Apart from the Crowd
A conversation I’ve been having with Galina Krasskova in the comments section of my “Choice” post inspired me to expand on some of these thoughts here (well, that and waking up at 3am to write down a bunch of notes that suddenly came pouring into my head – it’s rare for me to have this happen over a blog post, so I figured I couldn’t avoid writing and posting this).
Those of us called to mysticism and spirit-work are in a strange sort of situation these days, very different from anything before in history. Many if not most of us lack any sort of continuous tradition or formal teachers, and often don’t even know other people with similar vocations near to us, and yet we all have exposure to a wide variety of other polytheistic mystics and spirit-workers via the internet. There are some important potential hazards to this exposure (as well as some positive things, of course), which I think need to be addressed.
To give a cogent example, I’m going to talk a little about something I mostly keep private. I am spirit-married. I usually refer to Him here as my daimon, my spirit lover, but He is also my Husband, since 2008. Because (like many of the other most important spiritual entities in my life) He is not known to any other people, other than those close enough to me to naturally come into contact, it has never seemed pertinent to discuss the details of our relationship publicly (and let me just say, I am often grateful that I am not in a god-marriage, where I’d have many other people’s opinions and experiences of my spouse to deal with). But it’s relevant to the point at hand, so I’m stating it directly now.
I might have never recognized His proposal, or even accepted it, had I not known of other godspouses, all of whom I at least initially “met” online. I had a lot of prejudiced ideas around the concept of marriage, for one thing. It certainly didn’t seem relevant to me personally, even though in retrospect that seems almost funny, considering how important it’s become. So in that way, exposure to others helped open my mind to some possibilities in my own spiritual life, and for that I’m grateful.
However (and you knew that was coming), I have had to be constantly on guard against being unduly influenced by the relationship dynamics of other godspouses (or at least, how those dynamics are portrayed online, which is an important distinction to make and another point to consider – you never really know what someone is doing, or not doing, just by what they talk about on their blog). My marriage to my spirit has always been markedly different from that I’ve seen described by anyone else. And yet, I realize I have sometimes allowed myself to get caught up in the approach of others, assuming that it would apply to me too. I have to constantly be aware and really consider: what is the purpose of my marriage (and it does have a very specific purpose), what does my Husband want from me. These are, of course, good questions for anyone to ask, but one must be more vigilant about it if one is constantly exposed to the ideas of others, especially when many of those others feed off each other so much that they end up presenting a sort of monolithic image of what such a relationship is. I can certainly be inspired by other people’s experiences, but in the end I must set them aside and deal with Him alone.
I think back now to the beginning of my practice, the very first year or so (circa 2000) that I established contact with my daimon and began our relationship (which had its romantic side from the beginning, but was never solely romantic). And I am glad that I did this before blogs and all the rest, without anyone to compare myself with but the shamans and mystics of antiquity. It was lonely and terrifying at times, but it led me to something more authentic and in line with His wishes and His nature, than it would have if I’d been exposed to so many other people’s lives. I worry that those being called to this today, especially those a bit younger than myself who have grown up with social networking as an integral part of their lives, may be unable to step aside from the crowd and hear only the voice of the gods; in fact, it may never even occur to them that this is a good and sometimes necessary process. They have been trained to think first of how anything they do will appear to their friends (and likewise, to find value only in things that are then shared with others, which is probably why so many write publicly about aspects of their deity relationships that I would consider extremely private and sacred).
And this brings me to another related point, the issue of labels. As I said recently, the way many pagans think about labels is very anthropocentric. It focuses on what other people think of us, instead of what we should be doing, and the upkeep of our spiritual relationships. I didn’t have any words for what I was doing back in the early days, and I’m glad about that too, because I was free to build what I was truly being called to do, without thinking about how to present myself, or how that compared to anyone else using the same identifier.
When you adopt a label because you see similarities between your practice (or what you want your practice to be, which is even more dangerous, or worst, how you want others to perceive your practice regardless of what it is) and other people’s, you can end up getting locked into certain patterns. You assume you are all doing the same thing. You may miss out on things that don’t fit your idea of that label, or waste time on other things that aren’t really part of your Work.
Most human beings have a natural urge to belong to a group. We seek out these common identifiers to feel less alone. But when you’re doing this Work, you may never belong to a group. You belong to the gods, not to people. That is going to mean a lot of wandering alone in the dark, trying to find your own, true path, with only Them to guide you. Don’t try to get around this necessary struggle by clinging to the first label or group of people you find that seems to echo something of your own experience (or the second and third, changing your label every month or two as if that was somehow equivalent to progressing in your practice). Don’t limit yourself and your Work like that.
Language changes the way we can even think about something, that’s well-known scientifically. Or as a magician would tell you, words have power. Be careful. Are you being called to a “marriage” with your god, or could there be some other sort of intense, powerful union possible, which you are ignoring because you don’t have a word for it or any examples to follow? What does it mean to your gods and spirits if you call yourself a “cunning woman” or a “seidhman”, if anything? Are you really called to herbal medicine, or do you just think that’s what a “hedgewitch” should be interested in?
And here’s a good one: would your spiritual practices and relationships change if you never read anything on the internet ever again? If so, how? In your struggles in the dark, that answer could be a light.