Many pagans form very close relationships with the gods we choose to worship. While we’re not limited to a master to slave relationship, that doesn’t mean working with a god is without love. While I doubt most gods are full of an equal amount of love for every human being who has ever lived, that doesn’t mean they don’t have love for their followers. After all, why would they bother with us if they didn’t love us?
When you find the god that “fits”, the one who you not only enjoy working with but grow to love, it is a glorious feeling. Devotions are something to look forward to and not a chore. Talking about the gods you love brings joy. But do not expect this joy to be shared by everyone.
Not Everyone Gets Along
Study a pantheon, and all the gods have relationships to each other. Some are complicated, some are romantic, and some are antagonistic. They are, in short, the same as relationships among extended family and community groups.
Just as the gods don’t always get along with each other, people don’t always get along with each other. That doesn’t mean anyone is bad. Some personalities just don’t do well with tricksters, dark gods can be too intense for some people, and sun gods can be too overwhelming and bright. Worshipping gods with strong personalities unfortunately means sometimes those personalities clash.
There are times when someone has wrong or biased information about a god that is dearly loved by those who work with them. But sometimes personalities just clash. It is not a judgement on you if someone doesn’t like a god you worship. Our gods are our allies, but they are fully capable of fighting their own battles. We don’t need to fight our gods battles for them here on earth. It is within your right to request someone doesn’t bad mouth a god you love around you or correct misinformation. But beyond that don’t expect everyone to get along.
Religion is Not a Zero-Sum Game
In general, gods in a polytheist pantheon don’t expect exclusive worship. (I have a strong suspicion pagans who say their god demands exclusive worship are doing major projecting, but that is a different topic.) There are certain gods that might require separate altars, and there are very specific times you shouldn’t mix working with specific gods together, but those are usually specific exceptions that have a reason behind them.
Someone has a wonderful experience with a god you wouldn’t give the time of day to… congratulate them. Their experience of a different god does not lessen your own experience. Their relationship is theirs, focus on your own relationships. Judge people not on their religious experiences and who they’re with, but on how they act.
I personally consider my relationships with my gods to be private, and while I will discuss if asked I feel no need to announce them. My relationship with my partner is my own business, though I am happy to declare I have a partner and that I love him. I have always been confused about the need to broadcast someone’s religion, and suspect it’s a sign either of insecurity or trying to control other people.
People Can Have Contradictory Experiences of the Same God
My personal theory is that gods are too big for us to experience them fully. When people have an ecstatic experience, in that moment they see and understand everything—but the moment the experience is over, they return to normal human experience and a portion of it is lost. While I do believe gods change, they are on a time scale closer to geological time than human time. Human brains will interpret the same experience differently (psychology backs me up on this). We regularly sort through information and pick out the pieces we believe are important.
Some of it could simply be interpretation. Some could be filter through previous experiences. Some people the god phone is busted. Or some people connected with different aspects of the same deity, at different times, and the deity needed different things, or the human needed different things from the divine.
Gods are not universal. Not every god is the same, or wants the same thing, or communicates in the same way. Gods are more than us, but human enough for us to communicate with. I am a hard polytheist, so I see all gods as separate persons. I don’t think its realistic to expect all of us to have the same experience, even with the same god. Gnosis though is shared when there are similar details that are consistent in many different experiences.
Whatever the explanation is, unless it is causing someone to behave in ways that are unethical or harmful, it isn’t your business. Gods are complex and multifaceted. Working with different aspects will be a different experience.
What is painful is when someone had a terrible experience with a god you love. It does happen. Know that their terrible experience doesn’t change your own, but don’t be afraid to ask questions on your end about it.
Lore Shows General Characteristics to Look For
Now, its one thing to say have an experience of Brigid the smith or Brigid the poet or Brigid the keeper of the hearth, but if you tell me you experienced Brigid the lady of the forest and patron of whales I am going to question your discernment. Facets that might contradict each other that are attested in lore are one thing. An aspect that completes contradicts and there is no connection to lore is another. Think of the lore as a category giving general characteristics and common associations. There might be deviations from it, but the core remains true.
Or a better metaphor would be a remake of a classic movie, or a particular type of genre film. There are many different flavors of Romeo and Juliet through the centuries, but the core of two lovers from opposing factions that ultimately commit suicide rather than be without each other remains. A vampire film needs vampires. A god of the hearth will be associated with the hearth and human dwellings, and a god of the forest will be associated with wild places.
People Can Also Misinterpret or Mistake a God
Gods aren’t always great at handing out their cards, especially when it’s the early reaching out stage. (Although if a god is reaching out to you, suddenly information of them might appear when you’re not looking for it…) Not everything that says it is a god is telling the truth. There are imposters out there, which is why its good to do research and divination to confirm any messages received. Someone without good discernment also runs the risk of confusing parts of himself with a god. If someone is talking about an experience of a god but know absolutely nothing of their lore, or has refused to do research, that brings into doubt if their interpretations are accurate.
Good divination is an option if you’re really curious. Don’t always expect to get straight answers though.
Show the Respect You Wish to Be Given
I know Christian bashing is easy to do among pagans. American society is dominated by Christian hegemony and the lens through which we view religion is their creation. Many pagans are converts that suffered spiritual (and other forms of) harm from their original religion.
But I think it is a mistake for pagans to call the Christian god a dead god. People all around the world have experiences with the Christian god—they are touching something. If people are having experiences of a god, it exists. People have been having experiences of gods since we started being human. People will continue to have experiences long after everyone you have ever met is gone.
But don’t mistake respect for agreement. An experience is one thing—interpreting it is another. Interpretation is where the feuding starts.
Don’t Let Someone Else Sour Your Relationship
Meeting people who have terrible opinions or openly say bad things about a god you love is painful. Not every god is understood or liked by everyone. But don’t let this sway you from your own relationships if your discernment says this is genuine and your heart says this is right. Trust yourself if you have done your proper research and discernment, and trust the gods you have grown to love.