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.

~ by Dver on February 21, 2013.

24 Responses to “Apart from the Crowd”

  1. I’ve really been enjoying the conversations your “Choice” post has inspired. You’re expanded on some crucial ideas here, Dver and I thank you. I know it’s given me much food for thought in my own practice as well as that of my students, whom I’m responsible for advising.

    We as a culture have no silent places anymore. We don’t even encourage ourselves to seek out solitude and silence in ourselves. There’s a push to be always connected, always hooked up in some way to the machine. but to do this work, to have any kind of deeply rooted, deeply engaged spirituality, silence and solitude are essential nutrients. They help us figure out what’s true with respect to our own relationships to our Gods. They teach us to entrain the mind and heart and spirit toward receptivity to the Powers. Silence and Solitude are our beginning places.

    I used to (and sometimes still do) give an assignment to my students. I would tell them to pick a weekend: sun down Friday to sun down Sunday. During that time, they were to be quiet. no tv, radio, music, no blackberries, crack berries, cell phones, no computer, no talking. just praying and journaling. In twenty years of teaching I never had one student complete this assignment. It drove them stir crazy and I think that says something about our society.

    I’ve also seen people destroy themselves quite literally destroy themselves being eaten up with envy over someone else’s spiritual life. Instead of tending their own, which had equal gifts (though different), equal potential, equal possibilities. I’ve seen people’s spiritual lives irreparably damaged by this type of painful, heart withering envy.

    I don’t know what’s worse or better: to have the in person teachers, to have the online resources or to be forced to go it alone. I think ideally we’d do the work and have teachers, elders, resources to rely upon for context for occasional guidance and assistance. I talked about this last night on my show: we’re trained by generations of monotheism to fetishize the written word adn to assume that there’s only one way of doing things. I also think we’re trained to make spiritual work a contest. There’s something very Protestant in the way that we attempt as a community to invest spiriutal gifts and graces as markers of personal value when it’s not that at all. My work is not your work is not the work of person X over there, etc. etc.

    I know I’m rambling, but this conversation has been inspiring and I’m going to be picking at the ideas raised for some time to come. Thank you, Dver.

    • It is really depressing to me that none of your students have managed a single weekend in silence and contemplation. Other religions have entire groups of people who do this full time! I don’t see how a person can hope to really pursue mysticism and related paths if they can’t bear a few days in silence. Not a good sign.

      I have definitely seen envy seriously harm people’s spiritual lives, and it’s so sad. It’s a slight to the gods too, who give us so many unique gifts and want *our* love and work and offerings in return, not a copy of someone else’s.

      There are days I have to seriously consider whether or not I would be better off just withdrawing from all contact with others…. but there are certainly many things I’ve gained by knowing other committed folks – it’s a constant challenge to be true to one’s path and yet still be able to learn from and be inspired by others, but for now that challenge seems worth it. The problem really arises when you don’t recognize that challenge.

      • It is depressing and they were always the students who struggled the most (i’ve had many come to me who already treasured silence) and often broke. What can you do? i can provide the knowledge and assistance but I can’t DO the work for them. But it’s not a good sign and I find that in general, it’s getting worse.

        It also makes me wonder. I want to take some of them by the shoulders and ask two questions: if you can’t find yourself in silence, how on earth will you ever hear your Gods? What space are you giving Them to enter into the conversation of you?

        and what would you do if your Gods required you to be silent and in solitude for a time? Mine did. Would you fail at such a simple task?

        I’ve often thought that i would like to be a priest tending a shrine. period. but that isn’t my wyrd. Odin wants me doing other, more public things. But in the perfect world, I’d be tending a shrine somewhere, in quiet.

        • Yes, people always ask how to hear the gods – well the first step would be to SHUT UP.🙂

          I know what you mean. I would very much like to run off to the woods and do my Work in total isolation at times, but my spirits have reasons to keep me at least peripherally associated with other humans. To be closer to Them and Their will, I am learning to appreciate the life They’re directing me towards.

  2. I am very fond of what you don’t say & I suppose, in slight contradiction to what you have said above, this makes me feel as though I am in good company.

    Of course, what you *do* say is always a pleasure.

    • What I don’t talk about is far vaster than what I do talk about, as far as my personal practice and relationships. I try to just take those lessons which might be applicable to others and share those, while keeping private things private.

  3. I’m on the very cusp of exploring the topic here and elsewhere – I have read so many negative comments elsewhere that straight-forward honesty is a real pleasure. Should that be the direction I end up taking, I hope it’s as successful for me as it appears to be for you. Thanks.

  4. Reblogged this on Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars and commented:
    I think this essay by Dver dovetails nicely with many things I’ve written about spirit work, and some of the questions I get regarding “Am I a shaman? A godspouse? A Spirit Worker?” Please not only read this wonderful piece, but really meditate on the question it poses at the end – “Would your spiritual practices and relationships change if you never read anything on the Internet again?”

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful and well-written post, Dver!

    This post comes at a time in my path where I am exploring the meaning of what and why and how of what I am doing on the path, and this post gives me much food for thought on such matters.

    Thank you again!

    -H.

  6. I really enjoyed this post, and for the most part agree whole-heartedly. Solo time to LIVE as a spiritual person, as opposed to talking or reading about it, is so so important. And so often overlooked.

