Deity Dumped

the goddess rage
Photograph (CC) courtesy of Sandra Lara

“She didn’t say it in so many words, but I got the distinct impression that she thought we should ‘see other people…'” My voice trailed away. Folks sitting nearby in the restaurant who didn’t know we were husband and wife probably thought Jeff was helping me through a break-up with my girlfriend. I looked down at my plate for a while, not saying anything.

I don’t know how often this has happened to others. It’s certainly not the kind of thing you’ll hear monotheists talking about, especially Christians who turn to Jesus as a free-love kind of god who’ll take anyone who shows an interest. My relationship with my goddess had been strained for a while. It’d been a difficult year (and more), and I’d turned to her often throughout that time, seeking comfort and advice. Her advice was almost always the same: lighten up, cultivate joy, don’t be so hard on yourself. It was advice I had difficulty following. I worked hard, even at “lightening up,” and there were times when it was as though I could feel frustration and impatience radiating off of her during my prayers and my flamekeeping shifts which, despite a busy schedule, I kept up devoutly. On Imbolc the year before last, during a time of heightened inspiration and enthusiasm, I’d asked her in ritual if she wanted me to dedicate myself to her formally. Her response, gentle and kind and even a little bit amused, was, “Don’t you think you have enough obligations and responsibilities to worry about right now?” At the time it felt like a reassurance that I was doing enough, that she didn’t expect anything more from me at least for the time being. Now, looking back, it felt like the foreshadowing of a rocky relationship that would eventually come to an end.

In the restaurant, I fought back tears. I muttered something about not being wanted, not being good enough, of sabotaging the relationship because I hadn’t been willing to listen, had’t been willing to do what was required of me. The fact that she was being so nice about it just made it worse. I felt like I’d been let down delicately with the deity version of “I love you, I’m just not in love with you.”

“Well, what about… her?” Jeff asked. “This new goddess?”

And at the reminder, a thrill went through me that was part frightening attraction, part guilty pleasure. Oh yes, her…. Beautiful, wild, fierce, dark and dreamy, deep as a night’s mystery, untamed, haunting, raw. She was probably why Brigid was stepping aside to begin with, giving encouraging nudges in her direction, almost as though she were giving permission.

There were problems, though. “But she‘s Greek,” I said, suddenly aware of how that must sound to any strangers listening from the next booth over who probably thought I was some sort of racist. But my spiritual practice is grounded in the Celtic tradition and always has been, even when I was still a Catholic. The idea of trying to fit a Greek goddess into that framework just seemed impossible. I’m not a reconstructionist (though I value scholarship and careful, thoughtful study very highly), and I’m not a hard polytheist (I’m too much of a mystic for that), but the difficulties still seemed insurmountable. With all due respect to my Hellenist friends, I’ve always found the Greek myths to be repugnant, full of rape and revenge and patriarchy. The gender politics of ancient Greece strike me as deeply problematic at best and leave me cold. They’re the last cultural context I would want to revive for a modern age, and the last place I’d turn to for insights into how to cultivate a healthy, loving relationship with deity. I can no more see my way through the many clear examples of xenophobia and misogyny in Greek myth than I could overlook the examples of world-denial and homophobia in the Bible as a Christian. I’m uncomfortable with that kind of apologia.

And I sympathize far too much with my Celtic ancestors, who must have thought the Romans were totally missing the point when they mocked the Celts’ gods depicted as bird and beast, roughly carved in wood and stone. The Romans had believed the Celts to be primitive, backwards barbarians because they didn’t anthropomorphize their deities in rarified sculptures with their carefully defined and circumscribed roles in the lives of their worshippers. As if the gods can be pinned down into human form that way. My gods have always been gods of the wilds, gods of the deep places and the liminal spaces, as much force as form. I am far from a hard polytheist.

But that, too, was a problem. She was wild. She was, arguably, barely even Greek. When I contemplated the awkwardness of a Celtic polytheist worshipping a Greek deity, when I thought of changing the form of my practice to bring it more in line with ancient Greek tradition, sometimes I could almost swear I heard her derisive laughter and a snarky, “Fuck that shit.” I was giddy with her presence. I felt intoxicated, I found myself reading bits and pieces about her in any books I could find. And when I thought, well, maybe she’s actually this Celtic deity or that Celtic deity…, there was always the sure, abrupt sense that, no, she was utterly and only herself, and I was just going to have to deal with it.

Which would mean changing my life.

Later that night, after we were home from the restaurant, I found myself sobbing. I felt cut off and vulnerable. Even if I’d wanted to honor her, I didn’t know how. What ritual forms to use, what offerings to make, what actions to take. I’d lurked enough in various online forums to know the rituals of modern Hellenism didn’t interest me at all, and the strong intuitive connection that I felt pulling me forward didn’t seem to be so tame in any case. She didn’t want scripted prayer or the right kind of incense or historically accurate idols on the altar. She wanted me out in the wilds, she wanted me raw and free and dancing with devotion.

But Brigid’s words were ringing in my mind, “Don’t you have obligations and responsibilities to worry about?” How could I abandon myself to this fierce new force in my life? How could I possibly be good enough, if my own Brigid hadn’t wanted me? How could I be anything but helpless in the face of pressures to be a good wife, a good stepmother, a hard worker, a respectable person, with so many duties and desires hanging off of me like so many noisy bangles and banners of affiliation?

And there was the gentle nudge again, Brigid sighing as if, in this one thing, she’d hoped I’d finally be wise enough to take her advice. Light-Bringer, Fiery Arrow, Wild Misstress, Liminal Goddess of Transformation. You have, after all, already made your choice. There’s nothing for it now. That’s why you’re here.

You’re going to have to change your life.

Alison Leigh Lilly
Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

1 Comment

  1. Joanna
    Oct 9, 2013

    It is difficult when we feel we turn from one goddess to another – I often relate it to the evolving friendships that occur over the years. The first time we lose our friends may happen in primary school – a friend suddenly drop you to hang out with the new girl, or a best friend moves away and you grow apart. These experiences never leave you, and shape your future relationships. What we have to do is to allow for that impermanence in all things – we have to adopt a Zen attitude. We see it reflected in nature around us – ever evolving, ever shifting from one moment to the next. The tree does not mourn the fallen leaf in the autumn. Brigit will not mourn your path towards another goddess. You yourself should not mourn this either – it is a part of life, and we should never mourn life. Besides, Brigit never leaves you, just like your old primary school friends never leave you – they are still there, a part of who you are, a part of your soul and your experiences that make you who you are today.

    I remember being afraid of making the switch from Morrigan to another goddess – fearing divine retribution from the fierce goddess, from the universe, etc. It was all good – Morrigan is still there, still has a place in my heart, her bust on my bookcase and reminding me of my journey, the steps that I have taken, walking in honour. The gods, I don’t think, could ever “dump” you – but then I hold that the gods don’t “care” for us in the traditional sense anyway. However, that’s another tangent entirely! Awen blessings. x

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