[Although I have been working on a version of this article for a few weeks, my finishing it has entirely to do with Thenea’s very thoughtful post from yesterday.]
In recent years there have been a couple of good discussions about differing manifestations of Gods, and how They can manifest to each of Their devotees in varying ways and degrees. There is some speculation that each of us who works with a Deity gets their very own version of that Deity. I sort of agree with this, not in the sense that I believe there are, say, ten-thousand different Apollons, each acting and responding under the same name, but rather that for each manifestation of Him, He puts only the parts of Himself in that are of spiritual relevance to the devotee(s) that particular manifestation is working with.
For instance, if we were to think of Apollon as a non-anthropomorphic bubble, filled with the various aspects of His personality, He might looks something like this:
Imagine each colored circle within being a different part of Him. Now, imagine that He has three manifestations, each taking a little of what is in the original, into Themselves. It might look something like this:
Each is Apollon. Each is carrying around a different set of aspects, causing variation within the ways that He manifests for the different groups or individuals He works with. In this diagram, at least one of those aspects is shared among all three manifestations, while all other aspects are unique to the manifestation in which they occur. These are all Apollon, but They are not the same. Depending on what aspects work best for groups or individuals, Gods can choose to tailor Their manifestations to suit the end goal of the work. But it isn’t just the Gods tailoring these experiences. They will often play off of our expectations, coming to us in the ways that are most promoted by our Polytheist culture, and also by the overculture.
In our current very patriarchal (American) society, this causes a lot of grief, as many of the Gods see this and recognize it from antiquity. They are already used to working within this framework, and so what They may think as a very normal and reasonable approach to gathering devotees, may not actually be the correct approach for this time in human history, although each case should be taken on its individual merits. For someone like me, a darker manifestation might be needed, at least in the beginning, as a starting point for learning and spiritual growth.
Let us now imagine that this dark manifestation behaves in ways that are familiar to us, from what remains of the Lore. If Apollon is responding to the prevailing societal view, it shouldn’t be surprising.
This Apollon is haughty and controlling, and He does pretty much whatever He can get away with. He demands, He threatens, and He punishes without mercy. But what happens when we outgrow this dark manifestation– when we see our worth as being more than what this darkness is expressing to us? I believe that is when we ought to look past the darkness and into ourselves.
We can often find aspects of our Gods within us, if we dare to look. Also, if we take the time to learn about the others aspects and integrate them into our lives through offering and conversation, we can alter the make-up of our personal manifestations of Deity. As with all relationships, this way works best when we acknowledge that the Deity is more than what has been revealed to us, and when we accept that our interactions with the Deity can, and often will, change.
To put it simply, we are just as responsible for how the Gods manifest to us as They are. Once we can accept our role, and our agency, we may begin to see vast changes in how our relationships with Them are expressed. But part of accepting our agency is learning what our boundaries are. What and where are the lines which should not be crossed? How do we respond when a Deity approaches that line? How do we respond when a Deity crosses that line? These are questions that need answers, for us an individuals, as well as for groups of people working with the same Deity. And if a God does cross that line, how do we reign Them in according to our values?
I’m pretty big on contracts which detail to exacting degrees, just what is acceptable and what is not, behaviorally speaking, both for the God(s) and for mortals. You have the right, as a free agent in the worlds, to guard and protect yourself from all harm, even and especially that coming from a God or Goddess. You do not have to be a doormat. You do not have to say yes. I believe that the Gods are People. Larger People than we are, but still People, with all the virtues and vices that entails. But while these vices may exist within Them, like us, They have the agency to choose whether or not They will express them, or if They will instead learn, grow and move past those negative tendencies.
We must hold Gods accountable for Their behavior, and They must hold Themselves accountable, as well. If a Deity is unwilling to address these issues when and wherever they arise, then that is a fine time to reconsider working with that Deity. They do not get to treat you however They want. Respect is a reciprocal exchange, not an endless stream poured out from one “lower” individual to a “higher” one. Humans are not lowly creatures. The Gods know this, and have known it for far longer than we have. But They are quite limited in the sense that They can not interact with us outside of the scope of our expectations. Only when we expect to be treated respectfully, at all times, will They begin to acknowledge this cultural shift.
We need to take command of our cultural expectations. Overall, this will be a difficult task, especially if our main focus continues to be the dismantling of the patriarchal overculture. Which, by the way, I’m not saying we should stop doing, but, if we can narrow our focus onto our Polytheist culture, whether it exists within a closed group, or on the world wide web, we can begin those first steps toward a culture of informed consent, at least when dealing with each other, and our Gods.