Something has been on my mind since reading these two posts, The Bane of Casual Irreverence by Galina Krasskova, and Respecting Flawed Gods by EmberVoices.
I’m not going to be going deep into the details of the posts, because I agree with both of them that the women that Galina writes about in her post were out of line.
I want to explore the ideas of flaws and perfection in our Gods.
The idea of perfection is one I have not found in any of my research of, or journeys with the Gods I worship as a polytheist. The very assumption of perfection is that there are flaws or defects that can be gotten rid of, and accordingly, that the ridding oneself, or a being rid of these flaws or defects, is perfection. The Gods I worship cannot possess perfection or be perfect because They do not have flaws, per se.
Does that mean that Odin is not an opportunistic power-hungry God? Of course not, but then, that is not an imperfection. That is part of Who He is. The Gods are Beings whole in and of Themselves. Thor being disposed to anger is not a flaw, but it is something to be aware of. The same with Odin’s ruthlessness. It’s not a flaw, it’s a part of Him, and something a worshiper should know about. Our Gods aren’t perfect, and flaw is too judgmental. I am still trying to find a different word or set of words that gets the notion across.
The idea of perfection does not sit with the my understanding of Gods because the idea of perfection is that there is that next step ‘beyond’, where supposed flaws and blemishes disappear. Often that idea of perfection leads right into reductionist, monotheist, and/or monist ideas. Perfection, especially in American society, is often seen as an indivisible One. This reductionist model of one-as-perfect introduces problems, i.e. The Problem of Evil, which must be grappled with. If a thing or Being is perfect, then is it good? If it is not by goodness that we may know perfection, by what measure may we call a thing or Being perfect? If a thing or Being is perfect, is it not evil? Why?
Polytheism and animism have no need for such a concept as perfection. This idea of perfection separates the Gods from us. It kills our ability to relate to Them. How can I relate to something perfect? How can I possibly contribute to a relationship with a Being that is perfect? With a perfect Being, not only would the idea of a relationship make no sense, it would also be meaningless. I have to be able to relate to a Being to have a relationship with It.
The idea of perfection also separates our sense of Self from us-as-we-are. The notion that there is some ‘perfect self’ out there potentially divorces us from having to own our shit or do the hard work. It makes our Selves caricatures, unchanging, remote, and allows cliches to set in, rather than lived experience informing who and what we are.
With the notion of perfection, especially because, as mentioned earlier, the dominant theme of perfection is the indivisible One, the need for a differentiated cosmology would disappear as well. That is, if a Being is perfect in and of Themselves, there is no need for a description of how They came to be. They are. I originally wrote ‘if a God/dess is perfect in and of Themselves’, but as I stated above, I do not believe this is the case, and so, the Being in question would have to be other than a God or Goddess. There can be no origin, nor can there be an end with a perfect Being, because if such a Being is indeed perfect, They are perfect within and without Themselves. In such an ontology it is questionable if there is anything ‘outside’ of Them, or within Them in the bargain. If we are within such a Being’s body then the questions surrounding the nature of suffering takes a cruel twist: the assumption of perfection on the part of the Being means, then, that suffering is an indication of being out of step with this perfection, this Being, or worse, that such suffering is in step with such a Being.
We could take such ‘large’, that is, cosmically large Gods, such as Ptah and They would not fall within this purview of Being as described above. Ptah exists within a cosmology and so far as I have understood, nowhere is He claimed to be perfect. A creator need not be perfect. Ptah is looked upon as an architect and a sculptor, and while His work is powerful, beautiful, and impressive, perfection is nothing I have seen evidenced in His creation myths.
If we reject the idea of perfection and the ideas that flow from the concept, then, we must come to our Gods with the understanding that They are not perfect. If we reject this, then the ideas of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence also fall away as things that can be assumed. If the Gods are indeed Gods and we are going to develop relationships with Them, it is on us to accept Them as They are. If we cannot bring ourselves to worship a God in the manner They require it is not the God’s fault.
Am I blaming or faulting the polytheist, then? No, actually. Polytheism is the worship of many Gods, not all of Them. Some people simply should not worship certain Gods. For instance, I enjoy meat far too much to dedicate myself to Gods for whom such a thing is taboo. That taboo is not a flaw on the Gods’ part. Indeed, the flaw would be mine were I to attempt to worship Them and not honor that taboo.
In rejecting perfection I do not wish to assume that we then can judge the Gods. That seems to me to an open invitation to hubris. Rather, In rejecting perfection I believe it is an open invitation to come to understand our Gods more fully. It is an invitation to interact with Them, to learn from Them, and to understand Them in the capacities that we can. It is also accepting the imperfections, that there are places where the Gods may be utterly incongruous with our lives. Loki is often looked at as one of the exemplars of this, a bringer of chaos into one’s life. I think that asking “Why?” and exploring why a given God, Goddess, Ancestor, or vaettir may be so is a worthwhile endeavor, one that can bring deeper meaning to our lives, and depth of understanding and relations with these Gods. Rather than avoiding these areas, it may be fruitful to seek Them out, and why aspects of the Gods, Their stories, Their interactions with us rub us so wrong, or are so incongruous, and how we may grow to accept these parts of Them. If we cannot, it would be equally important to explore why this is.
A God or Goddess asking or demanding for something we are unable to deliver is not a flaw. That is part and parcel of negotiating with our Gods, if indeed such things can be negotiated. In my own case, the Gods have asked and demanded things of me I was unable to deliver to impart a lesson, for instance, that I needed to learn to negotiate, or that I needed to learn to ask for help. In other cases there are taboos that are part and parcel of worshiping a God that one sticks to if the worship is to be undertaken. Far better to not worship than to do so in violation of taboos. Far better to not offer at all than to offer a sacrifice that would be offensive to the Gods.
When we dispense with notions of perfection we can come to see our Gods far better for what They are, and Who They are. Discarding perfection also frees us of the burden of being ‘perfect worshipers’, and frames things as relational rather than static requirements. It also allows for the Gods to change; if They cannot be frozen in some ‘ideal’ state, neither can Their relationships with us.