myself back together, finally believing in my own ability to travel this Path on my time, ensuring that I learned what I needed through all my lessons – I started to remember key points of what I saw in this individual. He followed the rules, learned the knowledge, and then scored it appropriately so that it became his. His. I didn’t really need to compare myself to him. I needed to emulate some of his perspectives in order to start down certain parts of the Paths laid before me. But in the end, I needed to place my own feet into the appropriate places for my travels. Walking this Path is not about emulating someone. Rather, it is about walking down a well-worn Path where many others have come before us, and many others will come after….and making the experience of the travel my own. It wasn’t about being “as good as”…it was about being “right and appropriate” for me.

At Many Gods West, one panel was a massive discussion that wound all around the room. And for a few moments, I felt as intimidated in that room as I did on the floor of my living room on those mostly sleepless nights. Many of the people there described very personal experiences that they had had with their Gods with beautiful, evocative descriptions of some of their experiences. And it was really tough sledding for me. I began to question whether I had a “tight” relationship with Crow. I started to slip back into my own doubts of how “good” I was compared to the rest of these people. And after a few minutes, I suddenly realized that I had spoken. I had said something.

And after a few minutes, I suddenly realized that I had spoken. I had said something. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember exactly what I had said. Listening to the follow-on statements, I understood I had mentioned something about my relationship with Crow….how I managed to create a bargaining system between us over some of the tasks that had been set before me. Tasks I was uncomfortable with. And that what I had said was sparking a thread with others at the table that was delving deeper into all of our relationships with our Gods and Goddesses and Spirits. There was that small voice at the back of my head:

See stupid? There was never any doubt.

Relationships with the Gods are Unique…and Complicated

I attended Many Gods West 2017 a very short while back. Most of that came from pushing by Crow, as well as my own desire to try a Pagan-oriented conference that was geared around a specific area of topical interest, rather than the massive general interest that a much larger conference such as Pantheacon generates. I came away from MGW with nearly two dozen writing prompts, much of which came as questions that came to mind during various presentations.

For me, each one of the prompts that I gathered are direct confrontations to how I am practicing my own polytheism with my triad of Deities:  Coyote, Crow and Flidais. Each of these Three present differing approaches to daily Life for me, and at the same time – together They are a part of my connection to all that is around me. My relationship with each of Them is unique, and singular. I say prayers to Them, as well as other Gods and Goddesses that I have no specific ties to, seeking guidance in what is becoming a more troubled and difficult world.

In what turned out to be a more physical presentation than I thought, “Embodied Practice and Devotion” had all of us in guided focus over feeling aspects of our own physical bodies. Controlled breathing, singular awareness of parts of the body, general awareness concerning various specified inputs and perspectives – none of which was terribly new to me. However, toward the end of the presentation, discussion was opened to the participants and part of that turned towards the idea of devotional surrender, a concept I have never really entertained prior to that moment.

From my notebook:

  • Devotional surrender versus Personal Sovereignty

    • Should we surrender completely to our Gods?

    • Should we bargain limitations with our Gods?

      • Does this limit who They are in our lives?

      • By not pushing our boundaries, are we limiting who we are as individuals?

A lot of this was difficult to work directly with at that particular moment. However, now back at home – in territory that is far more familiar to me, where I can let down my emotional shields that I carry publicly as an introvert – I am now starting with this particular writing point to start looking at my direct relationship with my little Triad.

So, probably the best place to start is to try and define these concepts, starting with devotional surrender and personal sovereignty. To be particular honest, I am not at all interested in the common definitions of the two terms, but rather in how these definitions work out for me. This means that you – the person who has decided to click on this blog post and read it – may define these terms radically different than I do. Frankly, that’s great. What it means is that you will probably come to far different conclusions than I do. And that’s great too. I am not looking for a fight or argument over the difference in our definitions or in our approaches. I don’t mind a discussion over all of that, because it helps me to see some of the cloudier areas in all of this. But I am not interested in a “my way or the highway” approach to discussing differences either. And with that out of the way, let’s dive into how I approach these two points.

