Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Arguing with the Gods

"Thou shalt not bend thy knee to man or beast, spirit or god- only the Eldest deserve such reverence, and they neither desire nor require it." -Anonymous


The person who first stated the quote above was never identified by my teacher, so if any of you know where it came from, please tell me in the comments. At this point, I've heard it so many times in the Craft circles I've traveled in, it may as well be attached to Cher or Whitney Houston for all I know. It's just always been a part of my practice- a cat can look at a king, and a witch doesn't bow her head or bend his knee. We offer the same respect we receive, and we consider all beings worthy of respect, including ourselves.

Now, I'm not exactly a religious witch. This isn't because I disbelieve in the existence of gods or spirits or anything, because I know they exist from experience. I like Terry Pratchett's thought from his Discworld series: “Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”

That's actually the problem- I have a hard time considering myself religious, because I have trouble with the "faith" part. I don't invest or trust well, and that makes my relationships with people, spirits, not to mention myself, a bit rough and prone to error.

So when I tell you that my patron is Hekate, please understand- that choice was as much a surprise to me as anything. Oh, to be sure, I agreed when She came into my life (yes, I do capitalize Her pronouns, and yes, I know some consider that a silly affectation). I even invited Her, in a way. But I didn't go out looking for a patron. She came when I needed someone, and She has been there ever since, and I imagine She has Her reasons for that.

And that presents a quandary.


As a student, I was taught the whole "non serviam" concept of witchcraft, and I very much embraced the philosophy. I enjoy the fact that there's an entire movement of spiritual force which insists that power be placed in the hands of the people, to do with what their heart truly dictates. It's one of my favorite and most cherished facet of witchcraft, even when it makes things more difficult.

In my experience, witches tend to have a personality which supports this anyway. We are not easy servants to anything but our own nature and wyrd, and that means we don't submit to the authority of gods, and we don't roll over when other people or spirits start throwing their weight around. We have an integrity born of our being, and a sort of inner drive to mind our own rightful desires and to maintain our own healthy balance with the world, and help it maintain its balance too.

To do that well, I find that one needs to be impartial, like a diplomat. We need to be oriented towards our own ideals, not towards the causes of other people or things.

So, I consider myself lucky, having found a god who was in line with myself, and who wasn't the kind to tell folks what to do. I spent so many years wandering around trying out different worships and practices, working with different deities, and finding anything which really fit me proved so daunting a task that I eventually stopped even trying. And that's when Hekate came into my life.


Now I'm not going to tell you everything about my experiences with Her- some mysteries will remain mine, and there's that fourth rule of the Pyramid, the one that says "be silent." But I will tell you this- it has not been easy being Her chosen. And I don't mean that in the pretentious way, the whole "ours is a lonely burden," and so on. No, literally some days I want to strangle Her.

Hekate is a midwife, a guide, a protector, and one who speaks for those who have no voice. She caretakes those who are outcast- be they madman, fool, criminal, or witch. And I can't argue with that- quite literally, that's how She came to me. I don't know if you get more outcast than my teen years- out of the broom closet in middle school, out of the other closet at the beginning of junior year, in a small town where nobody had ever openly admitted to being gay or a witch before, at least not in our high school. The list goes on, really, but those were some major contributing factors.

But I digress. Suffice to say, when She chose me, I was honestly grateful for Her patronage.


The trouble is, the gods aren't people. They're not human, they don't have squishy organic human feelings the same way we do, and they don't have the same limitations we do. And I've learned that we therefore have to be willing to explain when you're having a problem. We also have to be willing to tell them "no." And most of all, we have to be able to maintain a balance of willingness and openness, met with strength and individual sovereignty.

In short, we need to know the safe word. And so do our gods.

This winter has been hellish- my husband lost his job after a gigantic ton of people messing around with his brain, and I went through a huge depression, where I didn't know if we would even get to keep our newly-bought-and-mortgaged house. And naturally, as most spiritual folk do when they are in danger, I turned to my patron.

Hekate has always been there for me. She has always come through when I needed Her- She saved me from losing my home twice, She warns me regularly about dangerous situations, and She has most of all given me the wisdom I need to be the witch I always wanted to be, helping me guide and teach people who come to Her crossroads and choose to stay. All in all, my relationship with Her has been incredibly positive and life-affirming.

This winter was the hardest time I've had with Her in my life so far. In autumn around the equinox, I called to Her as I try to do at every Sabbat. I was sick, and as I am a die-hard when it comes to observance of the holy days, I decided I'd just light a candle, lay out a small altar (nothing strenuous), pretty myself up and visit my Lady.

The story itself is worthy of a blog post on its own, but suffice to say She came to me, and She had some stuff to say. She warned me about the upcoming trials in advance, as She often does. Usually, however, She gives me some clue as to how to get around the troubles and trials ahead, as we both have the philosophy of the importance of enlightened and educated free will.

This time, all I got was a warning, worded very carefully and in a terribly Game of Thrones way- "Winter is coming." I'm not even a fan of those books or the show.


And indeed, it did. Winter came, and it beat the crap out of myself and my family. We were sick, we were broke, we were in danger of losing our house, and even our spells didn't seem to cause anything but temporary fixes, "band-aids" in a way.

This made me very angry. I felt betrayed by my Lady, like She had left me hanging out to dry. Why wouldn't She help me? Wasn't that the point of our relationship? She helps me, I help Her, and we're both happy. Right?

Winter lasted a long time here in Reno. The temperature didn't seriously warm up until May. And our bad luck persisted until then. It was terrible.

And then, as Beltane came and we celebrated, the winter lifted. The cold melted away, and so did our misfortune.


