I’ve noticed a troubling trend in the online polytheist community. People, more than ever, are coming out of the woodwork and being vocally devoted to this god or that god. However, when reading through an online shrine to a god this week, I noticed one question where someone asked why people had become a devotee of this particular god. There were several answers all along the usual lines, but the ones that bugged me were ones that went roughly like this: “I became drawn to/a devotee of [such-and-such God] because they really help me get in touch with my [X] side, develop my [X] skills, and give me [X]. [Such-and-such God] really teaches [X] to me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. A certain amount of self-improvement in the name of the gods is all well and good. We should all strive to be worthy servants. But what’s wrong with the statement above? Do you notice that there’s a lot of the words–me and my. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among some practitioners to confuse devotion for a god and a real spiritual worship practice with instead using the god as a figurehead for self-help and self-actualization. I’ve seen people do the same thing with Oprah, for fuck’s sake. Frankly, not only is doing this profane, it’s downright selfish. The gods are not here to help us become the best version of ourselves–not directly, anyway, in my opinion. They are not here to be used as coping mechanisms.
If you are a hard polytheist, then you at least profess to acknowledge that the gods are legitimate, independent beings with existences and purposes of their own, outside of human machinations. That means the gods have their own purposes and agendas, of which we may or may not play a part. (And I’d argue such things are largely out of our reach, anyway. Remember Semele standing in Zeus’s fully divine uncloaked presence? Torched to a crisp. There’s so much about the nature of a god that we, as humans, just cannot understand). That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive to embody the best qualities of our gods, but you have to be mindful that there’s a line between doing or acting a certain way to honor your god, and using a god’s named attributes to worship yourself. I may write runo and sing to honor Ukko, but I do not profess to be a mighty creator or a great master, as he is called in the songs. (And to directly quote from Runo IX, “In my mouth, if there be sweetness, It has come from my Creator;/If my bands are filled with beauty,/All the beauty comes from Ukko.”) I may worship Ares, but I do not worship him because he puts me in touch with my ‘inner warrior’ (which is a whole other kettle of fish, about what constitutes a warrior and what doesn’t, and frankly, I am not a warrior and at this point in my life will probably never be). I worship him because he is a mighty and terrible god worthy of reverence, who called me into his service.
Strive for self improvement. Strive for becoming the best person you can be. But do not let your ego carry you away so that you confuse that with actual worship and due reverence to the gods. They are two separate things, and the gods are in themselves great without your inner personal development as a barometer, and due worship just for being what they are.