A twisting (and sometimes twisted) exploration of devotion, seership, hearth witchery, and spirit work.
The Work of a Godspouse
I'm sick (the normal cold/flu type of sickness everyone gets, in addition to my chronic stuff) so I'm not sure what a good idea it is for me to expect coherent writing of myself, but this topic keeps coming up and every time it does I have the urge to pick at it a little, because it touches on some underlying issues of my own. So, since it's Hunt season and thus the ideal time of year for cleaning out dark corners and hunting down internal demons (as well as external ones), here we go.
If you haven't already read this, as well as the post my partner, Jolene Dawe, wrote in response to it here, go do so now--I'll wait. The original article is, by and large, a fairly well-reasoned exploration of the divisiveness among Lokeans as a “community” (if you could apply that term to such a diverse group-within-a-group), and for the most part I have no quibbles with it. For one thing, I'm not a Lokean, and for another, I too have witnessed the issues the author writes about and I don't disagree with many of his/her (forgive me, I'm not sure which) conclusions. However, the section of the post dealing with the Lokean sister-wife culture made me squirm for two reasons: 1) as has happened in previous posts by other people, here is yet another non-godspouse telling godspouses what their proper conduct as well as their work in the world “ought” to be, and 2) the assumption that being a godspouse is about “work,” per se, in the first place.
My squirmy reaction to point #2 is rather ironic, given that I myself have been known to complain about the recent proliferation of um...enthusiastic young godspouses, most of whom are devoted to Loki. However, reading (and talking with, since we live in the same house) Jo on the subject has caused me to relent a bit. No, I am not going to be taking on any “Does X (insert the name of your favorite god here) want to me marry me?” seidhr questions; that has not changed. But in pondering the irritation I and other “old timers” have expressed on this issue, it really does sound very similar to the irritation any group of “elders” is likely to feel towards a sudden uprising of “youngsters” tromping into what we have come to regard as “our” territory. I'm not part of the “sister-wife” culture and never will be; I'm not even sure any such thing exists for Odin-wives (which may be why many of us always seem to be surrounded by Lokeans). Frankly, I don't understand the appeal, but this may be due to my own characteristic possessiveness as well as the fact that I regard my Marriage as intensely private; for me, it is not a spectator or team sport. (And I don't mean that in as derogatory a fashion as it sounds, but it does seem that many people in these communities are seeking to involve others in their relationships in a way that would make me extremely uncomfortable.) However, if this is what works for this particular group of young women, so be it. I don' have to read their blog posts, I don't have to hang out on Tumblr or join their seekrit Facebook communities, and I have my god's permission to politely turn them down should they approach me with a seidhr or divination question that I don't wish to answer. Barring the existence of duty-lights to the contrary, anyone else can do the same.
What we can't do, however, is make them go away, and we don't actually have that right anyhow. Nor do we have the right, as Jo has put it, to not be annoyed, anymore than generations of elders throughout history have had the right to not be annoyed by whatever half-cocked shenanigans their particular younger generation has dreamed up. We may not have seen anything quite like this in the religious arena in our lifetimes (though I'm sure similar things have happened before, historically; nearly everything has), but dismissing this massive influx of newbies as a “fangirl” phenomenon is not only unfair but also borders on hubris. It may very well be that some of these girls are influenced by Hiddleston-itis and will wander off to worship at the feet of some other actor (or deity) in the fullness of time. It may also be that some of them will go on to become serious, dedicated polytheists. In either case, who's to say that Loki (or whoever the god in question) doesn't want this huge upsurge in followers, and isn't enjoying every minute of it? In either case, I fully believe that He (or again, whichever deity) can handle the situation without our help. And as for the fears that the phenomenon will make the rest of us look bad by association, well, that's our problem, isn't it? It certainly isn't theirs, and whining at them about it isn't going to get them to stop. What might? That ancient parental technique of modeling the behavior you would like to see; in this case, demonstrating—by doing—the devotion and service we think our gods deserve and would like to see Them receive from the new generation. (Hopefully we don't want to see these “youngsters” evolve into another generation of nags.)
