Discernment for Godspouses
This is going to be long, and it may veer into rant territory, but after the last post got so much feedback, I feel these are topics that need to be discussed. No one must agree with me, and I am not claiming some infallible wisdom – these are just my opinions based on (a) 15 years of experience as a mystic, spirit-worker and devotee; and (b) a thorough study of the related subjects historically. Even if I seem to be questioning your own personal experiences, that doesn’t mean they are invalid. But everyone dealing with these issues should at least be willing and able to think about them honestly and critically.
As I said in my post on Discernment, it seems that a bunch of pagans these days think that they can just bypass all the work and experience that has always been required to have deep contact with the divine. This isn’t a matter (as some have suggested) of simply differing personal experiences, everyone deals with the gods in their own way, YMMV, etc. I think a lot of new polytheists would benefit significantly from some serious study – not just of their own tradition’s history and mythology (which most will do, at least eventually) but of cross-cultural concepts and practices relating to ritual, spiritual specialists, mysticism, trance, etc. I was fortunate to have done this early on my path, as part of coursework for my BA degree. I think it gave me a broader perspective on these issues. It showed me the places of commonality between types of mysticism and spirit-work, and the many differences as well. It gave me a better sense of how humans, as a species, interact and communicate with the spiritual forces, as a whole. Some of this is dictated by our physical bodies, especially our neural pathways, and some by culture, which is of course more fluid. But I have never encountered a culture or sub-culture which thought that anyone, at any time, with no training or experience whatsoever, could launch immediately into a controlled, consistent, and deep level of interaction with gods and spirits.
Not until I encountered some modern pagans, that is. I think it speaks more to our cultural values of instant gratification and self-esteem, our rejection of anything smacking of elitism, and our plain unwillingness to do years of hard work if we can find a way around it, than it does to some special quality that has suddenly been bestowed on us but is unavailable to members of traditional polytheistic and animistic cultures. I fear that our religions will be doomed to stay at a very superficial level if we cannot entice more mystically-inclined people to deeply commit themselves to a lifetime of work – and the first step in that is even recognizing that it takes a lifetime! But why do all of that if you can take a weekend workshop and call yourself a shaman, or just chat with your spirits all day in your head without ever doing anything for them, or meet a deity for the first time and marry them just a few months later, when you haven’t even established a devotional practice yet?
Which brings me to godspouses. I find it utterly bizarre that this is a “trend” now, but it seems to be. Especially surrounding certain deities. I’m not going to get into arguments about whether this jives with “The Lore,” which is of course different in each tradition. I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea that some gods and spirits might occasionally take a human lover (that certainly IS explicit in the lore of Hellenic polytheism, at least), and I’m also comfortable with the idea that sometimes, it becomes something even more intimate, more permanent, a relationship that could be likened to a marriage.
But again, these are GODS we are talking about, not invisible friends. I wouldn’t encourage someone to even make a basic devotional oath to a god after only a brief time of knowing Them, much less a commitment of this magnitude. First of all, you have to be sure that you are in contact with a real entity and not a mental sock puppet. This takes a certain amount of experience to ascertain, and/or help of elders, unambiguous omen confirmations, “blind” divinations (i.e., where the diviner doesn’t know the situation and therefore is more objective), etc. Next, assuming it is an actual entity, you have to be sure They are who They say They are. Once more: experience, omens, divinations. (When you’ve had years under your belt of devotional worship, ritual and study, it will be much easier and quicker to get through these steps, which is exactly my point.)
Then – and here’s an important and really difficult step requiring a lot of brutal self-honesty – you have to ascertain if the feelings you’re having are mutual. You may be feeling a pull to this god, but are They reciprocating, and with the same tone and intensity? And if so, what do They want from you? Here’s another place where study of tradition helps – because thousands of years of people worshipping the gods has given us some basic guidelines that are unlikely to be thrown away by Them just because you’re so special and awesome (even if you are). Each tradition has some solid information on how one properly devotes themselves to a deity. If you are being drawn to a more intimate, intense relationship with a god, these requirements are actually MORE important, not less. You are not exempt from offerings, prayer, taboos, and sacrifices because you are so close to this god, in fact more will be demanded of you, in terms of quantity and quality.
