There are days when I frankly have no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.
Maybe I simply don’t have the right kind of faith, the right kind of relationship to deity, or maybe I’ve been delinquent on my payments and my god-phone has been shut off.
In the years since the dissolution of Asrik, Fire, and my partnership, I’ve frequently felt a lack of purpose or goal in my spiritual and magical work. Some of this was clearly driven by the faith-quake brought about by the complicated end of our relationship, (fun note: just as I was typing this sentence, REM’s “Loosing My Religion” came up on shuffle. Because subtlety isn’t really how my gods roll) although there was a lot more to it than that.
I spent a decade of my life working very hard in the pursuit of the aims that They had set me. First to become a dedicated and highly proficient magic and energy worker, and then to submit to, and persevere through the traumatic death and rebirth process that made me a shaman. Just before Asrik left, Fireheart and I both passed the final test to be consider Masters in our magical tradition (which is not the highest level of proficiency, but was a huge achievement). I came out the other side of my shamanic rebirth changed in ways that I’m still discovering, but confident that I had the tools and talents to begin working in earnest at the tasks the role entailed.
But then… nothing. Or so it seems at first blush.
Just over two years ago we were given a clear directive from the Lady and Var: keep our heads down
That’s it. All She had to say on the subject, just keep our heads down.
There has been little of the familiar Work that shaped the preceding decade in the long intervening months. The vrescht that Tashrisketin claims here in Gorham has little need of our attentions, and while it doesn’t offer us much in the way of power, it meets our basic needs. There was some excitement for a couple of months when we were given a challenging magical task, one suitable for two Vreschtik masters, but once it was completed to the best of our abilities with the resources available to us, silence reigned again.
I journeyed to the Underworld a month ago, to the boarders of Helheim (I am forbidden from entering any boarded land of the Dead without escort) to carry a message. It felt good and right, but then the job was done and again I had no Work to do. Moreover, I know that I was rusty. No journey to the Underworld is safe, but this one was more dangerous for than it should have been for someone who always has one foot (or hand) in Death.
For his part, Fire’s task at the moment is personal, and deeply bound up in his own journey of destructive rebirth, as the hormones he takes weekly remake his body, and in many ways his mind as well, in to new patterns of being.
Into this silence, elements of the mundane world have flowed in. I have a paying (part-time) job that I love, and which puts me in a position to help shape and provide for spiritual/magical opportunities for a couple of thousand people a year (not that all of them avail themselves of said opportunities, but they are there). I’ve also slowly established a strong voice and position for myself as a blogger in the queer/LGBT community, something that feels incredibly important to me on a personal and spiritual level, but again doesn’t look anything like the “real” work my spirit-worker colleagues do.
Our relationship with our gods doesn’t look like a lot of people’s. In the absence of Work to do, keeping our heads down, we’ve often felt abandoned by Them. It doesn’t help that in many ways the community of spirit-work colleagues we once looked to for reciprocal support has largely shattered into jagged splinters that will cut you if you get to close. Aside from that loss of camaraderie, a lot of the Work we’ve done over the years has come out our interactions with other people and their gods.
I had a meltdown this morning on the phone with my lover, fellow Clan member, and spirit-work colleague Del Tashlin. Fire lost his job yesterday, less than a week after he and I had gotten legally married, in part to provide for my health insurance needs. We’re facing more severe financial hardship than normal, and the physical, mundane things that make our lives feasible, like my glasses and his car are desperately in need of costly repairs. Some level of poverty has been our companion since our divorce from Asrik and the implosion of our failed design firm.
And the truth is that I fucking hate it.
The overwhelming majority of my fellow-spirit workers I’ve talked to feel that poverty and deprivation are essential elements of being servants of the divine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a Porsche in the driveway, although I doubt I’d say “no,” but I would love to not have to worry about our card being declined at the supermarket check-out line. Or lie awake at night wondering what the hell we’ll do if Fire’s right front wheel bearing catastrophically fails at 65mph.
Yet, for all that these things feel counter-productive to my spiritual health, the argument I’ve been hearing is that those very stressors are what makes one a spiritual being. The idea is that if our lives lacked these sorts of trials, we’d be distant from deity. Without the need to pray to the gods every time we get into Fire’s battered Toyota, the gods would not feel like imminent presences in our lives.
