Along with everything else I do, I’m a member of a 12-step program. No, it’s not AA; there are many more 12-step programs out there. No, you don’t need to know which one I’m in. It’s anonymous; that’s the point. What you do need to know is that my experience in this program has helped to re-sculpt a lot of my underlying assumptions and beliefs about the nature of Deity and how I shape my relationship with Her (and Them).
I’ve struggled for years now in making my hard polytheistic worldview work with the 12-step concept of a higher power. Sometimes I can make it work, sometimes I can’t. Even so, one of the most useful concepts I have about working with the deity comes from my program: the idea that if my Goddess is not working for me–if She is limiting me or critiquing me or undermining me or whatever–I can (and should) make my understanding of Her bigger.
Before I landed in my 12-step program, I had what amounted to a superhero understanding of the Gods. The Gods were like us, just a bit bigger. They could do a bit more than we could and could help us out a little. They had the same idiosyncrasies as humans, and were bitchy, fallible, and easily bored. My understanding of them, and how I experienced them–while interesting and exciting–did not bring me a whole lot of serenity or peace in times of crisis. While intellectually I knew that I should be able to rely on them, I did not actually feel like they would help me through tough times. After all, they were barely bigger than us humans. But then, what is the point of having a relationship with a deity if He or She is not there to help you through tough times?
My attitude towards deity changed abruptly after I hit rock bottom and found myself in a 12-step program. (I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize strongly enough how much my program helped me get my sanity and my life back, in a way that Heathenry or the larger pagan community just could not begin to match. [Long rant for a different time.] If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction of any kind, go to a 12-step program–at least a for few meetings, just to see what they have to offer. It can’t hurt, and it might even help.) If you’re unfamiliar with 12-step programs, the way it works is this: 1. Admit that your life is unmanageable and you can’t fix it (some people have spent decades coming to this realization); 2. Open yourself up to the possibility that there’s something bigger out there that can help you; and 3. Ask for that bigger power for help (Steps 1-3, in other words). There’s more to it, obviously, but this is the foundation.
I remember thinking when I found out what the 12 steps were and our overall plan of attack, This should be easy. I’ve already spent my entire adult life finding my own spirituality and delving deeper into it, often at odds with my family or the larger culture around me. Not a problem. I’m halfway there!
Or not. It’s a lot harder, it turns out. I had spent a a great deal of time and effort learning about and working with my gods, but in all that time and work, I hadn’t learned what I’ve come to consider to be the most important part of any belief system: I hadn’t learned to trust my gods.
How do you trust, how do you put complete and utter faith in fallible beings who are only slightly bigger than you? Answer: You can’t. (Or, more to the point, you shouldn’t.) Conversely, trying to smash our Gods into such small, powerless forms does us–and these Gods that we profess to love–a huge disservice.
What size is a God? To quote the Witch’s opinion on giants from Into the Woods, Gods are “just like us, only bigger. Much, MUCH bigger! Sooooo big that we are just an expendable… bug beneath its feet”. I’m not saying that we are “insignificant bugs” in the eyes of the Gods. I’m just trying to emphasize just how different in scale we from Them.
Today, I understand Them as I would an iceberg. I can see, sense, interact with only a small portion of who they really are. That’s fine–I’m human. We’re limited. It’s just the nature of what we are. However, just because my human mind can’t sense more of Them does not mean that more doesn’t exist. This is where faith, that scary five-letter word, comes in. And this is why, if you look to the foundation of much of what I write on this blog, it’s steeped very heavily in the concept of faith.
For example: when I accept that Freya is really that much bigger than me, it’s easier for me to trust Her. When I reach out to Her in this form, She’s ever-loving and comforting, serene and forgiving. She is the rock that I need Her to be. I can rest secure knowing that A) She loves me completely, B) She knows more of what’s going on in the world than I ever will and has the power to affect things that I never could, and C) She has my best interests at heart. This is not a “philosophy” or “theology” I espouse–this is a reality I’ve experienced. I’m not normally a trusting person. I need practical, tangible proof in order to believe something. She’s given it, time and time. I’m convinced. Everything I do goes better when I reach out to Her for support and let Her guide my hand.
Still, I battle with Her a lot, though quite a bit less than I used to. I end up taking back the reins. I convince myself that She doesn’t know or doesn’t care, or–even worse–isn’t real. I make Her smaller that She really is, or void Her out of my life completely. Then, things go wrong, or take way too much time and effort than necessary. I make bad decisions that end up causing me a lot needless of pain and suffering. This mode also manifests physically: My shoulders hunch; my teeth grind. My gut tenses and stomach is constantly upset. I forget to breathe, and nothing–NOTHING–is funny, or ever will be again. I have enough experience now that I can usually catch myself going falling into this state within a couple of days, sometimes even a couple of hours. Once I do so, life starts to get better. pretty quickly.
On really rare occasions, if I’m caught in a intense obsessive loop, She’ll jump in and take the control away from me completely. (Kind of like a spiritual smack to the head, as if I was having a fit of hysterics.) This what happened to me yesterday.
Yesterday was one of my typical Godsdays–I started out doing one thing, and got hijacked by the Hellenes (and a stealthy Odin and Freyr, because why not) until the original plan for the day was completely nixed. I was meeting up with a good friend who belongs to Hermes, and instead of tasting a bunch of gins (which had been my plan) we ended up dealing with a very grumpy Hermes, a domineering and moody Zeus, and what (thankfully) turned out to be a pretty mellow Poseidon. Not to mention a grumpy me, because of a series of unexpected delays and random incidents and then the lack of gin (that I had already paid for) and lack of food and lack of sleep. At one point I was so pissed the Universe and everything in it that I threatened Zeus with Freya and the rest of the Norse pantheon. Pride and ego being my biggest character defects, it got bad, fast; and honestly, not for any good reason. My friend was having a similarly bad day, and unhappiness ensued. As a side note, this is where, had I been paying attention, one of my favorite program sayings would have come in handy. Clearly, I was HALTed (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired). Being any one of these is enough to put me into a bad mood, but put two or more of them together and it’s likely to turn into WW III.
Anyway–finally, we got food and found a place to do our work. (Hunger and Tiredness taken care of.) But before that, on the drive over, out of nowhere, I felt a massive sense of calm and warmth fall over me. All my stress–gone. My irritability, my resentment, the list I had been mentally compiling of all of Zeus’ simply egregious actions (in bullet-point format, no less)–all became completely unimportant. Missing, without a trace. It was not in my power to make such a change happen. Christians call it a moment of Grace. I call it my Goddess doing for me what I could not, at that moment, do for myself. A small, petty, moody version of Freya could not have done this. But the larger version of Her, the one that I call my Higher Power can, and did.
So yeah, I’m glad my Goddess is big. Big enough to handle me and all of my issues. Big enough to help raise me out of my own pettiness and irritability, and do so lovingly. Big enough that, even when my fear, loneliness, and depression attempts to shrink her down and smash her in a human-shaped box, She is still there, loving me and patiently waiting for me to remember that She’s actually so much bigger.