“So tell me, as a pagan, who do you worship?”
“That’s right, I imagine you have a pretty wide open field. To whom do you set up a house hold altar? To whom do you bow down? To whom do you pray at dawn and dusk?”
“The Female Principle. It’s an empowerment thing” (…) “She doesn’t need a name”.
“So do you have mighty Bacchnals in her honor? Do you drink blood wine under the full moon while scarlet candles burn in silver candle sticks? Do you step naked into the seafoam, chanting ecstatically to your nameless Goddess while the waves lick at your legs, lapping your thighs like the tongues of a thousand leopards? “
“Your making fun of me. We don’t do any of that stuff you were saying”
“There” said Wednesday, “is one who does not have the faith, and will not have the fun”.
–Neil Gaiman; American Gods (paraphrased)
Some of us do do that stuff. I’m one of them. As a matter of fact I do burn scarlet candles in silver candle holders on the full moon while drinking wine (sans the blood though).
A few weeks ago my wife asked me if I actually worshiped the Gods, and if I believe they are worthy of worship. A seemingly simple question, yet I admit to being somewhat perplexed on how to answer it and have been chewing on it in my mind ever since. I believe at the time I muttered something about Kharis and reciprocity and my random musings on the nature of divinity. It sounded rational and intellectual, but it’s not really true. It was a bunch of BS really. If that were the only reason I worshiped the Gods I wouldn’t bother, or I would of chosen one of the more socially acceptable and easily accessible religions, and I would put far less effort into it.
The truth is, I worship the Gods because it feels good. I enjoy it. It enriches my life in a myriad of ways. My life is better with the Gods than without them. I believe I am a better person with them in my life. I sincerely hope that they enjoy my worship as well. I’d hate to be the only one getting anything out of the relationship (yet I still suspect that I get more out of the deal).
The second reason that I worship them is because they call out to my soul and always have. To not respond to that call would leave me empty and dissatisfied. Believe me, I know because I have been down that road. It was a road I needed to travel at the time, and I’m not regretful for doing it because I learned a lot about myself, but I am much happier now with the Gods in my life than I was for the time I abandoned them.
I’ve seen a lot of People (Pagans and non-Pagans alike) have a bad reaction to the word ‘worship’, as if it is inherently negative. I myself had this same reaction when I was asked about it. I admit that there was a tinge of shame in my answer to her as if to admit to Worship of anything was inherently a mark a lack of self respect. After all, no self respecting confident modern individual would actually worship something? It’s as if the very word is some how demeaning. Thus my need to rationalize it away with scholarly geek speak.
I think this is because “worship” has become synonymous in many peoples minds with self abasement and groveling. However, I don’t believe that such concepts have any place in modern Paganism. At least not the way that I do it! They have never asked for my self abasement. If they did I would look elsewhere. I do respect the Gods however, and I think our worship of them should show that respect. After all, they are Gods, and no matter how approachable, are still higher than us. I don’t see being respectful as the same thing as self abasement.
I invite you to stand before Dionysos fully invoked and present, the blood rushing in your ears, the taste of wine on your lips, fresh from the feeling of being totally consumed by devotion for him, still chanting his hymns ecstatically and unwilling to stop.
Or standing before Hekate on her dark moon, contemplating the full imagery of her as perceived by the thousands of individuals who have felt her call in the centuries before you, and felt compelled to write down what they saw.
“With Pois’nous Rows of Serpents down the Back,
Bound down Your Backs with Horrifying Chains
Night-Crier, Bull-faced, loving Solitude,
Bull-headed, You have Eyes of Bulls, the Voice
Of Dogs; You hide Your Forms in Shanks of Lions”
It gives me shivers even thinking about it. There is no self abasement in my worship, no groveling. There is only awe, respect, and love. Standing before these Gods, with ones soul laid bare to them, how could I do anything but worship them?
(This incidentally is probably one of the reasons I am attracted to the worship of Gods of ecstasy. I thrive on this kind of thing).
I also worship the Gods because I sincerely believe in them. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t. While I feel there are many valid ways to approach spirituality, I have always been called to Polytheism. One of the reasons I am a polytheist and not a monotheist is because of the one-to-one relationship that polytheism offers that I just could never feel from an all-encompassing monotheistic God. My God’s have proven themselves to me time and time again, and I am not ashamed to say that I sincerely believe in them and love them.
(Note: I am not bashing monotheism here. I personally think it is great that there are many different paths to the divine, and I personally believe that everyone has different needs in this area. Polytheism meets my need. I don’t believe in one size fits all where spirituality is concerned).
For instance not long ago, something was happening in my life which was consuming me with unhappiness. It had been building for a long time and I was becoming miserable. I just kept putting on a smiling face and ignoring it (unfortunately I’m good at that. Very good). One night, I found myself before Dionysos’s shrine, surprised to find myself spewing forth things to him that I would not even admit to myself. Even though such situation had been going on for a long time the very next day it was resolved. I know it was He that had a hand in that.
That is only one example of many. This is not a “sermon” on the power of prayer. My point is that I trusted him, and he reciprocated my trust. I could give numerous examples of this with all of my personal pantheon. Over time I have come to trust them fully. If they suggest I do something, I usually know it is my best interests. I owe them my gratitude many times over. This is only part of the reason that I love them. This is part of the reason that I worship them. It makes me feel good to know that I can repay their love and generosity with my worship.
I don’t worship the Gods because I have to, or because something bad is going to happen to me if I don’t, or because they demand it and it’s written in some book, or even to get divine favors to make my life easier.
They do not demand my worship, they inspire it. This is the key difference. I worship them because my soul aches to, and that my dear readers is the main reason.