Propitiation

Propitiation is a concept in paganism that does not receive the discussion it deserves. You see we do a fairly alright job of describing the gifting cycle and those concepts regarding offering. We know that as we gift a friendly god we build a relationship of reciprocal gifting with them that increases over time. But we fall short when describing offering to chaotic forces.

While I have taken issue with the concept that the gods universally represent order, they do on a whole represent order a majority of the time. That is not to say they are not on occasion fickle; they do have their destructive or chaotic moments. That said, there are forces which are much the inverse of the gods in that where the gods represent order, those other forces represent chaos. In terms of sheer power the chaotic forces are often on par with the gods. But whether you call these things Ettins or baneful wights the end result is the same, these beings are chaotic and can cause destruction and devastation and unrest and suffering. Are they gods? I would argue that the only thing truly separating them in might and being from the gods is their attitudes and bearing towards men. But hesitate to call them gods in the same respect. Yet It Is here that the difference between propitiation and the gifting cycle comes into play.

Propitiation implies appeasement. It implies that it is to lessen the negatives of something. Chaotic forces can be offered propitiation to appease them and keep them from killing you today or tomorrow or from wrecking your day. I have seen rituals where people offered propitiation beforehand so that outside forces would not impede the ritual. But that doesn’t make them benevolent, it means you can pay them off. They will drop you like a hot rock the second they see fit. It isn’t the gifting cycle. The gifting cycle builds a relationship. You cannot build a relationship with chaos.

The wild places. The rivers. The untamed places. The mountains. The Glaciers. The thorny places. The Ettins. Chaotic deities. They’re all like the gods in their might but not all deities are benevolent and not all are kind and not all have equal disposition towards humans and not all enter gifting cycles that benefit humans.

The wilds will send forth beasts. The rivers will flood or even on the best of times dash your head on the rocks. The untamed places will make you lose your way. The mountains will drop rocks onto you or make you lose your footing. The Glaciers will send forth icebergs and sink your boat. The Ettins and chaotic deities will devour you and your sacrifices with equal glee.

If you work with the forces of chaos you should understand this, you’ve been practicing propitiation. All your sacrifices do not build a truly lasting relationship as relationships are a function of order. It’s not a gifting cycle, its paying the chaotic forces off. It’s like the Danegeld, don’t be surprised if the chaotic forces decide to turn on you eventually because you’re courting chaos after all.

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Do the gods need us?

Do the gods need us?

I have heard many opinions on this question, most fall to either extreme. There are many people who believe that the gods require sacrifice and worship, that it sustains them in some way. There are also many people who believe the opposite, that they do not need us at all. But what I would like to argue for is something in-between – our worship enriches the gods and affords to them the ability to act as gods on our behalf and on behalf of others.

When we sacrifice, we are passing some of our mægen (ON: magn, megin, megn), essentially our strength and power. That mægen goes to the gods in the form of whatever we sacrifice, be it votive or physical. We lose some of our might and strength by giving it up, and that strength passes to the gods. The thought then being that the gods share again with us in a reciprocal relationship of gifting. This shows that sacrifice is actually important, the gods do receive something from sacrifice. Yet I would argue that the continued existence of the gods despite humanity taking a great hiatus from their worship shows that they do not strictly need to receive sacrifice and prayer like some form of sustenance. Instead, I would argue that the gods are enriched by sacrifice and prayer.

Is a god not unlike a king? We treat them, or I hope we treat them with deference and respect as one would a king. But a king does not, strictly speaking, need to have subjects. A king could survive without subjects just fine as they are not necessary for life. Having subjects who pay taxes and tithe to the king however enriches the king and makes the king’s life far easier. The king in return provides his subjects with protection. Having subjects means that the king can act as a king; because is a king truly a king without subjects? Or are they merely a man making their own way in the world at that point? Without the taxes and tithes, could the king afford to protect the people?

I believe that gods are much the same. We sacrifice to the gods and gift to them and enrich them. In return, they guide and guard us as we go about our lives and they bless us in many capacities. It is my belief that they bless us in ways we cannot always see or know because their sight and vision is more far reaching. But I also do not believe they can do everything or protect from everything. In that way they are much like a king, doing what they can when they can, given the resources on hand. Gods do not, strictly speaking, need to have worshipers, but worshipers enrich the gods. Having worshipers means the god can act as a god; because is a god truly a god without worshipers? Or are they merely one of the many great entities inhabiting the spiritual world at that point? So instead, just as the king is a king because he acts as a king on behalf of his subjects, is not a god a god because they act as a god on behalf of their worshipers?

But this means that our sacrifices have meaning and importance; not to the survival or existence of our deities as they continued to exist perfectly fine without our recognition, but instead to enrich them and allow them the strength to act as a god to us and to others. Our mægen, our strength, becomes their mægen which they can then pass to us and to others as they see the needs arise. This is of course a topic with no definite answer, but perhaps this thought will be one which could add to the discourse on the subjects of why we sacrifice and whether or not the gods need us.