Or: What to do when your god pokes around with your identity by poking around with His Own (originally published Sept 2014)
A young girl is on her hands and knees at the water’s edge, keening into the sea. There is no other word for the sounds coming from her, the sounds of a spirit bound too tightly slipping its cage and splintering from the force of it. She feels herself shattering, and no amount of trying to hold on will stop the process. She is beyond fear, beyond worry, beyond hope. She has given over to this moment, and she is caught up in fury, in desolation, in these big, crushing waves of emotions that are too big, too wild, to be held back. Her spirit has tasted freedom and it will not return to its meager existence. Her spirit knows the depth and beauty of the worlds, and it calls out for rescue.
He comes clad in moonlight and darkness, in denim and leather, in flesh, bone, and magic. The young girl does not hear him, does not see him, until his arms have already scooped her out of the surf and wrapped her snug against him. He is warmth and spice and gentle, gentle strength, and he strokes her hair while she continues to cry. He gathers the pieces of her shattered being that have scattered along the sand, treasures that he will hold onto in safe keeping until she’s ready to take them back. She does not see this; she does not see anything in the outside worlds as she is trapped in her grieving. She cries for lost childhood, lost innocence. She cries for her pain and the pain of loved ones. She cries because she cannot kill her feelings and she has tried, oh how she has tried, for so many long years. She cries for having ever dared hope that an ending would come sooner, and for the disappointment that it never has. She cries for having been trapped, for having been alone, and for wanting, still, to not have to feel so alone. And she cries for so many other, unnameable things.
As the keening turns to sobs and the sobbing begins to taper off, the young girl begins to take in the worlds around her again. She can hear the steady crashing of the waves upon the shore, the ssshush-ssshussh-ssshussh as the water races up the beach and then retreats. She can feel the cool night air upon the bits of her skin that isn’t cocooned in warmth. Through burning, swollen eyes she can see the light of the full moon dancing upon the waves and casting the landscape in a nice, gentle silvery-white light.
She can feel the arms at her back, the hand stroking her hair. She can feel the rise and fall of his chest under her cheek. Her ears pick up small, wordless sounds of soothing nonsense, and she realizes he’s been making them for some time. She pulls back far enough to peer up at him. Dark, kind eyes catch her gaze before pulling her back against him. She wonders in a detached way if she should try to get away, but there are still people walking about on the beaches, and the houses aren’t very far away, and they’re out in the open for all to see. Maybe she’s gone fully mad, she wonders, and any pretense of concern disappears because concern is too much work, and she’s so tired of making the effort to care about things like survival.
They speak, and he dares to speak of things like love and hope and awareness. She gives him her anger, and he counters it with detached calm. She rages, and he does not flinch. She offers up her revulsion for her body, weak and flawed, for her whole species, destructive and mindless and insensitive. He takes her revulsion, takes her animal, and places it back neatly within the bounds of nature. He plants seeds for love and for compassion, and he hands her the tools she needs to keep going. This is triage, nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, but the rest will come.
“Who are you?” she finally asks.
“Name’s don’t matter so much,” he says, “but I am Poseidon.”
From the very beginning of our relationship, Poseidon has been all about not being hemmed in by boxes. I was not yet a polytheist when I met Him – I was pagan, sure, and certainly of an animistic bent, but I was trying to be Wiccan (or at least Wiccanesque). I was reaching out for the God and Goddess, forms of the divine that continued to elude me. On that night, all I was, was broken. I remember reaching out both to the being that I refer to as Momma Earth, and to Grandmother Moon, pleading that I could just be finished. I wanted, as I’ve wanted a time or two before and since, to just be done. It’s a curious, non-suicidal desire – there has never been an urge to do it myself. It’s not about wanting to die, exactly (and maybe this is because I’ve always had a conviction – or fear – that death isn’t The End, and troubles can’t be expected to just stop simply because one in so longer living) so much as wanting to simply not be, any longer. This was the first, and most shattering, most encompassing, of mental breakdowns that I would have. This was the first time I let myself go completely – and I have to laugh at that phrase, because I did not “let myself go”; I was broken. I was done. I wanted to lie down and die, and maybe I would have, if it hadn’t been for Him.
