John Halstead over at The Allergic Pagan wrote a fantastic article yesterday, titled 'The role of faith and hubris in Paganism', largely prompted--it seems--by a blog post of mine I wrote a little while ago entitled: 'You, in relation to Deity' (although I changed the title for the PaganSquare version, which is otherwise exactly the same). I would encourage everyone to read John's post before reading on, as it is a fantastic piece of writing and what follows won't make much sense if you don't. Reading my original post might also help, if you have not done so.

In his post, John writes the following:

"Last week I came across a word that, ten years ago, I would never have thought to see in a Pagan context: “faith”. In fact, I came across it several times:

[...] finally, I came across this striking description of faith by Hellenic polytheist Elani Temperance on her post, “Self, in relation to Deity”:

“[...] when it comes to the Theoi–I say ‘how high’ when They say ‘jump’, regardless of what is requested of me. It also means that I put my faith in Them. When I pray and sacrifice to Zeus the Thunderer for a day without rain as I do my rounds outside, I don’t bring an umbrella. I trust that Zeus will either honor my prayer through kharis, or will have good reason not to. Who am I to go against His wishes and stay dry, regardless? To me, that is hubris.”

Wow! That’s not just faith, but if-they-told-you-to-jump-off-a-bridge kind of faith! Who are you to go against Zeus’ wishes? I couldn’t help but respond:

“You are a beautiful and incredible human being is who you are. Who is he to say you have to get wet? The polytheistic gods, as I understand them, are not necessarily “good” and they are not omni-benevolent. They are as flawed as human beings, but they just have more power. Why bow down to power, if it is not paired with virtue?”

Elani explains that she is able to maintain boundaries with human beings, but not with the gods. That kind of faith makes no more sense to me in the context of divine beings than it would in the context of human beings."

Again, please read the whole of it. What I wanted to share with you is my reply to John, because he did put into motion some wheels of thought for me. Not about serving, or my faith, or anything like that, but his post reminded me that--although this way of worship is incredibly logical and normal for me--I'm very much part of a fringe minority because of it. It was enlightening. Others have taken up John's call and have replied to his post with thoughtful posts that--although my name is in there--are not about my person, but the type of movement I represent.

To be clear, I did not start this blog with the intent of evangelizing anyone. I was starting a new journey, and I love to write. Those were my reasons. I don't think I'm truly spearheading anything, and I hope I make clear that I'm still not trying to evangelize anyone, but we'll come back to that tomorrow, when I'll take on at least one reply to John's blog post. For readers who are not interested in this, I am sorry, come back after Christmas. By Thursday, I should have processed all of this. If my stance on religion and Paganism indeed put me in a separate group, I need to be aware of this. For now, my reply, unedited.

"Thank you for your reply to my post at PaganSquare. I read it, but hadn’t gotten a chance to reply to it. Let me do it here. I will also copy this reply to PaganSquare.

As I wrote in my post, I was sharing my experience, my life, and my faith. Even in the original post, I explained that this is not a polytheist/religious staple. To quote the paragraph below the one you have quoted:

“While this extreme is important in my relation to Deity, there is no reason why your practice should be the same. If you’re in a Tradition where ‘working with the Gods’ is a big thing, you’ll most likely give up a lot less of your autonomy to the Gods. Your relationship is more personal, more equal, than many Hellenists will ever have (although, I guess, there are exceptions to that as well, within the Hellenistic community).”

I get the feeling that you think I’m somehow oppressed or that I must be unhappy in my relationship with the Gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I wrote in that very same post, I don’t have the negative connotations to serving (the) God(s) those who came to Paganism from one of the major faiths. I was never forced to attend service, never learned to be fearful of the Gods, never watched out for the All-Seeing in the sky.

To me, there is beauty in serving, a humble existence that fits well with certain vows I have made to the Theoi, as well as the way I prefer to live my life. I don’t consider myself a ‘lower being’ at all, but do acknowledge that the Gods are more powerful and wiser than I am. Through kharis, I know They have my best interests in mind, and if things take a turn for the worst, I can be sure it’s happening because I did or did not do something that I shouldn’t or should have. I broke kharis, and They have every right to hold that against me.

