Rotwork wrote a post here exploring the idea of deity work that I will be pushing back on, and adding my own thoughts as I go.
Before I begin I want to be clear: I respect Rotwork a lot. I get that a lot of online spaces are cesspits, and produce a lot of toxic ideas that then get circulated. Those need to be pushed back on. That being said, I am going to push back a bit on some of the things they have talked about regarding deity work. There’s enough in here that I agree with in some respects that I feel like I am going to have dig into it a bit to be clear on where I disagree.
After exploring some of the ideas I posted on their Twitter feed and talking with friends, I find much of my issue is with baseline definitions. I understand deity work as any work assigned to you by a God. I often place deity work under the catchall term spiritwork, that is, work done on behalf of, for, or with vaettir (spirits), Ancestors, and/or Gods. I do not see prayers, offerings, or any of the normal praxis of a polytheist aka exoteric religion, as being deity work/spiritwork per se.
To quote what I said in the Twitter feed:
When I think of ‘deity work’ I think of stuff assigned to you by the Gods. Not the basic stuff of *being* polytheist like prayers, offerings, etc. Being a spiritworker is a *job* not the baseline of being a polytheist. Hopefully I’m making sense here.
When I use the word spiritwork, spiritworker, and/or vaettirvirkr that means the person is doing work with, for, or on behalf of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Real simple equation to my mind. In the case of ‘working with’ a God it’s to Their end even if it does benefit us.
Even in the cases where I got ‘hired out’ by Óðinn to do things for other Gods it was still in service to Him. When Óðinn came into my life like a whirlwind I could have said no, and did not.
Here is another point of contention: deity work is dangerous. It is dangerous in no small part for many of the reasons they claim it is safe, and thinking on it in the same terms. Gods are as dangerous as They are sacred. Gods that stop plagues can start them, eg Apollo. Gods that can control whether or not you win a battle can make sure you get killed so you come to Valhöll, eg Óðinn. The Gods of Fire that warm our houses have the ability to burn down forests. Our Gods are, to paraphrase CS Lewis, ‘not tame lions’. However, that does not mean that They’re in our lives just to fuck with us or do us harm. I find that, if your life is being flipped upside down by a God entering it then it probably needed to be -though there’s exceptions to every rule since Gods are individual Beings, and so are we.
The Gods do have limits -clearly. Óðinn is not omniscient, frequently refers to other Beings in the stories we have for Their knowledge and wisdom, eg Vafþruðnir and Mímir. This does not make me a selfish asshole. Further, Óðinn is a known oathbreaker. It means that I clearly know my lore and that not every God (or Ancestor or vaettr) should have trust extended unconditionally. Some Gods have very little to do with humanity since They have whole sections of Creation to deal with, deserving no less of our respect and worship. Some Gods are not the gentlest or even the most caring towards humanity. Again, They are deserving of respect and worship even if an individual polytheist chooses not to worship Them. Maybe if you are not interacting with, say, a river God in Their river then They have no reason to really pay you mind. Again, no They are no less deserving of respect or worship. You may just not be as interested in worshiping Them, or They in interacting with you, if you do not live on or near Their river.
Now, I will heartily agree that when it comes to deity work we are not working with the Gods as equals. We simply cannot. We are working for Them, which is why I refer to being a spiritworker as a job. It’s work. However, deity work is not worship.
Worship is the baseline of being a polytheist. It is what each and every polytheist should be doing in whatever their capacity is. It is the action of being a polytheist. Belief in the Gods is the baseline choice that any polytheist should hold. Note, I am not saying perfect faith or any of the other cluttering Christian notions regarding that. Belief in the Gods is a choice, a recognition. Faith is an emotion, transitory at best sometimes. I do not always have faith, but so long as I am a polytheist I have to have belief that the Gods are real and that I worship Them.
I have no disagreement with their bullet points, excepting that the Gods are mostly everywhere. It is too wide a point for me. I do not think that Óðinn or Loki are everywhere. I have no indication They are from either the lore available or my own experiences of Them. It is still monumentally stupid to be two-faced before our Gods, though.
The next point bears some digging into.
“But how do I know if I’m contacting the right entity?”
Now when it comes to addressing prayers to Gods, so long as you’re using the correct names and epithets your prayers are very likely being heard by the God in question. Now when you’re hearing a response of some kind? When you are looking for feedback or input? This is where doing your due diligence is necessary.
I will refer to my Brother Jim Two Snakes on this one: Spiritual Accounting. His breakdown is this: (M+C³)xR = V. M is messages, C is confirmations, R is results, and V is verified. Lore, divination, and community input are the three legs of this stool. Why would we need this? Because we can be mistaken. We can think we are talking to a God and getting input back and its a sock puppet we are fooling ourselves with or a spirit using that form to get attention/energy from us. Sometimes spirits lie. Sometimes we get stuff wrong, or we are not in a good place to experience the Ginnreginn (Holy/Mighty Powers) well at that moment. Working with Spiritual Accounting is a way to make sure that we get as much as we can right.
Unless you are looking for or are getting some kind of response though, this may not even be an active concern for you. Not every polytheist is, nor should be expected to be, a spiritual specialist whether as a spiritworker, priest, or otherwise. It is perfectly acceptable to worship the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in whatever capacity you can, and live by your life’s philosophy. You may get responses, or you may not; that is not the measure of a polytheist.
I started off my journey as a Pagan with 5 salt crystals in a thimble-sized glass jar. Size of the sacred space your worship takes place in, the offerings you make, and the prayers you make all can change over time. To my mind, these questions are key to the measure of a polytheist regardless of whether you are an individual worshiping at your hearth the size of an Altoid tin, or with a large community the midst of a stone circle:
Are you worshiping, praying to, offering to, and speaking with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits with respect? Are you worshiping, making prayers, and making offerings in ways that are respectful and in alignment with the religion, traditions, and individual Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you worship? If you are doing deity work, are you doing whatever work you have assigned in a manner your Gods find respectful? Not respect as I understand it. Respect as your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits understand it.
Are you living in good and respectful reciprocity with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits? That, in my understanding, is the measure of a polytheist. Your worship, and if you have spiritwork, your work, may not look like what others are doing. You are a person in relationships with Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. Whatever it is, however it is expressed, worship in respect to the best of your ability. If you have it, do your deity work and/or spiritwork in respect to the best of your ability. No one could reasonably expect more.