To this day, I can’t say how and where our interaction took place. He was as physically real as I was, as solid, as present in the moment. So much so that, for months after I decided I really had gone crazy. Trying to figure out in which way the experience was “real” (was it a vision? Did I get pulled somewhere else? Was He truly embodied, or did He just use my memory to make it seem that way? Did He possess some hapless passerby?) distracted me for quite some time, until He decided that was enough. “If it changes you, it is real. Does it matter ‘how’ it’s real in order for it to change you? Do you really need to know the details to that degree?” No, I suppose not. Whatever had happened between us granted me enough of a buffer between my hopelessness and myself, so that I could become comfortable with living, so that I could begin to accept that hope and a desire to be loved, and to love, was to be a part of my existence. There was some back and forth at the original exchange – I was not remotely interested in the Hellenic pantheon, though I knew enough about Poseidon to know His reputation with the ladies – willing or not. I was interested in Celtic mythology; maybe He could by Llyr? Manannan? I even suggested as much, still snug in His arms. He laughed, somehow making it sweet and gentle and not mocking, when all I’d known at this point was laughter-at-my-expense. “No,” He insisted. So much for names not mattering.
I refused to delve into Hellenic paganism for a number of years. Even after Poseidon “moved in” (a disconcerting time period after I’d pretty much asked Him to, when my awareness of His presence in my life went from somewhat regular interactions ‘uploaded’ to my mind, to constant, unrelenting awareness that He was with me. That sounds sweet, right? For three months I seriously thought I was losing my mind, and it wasn’t until I started practicing yoga that I found any relief at all.)(Thank you, Diane, for that!) I wanted very little to do with Hellenic paganism. I’d known some with a recon bent, and that was fine, but it wasn’t for me. I gave offerings of water and of juice and of tea. I burned candles. I meditated, and I practiced yoga, and I wrote letters to Him. I picked up barley as an offering to scatter into the sea whenever I managed to get to the shore more because friends with connections to Apollon (again, thanks Diane!) put that knowledge into my head, and not because there was any big push to study up on His Family, and ‘His’ culture. And, for the longest time, there was no push from Him. Once Odin entered the picture, and I delved freely and happily into northern European studies, Poseidon did begin pushing for equal treatment, if not equal enthusiasm, for His historical areas, and so I did begin to (grudgingly) expand my studies. But, for years before that, our relationship was about us, and about the here and now. The stories of Him raping women did not – do not – mesh at all with my understanding of Him as a compassionate, kind, healing god. I sat with that for a long time, and there’s so many ways one can approach that. Maybe the myths aren’t to be read literally. Maybe word usage and definitions change over time. Maybe translators, especially in the early centuries, wanted titillating tales that shocked delicate sensibilities. Maybe ‘rape’ is an easy way to explain the overpowered sensation that can come from being in the presence of a god, when your own agency and sovereignty is completely eclipsed by this massive, massive presence. Maybe a combination of these things, and others I hadn’t considered. It would be easy to get lost in the wondering, trying to explain it all out, but how do you do that with a god, with His Mystery? And why worry about that so much, when He saved my sanity, my life, and gave me Love unlike any I had known before?
He brought me to yoga, and yoga was the single most transformative tool He would grant me. Through yoga, I healed the rift between my psyche and my animal. Through yoga, I brought myself into a more and more easy communion with Him. Through yoga I challenged the limits of my comfort zone and began to pass through them. With yoga, I began to care less about being seen and judged. For years, yoga was The Devotional Act I preformed for Poseidon, for us, and of all the devotional acts that are in my arsenal, yoga is the one that works without fail, even when I’m in my blackest, blackest places.
