First off, I want to make it quite clear that the more I learn of ancient Boeotian practises, the more I love the way the ancient Boeotians did things. The more I see photos of the modern region, the more apparent how beautiful it is. The more and more, the more I start thinking that the best descriptive for my religion of “Boeotian”. That said, what led me to this was Eros — after all, it where there, especially in the ancient city of Thespiae, where His cult was maintained long before any other region.
Would I say that this is a “patron relationship”? In a way, yes.
Unfortunately, I often find myself having to specify what this way is, because there is a certain “fluffy-bunny school of NeoPaganism” (to differentiate from those more serious NeoPagans) who treat the term “patron relationship with deity” as if it has no meaning. I’m not going to say that they’re “actively working to destroy all meaning” because not only is that paranoid, it’s just not true — and anyway, I highly doubt that these people are even thinking that far ahead, in fact, I doubt that they even can.
But regardless of the facts, there are always going to be those who will misunderstand what I mean, for whatever reason, so here’s a quick explanation (as quick as I can make it, anyway) for what it means to have a patron relationship with a deity:
First off, just like any relationship, this is one that takes work to make real (and just like any relationship, it can become either healthy or dysfunctional, depending on how it’s fostered). You can’t just pick a deity like drawing a card from a fan in a parlour trick and make that Deity your patron. Nor can you just pick a Deity who “seems cool” and declare Them your patron without doing anything to foster a relationship — when you do that kind of thing to people, you’re not their friend, you’re merely an “acquaintance”, at best, or “tag-along”, or at worst, a “stalker”. When you just pick a Deity and decide that they’re your “patron”, best that could happen is the Deity will ignore you — worst that could happen is that They’ll actively work to make you go away (oh, just like with people — except that when a Deity is doing it, you’re probably going to like it a lot less).
You can’t “prove” a patron relationship exists just by pointing out a lot of random coincidences as evidence that the Deity likes you — especially when you admit that you’ve done next-to-nothing to foster a relationship. A genuine Deity relationship is generally rather hard for a person to prove, except to those who also have one (especially one with a Deity you’ve claimed is a patron), and that’s one of the reasons that I’m not particularly “loud” about my own with Eros. Sure, I can illustrate anecdotes that make it clear to me, but if you’re an Atheist, or even simply a pagan or polytheist who doesn’t believe that Deity relationships are at all plausible, then chances are good that there’s nothing I can say that will convince you, so I don’t (and anyway, a lot of my “evidence” is very personal and tend to avoid sharing too much of it with others, anyway — keeping arguments to a minimum is, like, a bonus, if you ask me). But if you’re talking to a person who has a genuine Deity relationship, or one who does simply happens by what you have to say, and it strikes them as total bullshit (and they may even say such, politely), then perhaps this should give you pause to think if this is genuine “evidence”, or if it’s just random coincidence or, at worst, the wishful thinking of somebody rather delusional.
Despite what some few and rather vocal polytheistic traditionalists may want people to believe, there is sufficient evidence that the ancients did believe that Deity relationships were at least plausible. The pythai are one example of this. The Vestal Virgins of Rome are another. The eunuchs in service to Kybele are another. The meneads of Dionysos are yet another good and easily searchable example. There are examples in The Iliad and The Odyssey. If I wanted to spend a week on Google Books, I could dig up more examples, I’m sure. What this says to me is that patron relationships, in ancient Hellas, were something that was sort of on the periphery of mainstream practise — it’s no more required of Hellenic (or any other) polytheists of today to have a strong and genuine Deity relationship than it was then, nor should it be. Trust me, sometimes I feel my Deity relationships with Eros and Apollon (especially Apollon) can be downright antagonistic, and wouldn’t wish this on anybody (well… maybe on a few people… just so they can see what it’s like before opening their fat mouths).
The Hellenic religion, in all it’s forms (both ancient-traditional and modern) should be something that encourages people to grow, and hopefully grow up. This is possible without a Deity relationship — but having one just puts a whole new angle and set of expectations on a person. Trust me when I say that I don’t mention mine as a means to “feel and seem special” — hell, I’m a Leo, so I highly doubt I need Eros or Anybody Else to make me “seem special”. Heck, I have two cats, and to them I’m the Supreme Ruler who gives pettins and stinky canned food, so for all I know, I may already be somebody’s hemitheos in need of appeasing. LOL
There is a concept in ancient-traditional Hellenic polytheism, kharis, often translated as “reciprocity, giving with delight” and it works both ways: If you give with delight to the Theoi, They will give back to you with delight. This goes double, maybe even triple or more (depending on the Theos) for those with a patron-Deity relationship. If you think that just getting up in the morning is enough to give your “patron deity”, then the Deity you want that sort of relationship is probably just sitting there and thinking “uh, dude, you should be doing that anyway, only a weak character will simply do the menial every-day things for a God.”
As many differences as I’ve had with Todd Jackson of Kyklos Apollon, he once said on his group’s discussion list:
The story of Abraham and Issac would have looked very different if the God was Apollon and not YHWH. If it was any of the Greek gods, the point of the story would have been to be so devoted to one’s family and community that sacrificing your own son would have been unacceptable.
I have to say, I agree with that. That’s one of the things I never liked about Christianity — weak character is a virtue to mainstream Christianity. The Theoi, on the other hand, want us to be creative, Deity relationships or not, and think beyond the every-day hum-drum of things that we can do especially for Them. The enrichment of our own lives should go along with that, sure, but unless you’ve been bedridden after a major surgery or an accident or something equally traumatic, don’t assume that simply getting out of bed is going to be especially pleasing to Them, when you should be doing that, anyway.
Eros and Apollon, as well as the rest of the Theoi, have enriched my life in so many ways that if I were to thank Them by simply thinking what I would have done anyway is good enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if I started getting a lacklustre response.