I came across a crop of the perennial criticism of a certain kind of Polytheist devotional relationship, and felt like chiming in.
The criticism goes like this: “So and so is always talking about how the deity they are devoted to controls their life. The deity wants them to wear or not wear certain stuff, do or not do certain stuff, read or not read certain stuff, spend all their money” This seemed, to the critic, manipulative and abusive (on the deity’s part) if it wasn’t false and delusional (on the devotee’s)
Yes, I agree it is manipulative. But this is not a relationship between humans. Manipulating their devotees is how a deity acts on the world. Think about the great temples built where this or that deity was said to be born. How did they get built? Once somebody went to that place, and heard that story for the first time. Some individual. Speaking directly to Deity. Nebt-Het wants me to spend all my money on Her! says a whole city. We are not that far into a renaisance of religious plurality, but we are moving closer.
I believe people with the kind of mental wiring where they can communicate so directly with Holy Powers would be more obviously priests (or dedicants, anchorites, seers, servants) if there was a living religious infrastructure for the deity they are devoted to. Those people set themselves apart with their dress and their actions. That is not to say that they don’t take on the role of priest, servant, seer, anchorite today, simply that the more people walking a particular path, the less unusual any one of them looks. The Orisha who owns my head will only let me wear white for a whole year! says every iyawo in the world.
Some choices are for the benefit of humans: the white greasepaint of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence mark them “on the job” as community servants. But more choices are between one devotee and their deity and only fully make sense (or not) in the context of that relationship.
The denial that deities can or should have specific demands on their devotees seems to me to be a denial that the world outside the human psyche is real. If your spiritual life is based in fantasy or imagination then yes, of course, the shadows you interact with tell you only positive things, never infringe on your freedom. But if a Holy Power can demand your attention and focus, direct your choices, teach and bless and awe for real… Well, often accepting the truth of that means a bigger change in thinking about the world than the skeptic is willing to make.
People are still free. People break ties and leave religious paths all the time. People come up against demands: to travel, to spend their fortune, to enter or break human relationships, to cross the street; and sometimes reject those demands. The outcomes of those choices are their lives. People negotiate the terms of their religious lives with their deities directly even within the most rigid of paths.
On top of that, nobody is a saint until after they are dead. People are allowed to talk lightly about serious experiences. People are allowed to complain about the path they are called to walk, even as they commit of their own free will to walking it. People are not on a mission of outreach on their personal blogs 100% of the time. People are not beholden to explain themselves to their critics.