My devotional life is not defined by any one culture or time period – the gods do not belong to people and places; people and places belong to gods. Every time I’ve tried to make Poseidon stick to a way of being worshipped, He shatters it. Every time I’ve tried to restrict Him to being paid cultus in a particular way, He refuses it. I’ve had my eye on the Hellenic past for some time now, enough so that I find their ‘religious language and landscape’ for wont of a better phrase, native-enough. (The understanding of the Germanic religious language and landscape feels like my native tongue; the Hellenic feels like a pretty fluent secondary tongue.) Poseidon has been saying for the better part of a few years now that it was time to widen my scope again, that I’ve become too entrenched in these few spots in history along a narrow bit of the Mediterranean. It was time to explore outside that region.
He’s funny, about names. When I’ve asked Him about whether or not He is also Neptune, the answer is unfailingly yesno. At the same time, He’s given teasing glimpses about places in stories when people are speaking of Zeus, that they may be speaking of Him, instead, or vice verse. The feeling is that They (the gods in general, or maybe just the Three Brothers, or who could possibly really know??) are not so attached to names the way we are, and They could exchange them like we might borrow a coat from our kin. He laughs in delight as I stumble over references to El being equated with Poseidon in some regions. When I hit a point in a book that speaks of religious influences hitting the Mediterranean world from the East by way of what is now Iran – a place where Poseidon was certainly worshipped – He simply holds me near to Him and floods me with sheer delight.
I am, for all intents and purposes, a polytheist. I’m a devotee of both Poseidon and Odin, and I do not count Them as one and the same god. I don’t really see either of Them as different manifestations of the divine – at least, not any more than I see everything as manifestations of the divine. Simultaneous holding. Yes, I can see how that might be so, but that does not discount my individuality from Beth, anymore than it discounts Poseidon’s individuality from Odin. An abstract idea about the beginning of all is maybe a nice way to begin (and end) the story of All That Is, but it’s so far removed from our experiences as to be nearly meaningless, and is certainly not very useful in navigating our ways through life, the worlds, and our interactions with the spirits. I’m not the least bit interested in narrowing my understanding of the divine and how the divine works into little boxes – I prefer to celebrate the differences, and to stretch myself when those differences threaten me. Why should they threaten me? I choose to celebrate. I choose to find wonder and joy. I choose love. I do not want to become rigid. I do not want to go back into those little boxes, and in any case, I don’t think I’d fit, anymore. So, whether there are a handful of gods who are known differently in different places and times, or whether there are as many gods as we have names for, and more, is, in my practice, irrelevant. It is unknowable. My gods are Odin and Poseidon. That is what I know. Names don’t matter, but He is Poseidon. That has been His mantra. He won’t budge on that. He is Poseidon, but maybe He uses His brothers’ names here and there. He is Poseidon, but He does not want to be trapped in history. He wants to be present now. He is Poseidon, but, oh, hey, let’s read what we can about Yam, and also, aren’t these things about El interesting?
And I’ve prodded. Of course I have. Let’s look at the things that inform my practice. First and foremost (though less actively in the more recent years, because modifications for injuries and weak points has become annoying and frustrating. Yes, I’m working through that) we have yoga. (Like most people in the West, when I say yoga, I more properly mean hatha yoga, which according to most falls within the Raja yogic path. The four main paths being Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga). Awareness, healing, and compassion have been the ‘signposts’ along my journey, with an emphasis on detached compassion-loving-kindness. It’s never been just awareness of myself and my limits, healing for myself, compassion for myself – it’s been all these things, and also, awareness of other people’s limits, experiences, situations. Keeping an eye toward the healing of others and how, if I can’t aid their healing for whatever reason, I at least not make it worse. Healing – oh, my Lord is a generous, talented, ruthless Healer, and He has done more for my being able to function in the world than I can even begin to name. From the very beginning I’ve joked that Poseidon is very Zen. Further along, things like humility and grace have come into my religious vocabulary. I cover my head when I leave my house because He’s asked it of me, and I dress rather modestly, both because it’s more comfortable for me and also because He has definite opinions about it. Of course, I’ve prodded at this – what, of all of that, sounds like Poseidon of Hellas? Short-tempered, vengeful, lustful, petulant Earth-Shaker? In my exploring outside of Hellas, are You sure You are not instead El? Yam? Ba’al? Going further north, are You not Aegir, maybe, Njord? Here’s Neptune, here’s these others, and names do not matter, so are You sure? Again and again over the years, and He is Steadfast, my Hearth, my Home. No, I am Poseidon. Oh, there’s a bit of Me that resonates with that, but I am Poseidon. Names can be like hats, but I am Poseidon.
