I was recently reading one of the issues of Batwoman. In that issue, she’s with Wonder Woman and she’s hunting down Medusa. Before she does that she meets Pegasus, who is a son of Medusa. He’s been attacked by another son of Medusa and although he is alive he has wounds which won’t heal for a long, long time, because people don’t believe in him anymore, and faith is an integral part of his existence, as well as integral to him being healed. He ultimately ask Wonder Woman to end his life because he will be in lots of pain otherwise, so she does, and afterwards Batwoman asks if he’ll ever be able to come back and Wonder Woman says only if people believe in him, at which point Batwoman defiantly says she believes. It’s an interesting statement she makes, but what interests me even more is that you see similar such statements about deities and spirits in other fictional works. For example in American Gods, Neal Gaiman talks about how each continent has its own versions of the gods, as well as how the belief in those continents affects the gods. David Eddings, in his books offers a similar metaphysics description of the gods and their reliance on the belief of their worshippers.
While I’ve seen this perspective offered up in Fiction, I think there’s enough corresponding evidence to suggest that there’s more to this concept than just fiction. For example, Judeo-Christian mythology has plenty of stories which demonstrate just how jealous Yahweh is, and how much he demands the faith of his worshippers be focused only on him. Then there’s the various mythologies which suggest similar expectations on the part of the Gods. The desire for offerings also speaks to this concept having some basis in reality. And what all this suggests to me is two things:
1. Omnipotence is an illusion. What I mean by this is simple. There is no such thing as omnipotence on the part of the spirits or our part either. When there is a reliance on faith and belief, then there’s also a recognition that the power that comes about as a result of said faith and belief can dry up. Indeed, if you think about it your average spirit won’t exert too much power because there may be a longer term need for it. At the same time there is an expectation in the saying that those who help themselves are helped by God. Omnipotence isn’t the name of the game with the spirit world. Rather it is about relationships and cultivating relationships that are mutually beneficial to all involved.
2. We have a symbiotic relationship with spirits. In Healing with Form, Energy, and Light, the author talks about how we have a symbiotic relationship with the spirits. They can help or hinder us, as we can do the same to them. Naturally he advocates taking a compassionate approach to such a relationship and I’m inclined to agree. Such an approach does involve offerings, but also involves recognizing how the spirits mesh with our lives. We understand that the relationship isn’t a one way street in either direction. Rather there is a give and take, a symbiotic connection that can worked with consciously not merely in the form of prayers and offerings, but deeper still into the actual connection we establish with given spirits and how that connection plays out in our everyday lives.
Instead of treating spirits as all powerful beings, what if we were to instead consider to just be different beings that have needs, which are different from ours, but nonetheless are something we can meet. Such an approach might change our relationship with a given spirit, in the sense that we’d consciously recognize how we were interacting with it, as well as how that played out in our lives. This could a healthy way to explore the relationship a given person with spirits.
Now for some people this may not work. They have a particular role that they place their relationship with the spirits and that role defines their interaction. I get that. What I suggest for the rest of you is that you take a moment to consider whatever your given relationship is with your spirits, deities, etc., and ask yourself what you want it to be, as well as what you are willing to give to make it become whatever it could be. For example, recently I’ve taken to thanking my spirits each day. A simple heartfelt thanks offered each day without expectation, but done simply to say thanks and be grateful. I do it not as a form of worship, but rather as an acknowledgement of their presence. It’s subtly different and yet speaks to the relationship I wish to cultivate with them. And I find that they are not offended, but rather are pleased to be engaged with in such a way. The acknowledgement of the symbiosis is a profound acceptance of each other as integral presences within our respective existences.