Gods and Ungods, Practical Polytheism

Growing Up when the Gods Strike Us Down

The oft repeated phrase “Everyone makes mistakes” is one of the most annoying and trite things to hear or say. I use it  several times a week with my kids, because every kid should grow up hearing it and master the eyeroll of disdain (ugh, Mom, you say that all the time!). Parents, you feel me, right? But when we think about to ourselves regarding our actions, it can bring about some pretty hard feelings. Shame, guilt, a sense of incompetence. I made a pretty big mistake in May 2014, even though it didn’t look like a mistake to anyone but me, and it impacted my spiritual growth for the next four years.

Back in late 2013/early 2014, when I was pregnant with my youngest, I was helping host a monthly Pagan meetup. This eventually turned into planning and leading a Beltaine rite with about half a dozen other people. And this was the beginning of my mistake.

I am one of those people that, when confronted with a problem, will just plan to take care of it myself. I work in the nonprofit sector, in both administration and service, and I think this is a character trait many of us working towards behavioral change on the community level share. So when no one wanted to/felt comfortable leading this rite we worked to plan, I volunteered to take the reigns. And it went smoothly, everyone that participated mentioned feeling energized and connected, and I truly feel that the Gods were with us. It was a good experience for everyone, except me. Leading this rite was a spiritual mistake on my part.

I left the rite feeling confused, lost, and abandoned. I didn’t feel like the Gods were with me, though I could feel them around me. I didn’t feel inspired or elevated or connected. I felt like an imposter, and just overly wrong. I left the rite, and haven’t spoken to that group since (which is a whole other issue I need to own up to). And in the time between then and now, I felt pretty disassociated with my spirituality in general.

My biggest mistake was assuming a role that I was not meant for. Its one of those times when our virtues can also be our weaknesses. We needed a facilitator, I was willing, but I was not prepared. While we worked to plan it out on paper, I didn’t do the necessary practical work. My body, mind, and spirit were not ready to facilitate. I didn’t control where my spiritual energy was flowing, and it was leeched out. I didn’t listen to my stress responses when I felt that I was doing something wrong. And I didn’t establish a prior relationship, or even regular practice, with the Gods and spirits I was calling out to, even in a veneration setting. You know those tales of the people that go mad from practicing without the proper knowledge and precautions. That could have been me, and it was me.

It has taken me years to come back into myself. I think there are a few reasons I wasn’t driven away completely. My willingness to take responsibility when needed, my honest desire to connect with the Gods and spirits, and that the mistake was made through naivete and the lack of access to others more qualified. It is one of our challenges in rural communities, not just as Pagans but for any aspect of secular life, is that we may have needs and gaps that need filled, we may have people willing to take up the responsibility, but we lack the skilled resources (in people and supports) to do so effectively, safely, and with good fidelity. While I have not led any rites since then (other than for myself), I am developing the skills that could enable me to do so in the future.

Commit to Study and Practice

Study isn’t just reading, memorizing, and reiterating; its about the practical application of good scholarship. I’ve become a bit of a research snob over the past couple years, but not everything needs to be peer reviewed to be a good work. Look for where its published, find lists of recommended authors from unbiased sources (ie: other practitioners), and be on the lookout for biases. And then build your practice from that. Try out what others are doing, and be flexible if it doesn’t feel right. And once it does, work towards mastery.

Define Your Goals

For the past few years, my goal has been to build a solid foundation for my life. And I’m not just talking Pagan practices here folks. My oldest is turning 7 in September, but he came to us as a surprise, and we spent the first two and a half years of his life in struggle mode. I won’t say survival, because I’ve worked with clients in that place, and we weren’t there, but it was hard. Once we moved into our home, I felt like I could focus on growth, and not just stasis. Building my foundations as a parent, spouse, and professional have occupied most of that time, and now building that foundation as a practicing polytheist rather than a social one. And once you feel you’ve achieved one of those goals, set some new ones. Its always good to be growing towards something. One of my long-term professional/spiritual goals is to create research-informed family programs from a Gaelic Polytheist perspective.

Keep Moving Forward

I love Disney, and I think Meet the Robinsons is one of the most underappreciated films ever. I think everyone should watch it, and as a Gaelic Polytheist, I think it is important to see representations of the impact of families and fostership/adoption. But the guiding mantra for the film is “Keep moving forward,” and that is something we all need in our lives. That’s not to say that we continue when something is futile, but that we keep striving towards our ultimate fulfillment even when we encounter setbacks and failures. Like when we offend our Gods and they knock us back a rung or ten. I’m a huge fan of Angela Duckworth, who researches grit, and if you are looking for a some insight into developing this sort of perspective, I encourage you to check out her TED talk.

The year following my failed rite, I began working in social services. A year after that, I went back to college, committing to completely changing my course of study to give myself the foundation I needed to be able to render services properly. Next month, I graduate. I took the lessons offered from my mistake, and grew from them. I try to reconcile myself with knowledge that willingness and desire to create an environment are important, but can’t compensate for a lack of skill. And skill is developed through knowledge, practice, and commitment over time. I’m working on that in my professional life, which for me is an extension of my spiritual practice, but if I ever want to lead a rite for others again, I still have a good amount of work to do.


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