|Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on March 23, 2015 at 6:00 PM|
It has been fashionable in some polytheistic and pagan circles today to claim that contemporary personal relationships with the gods is influenced by Protestant Christian culture prevalent in western civilization today, and that this would not have been traditionally observed by our ancestors historically, which therefore makes such relationships corrupt, suspect, or both.
My thought on this notion today is that, as relationships are living things, when maintained, what they were in the past might then not be a stone template for what they might be today, and that in some cases, folklore might be misunderstood when some try to fit it to a western religious framework.
In the past, gods were related to as powers of a place, a family, a political tribal government, or great forces of the natural world. They were then related with, and to, on a communal basis, largely, during tribal gatherings, for civic as well as religious purposes. The concept of the individual was subsumed under the concept of the collective, barring exceptional cases like great warriors, druids, heroes, healers, or storytellers. Personal relationships were not widely expected or sought, so would not have regularly manifested, but occasionally they did, as various tales recall. To commune with the great powers of the gods was potentially dangerous though, and could result in either great gifts like songs, tales, and skill, or great damage like dementia and death, so wasn't often encouraged.
But what might the gods think today, after observing a couple thousand years of popularity of a religion in their lands which in part encourages a personal relationship with its deity? Perhaps they might see how those new traditions grew, how fond of their god the people have become, how willing to commune with him they are. And perhaps, with such an observance, the ancestral gods decided to change their tactics, and reach out to individuals themselves, in the manner in which the people had become accustomed to commune with deity. Perhaps this new sort of relationship is what is needed now to revive knowledge of the Shining Ones and encourage embracing of Tradition once again, the tradition of sacred relations with the Powers and other-than-human Persons and Nations among whom we dwell. Perhaps too, because our official civic and religious institutions do not recognize or honor Them, the Shining Ones can only really forge relations today on an individual level, because that is how we have now structured our societies. In this case, the gods have no other choice, and in other cases, might still, and once again, be recognized and honored by family groups today.
In the case of historicity, could it be that civic and religious institutions missed the mark themselves with respect to the Tradition, to some extent? The Irish myths tell is of The Pact made between the Milesians and the Shining Ones, in which the gods move underground and demand that offerings be regularly made to Them in exchange for the milk and grain the people needed for sustenance. The folklore also tells us the people learned skills from the gods, were decended from the gods, echanged fosterlings with the gods, and dwelled among them upon the land. It tells us the tribal king once married the land goddess to sanctify his rule and provide for his people. It does not tell us though, that the people worshiped the Shining Ones. As Powers of the Land, They were to be recognized, honored, and respected through reciprocal and mindful relations and living, which people managed regularly in folklore and folk custom. But perhaps installing Them as legitimizers of civic politics and religion was a misuse of that relationship. Perhaps attempts at worshiping Them today, rather than maintaining sacred relations with Them as other-than-human Persons and Nations is a misinterpretation of the ancestral faery tradition.
Perhaps the real diversion of Christian pervasiveness isn't personal deity but worship, a relationship pursued by some historically as well, but in the pursuit and legitimization of instituional power, which has nothing to do with respectful sacred relations with powerful other-than-human persons. Perhaps our personal relationships offer us new opportunities to relearn how to pursue and maintain respectful relations; perhaps as more of us regain this wisdom we will begin to relearn how to forge respectful lifeways grounded in the values of those sacred relations. In the meantime, as our ancestral indigenous lifeways have largely vanished, perhaps we can look to the living indigenous traditions around the world today, which remind and demonstrate to us what such lifeways tend to be shaped like. I offer their people many thanks for the examples they provide, and acknowlege the debt owed to them for the pain and losses they have suffered under the regime of modern western civilization (pain and losses sustained by our own ancestors as well). Perhaps we can also look to the examples of indigenous civilizations which were corrupted by institutional power, as were those of our ancestors.
Happily, ancestral and other indigenous traditions offer values and lifeways grounded in sacred relations which offer worldview lenses we might learn from today which differ from the prevalent lenses of duality and materialism we are surrounded by today, and the lens of instituional power to which humans of all stripes and times have succombed. Perhaps the lens of sacred relations is being offered to us today by the gods of our ancestors, reaching out to us as individuals, to help us remember how to live by those relations, so we might begin to craft those lifeways once again.