There’s been quite a stir recently in online pagan circles over polytheism’s merits versus those of humanistic/atheistic paganism. I’m not going to tangle with any of that here. Rather, I’m going to talk about some issues I’ve had come up for myself (or have been asked about by others) in regards to being a hard polytheist. This is entirely based on my personal understanding of How Gods Operate. As always your mileage will probably vary.
First of all, it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong if you don’t have a close personal relationship with every god in your pantheon or even every god who’s related to your patron or main deities. While it is a good idea to show basic courtesy to all deities when it is proper to do so, you are not obligated to cultivate an equal level of devotion to each one of Them unless you really, really want to. I hope you have lots of free time in that case! I’m a nun and I’m not doing that with every one of the (at last count) fifty-odd gods mentioned in my bead prayers. Polytheism is not Pokemon, and you don’t have to catch them all. We might owe our gods respect, but we don’t necessarily owe all of Them love. It’s better to honor a few gods in a heartfelt way than worship a lot of Them in a half-assed manner.
Also, if you don’t have a patron deity, that’s not abnormal either. One of the cool things about being a polytheist is the recognition that the sacred can be many things. That is evidenced by the fact that our gods are so many and diverse. Despite what you may have heard, being claimed by a god or goddess who wants to be your patron isn’t always a good thing. Some people thrive best when they have the freedom to make their own attachments and worship Whom they will without restriction — and if you don’t believe that being chosen by a deity involves restriction of any kind, I have an authentic Viking-era meadhall I’d like to sell you. If you have no patron or don’t want one, don’t feel bad — many pagans, both ancient and modern, have managed to get through life happily and honorably without one. On the other hand, you can certainly choose a god or goddess to follow and emulate as a patron, but whether or not that choice is acknowledged is entirely up to Them.
And on that note, if the gods don’t “speak” to you or you feel you can’t hear Them as well as so-and-so says they can, you are far from alone. You can still worship and love the Holy Ones and let Them and Their stories inspire and guide you, and you can share this with whomever you like, be it kindred, coven, church, or circle. And for what it’s worth, I firmly believe that every sincere prayer and offering is noted by the gods, even if They don’t seem to respond to the person who gave it. They hear our voices and can read what is in our hearts. You might find that even if you never get what you consider a “real” message from one of the gods, your life will still be blessed by Them in tangible ways. They are gods, after all, and while I’m not convinced They can make us hear Them if we aren’t wired for it, They can show us appreciation and love in a myriad of ways, not all of which necessarily involve direct communication — which itself is far less clear and unequivocal than is sometimes claimed. Not having a “god-phone” need not be a barrier to loving and being loved by a deity. I know a goddess’s consort who by their own admission has a very limited ability to perceive spirits, yet is clearly favored by the goddess in question. There are probably many faithful devotees like that.
There are also gods who, according to Their stories or traditions, don’t get along with each other, and some say that you have to pick one side or another in that case. This comes up a lot in Heathen circles where Loki (or any Jotun save Skadi, Jord, or Gerda) is a controversial choice for worship, much less patronage. But the thing is, even if according to myth the gods in question have bad blood between Them, and even if other people claim that (for example) you can’t be a real Heathen/Asatruar and worship Loki, that doesn’t mean that any or all of the gods involved might not welcome your respect and offerings anyway. We call them gods partly because They are wiser than we are, and thus They are wise enough to understand that different people need different things from each of Them. No matter what personal enmity They may have, the Holy Ones can put that aside for the sake of Their folk if They have a mind to. If They don’t have a mind to, and you get the strong feeling that, say, as someone dedicated to Thor, you should have nothing to do with Jormungand, of course you must do as you feel is best. But don’t automatically assume that gods’ battles are yours to fight, too. They don’t assume that about us.
They also don’t treat every one of us the same way. Because many people’s first experience of the old gods isn’t necessarily accompanied by entry into an accepting community full of mentors to guide us, it’s only natural to want to compare one’s own experiences and ideas with other people whom one reads about and who are in the same boat, or have been. But while that’s helpful in the initial stages, going further than that can be a mistake. While there are certainly going to be similarities in the way people understand the same deity or deities, each relationship between a mortal and their god(s) is different and unique, and each of us has a different path to walk.
It’s hard not to feel envious or resentful when someone who worships the same god(s) seems to get better and more tangible blessings, or has the kind of relationship with that deity that you wish you had. I’ve done both of these things, but over time I had to learn that this thing that Loki and I have doesn’t have to look like what the rest of His spouses have, or the thing that Del and Loki have, or the thing that the Grumpy Lokean Elder and Loki have. See what I did there? The gods don’t expect uniformity, and They don’t dole it out, either. They are neither obligated nor inclined to show each of us the same kind of attention — and conversely, They don’t demand the same uncomfortable things of us all or interfere with each of our lives to the same extent.
That’s hard to accept, especially when you want what someone else seems to have. On the other hand, you only know about it from the other person’s point of view, and that comes with its own biases. It is exceedingly rare that the gods bother to openly play favorites to the extent often reported in the bowels of the Internet. From what I’ve seen, They mostly expect us to act like adults and take responsibility for our own words and deeds. (I wish I could also say that god and goddesses don’t sometimes tell different people different “true” things, nor occasionally pit us against each other for Their own ends, but experience and observation have taught me that this is, sadly, all too true.)
The point is that any tie between souls, mortal or divine, has its ups and downs, its good and bad points, and you are never going to see the whole of what lies between a god and another worshiper, any more than you can see the whole of what lies between your friend and their spouse, or another parent and their child. In these cases comparisons are odious, as Shakespeare said. Believing that you are valued for what you are, rather than what you wish you were or want people to believe you are, goes a long way towards really opening your heart to your gods and letting Them fill you with the truth of Their terrible beauty and power.
In the end, you can demand that others show some basic respect to your gods in your online places, your home, your harrow or ritual space. You can advise others, help them understand the myths and lore, guide them through their rituals and devotions, or you can seek out these things yourself. You can call out people who are abusing sacred things for their own ends (although not everyone will thank you for it, not even the victims). You can work as hard as you like to show your gods that you mean it when you say you love and honor Them, and want to make this a world where They get the respect They deserve. But you also have to make sure you aren’t deluding yourself about what any of it means. Let the gods show you who They are, and allow yourself plenty of time and space to learn what that is. It might not be what you expect.
May the Holy Ones of your faith bring you gladly to Their feet, whether the road is easy or difficult or a little of both.