The Wrong Kind of God-Fearing

I have, more than once, encountered pagans who express derision over the concept of “god-fearing” as expressed by Christians. That meaning of “reverential awe” that is intended, or for that matter the more common understanding of simple warning of danger, those are just plain silly, right?

But there is a deep and pernicious thread of fear of the gods in modern paganism. People will discard the idea of damnation and hell as “I don’t want a god I have to be afraid of” and nonetheless still fear god.

It shows up in all kinds of different ways.

Jesus-in-drag, for example. “The Goddess loves us all”. Take the most nonthreatening form of Christianity and gender-swap it to remove all possible contamination from what Elfwreck has called the dangerous Abrahamic penis. This goddess is all-generous, all-kind, all-loving, and a cosmic purveyor of idiot compassion. She will never say “No”, because “No” is not perfectly gooshy, and because “No” might mean something other than perfect solipsistic gratification – and that’s scary.

Or the related revisionism, in which various Powers widely considered to be perilous or ambivalent or simply complicated to deal with get given some kind of facelift to make them more acceptable pablum. The universe in which the Morrigan is actually a battle goddess, able to take the shape of a carrion-devouring scavenger of the dead, is a whole lot more frightening than one in which She is a benevolent mama. Kali’s insistence on destroying illusions and other forms of self-deception is, itself, an illusion, right? One that covers over the secret peacefulness revealed in Her necklace of skulls.

The flip side of this, of course, is the dismissal of other Powers as irredeemable. Sekhmet’s rage against defilers is too dangerous to go near, so Her patronage of healers is elided and the whole deal is written off as “that is a bad goddess”. Set is recast as The Devil and Everyone Knows that pagans aren’t Satanists, right? These Powers are too fearsome to ever be honored, so They get shuffled off to the sidelines and simply ignored with the excuse that they are “negative”.

Alternately, the more … ah, difficult to face aspects of a Power are sometimes erased or ignored. Apollo’s plague arrows? Never heard of ’em. Bast is a happy goddess, just a big kitty after all, not someone who would ever rip the hearts out of the offenders against ma’at and leave them in the king’s slippers. Goodness gracious no. Hetharu doesn’t have anything to do with death, how could you think such a thing? She’s all about joy! And beer!

Or maybe we decide that we actually do agree that the Powers are as They have always been said to be, and defang them in other ways. Perhaps we forget that the meat offerings that Kemetics make are symbols of fallen enemies, much as our bread and water offerings are symbols of sharing life.

Perhaps we talk about the archetypes, the symbols, the ideas about what the Powers are or might be. We don’t take the mythology as illumination of interrelationships in the cosmos, an explanation of how things connect to each other, and illumination about the natures of the Powers; we boil it down into morality tales, into Jungian/Campbellian explorations of the unconscious mind, into the backtales of symbols on our Tarot cards. There is nothing to fear here, just stories. Right?

Or maybe the Powers are tools, and we can have a conversation about which god or goddess we want to “use” in this particular spell, as if entities responsible for the good order and proper running of the universe are going to come running to help us with our problems. (Kemetically speaking, magic was given to people to let us deal with our own damn shit. It fucking says so in a surviving text. Remember the myths?)

Or we make Them little and cute, the chibi god brigade, harmless in their potential and effect. We boil godliness down into a life coach or a best friend, someone who basically is looking out for our best interests, perhaps is paid to look out for our best interests, who deeply cares about our geography homework, how we can get our dream job, or whether or not we should ask out the cute stranger at the bar. That ideal invisible friend will help us out with our trifling obsessions, no matter how tenuously connected to Their spheres of influence. Our patrons, those fatuous parents squealing over every tiny accomplishment of that perfect child. Who could fear that?

No.

This is not about mocking a personal relationship with your Power(s), if you have one. This is not about dismissing the relationship of a divine parent. This is not about blowing off devotion, making snide gestures at dedication, or being rude about other things that begin with “d”.

This is about knowing that a god is not a personal wish dispenser, a jack-in-the-box solution to life, or, really, dealing with a whole lot on the level of mundane life. Deus ex machina is a literary trope, not something that you can stash in the closet and drag out whenever you want to grease the skids on your latest crisis.

A Kemetic Power is responsible for the upholding of ma’at in the cosmos, balancing and influencing the infusions of Nun so that they come out more positive than negative, upholding the rhythms of day and night, life and death, feast and famine. They have stuff to do that doesn’t touch us beyond maintaining a cosmos in which we can – if we do our end of the work – have our lives.

A god is not a handy tool to grab out of the cupboard. If a god has interest in us, a personal interest, it is quite likely because we are a handy tool to grab out of Their cupboard – or something that can be pared and shaped into one with a bit of work. And that work will put demands out there, will create obligations, and it may even be hard.

I am training to be a priest to Set. Further, I believe that He loves me and that we have an intense personal relationship.

I believe that I have a fuckton of work to do as part of that role, and that I will receive minimal guidance to do it and most of the assistance will be in the form of stressing my system until I break in the correct direction, because I am training to be a priest of Set.

And I believe that if I go waltzing out into a Cat 5 hurricane, it doesn’t matter what grand goals He may have put forth for me to serve, because it is very likely that I will die of my stupid. Having the love of a storm god does not mean it is not my responsibility to have the sense to come in out of the rain.

Do I fear Him?

As much as I love Him.

Does it matter?

Only sometimes.

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5 thoughts on “The Wrong Kind of God-Fearing

  1. Bastemhet says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the thing about Bast. If I could describe her in one word, it would be “intimidating.” I wish I knew the seemingly “sweet kitty” side, because I just can’t see it. If anything, I’m but a puny human in her shadow.

    That was a very interesting idea about how we might be tools of the gods ourselves. I wonder how many people truly know why they’re chosen by their gods. I wish I did!

    • kiya_nicoll says:

      I tried to put in as many Kemetic ones as I remembered off the top of my head, and that’s one I’ve seen more than once.

      You just don’t get a protective Power without claws.

  2. Heather says:

    I’ve been going back to read more of your posts after stumbling across your blog this week, and this one rings particularly true – but then I’d have to leave that as a comment to almost everything I’ve read.

    I’m reminded of a conversation at a pagan con some time back, during which I mentioned my ongoing pursuit of a deeper commitment to Hetheru. The gentleman to whom I was speaking enthusiastically responded ‘oh, hey, party goddess!’. I think the best I managed to respond was ‘er – well, that’s not how I interact with Her.’

    I am always fascinated, though, to learn about the different facets each of the gods shows to us, and how it is that some people are presented with some facets more strongly or regularly than other ones.

  3. Aubs Tea says:

    To be perfectly honest, I do tend to forget Hetharu as a divinity of death. It’s not so much that I see her as a divinity of life–the joy of it, the bringing of it, and so on–but that it can be occasionally difficult for me to remember that all deities have facets. And I am just as guilty as the next person for forgetting that.

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