Places & Purposes

Yesterday this post really rang with me (and this post is peripheral but connected.)

I’m a budding spirit-worker (well, faery-worker). I do a lot of journeying to ‘the Other Side’, which sounds way more serious than it really is. I get consistent urges and feelings from most of the gods I work with, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to even get a coherent sentence or two. (My relationship with Antinous is very different from the one I have with the Four Gods, though.) I do a lot of work Over There (my way of referring to the otherworlds as well as any internal mindscape) that translates to my life Over Here, both in terms of religious practices and daily life.

So I always feel a bit guilty when I tell people they don’t have to be a spirit worker to be important or incredibly flashy religious people. It sounds a lot like pleasant platitudes coming from my mouth, useless words that don’t actually help.

Persephone by *alicechan
(Happy Spring, by the way.)

When I hear other spirit workers talk about how we need other people in our religions – homemakers, researchers, devotees who can’t hear the gods – I agree but I still feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that I’ve heard at least two spirit workers claim that they have it ‘worse off’ in concerns to doubt and discomfort in religion. Religion and spirituality are not about who is more tortured or who has the flashiest job. It’s about the gods and spirits (or, if you prefer, self-development). So, I’m going to try not to talk to such people or for them, but myself because, well, I really only know myself. I want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to invalidate anyone’s experiences, just tell my own.

It seems I am often still on slippery slopes with it comes to my place in my religion. Who am I, and what am I doing? And if I know what I’m doing, why am I doing it? Every day is a new question. I love that about my path. So many questions, endless, constant doubt and wonder. I know others don’t like doubt, find it painful – it is – but for me I wouldn’t be complete without it. And before anyone is tempted to hold me up as ‘one of those’ young spirit workers, I want to make it clear that I expect to be questioning myself years from now. If I stop questioning myself, I’m going to get worried. Sometimes the questions I ask are answered quickly; other days, I chew on them until I fall asleep exhausted.

“Is this what I should be doing? Is this helpful? Does this please the gods?”

And I have to learn what questions are helpful and which are hurtful. I could ask myself again and again why the gods care or nudge me, and I would not get an answer. I’ve gotten better at knowing what questions help hone my practice and myself and which just lead to senseless criticism and injury. “Why would anyone even care about me/what I do?” Well, heck if I know, but people do, and I have to remind myself not to beat my heart up trying to answer questions I can’t know the answer to.

Some days I look at what others do and think, “If only…” If only I was that smooth, that content, that incredible – I’m not good enough. This belief bleeds into my everyday life – I write every single day and read every single day and my mind is always on my faith, yet it never feels like enough. I measure myself against others or, worse yet, against the specter of someone who is always, always ‘better than’. Those days, it’s hard to remember that there isn’t a ‘better than’, and that my path is my own. I should own it. I should kick butt at it.

What I’m really getting at, in this big mess of words, is that we matter. All of us. So, so cheesy and sappy, but it’s the truth. I think Pagandom, as a whole, can be really good at forgetting that; perhaps not individuals or individual communities, but we’re seeing discussions of names and importance and the validity we give to names bubbling up in the blogosphere. So what I’m going to try to do more consciously now is remember that I’m important, and you’re important, and they’re important, and we’re all important. Even the people that drive me wild with anger or disgust (but that’s for another time…)

About Aine

Aine Llewellyn is a 20 year old girl creature currently mucking about in southern Arizona. She enjoys the winters and rain but can’t stand the heat. She is a difficult polytheist that natters on and on about her faith.

  • Del Tashlin

    It’s late at night, so I might not be at my most coherent, but I felt compelled to share some of my thoughts with you.

    I have come to realize that part of the impetus for that post got eaten. I think what happened is that I vented too much, too strongly, so that many people never got past the ranty pants Del and saw the “I’m really here to help” Del. I know some people got it, as I have seen many positive responses from less experienced (not always younger) spirit workers and laity who saw the gold admist the poop.

    I am planning a counter post to that essay, specifically to both clear up some pretty terrible misconceptions that people inferred from my words that wasn’t my intent whatsoever. Eh, it happens; I write to evoke emotion and inspiration, and often I forget that people who respond to writing think more critically, so I have plans to fix that.

    But it seems my real thesis – that every spiritual person, or even people still struggling with the role spirituality plays or will play in their life – is unique. Yeah, sure, Elizabeth and I worship, love, and Work for the same Deity, but our spiritual paths couldn’t be more different. She is celebate except for her God; I’m a polyamorous sex and kink educator who uses sexuality to get people in touch with their spiritual needs and being. Her experience of our God is lighthearted with a kinda silly streak (but also deep sincerity) and mine is a God driven mad with disbelief and the deepest well of grief I have ever seen.

    Both of us have had moments where we looked at the other and felt a deep jealousy. So many people relate to Him as a spouse, so I’ve been left in a little corner trying to figure out how to relate to a God as His child without feeling like I’ve just become some really odd version of Christianity, which as my milk religion, did a *lot*of damage to me (long story, obviously), and I looked. I looked in books, on the burgeoning Internet, I went to hundreds of Pagan, Norse, and generally spiritual events and retreats and met thousands of people. It wasn’t until I met my late friend Jon, who was a child of another Deity in the same pantheon, and it was so incredibly validating that we cried. Really. And neither of us were the type to do that sort of thing.