    I was heavily involved in the Pagan community for about 4 years. It eventually became unbearable. All the voices around me drowned out the only Voice I really wanted to hear. So I turned those other voices off, withdrawing entirely from the Pagan community and focusing on my own work. I had to learn how to better hear my Lady and the other Powers, learning what They had to teach. I also needed time to explore and define my practice so well that I could search for a label that fit, as opposed to making everything fit some arbitrary outside label. Neither would have been possible without some time apart.

    • Good for you for taking that time. That’s the ideal happy medium here, I think – having time that is just you and the gods, and then being able to take good things from interaction with others without being overwhelmed by it.

  7. As someone else who began a relationship with a deity/spirit back where there wasn’t anything online about such things, I appreciate your point of view a lot. I sometimes tell people that dang it, you kids have it easy now that there’s information out there about spirit-marriage and godspouses, but I hadn’t considered the reverse: that too much information is as hard to overcome as too little. I have had people writing to me wondering if something is wrong with them because Loki doesn’t treat them the way He is said to treat all the other Loki’s-folk online, which makes me both sad and angry — not that they’re asking, but that there’s this pressure to conform to an increasingly uniform idea of what Lokeans ought to be like — and that’s before even addressing the godspouse issue.

    In hindsight, I’m grateful that the first four years of my getting to know and love Loki took place in nearly complete isolation, where things were allowed to develop without much outside influence. In fact, it wasn’t until I started trying to shoehorn myself into labels that didn’t suit me (for much the same reasons you’ve mentioned here) that the problems really began. I had to learn the hard way that no one aside from Loki and myself is best suited to tell me who and what I am to Him, and how best I might serve Him and my other gods. People can offer their opinions (and they often have, whether I wanted them or not) but ultimately, what anybody else thinks doesn’t change the reality of my life or the nature of my relationship with my gods and spirits. And that’s something people have to *know* for themselves, or else they’re just going to tread water.

    • It’s hard to say whether the benefits outweigh the potential harm, it depends on a lot of factors and the people involved. But I note that it seems most of the people who had to start on their own for years ended up relying more heavily on those divine relationships and thus building stronger and deeper relationships, whereas those who have everything handed to them are not only limited by that, but often end up losing interest and moving to something else – possibly because they never gave themselves a chance to be fully absorbed in that work.

  8. 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?

    For a long time, this was my dilemma. I’d bump up against something in my practice, but then see nothing like it anywhere else and immediately think I must be doing something wrong. No, my gods and spirits just wanted something different from me than what other people were doing.

    I love this post, and I think one of the best lessons anyone can take from it is that comparing your practice to ANYONE else’s–even the shamans etc of old–practice can be harmful and wind up holding you back. Just because one thing worked for someone else, doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Or that it even applies to you in the remotest way.

    (Found your blog through Beth‘s, btw~)

    • I’ve had to get used to the fact that my practice and my spirit relationships are quite noticeably different from most other people’s (at least, from what I can see). It can be lonely at times, but also kind of comforting in a way, because you know you are really building something authentic with Them and not just copying (even subconsciously) what others are doing.

  9. I’m glad someone finally brought up the importance of sacred privacy. It’s an important but often overlooked thing in my generation. For example, I have some friends who constantly seem to think that I’m being standoffish by not telling them in detail about all of my experiences with gods and spirits. But I’ve always felt that when gods or spirits communicate with me, it’s a message for me, and I pay my respect to them through my sense of discretion.

    • I have two partners with whom I am very close and share many important aspects of my spiritual life, and I *still* don’t tell either of them a large bulk of what I experience, because it is between me and the gods/spirits. I like your term “sacred privacy” that really seems apt.

  10. “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?”

    This really resonated with me. I won’t go into it here, but I believe I’m being nudged in the direction of an intense union with a goddess that isn’t sexual or romantic, but in many ways mirrors a marriage. There really isn’t a word for it outside of certain communities. So I really appreciate hearing this.

    • It’s a difficult situation. As I said, I consider my relationship a “marriage” in many important ways, that word and concept has meaning for me, but it is not really focused on the romantic/sexual aspects to the extent most godspouses seem to be. At some point, you have to either find/create a new word, or just accept that what you mean isn’t what other people mean, and keep using the word that makes sense to you. Good luck forging your own unique relationship, whatever you call it!

  11. […] And the last thing I’d like to share is this brilliant piece by Dver on being apart from the crowd: […]

  12. I came across “a forest door” a few weeks back when I had reached a tipping point in terms of my personal experience, and had decided it was time to find out more about the ‘spirit lover’ — what s/he is, or what s/he is thought to be, and whether other people out there had experiences they were willing to share and reflect on. I really appreciate everything you have written here, and especially the careful balance you strike between talking about this very important topic, while respecting its innate intimacy.

    You make an excellent point that spirit lovers can interact with our lives in a variety of ways (I would also add, across a variety of vocations); and that the moment we try to fit them into a mold, we risk losing sight of the greater purpose of the relationship. While the search for commonalities is important, and gives us a sense of community, it’s also important to listen to the “silence”, and find our own path therein.

    Thank you very much for another insightful post. I am very happy to have found your blog.

  13. […] Apart from the Crowd […]

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