How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?
Are there any other kind? Perhaps there are, but even Jesus would snap a whip and flip a table, on occasion. Just look at my lord Dionysos: He’s been known to strike entire cities mad, and on occasion inspire mothers to dismember their sons.
And his extended extended family… These are powers who will curse you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren if they think you’ve dissed them. If they aren’t trying to rape someone, they’re turning them into a spider or a tree or what-have-you, or inspiring them to go to war. These beings have quick tempers, long memories, and wicked imaginations.
And those are the ones who are on our side.
I’m not saying this is a good thing, or that it’s the way I would have designed the world. I’m saying that it simply is. When an earthquake hits, there’s no use charging up to the fault line and demanding the Earth pay for repairs to your house. Shouting at the rain won’t keep you dry.
If you live long enough, everyone you love will die.
But while we’re here, life can be glorious. We can fill our world with as much life and love as we can. We can live lives that people will remember when we’re gone. We can leave this world a better place than it was when we came into it, and, with luck, our descendants will have a slightly easier time of it than we did.
If there are gods, and they are like I believe them to be (I could always be wrong about this), then part of living glorious, love-filled, memorable lives is living in harmony with them. And to do this, we must always remember:
The gods are not moral exemplars. They are not there to demonstrate how humans should live human lives.
So the first answer I have for the question is:
Don’t emulate them.
Really, Zeus may decide to strike someone with lightning because he doesn’t like their taste in hats, but it’s not like the police are going to haul him in for it. You or I, on the other hand, not only risk prosecution, but (unless one of us is practiced in throwing punches) will possibly hurt ourselves in the process. An ugly hat just isn’t worth the pain and legal fees.
Our ancestors came to know the gods by observing the world. They noticed that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and that seaside cliffs will crumble under your feet regardless of how much you give to charity. They did not believe that these events were random, but they were certainly willing to believe they were arbitrary or capricious. Well, maybe, which brings me to my second answer:
Don’t give them an excuse.
Don’t tempt fate, in other words. The gods can be touchy and easily offended, whether you meant it or not. They’re also very big, and very strong, and not always worried about collateral damage. They’re wise (most of them, except the ones who aren’t), but that doesn’t mean they don’t make hasty choices or ill-considered plans. They’re also bound by fate, perhaps more than mortals, and they can’t always fix what they’ve broken. Not tempting fate generally comes down to two things:
Stay right with the gods.
I’m not saying you can buy your way out of trouble with good deeds. At least, not easily–remember the horseshit Heracles had to deal with? However, chances are that your gods (whoever they are) have expressed some idea of how mortals should relate to them. At the very least, mythology can be instructive as to what not to do.
Our relationship with the gods is reciprocal, but not necessarily quid pro quo. Some gods like haggling and favor-trading, others do not (consult your manual or local expert for details), but basically the idea is to give to them that they may give to us, and to refrain from offending them that they may refrain from harming us. It’s not a guarantee, but it can’t hurt. See the bold text, above. Sometimes, a god (or other power, like the land you live on or the spirits of your ancestors and so on) will be offended by some little thing you didn’t know you did. If you’re on the good side of the rest of them, though, they might be inclined to intervene on your behalf. Which isn’t to say you’ll never have problems, but things should usually even out, over the long haul.
Stay right with everyone else, too.
Gods play favorites. Maybe you’re the favorite of one or more gods. If so, good for you. Remember, though, it works the same for other people, too. The gods that favor them will sometimes punish those who wrong their favorites; more often, they’ll give their favorites what seems to you to be an unfair advantage. So be good to your friends and family, be fair to strangers, and be cautious with enemies. Take responsibility for your actions, and their effects. Don’t leave others to clean up your messes.
You know, Don’t be a dick.
As with staying right with the gods, there are no guarantees, and you’ll never make friends with everyone or get through life without offending someone. Still, if most of the people you interact with come away with a good impression, you will probably have more friends (mortal and otherwise) than you know. That’s never a bad thing.
Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.
Face it, we’re mortal. There’s a lot we can’t do, and there are a lot of forces in the world we can’t do anything about. Above all else, cultivate an attitude of being grateful for your good fortune, and grateful that your bad fortune wasn’t worse. Move on, as best you can, and get help when you need to.
Bad things happen. It doesn’t help to give up and wallow in the horseshit.
My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.