This past week, I wasn’t a particularly good ambassador for polytheism. No one has appointed or anointed me in the role, but I may be the only polytheist a particular person might ever talk to, and I try to keep that in mind. I don’t think I’m the only person ever to let my ire shape my words, but once upon a time I imagined that if I lived to be this old, it would mean that I’d mastered my emotions. Instead, I’m not sure if “mastering” is a good approach at all.
I was listening to a podcast, some deep-geek stuff about a particular fictional world and the stories told within it. The plot in question involved adherents of several different fictional religions. What got my gears grinding was the host’s observation that when two people are engaged in a religious discussion, “there is an assumption that the other person is wrong.” That is often true when monotheists are involved, because positing an all-encompassing god presumes that no other gods exist, and thus religions focused on those gods are invalid. For some reason even agreeing on the existence of one and only one god also can lead devotees to squabble over any differences of experience of that deity, leading to reformations and internecine wars and inquisitions and crusades and all manner of violence. However, polytheists don’t dismiss the existence of foreign gods, whether or not we pay them cult. We are also sometimes willing to accept that a particular god might be honored and experienced in a diversity of ways. Our religions are not invalidated by the existence of different practices.
Does the preceding paragraph seem calm, thoughtful, well-considered? My email to the host, drafted in the moment of reaction, could be better described as “inchoate.” Instead of expressing that conflict is not a necessary component of religion, I left the host with the impression that I am a bespittled zealot of some kind. Profanity is not my style, and I don’t need that handful of words to convey rage and offense. It was not my best moment.
Poseidon is known for the anger expressed in some myths, but Poseidon is slow to anger. I like to think that I am as well, but my emotional reservoir is not as deep as my god’s. In this case, my emotions overflowed while listening to a podcast because I hadn’t been roused to anger by a thousand other small events. It’s possible and preferable to let off some of that pressure before it wells over as it did this time, and that’s actually something I have learned as a devotee of Poseidon, that the secret to be slow to anger is actually to release microdoses of anger throughout the day. Something kept me from doing that, and I didn’t realize the problem until I made something of an ass of myself. I should be able to recognize the warning signs the next time.
For me, the challenge is that I learned young to equate anger with strength. One may marshal strength through anger, but for any sustained effort anger must fall away. To be grounded in purpose is one way to find strength without relying on anger, and that’s been my path for over a decade. It was disconcerting to fall back into poor habits when my defenses were down, but it’s spurred a redoubling of the deep work of rewiring how I respond in that moment between the formation of emotion and thought. I am grateful to have my rock, Poseidon Petraios, as a truer source of strength than the blaze of rage. I do wish I was better at reaching for the rock first, rather than the flame.