Happy Monday. We had our usual G+ chats over the weekend. I was only able to attend Sunday’s. If you’d like to join us, request membership to our group. The chats are video, voice, and text – use whichever you prefer.
Before we delve in: this week is very much a ramble, based on what I’ve been reading around blogs as well as some thoughts that have been percolating since last month. Questions and comments are more than welcome.
Dystheism is one of my favorite concepts: the idea that the gods are not wholly good and/or are evil. It describes my understanding of the Four Gods perfectly. The imperfect Four Gods, who I wouldn’t take any other way.
Though it does seem, in at least the forms of dystheism I’ve encountered, ‘evil’ often means ‘not benevolent toward humanity’ – so that’s the rough idea we’ll be using.
None of the Four Gods are pure benevolence or goodness. Even the spirits that are entirely benevolent toward humans (like the Clarene’s lover Adilene) may be antagonistic to other spirits. The gods may inspire or push us to take certain actions that are difficult or cause significant life changes, but I also don’t consider that ‘evil’. But a god encouraging or nudging their devotee on a certain path isn’t the full extent of what the Four Gods are capable of.
Of course, I don’t view ‘encouragement’ as ‘browbeating’, whether it’s from gods or humans.
But when it comes to the behavior of the gods that actually freaks me out, makes me uncomfortable, makes my throat stick because I don’t know how to talk about it – now that fits into the dystheism in the Otherfaith. the Clarene serving up a plate full of human, even if it’s just metaphorical, is disturbing. the Ophelia’s wintry landscape where she hammers home the idea of killing or being killed – that’s horrifying. There are lessons to be gleaned in their horrors, but it doesn’t necessarily mean people need to be on the receiving end of them. Or that the horrors I see when I interact with the gods are what everyone who touches them will encounter. They aren’t something I consider True or universal.
My experience of the Clarene and her consumption of humans is influenced by a variety of factors. I already saw her spirit Casimir as a spirit of cannibalism, offering people plates full of meat made from their own species. He also taught the magic of self-cannibalism, consuming the self to sustain or create something new. I associated the Clarene with slaughter and meat, and being distinctly fairy I saw no reason that she would abstain from humans. She enjoys humans, but her perspective slides into objectification at times. And I associated her with ‘old fairy’, the older fairy tales I knew of fairies which killed and ate humans simply because we were prey. It likely helped that I’d already explored cannibalism as a useful concept in my fantasy writing (posing myself the question of, “What would a society that accepted cannibalism look like?”).
And my concept of the Ophelia’s winter world where she sends spirits is influenced, no doubt, by where I live. Those who live near actual rivers and bodies of water, places where rain falls consistently, will no doubt understand the Ophelia as a very different goddess. She is, more than the Clarene, associated with the mountains here – mountains on which I’ve almost died on. As much as I love where I live, I hate it. I’ve always loathed it – the heat, the flora, the city, all of it swirling into some awful combination of affection and revulsion. Which is exactly how I experience the Ophelia’s world of trial: beautiful and awful.
the Laetha is even worse, when it comes to horrors, though that is entirely dependent on which Laetha is encountered. Ava’s the one I watch for. She tears the limbs of her devotees, splatters the walls of her hall with blood, and actively abuses her power over other spirits. This tiny little girl spirit, haloed in white, carries throwing knives and gleefully slaughters indiscriminately. This has a basis in her own experiences and trauma, but at the end of the day I’ve got a bloodthirsty god on my hands.
And at the end of the day, I have no way of knowing if any of that is real or True. I know it’s real for me. The frightening sides of the gods that I see fit well with my understanding of them. Ava’s bloodlust fits into her larger story, one in which that desire for pain is quelled and redirected. the Ophelia and Clarene display forms that may have surprised me originally but now are pieces of a larger puzzle that reveals them. If I were more introspective, the forms they appeared in might not have taken me off guard.
I don’t know how the horrific sides of the gods will appear to other people. I don’t even know if that side exists for other people (or the Other People in general). I know the way the gods appear to me. I understand, vaguely, why I see them like that. I don’t think that the natures of the Four Gods is unknowable, or that our experiences of them are fundamentally unable to be expressed (though it may be difficult to do). But I don’t think I can command another person to have my experiences.
I can share mine – which influences others. It creates an image in their mind, an assumption that they take into their devotions and worship. There isn’t other ‘lore’ for someone to draw on. My concepts are what gets put forth as truth about the gods, and often I’m too lazy about addressing to myself or others what is fundamental about the gods and what is my experience of them. Those two things are so intertwined, after all.
The assumptions I’m building affect the Four Gods. They change how people approach them, as well as changing the gods. Which is an interesting weight. But there will always be more sides people see, more versions and visions of these gods that people pray to – ones I cannot see for a thousand reasons.
Perhaps there is some universal hierarchy of gods and humans that is at play that I simply ignore, hence my worry of effecting the gods unfortunately with my writing. Perhaps Ava, in her ranting, is right: she’s a god, worthy of selfless worship and adoration to the point her devotee’s kill themselves at her call – or maybe she’s reflecting my own worries and anxiety. Maybe she’s a spirit I’m throwing all my fears at until whatever is behind that mask is too obscured. I met her when I was craving vicious revenge, and she happily indulged. How much of that was her and how much was me? How could I follow her senselessly, if I can’t even untangle us?
I don’t know if there is an objective version of these gods. It sometimes feels that the instant I touched them, I warped them as much as they warped me. It’s arrogance, I think, even as I feel it happening. Even as I think it through.
I wonder what the ‘fundamental nature’ of the Four Gods is.
Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!