The easier of the two, for me, is personal sovereignty. What this boils down to is that I am in control of things where I am concerned. My approaches to the Gods are mine. What Crow, Coyote or Flidais may ask of me, I have the ability to say “no” or “that’s a line too far for me.” The same goes for anything that is asked of me or told to me by any individual. I am in control of me – to the best of my ability. Yeah, its a simplistic definition, but it works for me in terms of this blog post.

Devotional surrender, on the other hand, is a bit more problematic for me. Mostly because I have never entertained this concept before. As I understood the concept from the panel, this can go from terms of following the commands and wishes of one’s Gods without question and follow all the way through something akin to being possessed physically by one’s Gods. For me, that’s an exceptionally wide area, but all of that does seem to fit into the entire concept. Plus, as I ponder over this, I feel that I may already work within some aspects of this already.

During a different panel, I related my bond to Crow. I am a Priest of Crow. Crow has already provided various tasks for me. But as I noted during the panel, I am free to question, and I am free to say “no”. If I am drawing the limitations on what is asked of me by Crow, am I limiting my relationship with Him? I do believe John Beckett once noted in a blog post of his own, that while we can say “no” to the Gods – that may be a moment where They choose to take far less interest in us as individuals. Certainly a risk that comes with that.

Prior to Crow, I worked exclusively with Coyote. Coyote was fond of giving my tasks to complete where I wound up looking like a fool when I finished each one. I knew I was working with a Trickster, so I tried to be patient through it all. After about nineteen or twenty of these tasks designed to make me look foolish, I went into a meditation looking for a confrontation. Frankly, I was pissed off at being made a fool. During my interaction, I asked why I was being made a fool. “You make yourself the fool,” was the response. If I am being made the fool, then why in the Nine Hells would you want to work with me? After the laughter subsided, Coyote noted that I was the fool for not asking questions. “I actually wanted to see if you possessed a spine” was the final response.

With Crow, I utilized some of this in my interactions with Him. Like Coyote, questioning was implied, but on a far shorter leash. I have had a few interactions where I have made the statement that I will have to think about whether I would do as asked. “Let me think about that” usually receives a terse reply of “do not take too long.” So, I do bargain with Crow. And sometimes I do try to bargain a limitation. But I have never entertained the idea that I might be limiting my relationship with Crow by doing so. Perhaps, by setting my own boundaries of what I can or am willing to do, I am changing the relationship that I have with Crow. But perhaps not too much.

I do see the Gods as beings that are far beyond my own personal comprehension. But I also see my relationship with the Gods to be somewhat similar to relationships that I have with other human beings. There are people that I would literally do anything for. Some of them know this, some of them don’t. There are others where I am willing to things for, but only up to a certain point. My relationship with them is not nearly as strong. My relationship with Crow is stronger than the one I have with Coyote. There are far more things I would do in service to Crow than I would in service to Coyote. That’s because the relationships are different. And my relationship with Flidais is far weaker than with the other Two. Our relationship is just barely over two years in age. In many ways, we are start in the flirtation stage.

I do not think that I have really changed too much of my opinion on whether boundaries, limitations or bargaining lessen a relationship with my Gods. Perhaps, if I had a more demanding God or Goddess, it would be a bit of a hinderance or even a point where my relationship with one of Them may cease. As for devotional surrender, I believe it really depends on which end of that spectrum may be in play, as to whether I would agree that it was a good idea or not. Allowing personal possession has an uncomfortable feeling to it, and crosses a lot of line with me in my own concept of personal sovereignty. Regardless, I still believe that my relationship with the Gods and Goddesses, particularly my Three, is a unique to me – and there may come a time when I will have to explore this aspect of devotional surrender to an ultimate extreme at some other time. Because relationships are unique…and complicated.