Our Gods Are Not Vending Machines

I was relieved to have recently been unfriended on Facebook by a woman who didn’t like my response to her questions in a post she’d tagged me in. This woman–let’s call her Rachel–announced that she was going to embark on a quest of “serious magic” to not merely land herself a lover, but a life partner “willing to put a ring on it.”

“So for the working I plan on doing,” Rachel wrote, “I’ve been doing some research on which goddess to call upon. I’ve narrowed my choices down to the following: Frigga, Freyja, Erzulie Freda, Astarte, and one Slavic goddess whose name I can’t pronounce. Anna, who should I go with? What do you think?”

As soon as I received the Facebook notification that I’d been tagged in Rachel’s post, I winced. I’ve found her to be pretty much annoying throughout the whole three years of my being acquainted with her through Chicago’s Pagan and magical communities, as at every event of mine that she attended she’d whine about not having a man in her life. She was clearly very resentful of my relationship with my Bodacious Beau, demanding to know how the Universe could be so unfair to her, giving me a partner when I wasn’t looking for one when all she’s done the past few years is search for one, but no man has ever turned up.

So now she was going to resort to “serious magic” to change her fortune. I read her post and shook my head. I could feel acid levels in my stomach begin to churn. I immediately typed out this response:

“Rachel, I am strongly against this plug-and-play magical model you’re constructing here, demanding a Holy Power that you’ve *never* cultivated a relationship with to suddenly step up to the plate and procure a husband for you. Why should that Goddess do *anything* on your behalf? It would be like bursting through a total stranger’s home kitchen and demanding he bake a key lime pie for you on the spot, even though he’s never seen you before in his life. Entitlement will not work and neither will desperation as an emotion fueling your work. You say you’re a devotee first and foremost of Yemaya. Why are you not praying to Her, for the sheer joy of connecting to Her, giving Her thanks and praise, and then you can trust Her to open your ways for you so that the right partner will come to you at the right time and through the right life circumstances? Why don’t you try that approach?”

Another woman, reading the post and my response to it, chimed in below my response and echoed it, wondering why Rachel wasn’t just praying to Yemaya first. And Goddesses are not Things to be used, she cautioned.

No, They’re not. They’re not Cosmic Vending Machines in which you energetically deposit X as an offering and expect Y to happen as a result. Especially when you’ve never bothered to establish a relationship with that Deity at all. I could just imagine, as I think about wanting to sell my condo so my Bodacious Beau and I can move into a bigger space, approaching a Deity I have zero connection or rapport with, and asking that Power to help me sell my home and get me a new one.

“Hey, Herne! Herne the Hunter! It’s Anna here. Yo, I’m a priestess! Since You’re a Hunter, go hunt down my next home for me, why don’t You? Here’s some ribeye steak!”

Could you imagine? Herne, to play along with this silly scenario, by rights ought to turn around and say, “Who the fuck are you, puny human?”

Right?!?!

Am I the only person who believes in piety? And that the foundation of communion with a Deity ought to be based in love and service?

Those might be alien concepts to many whose spiritual practices fall under a Western Pagan umbrella these days, but they’re the cornerstones of worship in Hinduism, for example. Bhakti yoga is the path of love and service to a God or Goddess. By performing the devotional ritual known as a puja, the devotee supplies the Holy Power His or Her favorite offerings–from foods to types of incense and even musical instruments–chants mantras to anchor one’s focus solely on the Deity and Her or His attributes, and does it all because joyful service to a Holy Power is its own reward.

I was very happy that for our public Beltane observance this past Sunday, May 1, the Chicago Fellowship of Isis Lyceum that I led (in our Archpriestess’s absence) did a devotional ritual to the Great Hindu Goddess Maha-Devi (that’s more of a title than a name, as “Maha-Devi” literally translates to “Great Goddess”!), as She is the Deity honored in the ritual we had voted on to perform: Olivia Robertson’s “Wesak” ritual from the Panthea FOI clergy booklet of the 1970s. Our Lyceum’s chief priest, my friend Vincent, and I decided to host an entire afternoon of workshops and activities leading up to the Wesak ritual itself. I knew I wanted to create an authentic puja for everyone to participate in. (In terms of Hindu Deities, Ganesha and Kali-Ma have always been venerated to a high degree in my home.) Daniel (my Bodacious Beau) and I decided to spend the day before Beltane traipsing around Chicago’s “Little India” neighborhood, procuring puja supplies. We went to two of my favorite mom-and-pop shops, Patel Brothers and India Bookhouse. Both sell wonderful supplies, and when I saw in India Bookhouse this gorgeous hand-painted statue of Maha-Devi in Her incarnation as Durga, I knew that it would be coming home with us regardless of what the price tag announced.

