Piety, Relationships, and What-if-I-make-it-all-up

Yesterday, I posted about whether the rewards of religion extend past what the gods can give us. 

And while I answered my own question…some things still weighed on my mind.

The one thing I am thinking of at the moment is whether piety/devotion puts you in the favor of a particular god. I said that I didn’t think this was fair. But. But.

In many ways, I see the relationships others have with their deities to be very reflective of human relationships. They wax and wane. There are times of distance and times of intimacy. Some deities take time to “get to know”; they want to see serious commitment before they really reach out. Others seem to embrace anyone at any time. There are those that are in your “inner circle”, and those that are periphery (like the girl at work you only ever see when you go to pick up your paycheck because neither of you have direct deposit yet).

In human relationships, people vary with respect to how readily they offer help. Some will give more freely of their resources, others are very selfish. And yet, unless people are at one extreme (Siddhartha Gautama, who gave away all of his possessions to mark the start of his journey to enlightenment) or another (Ebenezer Scrooge), I don’t really bat an eye over their decisions. They have their reasons for giving or withholding, and though I might not agree, their aid is theirs alone to distribute. Wouldn’t this same kindness, the right to distribute one’s possessions as one sees fit, be due to the Netjeru as well?

A pivotal question at this point is: Do human-netjer relationships have the aforementioned variations because this is the way the Netjeru actually operate, or because humans merely perceive them that way? In other words, Do humans influence the perception of the relationship so much that we actually dictate how hard-to-know/generous/interactive deities are? Or are the Netjeru really as “human” as we are?

For example…Let’s say John is a very passive, conflict-avoidant guy with low self-esteem and a reserved (but still healthy) libido. John is the antithesis of Set in a couple ways, and thus this lack of “commonality” may make it hard for John to establish a relationship with Set, even if he wants to. Set (or any deity) may (hypothetically) kick off every relationship with the same amount of openness…but the roadblocks stopping John from cultivating a relationship with Set dictate how easily this openness is perceived (much like if John met a super-sexual, confident, in-your-face human in real life).  (Forgive me if the example isn’t perfect).

A different example may be: there is a “cultural understanding” in some forums that Aset is a “tough love” kinda gal. Jarrel, who is coming to know Aset, becomes aware of this collective mental model. He also begins to notice that his relationship with Aset is of the “tough-love” sort (confirmation bias, yo).  In both cases, our human tendencies set the tone for our relationships with the Netjeru. The traits we give the gods shape our perceptions of and relationships with the Netjeru (one could take a very atheistic/agnostic view and assert that the Netjeru are entirely manufactured by us, anyway, and thus have very few if any characteristics we don’t give them).

In these cases, human-netjeru relationships mirror human-human relationships because its all we know how to do…humans can only go so far out of the “human box”, and the Netjeru may have to meet us half-way.

But what if this ISN’T the case? What is the gods really DO vary in how they interact with people (i.e. different Netjeru behave differently from each other, and Netjeru behave differently towards humans)? What if we aren’t perceiving these differences, but they actually exist? But most importantly…Does this absolute truth really matter, since all we can ever know is what we can perceive? In which case, the Netjeru interact differently with different people.

From these thoughts, the following key points arise:
(1) People have different relationships to different deities, and vice versa.
(2) Human-netjer relationships can mirror human-human relationships
(3) Humans vary in how selective they are in sharing their resources.
(4) The relationship a human has with the would-be recipient influences if and how much they will give.

**EDIT: I have to stop here to clarify something. When I say that someone is a recipient, I do not mean they receive physical things. I personally don’t think the gods can do much on that front. I’m speaking more to psychological things…awareness, insight, that sort of stuff. **

So, if human-netjer relationships mirror human-human relationships, wouldn’t the Netjeru be selective in their giving?

Which takes us back to piety (finally, right?). Those who have a more “devout” relationship may be more likely to to have more intimate relationships with the Netjeru, which would, for one reason or another, afford them a stronger connection and possibly more resources (whatever they may be) from that Netjeru.  The intimacy of the relationship may afford some the same benefits the intimacies of human relationships affords us. This could be because the Netjeru act (or are perceived to act) as humans in these relationships. But that’s not the biggest reason why this intimacy affords more devout practitioners more “benefits”.  From our end (the human end), a greater intimacy can allow us to more quickly “connect” to our Netjeru.

Following this logic, the “pious” are favored, but perhaps not because the Netjeru play favorites. Maybe its just because they have more practice connecting to those things which bring them peace, wisdom, and joy? Maybe its because devotion hones certain abilities or thought patterns so that we can manifest positive changes ourselves.

Reaping What You Sow: Does Religion Reward (Even If It Doesn’t)?

*CAUTION*: As I look back over this, it seems very Christian. I come from a Catholic place and a Catholic school system and a (mostly) Catholic family…and I’m fine that my practice still has some roots in this tradition (so long as the roots nourish). I think the theme here is, “Humans seek control in a chaotic world….religion helps humans achieve this to some degree.” I think this theme can be found in many religious or spiritual paths, including paganism. But if you feel this type of content might be triggering for you, please tread with care 😀

I was thinking of a church camp I attended as a kid. They taught us that by putting God first, you actually put yourself first (because you get grace and eternal life and all that jazz). In this light, piety seemed selfish: put God first, get good prizes!