Moving on to point #2, the idea that being a godspouse is inherently about “work,” and that the work in question involves one's human community...this is one that always manages to catch me up, at least briefly, and I think the reason may go back to a comment Freya Asswyn once made about any mortal wife of Odin being,of necessity, a “folcmother.” At some level, I agree with this; however, what I don't agree with—as, again, Jo pointed out—is the unspoken assumption that this community needs to be human. As the onset of Hunt season reminds me all too vividly, I do serve a community, but it is a community of spirits: gods, landwights, the dead, the fae, and an endless parade of unnameable beings that have never been mortal or human, many of which would, if featured in a horror movie, render it unfit for viewers with heart trouble. I do perform some services for the human community around me—my “faith community,” as it were---including my writing, crafting, and seidhr and divination services. However, it is this other community that I have taken oaths to, and it is this other community that will come looking for me should I renege on those oaths in any way. The expectation that every godspouse must be a clergy person or community leader is, much like the previous expectation that the annoying newbies should just shut up and go away, both unrealistic and somewhat hubristic. For one thing, we aren't all cut out for that line of work, and who are we to say that our gods want each and every one of us to be exactly alike and perform some slightly altered version of exactly the same service for Them? Believe me, I am familiar with the line of reasoning that the godtouched among us exist in order to facilitate Their communications with Their other less fortunate devotees, and I know how seductive this line of reasoning can be; I've fallen prey to it many times myself. I also know from experience that second-guessing one's god-husband/wife, and/or questioning His (or Her) judgment is one of the few things guaranteed to tick Them off at you. They know why They chose us, and They have a different—probably unique—plan for each and every one of us; this is true even among those of us belonging to the exact same god, which is why that urge to compare yourself with someone else, the work that person over there is doing and the gifts they have received, is so dangerous. Sure, other godspouses may very well play the “holier/more favored than thou” game, either subtly or overtly, and many of them do, whether or not they do so consciously. (Hel, I am probably guilty of this too.) But the gods are not interested in one-upmanship or comparison; They are interested in whatever Their plan is, and how you and your personal growth and development will serve that plan. Trying to subvert that plan by modeling yourself after another human—or worse, after another human's opinion about what you “should” be doing--is annoying to Them, to say the least.
Behind this assumption lies another, even more dangerous one: that being a godspouse is inherently about “work” at all. This can be a tricky one to unpack, because while not all godspouses are spirit workers, and while you do not have to be a godspouse in order to be a spirit worker (please go back and read that one again, if you need to), the two paths do often co-exist in the same person. However, let's be clear, since I don't think I was in the last paragraph: they are two different paths. Being a godspouse is a particular and distinct branch of the devotional path, and the devotional path is about, well...devotion, love, relationship. Being married to a god is one possible—out of many—devotional relationships one may be called to, or even seek out, in order to come to a deeper understanding of Them and closer communion with Them. It has been argued by many—and not without reason—that these humancentric relationship labels are limiting, since the gods Themselves are much too big to fit neatly into any of them. Well then, why do They seek these kinds of relationships with us? Partly, I think, because these are relationships we understand and roles we can adapt to; they offer us a way to approach deity on a personal, even intimate level, a way for us to become comfortable and conversant with a being Who is in reality a mind-staggering Mystery.
But I think there is also another reason that we can relate to even more easily: companionship. I think the gods enjoy seeing Themselves reflected in our eyes, and I think—no, I know—that They have feelings of Their own, feelings of powerful and unimaginable breadth and depth which can—for reasons known only to Them—sometimes drive a being of almost incomprehensible might to do the nearly unthinkable: fall in love with a mortal, and seek that mortal's companionship, understanding, devotion, and love in return. How could such a thing be possible? That's the question many of us torture ourselves with, although too many of us miss the awe inherent in the question and instead skip right over to the more self-pitying, “Why me? What does He see in me? I'm not worthy,” line of questioning. So since I don't have an answer for the actual question (folks, it's a Mystery), I'll address the smaller one: no, we're not worthy, not any of us, not even the Big Name Pagans among us, and that's part of the Mystery. In a Facebook discussion, I recently saw someone repeat a saying (from Ifa, I think?) that has stuck with me: “God doesn't choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.” So, if you're worried about what your “work” as a godspouse is supposed to be, start here: stop worrying about your own worthiness (or lack thereof), stop second-guessing your divine partner, and most importantly, stop stumbling over Their feet. Let Them lead. This has been my own greatest struggle, and it is also the best advice I can pass on to you. Let Them lead—because this is faith, not an ego game, it is devotion, not a popularity contest. Because—and hard experience gives me the right to be blunt here, I think—anything else cheapens the relationship and makes a mockery of Their devotion to you. And I don't think that's what you want, is it?
And holy crap, that's much more than I intended to write on this. Time to get off my soapbox and back to bed, since I'm supposed to be resting today, after all; I have You-Tube videos to get to.
Image credit: devotional cord and photograph © Beth Lynch, please do not use without permission
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