This post was originally published on my old blog.
This is a well-known concept, at least on a surface level. Throughout history, Gods (and in Christian lands, saints) have been patrons of cities and places, often giving their names to the land they protect and sponsor. One of the most famous examples is that of Athena, the patron Goddess of the city of Athens. Pretty much everyone knows of the mythical contest between Athena and Poseidon to decide the patron God of Athens, and how Athena won by offering the olive tree to the people of the city.
What I want to discuss here isn’t the mythical perspective – or even the theological exactly – but the practical, the empirical. What I’ve experienced as a practitioner born and raised in Athens (who still lives here too!) quickly put my worries of the Gods being relics of the past to rest. When I was still in my first couple of years of polytheist exploration and was almost entirely focused on the Hellenic pantheon, I felt guilty. I was drawn to deities like Selene, Artemis, and Gaia, yet I felt no real pull from Athena, the Goddess of the very city and land I lived on! I attempted to cultivate a relationship with Athena and in my teenage naivete I call upon her for help with school.
It worked! While I oversimplified her attributes as a Goddess of wisdom and strategy, she still delivered. I never failed an exam or pop quiz, even without studying, if I had petitioned her beforehand. You’d think this would mean I could worship Athena more intimately than the occasional observance on the Attic calendar or, at least, Athena herself would warm up to me and become more prominent in my life.
Wrong! None of that happened. I still felt practically no connection; I continued to honor her on traditional dates but that was it. I didn’t experience the kind of interaction I enjoyed with Selene for instance. Puzzled, I prayed to Athena, asking why things didn’t work out. The response I got was swift: “I’m only doing what is expected of me towards you, an Athenian.”
That terse but honest response changed my point of view and made me realize something extraordinary. Even after centuries upon centuries of people denying Athena worship, honor, and recognition, she still acted as patron Goddess of Athens and, therefore, protected and supported all Athenians. She aided me because she saw it as a duty of her position! This also explained why there was no deepening of the relationship; it was strictly professional, so to speak.
This experience led me to experiment, in a sense, over the years by “checking in” with various deities and spirits known to be patrons of cities, towns, and other areas. One of my findings was that these can overlap and coexist within the same place. For example, while the entirety of Athens is under Athena’s protection, specific areas have their own “sub-patrons”. Athena has the highest and most potent influence but the many regions that make up Athens are autonomously governed by Gods and spirits. The eerie similarity between human governance and divine organization of patronage didn’t escape me. Perhaps this is were we learnt that from? Who can know for certain. Another interesting thing is that there can be, and often are, more than one “big” patrons! This is usually the result of multiple religions existing in the same place, therefore multiple beings influence the same land. Whether this is always peaceful or not is another matter.
Knowing the patron Gods of a location is important to me because my personal practice has a considerable bioregional character: I work with the Land, I practice in harmony with the spiritual ecosystem of my physical environment. When I visit another place, especially outside of Athens, I make it a point to contact the resident patron deity and honor them, ensuring my safety and a welcome stay on their land. This doesn’t necessarily look like much to an external observer, especially if I’m not at a place where I can easily and safely practice openly. My go-to method is as follows:
I do a quick search for info on the location I’m in, if I haven’t already done so before arriving. If the area doesn’t have direct information on a patron deity (whether current or in the past – evidently from Athena’s case, patron Gods don’t really abandon their domains), I look into patron saints and their associations with ancient divinities. In the rare cases where neither option yields the necessary information, I do this: I pray to Hekate and Hermes to either reveal the patron deity to me or contact them and ask them to make themselves known. Once I have established who the patron God of the area is, I give them a simple offering, usually a libation of water and a prayer expressing my respect and reverence.
Usually, things end there. Most patron deities of places I’ve visited welcomed my actions (and I’ve felt a sense of surprise more than once – how sad that most are so used to human ignorance and neglect) but leave it there. Some barely acknowledged me at all and promptly ignored me after I was done. I consider it the spiritual equivalent of going through customs: you don’t really become friends with the airport staff checking your ID and luggage.
I haven’t had any negative experiences with patron Gods of places but I’ve also been careful not to do anything that would offend them. That’s not a particularly hard task and any practitioner worth their salt should be respectful and mindful by default, in my opinion. If one were to be so unlucky as to elicit a hostile reaction from a patron deity, then my recommended solution would be a standard propitiation and appeasement. In other words, give good offerings, apologize sincerely, praise them, and make actual amends (i.e. fix what you broke).
In conclusion, patron Gods and spirits of the land are, in my opinion and experience, an irrevocable and vital part of “spiritual ecology” and we should show our appreciation and reverence to them more often. We’re part of their land, whether temporarily or for life, and we should be aware and courteous towards them.