Monday, October 11, 2010

Remember the linden and the oak

The story of the linden and the oak is one that is retold in various cultures.

The basic premise is simple: At the time traveling was dangerous, and it was common for travelers to need a place of rest after traveling a great distance. Without hotel in a small area, the travelers would need to stay in someone's home. Culturally it was polite to accept the travelers, and it was impolite to refuse them.

So, the travelers are refused at every house in a town, and on the outskirts of town there is an elderly couple. They have very little, but they offer what they have. They are kind and polite.

The travelers, however, were not simple run-of-the-mill people. They were deities, angels, or other super-powerful forces specifically setting out to check on folks in this area.

As a reward, when the years run out for the elderly couple, instead of either one needing to bury the other, they are both transformed in to trees. However, more immediately, the rude town is destroyed. I recall reading an African variation which stated the teller of the tale would actually point out houses beneath a local lake where the doomed village once was.

Now, I never really took this as a warning until I met a disquieting individual at a pagan conference many years back.

The man was disheveled, unshaven, and unkempt. He looked like a homeless man had snuck in. I found myself in a room with snacks, and the man ate in the manner you would expect, with his fingers, leaving a smattering of crumbs.

He was, to put it lightly, the sort of person that could easily push a person's buttons.

But the real kicker was the buttons he pushed were only on the surface. He was polite and friendly. While he looked homeless, he didn't have an odor. Nothing about his attitude or his actions were objectionable to any meaningful extent.

Is it likely that he was a deity, made manifest, specifically to check out the local pagan convention? Well, that seems less than likely, given that most folks do not believe in deities with such powers. Also, most folks go to such conventions already believing in a narrow set of deities. While folks there may be warmer to the idea of a new deity, chances are few are actively looking for more.

However, could he be favored by a deity? That seems quite possible. To be favored by a deity, that deity would watch out for you. It wouldn't be the deity the folks would see or interact with directly, but if a surface excuse is used to violate a person's ethics... that deity could either directly take action or otherwise set things up so that consequences are felt.

This led me to the idea that someone that annoys you -- but does so without actually doing anything wrong -- may actually be specially looked after by a deity, and that deity is actively waiting for someone to slip up.

Would it be more or less annoying if the deity behind the test was one of the ones you consider part of your personal pantheon? Would it even matter, though? If it was a test of ethics, and you fail the test, then you get what you deserve. Hopefully, you don't deserve your entire community to be destroyed.

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