This was a topic briefly discussed at my last PSU meeting, and I know I’ve also mentioned it in previous posts (do I remember which posts? nope!). It’s an important point that deserves more discussion.
Most pagans tend to be former members of other religions, most commonly Christianity. The differences between these other religions and between Paganism are smaller than tends to be suggested, but there is one difference that many new pagans do not grasp immediately: the difference between worshiping Deity and working with Deity.
I myself didn’t grasp this at first. And even now, even knowing as I do the difference between the two, I still use “worship” in conversation when what I mean is “work with.” The first term simply is more familiar to my tongue, and so that’s what comes out even if that isn’t what I mean (and then I have to remind myself that just because I know what I mean it doesn’t mean everyone else understands me!).
Worship means that a person is serving a deity. The relationship is not a balance, but a kind of master-servant dynamic. The servant (human) would like something from the god, for example, protection, riches, favor, etc. Or the servant would like to give reverence to the master. Either way, the servant is placing him/herself below the master. The master (deity) then accepts or rejects the servant’s pleas and offerings.
This dynamic is not what exists in paganism. Instead, pagans work with the gods, either a patron god/dess or a deity of their choosing. We don’t necessarily place ourselves below the gods in a power dynamic, but place ourselves on a more equal footing on which there is an equal exchange. Some pagans have patron gods, and usually these pagans are in covens and routinely do god/dess work to improve themselves and their connection with the divine. Patron gods come to you–generally you can’t choose. You can, however, choose gods to work with who are not your patron if there is a specific need for that divine personality. This kind of work is very taxing and very deep, and is generally suggested only for those people who have the guidance and oversight of a more experienced pagan(s) to help guide in deity work. (This is why most people who do deity work are in covens.)
Many pagans believe that the divine is within us all. We are all a divine spark and there is little difference between us and the gods other than that we now have chosen to inhabit a human body. The question then arises, how could we be below the gods as servants when we ourselves are divine within? This is part of the reasoning behind the difference between “worship of” and “working with” the gods. Working with the gods could translate into working with that facet of ourselves.
(I hope all this made sense. Please post questions/comments/criticisms if you see anything you are confused or questioning of, and I’ll do my best to answer.)