Which brings us back to having no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.
I don’t know if what I’m doing with my life is in anyway right or not. If the Lady told me tomorrow to give up blogging for the LGBT community I’d be crushed, and something blossoming in me that I didn’t know existed before would die. But of course I’d do it, that’s the nature of being a godslave. Likewise, I’ve devoted a large amount of time and energy over the last several months to relearning my craft as a photographer, one of my first deep passions. I believe that I can serve Them through my art, although I’m not sure how, and photography just isn’t a medium we think of when the topic of sacred art comes up. If we have to sell off my camera gear to keep the lights on we will. But I find it hard to believe that doing so will make me a more spiritual person.
It’s very tempting to say:
My/our Work has never been conventional. Our relationship to our gods doesn’t look like other people’s. How we serve, and what They value in us has always been a bit different. Which isn’t to say that we’ve haven’t drifted a bit, but in general we’re where we’re on the path we’re supposed to be.
But because that is so tempting, it also is hard to accept. For all that we’re in a really rough spot at the moment, and I’m personally having some additional issues that I’m struggling with, there are a lot of ways in which we’re in a really good place in our lives. The idea that we’re clearly screwing up because our lives aren’t total shit is very hard for me to wrestle with. Which, it has been pointed out, may be the whole damn point of our current situation.
I’ll own up to this: there are clear ways in which I’ve let some of my Work slide. I know that there are some hard and scary things that I’ve not done in my Work because they are hard and scary. Baphomet has asked some things of me that I don’t know if it’s within me to do, and there is a final physical mark of my shamanic transformation that I’ve not gotten because it is so terrifying to me. Which is no excuse, particularly for an Ordeal Path shaman. But pushing through those deeply human places is one place where the power in Ordeal comes from.
There’s no way to talk about my failings without acknowledging that I’ve not had the level of public presence in my magical and spiritual capacities that They require of me. This is in part because of the potential damage it could do to other parts of my career (BAD WINTY – this is a great way to loose those parts of my life for good), but also in part because what I see in the broader pagan and polytheistic communities saddens and sickens me. The Lady hasn’t quite given us leave yet to stop keeping our heads down (though we have a timeline), and I don’t know that one can be involved in modern pagan discourse without stepping right into the line of fire.
It’s funny, in the thirty five minutes it’s taken me to write this post, a lot of my perspective on what I had to say has changed.
I opened this document in part to write about the fact that I/we weren’t doing any Work and felt completely adrift. But as I typed, it became more and more evident to me that at least some of what we’ve been doing could be construed as Work of a sort, even if it looks different from what we might typically picture a shaman or magician doing.
As to the poverty question though, I just don’t know. I have deep respect for the value of asceticism, and believe it or not, there are ways that I work to incorporate those values in my own life and practices. However, the idea that one can best achieve a state of union with the divine through constant fear that the precarious infrastructure of daily life could come crashing down at the slightest nudge doesn’t ring true for my own spiritual self. Of course, that could just be my privileged upbringing speaking.
Likewise, while it’s possible that I could make a case to the government for getting on permanent disability, that has never felt like what I was supposed to do. Continued engagement of some (certainly unconventional) form of interaction with the working world and currents of monetary exchange feel like how I’m supposed to be living and practicing my faith and power. Again though, I perhaps lack the distance to see if that’s the ghosts of my upbringing or the tides of Wyrd speaking to my heart.
See early comment about my god-phone not getting such great reception I guess.
6 thoughts on “Adrift And Looking For A Clue”
On the subject of ascetism and the connection to the divine: I don’t buy the idea that living in constant fear of eviction, starvation, freezing to death when the heat gets shut off ect are ways to get more spiritually attuned. I think if anything, the kind of poverty that comes with a constant fear of catastrophic losses is a distraction from spirituality and faith. Its a distraction from everything really. At least, that’s what I’ve seen in my years working with people in extreme poverty.
If you look at religious orders that take vows of poverty, what you see is in sharp contrast to secular poverty. Yes the individual monks do not have personal possessions but there is never a fear that they will be unable to feed themselves, or have to sleep on a street in the cold. The basic needs for survival are provided (and in the modern era that includes things like electricity and transport) so that they can turn their attention to their spiritual work. This type of poverty provides FREEDOM FROM distraction and is nothing like the poverty experience of having no legal way to meet ones basic needs.
