Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Importance of Theology

I caused a minor dust-up on the ADF Dedicants' list recently when I objected to someone's reference to "using" gods as the gatekeepers in a ritual. Teo Bishop raised my consciousness on this a little while ago, and I've been sensitive to it ever since.

A few others on the list agreed with me, a couple thought it was no big deal. I think it is.

In ADF, officially at least, we believe in many gods and we believe they are real entities -- not archetypes, not personifications of nature, not manifestations of the one true God, but real deities with whom we seek relationship. If we really believe that -- or even if we don't really believe it but want to work within that paradigm as if we did -- then it's incumbent upon us to show the proper deference to the gods.

In your relationships, if they're healthy, you're not trying to "use" your friends. You have relationships with them. If you need a favor, you ask your friend for the favor, you don't "use" him for it. Why should the gods get any less respect?

In hindsight, I should have created a new thread to discuss this on the list, rather than respond to the original poster, who was trying to ask an entirely different question. However, I do stand by the point I made.

Along the same lines, I've also been thinking lately about how ADF Druids choose the deities they want to honor and seek relationship with. ADF allows its adherents to consider the whole range of Indo-European cultures, while encouraging us to choose a hearth culture from among them. It's probably not uncommon for members to be attracted to gods and goddesses from different pantheons, but I've come to think that those who don't want to be limited to a single pantheon should probably use some care in branching out.

Again, if we're taking the gods seriously as real entities, it's probably not wise to assume that any two we seek to honor are necessarily happy about being brought together. The Romans and the Germanic tribes were frequently at war, for example. Is it safe to assume that Mars and Thunor want to be in the same room?


  1. The problem with words is that they're always imperfect. The only way we have to communicate them is with more words, and so an individual word always has the possibility of being layered with slightly different connotations from one person to another because they might have learned it in a different context.

    For me, it depends a lot on how the person using the word talks about the event. Not everyone who talks about "using" a god is doing so in a disrespectful way. The basic definition free from emotional reactions is simply to employ something or someone to achieve a result, which isn't negative at all. I'm using my friends as photographer and DJ at my weddings. I love my friends, I don't mean that I'm taking advantage of them. There is a role that needed to be filled (say Gatekeeper in ADF), and I used a relationship I had to fill it, with the agreement and blessing of the friend or god. It only takes on a negative consequence if the relationship is built entirely on what you can use someone to do, and you never consider their needs or desires. At the same time, a need can lead to a relationship. For my first year of ADF, I used Hermes as Gatekeeper and as help in tricky situations that fell under his traditional areas of influence. I didn't like the idea that this was the only relationship I had with him, and so I set out this year to do at least a weekly devotional to him and develop a more complete relationship. But even before that, I don't believe it was disrespectful.

    Sometimes it just gets sort of tricky and needlessly time-consuming trying to talk around that to avoid offending people, and "use" in that context is a perfectly acceptable description in my opinion. But I understand that it means something different to you, and it's also important to consider audience reactions when describing our experiences. "Use" does tend to have a negative connotation in our culture, and it's worthwhile to be reminded of that so I can clarify my meaning and avoid misunderstandings. Thanks for speaking up and sharing your reactions to the word.

  2. You make a good point. I'm willing to be persuaded. Considering how often the word is used, it might be good if I did.