So I wondered, “Would I still practice my faith (pray, meditate, give offerings) if I didn’t think I would get anything from it?”

I try not to think of offerings/piety as a bartering system. I don’t think the gods play favorites, and I don’t think it would be fair if a large amount of piety and devotion got one person into a more persuasive/lucrative position with the Netjeru as compared to someone without that relationship. I sometimes do acts of devotion to cultivate some spiritual virtue, but I don’t think I’m showered with more privileges because of that. I am not so ignorant as to fail to admit that some portion of my success stems from the many privileges I am afforded, which stem from being white and “educated” and living in a “first-world” country that allows me many freedoms and priveleges. There are definitely aspects of my life that I cannot control that contributed to my success. There are also aspects of my success that I can control. There are many things that I did (perhaps unknowingly at times) that contributed to my success. There are both things I do and do not control, things that I did or things that are simply products of society, that contributed to “how my life is turning out”.And while I am very blessed, I have bad luck, too… the Fortuna Rota always turns.

My opinion is that we do have control over our own futures…actions have consequences, and hard work, awareness, and responsibility can pay off. Even still, sometimes good or bad circumstances can happen to people regardless of the work ethic, level of awareness, or level of responsibility. Fortune or misfortune aren’t always black and white indicators of the correctness of someone’s choices. Even when they are, I don’t think its wise to live by the maxim that good or bad circumstances are a product of that person’s piety. Full transparency: Aside from the fact that I htink this maxim goes against Ma’at, I often struggle with whether or not the Netjeru can affect things outside of my own psyche (i.e. things in the world around me). Though two separate issues, they affect each other.

That being said, I am only human. There are moments when I experience such duress (or such joy) that all I can do in these moments of either fear or ecstasy is cry out to my Netjeru and ask for aid, mercy, health, laughter, their presence OR thank them for allowing me the pleasure (because even when it is of my own doing, as my accomplishments certainly are products of my own hard work, I still feel appreciation is warranted). Yet I’ve noticed that I do (unintentionally?) have a tendency to think (whether this is logical, ethical, or correct) that serving the gods, in whatever small ways I might do so, does allow me certain benefits.

I grew up in a very Catholic place, where novenas and rosaries and candles and prayers and fasting are given in an effort to win grace…and perhaps divine aid. And there’s a part of me, as illogical as it is, as unfair as it is, that feels that maybe if I do selfless acts of piety or charity, with the intention of helping someone else or myself on a particular, articulated issue…I can. That maybe these relationships (with my Netjeru) I’ve cultivated might afford me some benefit when dealing with stress or poor judgement or bad luck. That prayer and offerings and devotions over the years offer me something that can directly help in times of need. In times of true duress, I wish that this “something” is direct divine intervention… that the hand of the Netjeru can touch my situation and change it.

In times when I am more level headed and philosophical, I doubt that such a thing would occur…because in essence, it conflicts with my own belief: I don’t think the gods play favorites, and I think outcomes are the result of a myriad of causes.

Offerings, prayers, devotions…are these acts of both piety and magic? Do they direct energy and will in and of themselves? Are they a mix of spellwork and persuasion, convincing the Netjeru that a deed is worth doing while also psychologically preparing us to do mundane actions towards the same goal? Could a human even convince a Netjer of anything? (The 42 confessions and various stelae seem to say so…but that’s a tangent).

I don’t know. Part of me does feel that prayers and devotions send out energy. And part of me also feels that the Netjeru are often merciful, and that under the right circumstances, if you have cultivated a relationship with them over time, they might help you out in in whatever way they might be able. Maybe they can offer something when you show you really need it and are ready for it. Now, whether this mercy and compassion from the gods is substantiated in formal Ancient Egyptian belief…I still need to look into that. But honestly, while I don’t think they “live” to do us “small kindnesses”, I would like to think that Netjeru have some place in their hearts for us, if only because I feel they care for all of creation and we are a part of that. If anything, I feel that when we cultivate relationships with the Netjeru, we awaken a part of us (a part of our ka) that allows us to be…more aware?…which in turn allows us to gain wisdom from hardship and carry on with resolve. (*teaser alert*)

So…my Vulcan Mind tells you all that I don’t barter, but my Human Heart (or perhaps more accurately, my Freudian Id) obviously does.

So back to the original question: If the Netjeru don’t go around interfering on our behalves, would I still cultivate a relationship with them? If they couldn’t offer me anything other than the stories surrounding them and the practice I do for them, would I still practice?

…..Yea.

The biggest thing I get out of my practice is a sense of peace which allows me to better cope with all the shit that comes my way. It’s that “awakening” or that “connection to the Netjeru” I was talking about earlier.

And that’s the bottom line for me. That’s one of the biggest goals of religion (for me). Spirituality, for me, serves the purpose of allowing me to meet my potential, be “happy” (whatever that means), and experience a sense of calm. Keeping me mindful and aware of what’s important and CALM to deal with things that are stomach-churning or anxiety-producing…that’s a huge payout. And, frankly, its probably the most important, because it affects how I can change my own situations. Even in circumstances when I am powerless, it gives me a little bit of control over the only thing I can actually ever really control…myself.