When I was enjoying Pagan tea with Sannion and Galina, the former asked me a question that got me thinking. “Did you say you were devoted to Poseidon?” he asked, “because you talk a lot about Hermes.” It’s a fair point, and one that speaks to my complex relationship with the sea god. When I need to understand something about myself better, I write; I am overdue for writing about Poseidon.
First, some context: I was initiated by a Hellenic temple that embraces the idea of personal patron deities. Many Hellenic Pagans, particularly reconstructionists, reject this idea because there is no historical basis for it; the theoi were patrons of professions, not of people. While there are examples of a deity taking a particular interest in a mortal (most memorably the relationship of Athene to Odysseus), but it was so incredibly rare that it’s not worth taking seriously.
The other viewpoint is best represented in the book Kharis: Hellenic Polytheism Explored, in which author Sarah Kate Istra Winter justifies the adoption of the practice in this way:
I would also venture to say that even if the patron relationship was extremely rare in ancient Greece, it is a worthwhile pursuit today, when so many of us feel called by a certain god. Perhaps with so few worshippers these days, the gods are more likely to pay individual attention to us. Perhaps, since we are all essentially converts, we are more likely to develop a passionate love for a god or gods than in the days when it was the established religion. . . . It is not necessary for a meaningful Helenic polytheist practice. But for those who do have a patron or patrons, it is an experience unlike any other. — second edition, page 90
While I agree with Winter’s points, her experience was not my own. I did not feel called by this certain god when I started on the path of Hellenismos. I’d been smacked around by Ares, and Hermes had occupied my thoughts since, so no, there wasn’t a passionate love for Poseidon developing, so far as I could tell. Instead, my teacher performed a divination and determined, with great confidence, that Poseidon was ready and waiting.
Frankly, it scared the crap out of me. Wasn’t Poseidon that pissed-off god who tormented Odysseus, punished Minos, and made the Trojans rue the day for cheating him? And besides, what sea-god would be interested in me? I moved as far inland as I could, as soon as I could, and never once have a longed to see the ocean again. All I saw was the possibility of disappointing a deity who has a track record for stiff punishment. It didn’t sound very enticing.
Reluctant I may have been, but I am also sincere. I trusted my teacher, so I set about trying to understand this mighty, unapproachable god. When it came time for my amphidromia, I still wasn’t sure, and I was getting cold feet, if not cold sweat. Pulling a Poseidon bust from his bag, my teacher told me, “Go, spend some time with him. You have some things to work out.”
The truth is that, for me, “patron” is a very appropriate relationship, in the sense of father. Much of what I recoiled from was the similarities with the “you wait until your father gets home” mantle that so many dads wore when I was young, meting out punishment and praise after reviewing reports of how the day went. It’s not the relationship I had with my father as an adult, but it’s the one that connected best with my knowledge of this earth-shaking god.
I didn’t actually work those issues out right off, but I did reach a place where I could be a properly orthopraxic Hellenist regardless. I poured libations, I burned incense, I wrote and recited prayers, and I meant it. I spoke to my patron every day, but he never spoke to me. That was not my experience with some of the other gods, who occasionally would make very specific requests of me, or send me signs that were not at all difficult to interpret. No, Poseidon remained distant and aloof.
Or so I thought. How my thoughts were wrong is worth a post of its own.