Jai Ma!

Jai Ma!

Excitement was really building at the thought of having a public puja–a real first for our Chicago-based FOI Lyceum of Alexandria. Daniel and I arrived at the FOI’s new, permanent urban temple home (that news deserves its own blog post!) that night and began to clean up and set up the elaborate Maha-Devi altar on the floor. It took us hours to do, and again, it was done in a spirit of joyful service throughout.

“She’s already here,” my love declared. I stopped just shy of filling the shrine bowls with their offerings because that serves as part of the evocation of the Deity being honored, so that would be done just before the puja proper commenced. “That statue is so alive and I can totally feel Durga blossoming with happiness at what we’re going to do here tomorrow,” he said.

I agreed. She was totally present and aware. She was liking the new space too. This would be an auspicious debut ritual in our new temple location. Everything was harmonizing gloriously.

The weather was cold and rainy all day on Sunday, and about 15 people showed up. I was surprised that one of the guests was an old friend from the Garderian Wiccan days we shared, back at the start of the millennium–she moved to Oregon more than four years ago, and this was my first time seeing her since. She saw the Facebook marketing campaign for the rite and wanted to surprise me. Well! I thought. Retrograde Planets can be good for something! It’s a delight when people from the past whom you love and miss can magically be brought back into your surroundings, especially when you’re going to share Sacred Space together. My globetrotting witch friend Kate was a joy to have in the Beltane festivities, and given how much time she’d spent living in Bali years earlier, she was more than familiar with Hindu puja and was a great companion to have in literally singing Maha-Devi’s glory that afternoon and evening.

I distributed index cards with a powerful Sanskrit mantra to Maha-Devi as Durga. I practiced the simple melody alone a few rounds and then we sang in call-and-response format so everyone could learn the Sanskrit better. This was the chant we did, and I did use a 108-bead mala to keep count.

 

It was so amazing, when the puja did get underway, to look around the room and see so many people caught up in the joy and love of bhakti yoga, of showing devotion to a Goddess with nothing being asked for in return. People’s faces looked positively enraptured. Eyes were closed. Hands were folded in prayer for some; others had their arms stretched over their heads as they sang. The room we were in positively shimmered with vibrant Power. You could absolutely feel it.

That puja has left me feeling energized all week, coasting into today’s vibrant and auspicious Taurus New Moon featuring a Grand Trine in Earth Signs (the Sun, Moon, Venus, and Mercury in Taurus are trining Jupiter in Virgo and Pluto in Capricorn). What an excellent time to be honoring Maha-Devi, grounding ourselves in the joys of being alive in this world and giving thanks and praise to the Holy Powers that bestow so many blessings on us every moment of every day, blessings we normally take for granted. The purpose of puja is to express your thanks for those blessings; that’s what devotion is for. My hope is that more Western Pagans understand what Polytheists the world over have known and continue to know: Loving our Gods is its own reward; we don’t need to be continually asking for “things.”

Sat Nam! It is so!

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49 thoughts on “Our Gods Are Not Vending Machines

  1. Thank you so much for this piece, the need to cultivate a respectful relationship with deity over time rather than demanding favors from them cannot be emphasized enough.
    As an initiate of an ATR,I’d have to ask why the ‘devotee'(not a term commonly used by Orisha priests/practitioners when referring to themselves btw) of Yemoja wouldn’t have consulted her god parents for a reading regarding her marital status ? Does she have godparents or received anything such as elekes from an Orisha priest ? Who is guiding her in the correct ways to venerate Yemoja ? Orisha religions are not open traditions. We have a very complex theology,hierarchy,ritual and initiation structure that should be respected. It’s not for everyone which is why divination is done at every phase of entering the religion.
    Of all the Orisha, Yemaya is the one who will always give you what you actually NEED over what you want and will not hesitate to tell you NO for your own good. Sometimes we can’t handle that kind of love but in the end She’s always right.