It seems like what you and Fire need is to have enough for survival and safety so that you can turn your focus back to the spiritual tasks at hand.
I am lucky enough to not have to deal with the poverty issues, but a lot of the questions about spiritual work resonate with where I am right now.
The version of the “keep your head down” directive I got was “Just Watch.” I’ve dialed back my public presence quite a bit, watching various shit storms roll through. Even then, I haven’t been totally immune from other people’s drama. I’m totally with you on the broken state of many spiritual communities, large and small. It’s very sad, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve hesitated to start blogging again.
Both with Lilith and the Norse, I have often felt I was being trained toward one thing, only to not have that Work manifest itself in the way I expected. And yet, I almost always use the skills I’ve learned in one way or another. My mundane, “day job” is exceptionally spiritual (I do more counseling there than in spiritual circles), and I am serving that community more effectively because of my spiritual life. But I can’t write about it on a spiritual blog because I don’t feel safe sharing information there about what I do under my legal name. My life/job has been in danger too many times. And that’s a damned shame.
The most visible and vocal shamans/spirit workers/priestesses, as you note, make their living primarily off spiritual work and spend the majority of their time and energy doing it. While I’m not criticizing that, I think it gives off the impression that not following that model means you’re not fully “doing your Job.” I’ve struggled quite a bit with the guilty feeling that I’m not “stepping up” into a certain type of role. This is assuming, however, that my role is supposed to walk and talk like those I see most obviously around me. Just as it’s valuable to have people trained in the humanities in other fields, it’s valuable to have trained spirit workers serving non-spiritual communities. I serve more people than I do when I narrowly define who my community includes and the way my gifts and abilities can manifest.
I’m getting the strong message from my gods and ancestors that I’m meant to be focusing on the spiritual aspects of non-spiritual work and non-spiritual communities. This means doing more writing under my legal name, leading groups of adults at work, and figuring out how to be a better partner to my human partner. In focusing on spiritual life for so long, in being Anya Kless, other parts of my life were hollowed out to accommodate that. Now I need to fill them back in. In a way, it’s kind of the opposite of Del’s blog on Sacrifice. I’m not being asked to give those things up — I’m being asked to re-integrate them into my life, to see the whole.
This is getting long, so I’ll just say this: spiritual communities, online or IRL, can sometimes seem like sandboxes. You watch kids fight for territory, kick dirt in each others’ eyes, and shut out the world surrounding them. Right now, I’m surveying the rest of the playground.
I agree with the point made by eustaciavye about material simplicity bringing a certain kind of freedom. However, I also agree with you that living in fear of starvation or being evicted or dying of an easily treatable condition is not necessarily conducive to spiritual growth and functioning as a spiritworker who is actually of service to others. I had no reliable income for seven years, and it wasn’t until I obtained the very modest one I have now that I was able to stop looking over my shoulder enough to start the real work of being a full-time nun and gydja, and to understand what that means.
The most important thing I’ve found about adjusting to being poor isn’t necessarily learning to do without things, it’s learning to shift my perspective to see that the spaces those things once occupied can be filled with so much more than I might have expected or believed. Everybody complains about what they don’t or can’t have, even relatively well-off people. I think, however, that the more important question is “what are you putting in that space instead?”
All that being said, I realize that with the loss of Fire’s job and the insurance, you guys are facing a pretty scary potential future, and I don’t want to minimize that. I’m just pointing out that I, an anchorite nun who lives in someone’s attic, don’t feel that grinding poverty is necessarily that important to spiritual self-expression or growth across the board. At the same time, it provides a valuable opportunity to expand your perspective. Sometimes it’s learning to use your considerable resources wisely and well for the good of others, as a friend of ours used to do. Sometimes it’s learning to replace previous “needs” with other and better things. Sometimes it’s just recognizing that even very experienced spiritworkers might have issues about money and class that color how they view their own and other peoples’ material situations. You’ll figure out what to do. In the meantime, I’ll keep you guys in my prayers for successful job-finding and health insurance 🙂
Joining the chorus, by the looks of things.
You know that thing people say about relationships — About how “I neeeeeeed you” is actually kind of horrible because if all that’s keeping someone with you is the inability to function without you, then… what happens when they become more self-sufficient?
