Morpheus Ravenna recently wrote about how she managed to get injured just enough to knock her out commission for anything but writing the book she had promised to her goddess in the allotted timeframe. She says:
“The Gods are not fucking around. When you hand yourself over to Them, They can break your bones, end your life or alter it completely, send you down pathways that foreclose other avenues of choice and ability, and perhaps what should be most sobering of all, transform and sculpt you from the person you were into the person They feel would be most useful to Them.”
I certainly am familiar with this particular process. And how just because something serves Them well, doesn’t mean it’s exactly great or fun for us (as John Beckett said, “we are signing up to do holy work, not to receive holy bliss“). The better conduit I am for my spirits, the less my personal experience of it matters – yes, I do get benefits from the deal overall, but they’re not always the ones I think I want, at the very least. (And talk about Them molding us – more often than not, if I’m not getting what I want, They change what I actually want rather than changing what I am getting.)
Morpheus relates all of this in the context of warning people not to jump in to making major commitments to the gods, because those oaths are binding and have real, sometimes unpleasant consequences. She notes that you should fully understand the terms. This is, of course, extremely good advice.
I, on the other hand, made my first agreement with my spirits when I was thirteen years old. I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. In fact, I accepted Their offer without even thinking to ASK what They wanted in return, from me. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to actually survive such a monumentally foolish act. Perhaps They simply realized that – given my propensity to pursue what I want to extremes – I was more useful to Them as a long-term tool than something to use up right away (not all spirits are necessarily this calculating and unsentimental, but mine are for the most part).
Actually, come to think of it, I almost didn’t survive. As a teenager I tried to live a mundane life for a couple years (having rejected these spirits and all things spiritual/magical when it got too scary). After awhile, I got into paganism, but had no intention of dealing with Them again. Then, my chronic depression reached a new low, one that I can see retrospectively might have destroyed me. It was only by recognizing what my deal with these spirits had done to me – permanently, regardless of how I felt about it afterwards – and acknowledging that I would need to continue to keep up my end of the bargain, that I began to lift myself out of that hole. (As I’ve said before, depression seems to be my shaman-sickness; only doing spirit-work gets me out of it.)
Almost a decade after the first one, I made a new deal with Them – this time I made sure to be clear about what I would have to give, not just what I would get, although I found it surprisingly difficult to keep that in my head when I was thinking about it, since They are tricksy. And then about a decade later, I made yet another oath – all of these being variations on the same theme, with increasing levels of intensity. And even then, when I really thought I knew what I was doing, when I had years and years of spirit-work under my belt, still I did not fully appreciate how it would change my life – even my internal sense of self and consciousness. It was the catalyst for a topsy-turvy couple of years – and I’ve only recently begun to integrate everything and feel okay about it all.
But there’s the thing – it didn’t matter how I felt about it. Even when I was mourning all I’d lost, even when I felt abandoned because my ecstatic experiences changed so much they no longer hit the same emotional notes I was expecting and comfortable with, even when I was physically sick every day and complaining that I couldn’t enjoy anything, even when I felt like I was starting from scratch over and over… I did the work. I held up my end of the bargain as best as I possibly could. I endeavored to learn from every setback. I didn’t allow myself any crutches (not for long, at least) because those crutches would be exploited to break me. (Like Galina has said that she “trusts Odin to be Odin,” I trust my spirits and my god to hurt me if that’s what it takes to crack me wide open, and it often is.)
Lately I’ve seen some people make some pretty shabby excuses for not Doing The Work, and it usually boils down to feelings. The thing is, at a certain level of commitment in this line of work, you don’t really get to indulge what might otherwise be perfectly valid and understandable feelings. You don’t have the luxury of dropping things while you navel-gaze, or have an emotional crisis, or just simply feel scared or exhausted or worthless or lonely or any other feeling that’s going to naturally come up during this work – or during your life in general.
It’s useful to have an Odinist as a partner sometimes, they’re very no-nonsense – whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or frustrated by any of this and say something like “But aren’t I allowed to just feel [such-and-such perfectly reasonable thing]?!” he just responds “No, you’re not.” I have to put it aside, because it isn’t helping me do the work.
As Morpheus related, even when you ARE doing the work, sometimes the gods and spirits STILL do something that seems harsh, just to make sure. Once you’ve made those oaths, it’s pretty much out of your hands. But I think of it this way – would I rather let these things (negative feelings, uncontrollable circumstances, etc.) control me, and make excuses, and know I am failing in my duties, or would it be better to do what needs to be done as best as I can, and at least have that accomplishment to look back on? Maybe my spirits have molded me into the person that will keep choosing the latter. Regardless, it seems like the only choice when it comes down to it.