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    • Hi, RMD! Thank you for reading this and I’m glad to meet a fellow ADR initiate! (I belong to an Ifá House here in Chicago.) You absolutely hit the nail on the proverbial head: Rachel’s claiming of Yemaya as a Patron Deity does not seem to have been one formally sanctioned by any credible Babalawo or Santero here in Chicago, because I certainly grilled her on it. In other words, she can’t be said to be a Child of Yemaya/ Omo Yemaya Obinren. Rachel once spoke to me of a “spiritual mentor” of hers in Chicago who claimed to be well-versed in African Diaspora practices, while not having ever received formal initiation or training of any sort in any lineages or houses, and he was the one who supposedly affirmed (by doing a RUNE reading, no less–LOL!!!) Rachel’s fondness for Yemaya by saying yep, Yemaya rules Rachel’s head, alright! Again, Rachel’s desire to have people tell her what she wanted to hear obviously didn’t fly with me, and I’m glad for her to be gone from my social media sphere as well as no longer physically present in the venues where I host public devotional rituals in the city. There’s no way in Helsinki Rachel could ever find herself getting on board with the discipline needed to cultivate proper relationships with the Orisha, nevermind the emphasis on ebo/making sacrifice. Again, some people are just lost on the entire related concepts of service and worship.

      I forgot to add in my post the detail that Rachel didn’t just unfriend me on Facebook, she blocked me altogether. But it’s common knowledge to anyone who ever saw her interact with me that she was hatin’ on me from day 1. Haters gonna hate. And so I take the proper spiritual precautions and shield myself against the spiritual poison of her envy of me.

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  2. Piety exists, but all too often I see what you see. I shouldn’t have to point out to others, that just like they hate strangers asking them for money, they’re acting like the mooches when they approach Deity like that. It’s a different scenario when they ask, hey I’d like to work on improving X aspect of my life, who do you think would me to be good to approach and develop a relationship so I may learn their wisdom and advice. But all too often, that is not the approach, they want a cosmic teat to hand them everything. It’s like that old saying, money doesn’t grow on trees. If you want something to manifest in your life you have to do the work beyond just a ‘spell’. Praying that ace a test without having ever read the textbook, shown up to class, or getting notes from someone is a waste of time, and an insult to the one you are asking.

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    • Heh. “Cosmic teat”–I like that metaphor. But yes, it’s one thing to “ask for things” (as I do to Sekhmet to improve my mother’s heart attack recovery) once a longstanding relationship with the Holy Power in question has been established. But that whole “cosmic teat”/attitude of entitlement are, I think, part and parcel of the “cafeteria-style spirituality” that seems to comprise so much of postmodern religiosity in the West. “I don’t like ‘religion’ but I’m a ‘spiritual’ person so I’m just going to pick X and Y from these traditions and make my own shit up as I go along.” Huge problem, especially in our miasmic US culture.

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  3. ‘Rachel’s’ endeavours to use the gods as cosmic vendings machines would have horrified me too. ‘Loving our Gods is its own reward; we don’t need to be continually asking for “things.”’ – YES 🙂 I’ve only just come across the bhakti tradition on a blog post yesterday and now here so here thanks for sharing how you’ve gone about your devotions to Maha-Devi. I’m certainly going to look into this more and see whether it offers clues to building devotional relationships with my Brythonic deities.

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    • Thank you for reading and sharing your perspectives, Lorna! I think it’s awesome you’re having this synchronicity with bhakti yoga as a concept popping up for you. Blessings on you and on your powerful Family of Gods!