Yesterday Beth and I watched Peter Marchand’s Divine Energies of Hinduism (and if you’re even passingly interested in that topic, do watch. His accent is a delight, his word choices often charming, and the painting are gorgeous). I actually started watching it on my own, made it through most of the second part, and had to stop. Now, I’ve been passingly interested in Hinduism on and off for a while – there’s that yoga connection of course, and the chakra connection (a system that informs my energy work). Most importantly for me lately is, there’s that whole extant, long standing polytheistic tradition to be inspired and informed by. (We won’t get into a polytheistic-or-monotheistic debate. I don’t know enough about the information we have in the English speaking world and how much it was or was not colored by the translation efforts of the Imperial period, during which educated white men would of course be interested in putting the whole of it across to the Western world as ultimately a monotheistic tradition. Monotheism was in their mind the pinnacle of religiosity. I personally do not understand monotheism as being a workable module if for nothing else than we are pattern seeking animals and you cannot have a pattern with just one, and I do not see the various monotheisms in our world as true monotheistic paths anyway. That’s neither here nor there).
I knew of Siva, of course, always with the trident, and I’d looked into that connection before, ages ago. I knew of Brahma and of Vishnu, of Kali, of Krishna, of others. What kind of a well read pagan do you take me for? Of course I knew. But I’d never really dug deeply at all – I still haven’t. But I was watching this lecture last night, and he starts talking about the various avatars of Vishnu. Vishnu, already pictured with a triune symbol upon his forehead, with blue skin, and with a shell in one hand. He spoke of Matsya, the first incarnation of Vishu, the fucking fish incarnation, and I laugh, delighted but uncomfortable already, because Poseidon is watching me watch this lecture. We move on to some others, and then we get to Narasingha, and I stopped breathing a bit. Hit pause. Seriously considered stopping the lecture for good.
“You can stop,” He said, “Or you can keep watching. Know that yes, I am Poseidon . . . but I also want you to sit with these things. You need do nothing more, and I am not taking My name from you, I am not changing My name, I am not asking you to do anything more than sit with these things.”
Because – I have a lion connection, a strong, strong lion connection with Poseidon. It was dream given (and I’m realizing quite uncomfortably that the various icons in the dream could easily see parallels within Hindu mythology) but the end result was lions became very closely tied to Poseidon, in my personal worship. I’ve sought external connections to them with Him, and I’ve found some by way of Rhea, but it’s always felt more personal than that. It’s a connection that defies sense – Poseidon is not much in the way of a solar deity, my Lord of the Depths, my Lord of the Rains. Not in the way that we know Apollon is seen as a solar deity. (And I know many find connections between Apollon and Vishnu, easily – in my understanding of these gods, Apollon ‘feels’ like the next-generation of Poseidon. I explain it in words like, He is Poseidon’s favorite nephew, He has the feeling of an heir, He is that one step closer to humanity, but these all fall woefully short. My point is I am not surprised that I can find uncomfortable parallels between Vishnu and Poseidon, considering the similarities and overlap that can be found between Poseidon and Apollon.) Still, the connection remains.
There’s more than just these small connections, a host of small connections that are building up to something bigger, something scarier, something potentially threatening. I’ve had dreams of Poseidon with blue skin — important enough so that I’ve got a commissioned painting my way in which my Beloved is blue skinned. But there’s more, so much more, seemingly insignificant, that, added together, make breathing hard and panic start to kick in. Don’t take this from me. Do not, I beg You, take such a big part of who I am from me, please, my God, please.
