A post came up recently asking for insight on the idea of a Patron Deity, who calls to whom, and what that relationship looks like. I’ve written about this on a more personal level before, but I’ll focus this post on a more general description of what that relationship can look like, how different people can experience it, and variations on a personal relationship with a deity.
There are two types of relationships in my mind about this that are closely related to one another: a patron relationship, and a devotee relationship. They can both exist at the same time, you may just experience one, or you may find that one shifts into the other. At its most basic, a patron relationship is where a deity takes a special interest in you, and a devotee relationship is where you take a special interest in a deity. A lot of people probably use these terms interchangeably, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think there is value in recognizing the subtleties of the relationships we develop, if only so that we can better understand our relationships.
In a patron relationship there are often things the deity expects of you. These can be things like “you will do trance work once a week to learn skills that I need you to have” or “you will volunteer at an animal shelter at least monthly” to “you will make an effort to grow your own food”. These are often things that relate in some way to the deity’s domain, or are things that the deity wants you to learn to do so you can better serve and honor them.
In a devotee relationship, you’re more likely to be calling the shots. You may choose to do things that relate to their domain and allow you to honor them more deeply than simply making offerings to them. You may choose to dedicate the act of cooking to them. You may choose clean up cemeteries in honor of them. But, therein lies the difference. In these scenarios you are choosing to do these thing to honor the deity, rather than the deity expecting you to do them.In both scenarios you are also receiving something in return.
Whether it is a feeling of love and protection, receiving aid in a specific type of spiritual or mundane work that your do, or something else, the reciprocity is there. When we look at our values as pagans, and specifically I’m talking about ADF Druids here, reciprocity is super important. I think you can have a reciprocal relationship whether you are a devotee or have a patron. It all depends on how the relationship is set up and what the expectations are. In a balanced relationship both parties feel as though they are getting a excellent deal, and getting something worthwhile from the relationship. If you reach a point where you feel like the relationship is unbalanced, it is probably time to revisit the expectations of the relationship and adjust them accordingly.
When figuring out which relationship name is a better descriptor, I look at which way the ‘ownership’ goes. Is X your patron, or are you a devotee if X? When I say I am a devotee what it feels like I am saying is “I belong to X.” The line of power flows from me to the deity, and when things are unbalanced in our relationship, they weight towards the deity getting more out of the relationship. When I say I have a patron what I feel like I am saying is “X belongs to me.” The line of power flows from the deity to me, and when things are unbalanced in our relationship, they weight towards me getting more out of the relationship.
Both types of relationships are very special and fulfilling, and neither is superior to the other. Both types of relationships can help you grow as a person and help grow your spirituality. Whichever you experience, the important thing is that the relationship is balanced/reciprocal and that you experience it as a positive benefit to you spiritual and mundane life.
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To see a more personal look at how I viewed my devotee relationship with Poseidon take a look here. My relationship with him has shifted since I originally wrote that post to become more of a devotee and patron relationship, which you can see in the last bit of that post, when I talk about how the relationship was becoming more balanced.
If you want to get a feel for how Rev. Dangler and I have developed these relationships, and the nuances within them, check out episode 4 and 5 of our podcast, Druids in Cars, Going to Festivals.
And finally, if you like the work I’m doing, and want to help support it, consider becoming one of my Patreons.