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  4. I do think there are some situations where it’s OK to have a “strictly business” relationship with certain Deities, where it’s more like a contract of “You scratch my back, I scratch Yours”; I don’t think every polytheist relationship with the Divine has to be devotional. But even in situations like that, treating a God like They’re just a genie that one can boss around is not advisable. Even just being “allies” with a God (rather than a devoted priest or layperson) requires a certain amount of work to be put into the relationship, I believe, and I’m always mystified by Pagans who don’t seem to realize that. Also, I am very glad that you had such an awesome Beltaine. 🙂

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    • I agree with you, G.B. Marian, as I certainly do pray to many Powers I serve to please assist, for example, in helping my mother recuperate from her heart attack last month. But I wouldn’t dare come kneel before Sekhmet if I didn’t already have a longstanding relationship with Her to ask such a petition. I think the problem is people don’t want to put in the work, period. I have an ex-Army Ranger friend who founded his own web-only t-shirt business, and his clothing (all made in the USA) caters to former and active-duty military. He recently created a new shirt I like and just pre-ordered, as well as made a poster out of it. The t-shirt is for me and the poster is something I’ll hang up in our new FOI temple space (the kitchen, I reckon, ha ha). The copy reads: “Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.” In other words (and here’s the name of his business), Ranger UP! Interesting that we have the Sun and other planets transiting lovely earth-oriented Taurus right now, a Sun Sign that is all about putting the shoulder to the grindstone if you want to get results in the material world. I wish people adopted that attitude and 86’d the pernicious sense of entitlement.

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  5. It’s rather appalling to me that people treat deities as if They’re shoes one is having a difficult time deciding to wear that day. They’re Supreme Beings, not commodities we can decide-upon and use like a pair of shoes, and we should give Them the respect They deserve.

    As G. B. Marian said, there are more business-like relationships between some petitioners and Gods, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with those. There’s a basic level of respect that has to be established and maintained in *all* interactions with Divinities, whatever the nature of the particular relationship: pure “I love You, and I’m content to just love You” relationships aren’t the only human-Divine relations out there, after all. “Should I go to Freyja, Frigga, or some other deity to get a husband?” in the way that “Rachel” framed it isn’t particularly demonstrative of a whole lot of respect, and honestly it’s not very well-thought-out. It’s ignorant and selfish, more than anything, and numerous awful consequences can and do stem from impulsive demands such as those.

    I particularly love that you stressed worship is about basking in the presence of [God(s)] and enjoying the blessings They already give us, not about asking for things every single time we go to “talk” to Them. It’s entirely fine to pray for what you want or need from time to time — Gods *do* listen and help us in that way, Gods *do* want Their adorers to flourish and be well, overall — but if you find yourself doing that *almost every single time,* and don’t make a point of giving thanks to [God(s)] every time you go to Them, there is something deeply amiss. The following is purely anecdotal, but I’ve observed that the people who are all about “me, me, me; I, I, I” and routinely keep asking, and asking, *and asking* for things are rather miserable and don’t improve for all their asking. If one focuses too much, too often on what one lacks, one loses sight of what one *does* have and how to appreciate what one *does* have.

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  6. That woman didn’t have to be envious of you. She can put the magic out there herself without a Goddess’s or Power’s help to get the man she craves. She can go on dates, put her best self out there. Her motivations are misplaced. She has no interest in getting to know those Goddesses. I know people like that in the pagan/heathen sphere who claim things they’re not, who are more interested in being worshipped themselves than knowing their Gods. Who use Their names for money, popularity, power or what have you. I agree the Powers are not vending machines or genies in bottles. There are posers everywhere.

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    • You’re absolutely right, moonfire2012. She could have cultivated other intentions and expressed them in far healthier ways. I’m relieved that I no longer have to see her anymore, and it’s very good of her to have not just unfriended me, but to have blocked me on Facebook in the aftermath of my submitting my reply to her inane post. Good riddance! Let others deal with her miasma/spiritual pollution and emotional toxicity until she cultivates the courage to work on herself, because healing is always an inside job.

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  7. Totally agree with you on this. People expect a deity just to help them because they gave an offering. But to play both sides, in Hinduism, while each family has the “family god”, in a time of distress they may go to a different god and ask for their help and in doing so taking them as their new family god (from what I have recently discovered). But then back to the other side we can say that this action is out of sincerity and not entitlement as you have pointed out. Relationship development is very important.

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    • Thank you, Angelo, for reading and sharing your feedback! The parallel between what you describe in Hinduism and spiritual practice in my own Serbian culture is very interesting. Hearkening back to clan times, Serbian families are grouped by which ones share the same “family patron saint” and celebrate that saint’s day in a day-long feast called a “slava” (an Old Slavonic word that means “glory.”) For example, my family’s saint is John the Baptist, so we are all “kin” to other families that have him as their patron saint also. I just wish I knew which Slavic God John the Baptist displaced; I have a theory it’s Veles, but I need more research. Anyhow, thanks for the feedback! Cheers!