Hekate had warned me that "winter" was coming. She did so very specifically because She wanted me to know- that this was natural, that this was temporary, and that there was nothing to do but batten down the hatches and hibernate. She warned me, because there was nothing She could do to change something that was needed.

When we work with our gods, we often begin with the expectation that because they are greater than we are, stronger and wiser and more powerful, that they do not also have flaws or areas of short-sightedness. They are not mortal, and sometimes there are things that get lost in translation between a god and her people.


Hekate and I argue regularly. She has no problem with this- it is not sacrilegious in the slightest. And I have learned not to have trouble with this either. When I speak my mind to Her honestly, She listens and appreciates my acting in good faith. And, occasionally, She learns something too- like how not to use cryptic-freaksauce omens to help your devotees, because they just might need more emotional support than that.

Hekate assures me that She will keep this in mind.


How about you? Have any of you had experiences similar to this? Feel free to share your respectful thoughts and opinions in the comments.


Last modified on
S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno. He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.


  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Thursday, 23 May 2013

    You getting paid by the inch? Damn, man, this is hard to read with all the white space in there.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Thursday, 23 May 2013

    There, I've updated it. Left some of the space in for emphasis, I should probably use an ellipse barrier or something instead. I'll think about that. Anyway, hopefully that's better.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Thursday, 23 May 2013

    Ooh, ouch! I'd better go clear that up- I'm writing my articles on Open Office first, and then I copypasta. Thanks for the warning!

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Thursday, 23 May 2013

    Happened to me the first time or two, too. The trick is to right-click and choose "paste as plain text" and then do your formatting here. It'll look better, and you won't have all the weird code cluttering up your post behind the scenes.

  • Erica Shadowsong
    Erica Shadowsong Thursday, 23 May 2013

    I GREATLY appreciate this. You said it better than I feel I could, even though I've been contemplating this very thing. I am not at all comfortable with the idea of slavish devotion, and I don't care if anyone thinks that's hubris. It's not.

    It's the recognition that all of life is worthy of dignity, and that love and relationship depends as much on boundaries as it does on trust and risk.

    I value my own relationship with my deities for the very reason that we earn each other's least, I certainly hope so. And I appreciate what you say about falling in line with Hekate anyway, so that your goals are aligned...that is similarly how I feel about my relationships.

    Oh, I expect to be tested eventually, probably more than once, but I like to think I help them stretch as well. We're all in this together. I do not believe they are perfect and therefore superior in life. I think they are deserving of respect and honor because, like a person's elders, they have great knowledge, wisdom, and most of all, experience. But I think we also have experiences that are unique, and must make choices and face things that they cannot, in the form of deities, if that makes any sense.

    I also think because we are all different, and speak different languages of love, the gods in relationship with us may ask or demand something of one person that they would not of another. I think some people show their love by complete and unquestioning devotion, even debasing themselves. I don't necessarily get it, but I do sure as hell respect it.

    However, I believe my gods know (and if I suspect they don't, I tell them as honestly and respectfully as possible) that that is not my language, and if they love or even like me, they would never ask of me what they supposedly ask of some people.

    I don't mean to sound so cynical, but it's just nice to hear a voice of reason in the midst of some of what I've been reading around here of late regarding relationship with the gods.

    It is often considered, in some Christian circles, to be a good thing that Jacob "wrestled" with God, even though he lost. He would not take no for an answer, in his pursuit of truth. In my personal opinion and experience, a good friendship, a true one, is one that tests both parties, and involves a little wrestling. I would want to be loved as I am, free, stubborn, sometimes wrong, and occasionally even right.

    Maybe I'm just not devout enough and sacriligious. Oh well. No one's perfect.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Friday, 24 May 2013

    Heh. I'm glad you've found reason to agree. Don't worry- so far as I can tell, the gods don't mind. And, to be honest, every witch I've ever met was a heretic in some fashion.

    Interestingly enough, I've read some of Galina's posts about being a god-spouse to Odin. I had a relationship with him myself for a while, and I think her experiences with him are entirely accurate. That being PCPG, of course, I imagine he's got a more open-minded relationship with other folk. I really think the gods we are called to are the ones our hearts can handle.

    In my mind, that speaks volumes about those whose relationship with their deity seems almost entirely defined by blame, guilt, and duty. I've seen mortal marriages of similarly discouraging interaction. But, to each walker shall their own road go.

  • Amarfa
    Amarfa Friday, 24 May 2013

    I too, disbelieve in slavish devotion to the Gods. According to the ancient Romans (whose religious practices I study), such a thing was superstitio, such that superstitio is an untrustworthy behavior. This approach, the one of having an argument with one's Gods, is more real to me, more evident of the well-roundedness of a Goddess or God's personality; that they are not dispensers of the powers that be, that they have thoughts and feelings. The myths are quite clear in that the Gods make mistakes, and that humans forgive them for it.

  • Erica Shadowsong
    Erica Shadowsong Friday, 24 May 2013

    My use of the word "slavish" is not really what I'd like, but it was the only word I could think of to come close to what I meant.

    I'm glad I'm not a freak. Just because I don't necessarily buy the idea that stronger and more powerful means superior and/or always right, doesn't mean I have a problem with offering humility and respect. In some cultures, even the powerful or higher in status will bow because they are offering respect, and the fact that they are doing so freely makes it all the more meaningful.

    I would not necessarily have a problem with shows of respect to my deities that, for me, would be really weird to show to another person in my American culture, because I like to think that for someone like me in the culture I"m in to take the time to slow down, take some time to put care and effort into something, and place myself in a humble state would be meaningful, all the more because it doesn't necessarily come naturally to me.

    I see that, however, as different from it being deserved or rightfully demanded just because a being may be more powerful than I in this or that way. Power does not equal right, or transcendence, and for better or worse, transcendence is what I seek and hope for, for all creation.

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