Monday, December 29, 2014

Petty Gods: The Subtle Art of Propitiation

The Subtle Art of Propitiation
by Friar Fifthwhistle, Order of the Open Hand
Abbot (ret.), Taverntoss Abbey
translated from mildewed parchment by Matthew W. Schmeer*

As we all know, the gods are petty in ways that boggle the mind. Some are distant, others meddle in mortal affairs, and others still view those who walk this earth as a pestilence that must be eradicated. Yet most gods, from the weakest to the greatest, are unknowable except in that they are capricious and quick to anger. And if a mortal should offend a god, woe be unto him!

There is little a mortal can do to appease an angry god. At best, we can offer meager offerings; at worst, we can die for our transgressions. And death may not be enough, as some gods torture souls for eons once they have crossed the boundaries of the material plane. What can one do to remain in or return to a petty god’s good graces?

The answer might surprise you: keep your superstitions! Superstitions are not deviations of religious feeling and the practices that faith imposes; in fact, they are grounded in appeasing the gods through sacramental signs. Wearing amber beads, eating apples once a day, mounting horseshoes above a stable’s doors, tossing a pinch of spilled salt over one’s shoulders—these please some nearly-forgotten petty god in some small way and keeps them at bay. These small acts have kept peasant folk protected for generations on end!

But there is more to propitiating the gods than simple domestic rituals. No, true propitiation is more specific; it implies that divine wrath must be averted to mend the mortal/god relationship. This may be as simple as sending up a request for forgiveness or as complex as undertaking a quest at a god’s behest.

Broadly speaking, there are four ways to propitiate the gods:

  • Prayer - These usually take the form of requests for blessings or curses or some other divine favor. Many common obscenities are rooted in quick prayers while other prayers are overly ornate literary constructions. Prayer is the one sure route to the gods open to all.
  • Ritual - Formal performance rites incorporating sacred symbols, language, and gestures. These are usually festive performances in thorps, villages, and towns. They are powerful statements that remind the gods that people remember and fear them. See my manuscript “As the Seasons Turn: Festivals & Ritual in Town and Country, “ housed in Baron Walthamthorp’s personal library for more information.
  • Offerings - Offerings of foodstuffs, objects, lifeblood, emotions, and so on. This may include ritualized blood sacrifices of living animals, prisoners, or volunteers. This also includes libations of wine, spirits, and holy liquids. There are a host of complicated rules for who may perform offering rites; see my manuscript “Inviting the Gods to Sup: A Guide to Divine Offerings,” available at the abbey library in Taverntoss, for a fuller treatment of this topic. The most powerful offerings are performed by clerical orders.
  • Quest - Retrieval of a holy object or performing a complex service. The gods tend to offer these to the least likely of candidates, most of whom have little chance of success. Still, you better undertake it if you want to avoid a god’s wrath!

Now, this little essay would not be complete without a bit of instruction on how to deal with an angry god, so allow me to quickly provide a template for prayer that has been most successful for clerics of the Order of the Open Hand when they are out in the field. Most Reverend Father Troutslapper created this form of prayer many years ago when this abbey was first founded, and we have found that it is an easy and accessible way for the common folk to ingratiate themselves to the gods and avoid their wrath.

There are four parts to a good prayer, which you can remember by this simple mnemonic device: A.C.T.S. Allow me to explicate as follows.

Acknowledgement
Declare your belief in the god, acknowledging their power over their specific domain or dominion. Ex: “Ywehbobbobhewy, Lord of Waters, King of Mirrors, Patriarch of the Most Profound, I beseech you in your powers over thought and reflection!”

Compunction
Admit your transgressions and your guilt and express a deep regret for those actions which a god might find offensive. Ex: “Know that I have faltered in my faith and in my words and I have broken seven mirrors and passed by calm waters without the proper sacrifices.”

Thankfulness
Express your gratitude to the god for not afflicting you in their wrath. Ex: “Praise you, oh Most Profound, for not striking your humble servant dead!”

Solicitation
Entreaty the god to act in your favor. Ex: “If it please Your Honor, please bless this poor befuddled servant and allow him to see through this portal to what lies on the other side. Allow this mirror to reflect the truth of what therein remains!”

And then, of course, end the prayer in some appropriate way. At all costs avoid the cliche “Amen”! I find it useful to appeal to a god’s ego at the end of a prayer. Ex: “All hail Ywehbobbobhewy! All hail He who through mirrors darkly sees!”

So, here is the prayer all put together:

Ywehbobbobhewy, Lord of Waters, King of Mirrors, Patriarch of the Most Profound, I beseech you in your powers over thought and reflection! Know that I have faltered in my faith and in my words and I have broken seven mirrors and passed by calm waters without the proper sacrifices; Praise you, oh Most Profound, for not striking your humble servant dead! If it please Your Honor, please bless this poor befuddled servant and allow him to see through this portal to what lies on the other side. Allow this mirror to reflect the truth of what therein remains! All hail Ywehbobbobhewy! All hail He who through mirrors darkly sees!

Follow this form and you too will find that the petty gods’ blessings will shine upon you!


*an edited version of this essay will appear in Expanded Petty Gods.