One of the things that we often forget when it comes to working with the netjeru is that we are very needy creatures. I say, a lot, that we always need to remind ourselves that when it comes to our offerings and the like, we are giving them because they require these things. However, what we also tend to forget is that humanity, as a whole, is very young, very new, and often come into open or veiled conflict over things. In many instances, a lot of us end up thinking about how things aren’t fair or how things are so hard. And I’m not denying that those thoughts aren’t legitimate. As someone personally going through a pretty fucking trying time right now, I get it. So, when it comes to us turning to the netjeru, we also need to remind them that as much as our relationships can be specific to their wants and their needs; sometimes, they need to fulfill ours as well.
We can only do so much to get the push to the next level past whatever it is we are currently experiencing. We can sweep the path, we can walk the path, we can set up the blocks to build whatever foundations we need, but sometimes that’s not enough. And that’s usually when our faith gets called on to get some things done. Now, in many instances, a prayer is sent out to whomever and that’s the end of it. You feel better for a while because you turned to your faith and you think, “Maybe things will get better.” But maybe they don’t get better and you can only spend so much time tossing those prayers at deities that may or may not be paying attention to what you’re looking for. So, then it comes up to the point where you have to ask yourself what you may or may not do next.
Another thought is that as important as our offerings are, our words are, the intended actions, and our upholding of ma’at may be, the gods are also kind of busy. We’ve all had moments when we haven’t felt such a close connection with our netjeru. We’ve all mentioned how we’ve had our fallow times or we’ve just felt like they weren’t there for one reason or another. Frankly, we don’t know what it is that they do when they aren’t in our faces. And it’s also possible that, perhaps, they sent a netjeri as stand in while we were tossing those prayers in their direction. And perhaps the message taking netjeri forgot the message amid all the abundance of items we’ve been offering to the gods. Whatever the reason, there comes a breaking point where each devotee has to stop and say, “When is enough, enough?” And what exactly do you do next?
Historic evidence shows that the ancient Egyptians were not above getting their needs met in any way possible. They may not have even let a single prayer go unanswered before demanding results. Whatever the case, they would absolutely demand that their needs were met by the gods in question. In the Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden, the user phrased their demands, “The fury of Sekhmet thy mother and of Heka thy father is cast at thee, thou shalt not be lighted for Osiris and Isis, thou shalt not be lighted for Anubis until thou hast given me an answer to everything which I ask about here to-day truly without telling me falsehood. If thou wilt not do it, I will not give thee oil.” And this is just the threatening of a lamp for divination purposes! I think we can suffice to say that, at least in antiquity, the people had no problem telling the gods that they had better listen if they want the offerings.
Now it comes down to whether or not, just because we have evidence of such things in antiquity, if we should be able to do likewise.
And I think we absolutely should.
In cases like I’ve mentioned above – they’re either absent or they are so busy getting their jollies off of what we provide for them that they forget about us – our needs are not being met. And in order to provide the things they want from us, we need to have those needs met. In cases like they aren’t there, if you start threatening to withhold something that they like, then they’re more likely to pay attention to the situation. And again, in instances where they’re wrapped up in their own personal stuff, if you threaten to remove something they enjoy, you had better believe they’ll start paying attention. Just as a child will begin paying a little bit better attention to what you want from them when you threaten to take away their toys in punishment, so too can we expect the netjeru to react.
Some people may think that threatening the gods to provide for us is disrespectful. While I can see the point that they make because many of us come into a relationship with the gods thinking of them was omnipotent and omniscient, I think this is more often a holdover from having come from a religious tradition where that is supposed to be the case. As I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, many of us come from a monotheistic background, more specifically from Christianity. And we are taught to believe that God is an all-powerful being that can see and do whatever God wills. The thing is that we can’t continue to force those beliefs onto a group of deities who have been around for far longer. And truly, if they really were as omnipotent or omniscient as some people believe, then why would the ancients have threatened them?
I think the netjeru have a lot of power and have some pretty good information to give out. I think, too, that they like us and that’s why they stay around. However, I don’t think that they are perfect. And I think that it is the fact that they are not perfect, and have other things going on, that leads people to require something like threatening the gods. I think, too, that we need to keep in mind that just because an omniscient or omnipotent deity that we may or may not have had relationships with prior to our entry into polytheism doesn’t necessarily equate to having similar relationships with the netjeru. We can’t put our past relationships on the current relationships we have. Just like we can’t really have our current significant others pay for the mistakes of our last relationships, we can’t assume that how it was with one particular deity is going to be how it is with any other.
While I strongly believe that threatening the gods to get what we need is something that we need to consider, if not outright follow through on, I have to admit to having not done this. I don’t tend to remember that I have a bunch of deities at my back who are interested in my welfare for whatever reason. I tend to just rely on them in the hopes that they hear my prayers and do something about it. Or, if I don’t hear back from them, then I just assume that they are demanding I deal with the follow through while they wait around in the wings for whatever it is I need help with to finally be over. I always forget that I can punish them, or at least threaten to do so, to get what I need.
I think, too, another reason why I don’t end up doing this is because I’m frightened of it. What if I do this and they end up leaving? What if I do this and nothing happens? I think, above all else, it’s that second question that makes me pause the most. What if I threaten them and nothing happens? While I can’t quite take the time out needed to attempt to answer that rather existential question, I have to admit that this is a failing of mine. If the ancients could do it, then why can’t I?
I have been known to bribe the gods for things that I want. While most of my bribery tends to be minor, I ended up developing this tactic when I began working with the lwa. It’s quite common in voodoo to tell the lwa that if they want a certain item or another, then they have to help make it happen. Case in point, I’ve told the Bawon that if he wants rum, then I need more money in my paycheck in order to purchase the rum. I’ve left it up to him at this point – he can provide more money in my paycheck (that I won’t have to pay back because my boss miscalculates or something) or he can wait. I do similar items when it comes to the gods. While the lwa and the netjeru are not one in the same, tactics used in one set of my religious path can and will be utilized in other arenas.
And it works.
When it comes to bribery, this is something that we need to keep in mind when it comes to things that they are saying, “we want,” and we are unable to provide. Bribery is usually a kind of thing that we use with children, as well. “If you eat all your dinner, you get a snack,” or “if you clean your room, we can go to the park.” These aren’t necessarily bribes, per se, but they are in a way. We are explaining to these children of ours that if they do what it is we need them to do, then they will be paid for their time. In same vein, we need to do the same with the gods. Just because they want something – booze, cookies, a clean room, whatever – doesn’t mean that we have the ability to manifest it for one reason or another. So, in the case of offerings, we may say, “Bring the money into my paycheck and you’ll get what you want.” If they want that item badly enough, then they’ll see through.
In same vein, if it comes down to their desiring you to clean your room or have more time to write stories for them, then they have to provide you with the means to see those projects done. They can request that you get a project going and see movement on it, but it’s just not feasible since we do live regular, mundane lives as well. We don’t have the ability anymore, like the priests, to just spend all of our time in silent reflection on their wants and desires. We have lives to lead and we have things to see done. And maybe that means that the things they want us to do are not our top priority. So, in order to make them happy and feel like you are an adequate devotee, you need to remind them, periodically, that we are not mindless automatons who are only here to provide for them.
Thus, the bribes.
While I don’t advocate discussing the netjeru as children when speaking with them, it helps to have this kind of mindset when thinking about the things you feel that you need to see movement on and being unable to do so. Sometimes, we just need a little bit of divine help to get shit going. And sometimes, we need to remind them that we’re still works in progress.