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  8. You’re absolutely correct on all accounts. My husband and I are eclectic pagans, and since my husband is Puerto Rican one of the religions we follow is Lucumi/Santeria, which is where the goddess Yemaya comes from. And if “Rachel” isn’t going to ask her beloved Yemaya for assistance, why does she not go to Yemaya’s sister, Ochun? Ochun is the goddess of love in that pantheon, and is very much the counterpart to Freyja and Erzuli. For that matter if she’s finding her pathways blocked why does she not go to Ellegua? That’s his bailiwick, the opening of pathways, and he’s one of the first deities that an initiate of Lucumi/Santeria receives, and therefore if she was indeed an initiate of Yemaya, she should also have had a relationship with Ellegua. Point being, that the deities, regardless of the pantheon, are not magic genies and it doesn’t matter how large of an offering (bribe) we give them, if we’re not already in a good relationship with them we can’t expect good results.

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    • “Rachel” wasn’t an initiate in any African Traditional Religion. She and I disagreed over her pattern of viewing Powers in a utilitarian fashion (what can They do for me?) instead of seeing Them as inherently worthy of veneration and respect. Throw in envy and desperation as emotional motives in the spells she was trying to do, and it’s easy to see why nothing worked and she kept attracting the same sense of lack, which just kept fueling a negative cycle.

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  9. Reblogged this on The Building of a Goddess and commented:
    “…I am strongly against this plug-and-play magical model you’re constructing here, demanding a Holy Power that you’ve *never* cultivated a relationship with to suddenly step up to the plate and procure a husband for you. Why should that Goddess do *anything* on your behalf? It would be like bursting through a total stranger’s home kitchen and demanding he bake a key lime pie for you on the spot, even though he’s never seen you before in his life. ”

    I couldn’t agree with this more! Be eclectic, but have respect play an integral part of your eclecticism! You get what you give.

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    • Thank you, awoodlandpath! I could understand if Rachel were a young woman that she would be so immature in her pursuits, but this is a woman who just turned 50 thinking and acting this way! As I wrote to her, desperation is a terrible motive for any magical working and it just won’t serve her well. Neither will treating Holy Powers like disposable commodities.

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    • Thank you, Judy! Yes indeed, it was a glorious public ritual and my fiance and I have been experiencing the same effects in our household ever since by doing daily puja/devotional offerings. Blessings!

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  10. A wonderful wonderful piece! This is so important, and I especially thank you for sharing the Durga chant. I like the tips it gave! I attend a community Kirtan gathering at my local UU church where a local musician/songwriter teaches about Bhakti Yoga. While I know that not everyone there is viewing it the same way, not all are considering the meaning of the Sanskrit along with their own intentions, it’s still a wonderful way to get together and share devotion, and learn chants from one another. Sometimes we do them in other languages if someone brings one in.

    This is so applicable to devotion of any kind, of any Deity or other sort of ally. When I post my upcoming video on forming relationships with Deity/allies/guides or whomever, I think I’ll include this post in the description as other suggested reading!

    Blessings~
    -C-

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  11. What a fantastic read! I’ve never seen it put so perfectly! I get encouraged by others sometimes to ask a certain goddess for help with something, and I always get a put off feeling without ever having been able to say why it bothered me so much. I have had a patron Goddess for years, and she is always the one I turn to in times of trouble. I talk with my Goddess often, just throughout the day random tidbits, ramblings even, she’s the one I “listen” to while I meditate, and she is the one I ask for strength from when I’m going through something.

    But when I would post in a group about going through something, and ask for help, such as a good guided meditation or certain ritual, I would get told to “Ask Goddess so and so to help you.” And just the idea made me very uncomfortable, now I realize it was because as you said I don’t have a relationship with that God/dess. I would ignore those comments altogether, but now I think I’ll keep the link to this article handy for the people who suggest that!

    As for the lovely Beltane you described, how I would have loved to have been there, maybe one of these days I’ll get to attend something of that magnitude! It sounds so wonderful, and I’m sure more temple for pagans will be built in the coming years, at least that is my deepest hope!

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