As you wrote in this brilliant post, my flavor of Paganism is much closer identified with the monotheistic faiths than the earth-centered or self-centered paths of Paganism. I also understand your comment about boundaries between me and the Theoi. You are right in saying that I would never assume to be a God, or to be divine in any way. I’m a mortal, and as such, the Theoi hold sway over my life.

This extreme level of servitude is the level that works for me, just like it works for Christian nuns and priests, Buddhist monks, and everyone else who places their lives and fates in the lives of those they serve. It doesn’t make us weak or pathetic: reclaiming my right to bow down to deities within the current Pagan climate took more guts than any other stance I ever took, and I have taken a lot of stances in my life that were not appreciated by the mainstream majority.

I know you practice Paganism differently, and as a loyal reader of your blog, I respect that greatly. I love reading your perspective. Yet, like my way of practicing would make you very unhappy, your way of practicing would make me feel the same. Thankfully, this Pagan label is applicable to both of us and anyone in-between, even if our practices differ to such a high degree, we have almost nothing in common.

One last thing I wanted to comment on is ‘power’. In this post, you ask the reader–and me specifically–’Why bow down to power, if it is not paired with virtue?’. Who says the Theoi are not virtuous, even if they are flawed? Funnily enough, Star Foster wrote almost the exact same thing a while ago, and I blogged about it on my blog.

From that post:

“As for honoring Gods because They are exemplars of virtue… It may be the phrasing, but I have difficulty with this. For one, all Theoi have Their epithets. Domains range from the destructive to the protective and back again. Does that make them virtuous?

Until the rebellion, Zeus seduced every beautiful human specimen He laid His divine eyes on. Most of the male Theoi have mythology which focusses on an act of rape on Their part. Hera’s jealousy is legendary. Nearly all female Deities–although a case could be made for all–let the male Deities dominate Their lives. The Theoi are so human in Their failings (from a modern standpoint!), that They can hardly be considered exemplars of virtues.

Then again, Their ‘flaws’ hardly make Them unvirtuous: They still teach a lot of them: temperance, prudence, justice, courage, etc. The trouble with the Theoi and Star’s statement–for me–is that all Theoi teach these virtues. All of them have virtues in Their ‘base’ and in Their various epithets. Choosing one above the other seems counterproductive to the spirits of reconstruction and polytheism. That having been said, there are a lot of people in Paganism–and most likely Hellenismos as well–who do not share my vision upon this issue, and so I understand where Star is coming from.”

Within my path, my religion, I am not God. I am mortal. I serve the Gods who rule my life, and because I serve Them well, I have a very good life. Some may not understand–perhaps most will not understand–but this is the life I chose, and the life I am infinitely happy with. I have tried the other circles of Paganism you describe and it was not for me.

The only faith I have is in the existence of the Gods. Not as archetypes, not as different personas or one or a few entities, but as a myriad of separate entities who may or may not give a crap about me. Hopefully They do, and to make sure They do, I try to appease and serve Them, but that has nothing to do with having faith. That has to do with building a relationship with those who were used to being served. This is why I call myself a Reconstructionist, yet even in the Recon community, there are various degrees in how much autonomy is surrendered.

Surrendering to what I really wanted out of my religion and life, was the best decision I have ever made. No, the Theoi are not all good, but They are protective. I place my trust–and life–in Their hands because I know They will treat me well. And so, when I go out without my umbrella, it does not rain, or so minimally, it is not a hinderance, even if it should have been raining non-stop the whole day. Kharis. Faith. I love this life, my religion and the Theoi, and I do not need to be rescued from it. But thank you, for allowing me to solidify this for myself again :) "

John replied to my post with the following:

"Elani: Thank you for being good humored about my using your experience and your faith as a foil. And thank you for taking the time to further explain your faith. I have found reading your blog very interesting, and I appreciate that your non-confrontational approach to your religion. I could probably use a healthy dose of that here."

Have I said how much I really like and appreciate John Halstead? Because I do. He's thoughtful, passionate and opinionated. Above all, he's a skilled writer and a wonderful intellectual, whom I would love to have a face-to-face discussion with about this broad concept called 'Paganism'. This whole issue--his post and all replies included--are being handled with uttermost care and courteousness, and it's greatly appreciated. Please check back tomorrow for part two, and most likely the day after that for part three. If you're uninterested in any of this, please check back on Thursday, I promise to write about something Hellenic or Hellenistic.