Q9. How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?

How does my tradition handle destructive deities? Very carefully. Okay, that isn’t an answer, but I have to back up a little.

One of the basic concepts you often find in polytheism that people from a non-polytheistic background miss is that the gods are not primarily moral exemplars. They may inspire us to live rightly in certain ways, but for lack of a better phrasing, they are all extremely biased. They value certain things and are indifferent to others. Most of them don’t provide a balanced model for healthy human social/emotional development. They embody a certain quality, or set of qualities, and they express that quality to its fullest. Many of them embody qualities we would usually consider to be virtues, but even then we can look to them both for help in cultivating that virtue and for an example of what happens when the expression of that virtue overrides all other considerations. Most of them would provide an extremely unbalanced focus for monotheistic worship. Rather than having all qualities balanced within themselves, they maintain a balance of forces via their interaction with each other.

The gods do not represent what is good or admirable or virtuous. They represent what is powerful. They embody the forces which create, sustain, transform, and destroy. They embody everything that is important to us, not just what is desirable or beneficial to us. When people ask, “How can you worship a god who ______?” this is the point they are missing. In general, when we worship these “destructive” gods, when we say the power they represent is worthy of reverence, we are not saying we want the forces they embody to overpower all other forces. We are not inviting these forces to run unchecked through our lives or the lives of others. We are recognizing that they exists, that they are powerful, and that they, in some way, are necessary to maintain the balance of the system as a whole.

People who are called to work with these gods often have an intimate understanding of the balance that keeps that particular force in check. They often recognize that force in themselves, and understand the need for opposing forces. Raven wrote a good piece about honoring Fenrir, that explains that concept better than I can, and other writing on that Fenrir Shrine might also be helpful.

In my tradition, we tend to use caution when honoring gods whose influence is likely to be incredibly disruptive. We stress that some gods represent forces which require opposing forces to maintain the balance in which human civilization is possible. We recognize that just because a certain god is in favor of a given plan, it doesn’t mean that plan is a good idea. Given the vast diversity of gods, you can find a god who will be in favor of nearly any course of action you can conceive of, no matter how terrible. That is why they do not exist in isolation, and are not worshiped in isolation. Divine approval does not necessarily make a thing permissible.

On a personal level, while I can honor certain “destructive” gods from a distance, it has been difficult for me to work closely with a god whose morality and values differ sharply from my own. In my case, it was Aphrodite – not a god commonly considered “destructive”, though I’d argue that she definitely qualifies as “wrathful”. On more than one occasion I felt strongly pressured by her to have unprotected sex with strangers. (No. I’m sorry, My Lady, but No.) On one notable occasion, someone asked for my advice as a priest/representative of Aphrodite, and despite being personally appalled by it, I felt compelled to assure this person that Aphrodite was completely in favor of her decision to abandon her husband and children to run off with some guy she barely knew. In that case, kept my personal morality out of it, but only because the woman had specifically asked me for Aphrodite’s advice, not my own. I consider myself very fortunate that I work primarily with a god who has what I consider to be a fairly balanced morality, and in general I can look to him for guidance in that way. Not all gods are like that. In order to safely honor the wrathful, savage, or destructive deities, we need to be sure enough of ourselves to find our morality elsewhere, be self-aware enough to recognize how those forces manifest within us, and have enough self-control to keep those internal forces in check even when facing the ecstatic pull of the divine.

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2 Comments

  1. “The gods do not represent what is good or admirable or virtuous. They represent what is powerful. They embody the forces which create, sustain, transform, and destroy. They embody everything that is important to us, not just what is desirable or beneficial to us.”

    Damn, that encapsulates very succinctly something I’ve needed to put a finger on for entirely too long.

    Thank you!
    –Ember–

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  1. Q9. How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities? | EmberVoices

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