Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A man [and woman] can stand up

 "If you approach the Celtic gods with the attitude of 'I'm not worthy', they're going to respond, 'Well come back when you are.'"

I came across this a few days ago on one of the pagan forums I frequent. The context of the thread was a discussion of "Worshiping without shame, and some members who had come from a Christian theological perspective who were not used to idea of doing anything but grovelling to a god. This notion is actually a core belief of many of the Christians I know, especially those of an Evangelical Protestant persuasion. I do on occasion listen to the local Christian radio station (perhaps more on that in a future post) and the message that humans are not deserving of salvation, and are by their very nature horrible is something which is repeated ad nauseum. I simply can not fathom why anyone with even a shred of self respect would buy into such a nonsensical message.

Comparing this approach to worship with that of Gaelic Polytheism shows just how different GP's act towards their deities. I'm of the view that the basis for that relationship is one of patron-client; deity and worshiper. There is of course an implied hierarchy, and this is fine because after all we are not gods, and they are bastions of knowledge and power we simply do not have. That the gods are greater than we are does not, however, mean that we are to prostrate ourselves before them, it means that we are the "junior partners" in the relationship. The texts are replete with examples of humans in conflict with the déithe, however this more often than not leads to disharmony and suffering. There are even examples of mortals overpowering otherworldly figures, Cúchulain's quarrel with An Morrigan, Fionn's defeat of Aillen, and the victory of the Mileseans over the Tuatha Dé Danaan (A Christian gloss, but an example none the less). What this shows is that in some rare cases humans are capable of even overcoming the gods themselves, though the last time I checked, there wasn't one equal to Cúchulain or Fionn nowadays (plus each had semi-divine parentage to boot.) What is clear however is that even after the Milesans gained the favour of the goddess of sovereignty of Ireland, they then suffered at the hands of the gods, because without their blessing, their crops would not grow, their cows would not produce milk, and things were in a really sorry state. As such, efforts were made to placate the déithe , and the crops flourished, milk flowed freely and things began to look up. The long and short of it then, is that it is far better to be in harmony with the gods, than not.

Our relationships with the gods then, are based on our willingness to provide hospitality (among other things) to them, and they to provide wisdom (among other things) to us. However, nowhere in this relationship is there a call for groveling, cow-towing, or thinking ourselves less than worthy. The gods do not crave our worship (the way some other deities seem to), they do not want clients who think themselves worthless, after all what use would we be to them? It is not a difficult concept to grasp; considering the importance that honour and courage were afforded in early Irish society, one can not grovel and maintain their honour, one can not be courageous when they are bowing and scraping. This is not to say that we ought to be rude or think ourselves equal to the gods, because the first violates hospitality and the second is hubris. Rather we are to stand before our gods and we are to act with honour and courage both before our gods and in our day to day lives. We can do this, not because the gods allow us to, but because they know that we are worthy of being their clients.

Our gods do not expect us to bow, they expect us to stand.

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