I think that goes for deities as well.
I don’t think that scraping by in utter terror of not being able to scrape by any more is condusive (sp) to a great relationship with, well, anybody. And I think the assumption that someone would only pay attention to their gods if they needed something is… not unusual, really – I think there’s probably a lot of people who do that. But it *is* (I think) unusual for people who are in direct service to their gods, who actively share space with them and similar.
I think if you were only being friendly to the deities who Called you because you were afraid of how bad things would get if you weren’t, either (a) that’s a really awful relationship and maybe you need an exit strategy OR (b) you’re staying with them “for the kids” or whatever and maybe it’s THEM who could do with a Person who will hang with them and care for/about them and similar (I’m totally usuing romantic relationship lingo here, hope you don’t mind) during the good times as well as the crappy times.
… Huh. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand now I need to maybe go and listen to my own advice. :-\
Anyway. What I’m getting at here is that I think the whole “grinding, desperate poverty is necessary for spiritual intimacy/attunement” stuff is… not actually true at all.
I think what Elizabeth and Eustaciavye said was pretty wise. That poverty means you learn how to use the resourses you have *really* well, but also that the instability of said poverty can be as bad a distraction from The Work as all the toys that wealth can buy you.
On a related (ish) note: I don’t think there’s anything wrong will filling that silence with mundain-world work that is also Work. People need ministers as much as they need ritualists, and sometimes they’re more receptive to what they need to hear/learn/etc if the message comes from some secular blog by a religious person than as some Message From On High. Your Lady may not be saying it out loud, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t doing what she wants you to do by blogging for the lgbt community or refreshing your photography skills. (That said, I don’t know her, so my speculation may be totally wrong).
Re: The Hard and Scary: Again, I don’t know your gods. Can you ask them to guide you through the hard and scary, or is part of what makes it Hard and Scary the possibility/reality of having to go it alone for that experience?
Maybe I’m being desperately wishy-washy here, or hopelessly naive. I know fuck-all about how godslave relationships work (in general, or in specific), so all I can draw on is my own experience as someone’s mortal owner.
I get that an ordeal isn’t an ordeal if you *know* you can get through it. But wouldn’t your master know you could get through it? Would any of them set you an ordeal meant to break you open without knowing in advance how they intended to rebuild you again?
None of which may be of any help at all, but I figured I’d throw it out there.
For all that modern spiritworkers seem fond of promoting poverty as a valuable focus tool, I cannot think of a single traditional example of a professional religious identity or group that requires/ed poverty – rather than simplicity – as a condition of membership. Leaving aside the individual ascetics or tiny splinter sects that rejected even basic standards of human health as a sinful materialism/distraction from the divine, all others seem to require members to forswear the pursuit of wealth for its own sake and to, as Elizabeth said, clear away enough materialism to leave space for the spiritual to blossom. Even those orders that required members to own nothing *individually* still held property and wealth in communitatis, for the health of the group and to facilitate the Doing of Works. Historically, shamanism/witchery has (AFAIK) always been a paid job, and one on commission, as it were – if your local shaman was poor, he probably wasn’t very good at his job and the community was paying him accordingly.
I think the modern assumption that poverty is “good” has more to do with a knee-jerk against materialism and consumerism, with the pendulum swung too far. True, when one is busy acquiring “stuff” (and then storing said “stuff”, maintaining it, updating it, using it, etc.) one isn’t left with a lot of time for the “quiet mind” necessary for spiritual focus. But – I think the pro-poverty league have overlooked the fact that poverty is stressful. Very, very stressful. And stress is tiring, on a physical level. Add to that the fact that poverty is generally tied to long working hours, poor health, lost opportunities… How anyone is expected to maintain devotional focus in that environment is beyond me. Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a useful response to the idea that we should “embrace our poverty”.
Simplicity is generally a blessing, allowing focus, right priorities, and the opportunity to develop good and useful habits. Poverty is not a blessing; it creates distraction, difficult and shifting priorities, and in the long term, some very bad habits (including the inability to relax, the inability to trust, and the inability to accept security, all of which are counter-productive in religious devotion).
I would leave you here, dear readers, with Mr John Cheese and his Magic Pimp Bus:
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