Discomfort is not a reason why I pull away from things; in my training with both He and Odin over the years, discomfort is a trigger to dig in, to explore and name and expose, and well He knows it, so of course I kept watching. And all was perfectly fine until we reached Varuna – whose name I’d come across a few weeks ago, and who, at first glance, while seemingly connected to the oceans and thus a sea deity, also seemed pretty occupied with social hierarchy, and as that’s not a connection I see Poseidon as having, it was easy enough to dismiss Varuna from my mind – and the lecturer mentions that He is both a god of the deep and is also very concerned with compassion.
At which point I was tempted to start crying, so instead I grabbed Beth, started it all over again at the beginning, and made her watch with me. (Not a hardship, because, again, pretty.)
I’m still feeling extremely uncomfortable. I’ve been praying. He says, again and again, “Just sit with this,” but ‘just sit with this’, when it makes me feel this vulnerable, often means “write about it and share it” because that somehow nullifies the threat that comes along with feeling vulnerable. It transforms the feeling of vulnerability into one of empowerment.
I’m cautious. Is this me wanting once source for all these seemingly disparate bits of “my” Poseidon that do not come from any Hellenic sources? Is this me, yearning for a tradition that I can draw on, rather than having to forge forward on my own so much? Is this me, is this my wanting? But, no – if I was left to my druthers I would never move beyond my Father’s sphere. “Use what works, learn where it comes from, honor the history, be respectful, but use what works.” Yoga works, yoga is ‘our’ thing, and I don’t need to be attached in any way to the tradition that gave it to the world in order for yoga to aid in my union with my god. I’ve teased, too, along the way. “You are so big on this whole humility thing; are You sure You’re not going to end up being Yahweh? Maybe Allah?” but we’ve always, always come back to, “No, I am Poseidon.” So this careful, careful, “Hey, maybe you could sit with this,” suggestion takes my worries that this is my doing, my imagining, and tosses it to the wind.
I do not want to be so connected to a way of thinking, to any sort of identity, that it threatens my connection with my god, my Husband. I do not want to be so fixated on His being Poseidon that I refuse to let Him Be Who He Is. I am so caught up in being Poseidon’s – it is who I am, who I’ve been for more than half my life. There is panic – whose am I, if I am not His? I do not want to be any Others’, and the thought of not having Him does make me want to die. But, I don’t care about the name, in the end. And it’s not that different from the early days, wondering how He was Poseidon, which Poseidon – really, truly Poseidon of myth and legend, or a spirit that has taken on that name now – and deciding, I don’t care. If He is a Poseidon-imposter or The Real Poseidon – He is the being who held a shattering child as she lost herself in the world, as she gave up. He is the being who caught her as she flew apart, and held her close, and gave her hope. He is the being who planted the seeds of compassion, so that I’ve gone from being an apathetic, resentful, hateful creature to one who not only sees beauty and love and goodness in the world, but one who chooses joy. He is my Love, He is my Heart, He is the very center of my soul. Names do not matter, so much, and yet,
“I am Poseidon,” He says. Does He, for my comfort, for my peace of mind? Does He, because it is an informative part of His very being? Does He, because that is the piece of this god’s story that I’m tied to? Does He, because it is True at the very Heart of His core? Does He rush to assure me that He is not taking His Name from me, because we’ve reached a point where, soon, He might? Or does He rush to assure me because He wants me to hold fast to that while stretching myself to take in more Mystery, without giving up what I’ve already been given? In the end, as in all the ends, all I can really do is cleave to Him, and so I will. He is the only buoy in this great Sea that I can even see. I will go where He goes, I will go wherever He takes me, and it will be enough. He has done nothing, nothing, but kept me safe and true, all these years. Fear is no reason to begin to doubt, now. He is not what shatters me. I shatter myself. He is what holds me together, despite myself.
And, He is Poseidon. 😉