And besides which, it will take a lot of time (there is no way around this) to build up a meaningful and consistent devotional practice, refine your rituals and festivals, learn what unique things may be asked of you and do them long enough to prove yourself, and practice techniques (whichever ones work for your body and mind, and are approved by your gods) of altering your consciousness in ways that allow you to more clearly communicate with the divine. Again, study the ways of mystics the world over, of ecstatic nuns, Indian sadhus, Tibetan monks, Inuit shamans, horses and oracles and cunning women and medicine men and all the rest, and you will find people who spend decades training for this before attaining deeper levels of intimacy with their gods and spirits.
Once you’re relatively comfortable with all of these elements of devotional and ecstatic practice, and have built a foundation of devotion, respect, love, trust, mutual giving, and awe for the divine, a shared history, once you have exposed your deepest self to your god, and through study and ritual and direct experience learned of Their nature and personality, in ways not reached by the more casual worshipper, then perhaps you might take it to another level. When you are ready and willing to do this with full comprehension (as much as possible) of the ramifications, when you would do it even if there were no other godspouses, no fun little community to share with, when you understand how isolating it can be, setting you apart even from other devotees… when you have seen the terrifying faces of your god (most have them) and not turned aside, when you are truly able to put Them above all others, human and non-human, when you have co-created a relationship that is both personal and sacred… then perhaps, for some, there is god-marriage (though this is far from the only such intense and intimate relationship one can have with a deity, and the other types should not be neglected – see Walking the Heartroad for more about these, and a powerful and wise discussion of devotion).
And if you truly have done all this, the marriage will be so much more meaningful, powerful, and surprising than you could ever imagine. It won’t be just like having an invisible boyfriend or girlfriend. It might involve some of the things we think of as traditionally “romantic” or “marital” – but this union will be so much more than can be encompassed by those words. It will be different, of course, for everyone, but you will never be able to fully prepare for it regardless because making that kind of oath, binding yourself in that way to a spiritual entity, is a game-changer. It will change you, and it will definitely change your relationship with Them (in ways that might be hard and painful at times). It may turn your whole life upside-down, mess with your human relationships, force you into things you’d never imagined, just the same as a shamanic calling or similar vocation. And it will be the most beautiful, blessed experience of your life.
Don’t rush it. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Don’t risk the pitfalls, the self-delusion, the dangerous entities, the regrets and second-thoughts. But more than that, don’t deprive yourself of the depth and breadth of experience that can only be had after years of work. Don’t settle.
I imagine some might ask, what if a god truly proposes such an alliance, before any of this work has been done? I won’t say that’s impossible. I could imagine a number of reasons it might happen. But you know, you don’t have to say yes. And in fact, knowing you’re not ready and wanting to put in more time before making such a commitment might be what convinces the god you have the potential to really know Them, down the line. It could lead to something much more intimate than would have ever existed if you had been satisfied with a superficial and undeveloped level of contact.
This may sound harsh, but it is how things have always been between gods and mortals – we are not equals, we are not even quite in the same world, and crossing that gulf has never been easy. It’s worth the effort, though. I promise – what you can have, no matter how naturally gifted or favored you are, after six months is nothing compared to what you will have after six years, or sixty. I myself can’t wait to see what’s down the road, even after all this time. Don’t let our fast-paced, on-demand culture (which doesn’t validate your beliefs or practices anyway) trick you into thinking that this, too, comes without a significant expenditure of time and energy. It’s worth doing, and it’s worth doing well. Take your time, and enjoy the journey. Think of it as a long courtship, during which you get to learn everything you possibly can about your Beloved, and in the process become something even more worthy of Their love.
And for those who are already godspouses – this is just the beginning. All the same rules apply, regarding what you must put into it. How deeply can you explore this intimacy? You have a lifetime to find out.