    So I’m coming at this from several perspectives, but most importantly as a spirit worker who felt the temptation, stringly, to mirror my path after someone else that seemed to nave a grip on what they were doing and who they were (as well as the “why me” question). If Elizabeth read this, she’d laugh a long series of guffaws, as she is still figuring all this shit out – we *all* are – but online and in books she seemed much more solid.

    That’s the danger I see; that this wave of young and/or inexperienced spirit workers are doing their very best tp work out the questions we all struggle with, and because struggle isn’t fun or easy (or instantly cured), they grab on with ten fingers to the first person they find who seems to understand something – anything – about it. It’s created a community of people who not only support and enrich each other (and I truly believe they do), but they also enforce a homogenous template of answers for themselves and the Interner at large – one of the big things us grouchy old timers stare agape at is how many of them offer FAQs, not about who they are of what their personal practice is, but how to be a godspouse “the right way” and what path of progression seekers should take in order to truly be accepted and fulfilled as a thing, a role, that until recently was an extremely rare way to interact with the Gods.

    This stems from something you touched on – they’re *terrified* of doing something wrong, asking the wrong question, or offering the wrong kind of food and drink – and by creating this template, they’ve created an incredibly false sense of security. I wrestle constantly between wanting to go into Super Grouchy Spirit Worker (I *am* the Lokean Pope, after al mode and yank away their security and peace by merely explaining that spirits -Gods, faeries, land wights, ensorceled items – have and will always want different things from different people (including for some of them to make spirituality their Purpose In Life, and some of them *not* to) and there is no big book of Deitific Answers that spells it all out in black and white.

    By enouraging them to be authentic, to trust their intuituon and truly understand that spirituality is a lifetime endeavor (Gods know I’ve been doing this mostly full time for more than a decade and I *still* have the same insecurities!), not a math problem that is solved neatly. By asking them to show their Work, and to look for the universal or highly relatable truths they find along the way, we will have a much stronger, focused, and powerful community of spirit workers and laity who will know they’re not alone, and that they don’t have to make lofelong oaths at 20 years old in order to feel that way.

    Thank you for your comments, as I am getting a clearer picture of what moe needs to be said.

    • Aine

      I think the homogenous template is especially dangerous. We’ve got to explore, and we have to learn to not be afraid (or as afraid, as it may be).

      I think there is this idea that you have to figure it out as quick as you can and then you’re done and perfect and that’s just…not true. At all. So people who do seem to have it figured out or who say they have get a lot of attention and gain rabid followings – but, that’s from what I’ve seen of tumblr, and tumblr is one of the worst resources you can get if you’re looking for balance.

      I also think we’re seeing a resurgence (if it ever went away?) of ‘my ignorance equals your knowledge’. No, no, no. A new spirit worker should not be educating; they should be figuring themselves out. The problem seems to be a lot of times that people will start educating days after experiencing something and there’s just this circle of people talking to each other and sinking in deeper to dangerous behavior…

      But I think a lot changes when we open ourselves up to being wrong or messing up, and being open about that.

  • Nellethiel

    “Religion and spirituality are not about who is more tortured or who has the flashiest job. It’s about the gods and spirits (or, if you prefer, self-development).”

    ^This. That’s what matters, in the end. I used to think I wasn’t really communicating with my Gods or doing any “real work” because I thought of my practice as “happy,” and even more than that, boring (in my eyes). I don’t journey, I don’t travel, I don’t do deep meditation, I don’t talk to spirits, I don’t have life-changing revelatory experiences about the self…well, you read my post :) Anyway, the point is, what I do isn’t boring (or even if it is, it’s still important). And what you do isn’t any more or less important. We both reach our Gods; and we are both telling our stories. And there are so many other people in-between, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and so on.

    And you know what, not everyone is meant to be “tortured” by the Gods, or spirits, or whatever. Some of us aren’t ready for that, aren’t able to handle that, aren’t *meant* to handle that; nor is it so black and white. What may seem “torturous” to me, might seem like a walk in the park for someone else. Spirituality is so very personal. How I am with my Gods will never be, nor should it be, how you or anyone else is with your Gods. And that’s ok.

    Great follow-up post to the ideas I and others have been putting out there :) Thank you.

    • Aine

      P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had a really great post the other day here on Patheos about the various faces of the gods, and how sometimes the god don’t appear to us as frightening, torturing beings because that’s not what we need and would just damage us. Not that the gods always get it right, but. You’re very right about it not being black and white, and about the different levels of pain we can handle.

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    If I go out to buy some coffee and a sandwich tomorrow to fuel up my brain before sitting down to write the single greatest short story in the history of American lit (that’s not actually going to happen, but bear with me), then in my view everyone involved in the process would be responsible for me writing that story. If I couldn’t have written it without a clear head, then I couldn’t have written it without the coffee farmers. If I couldn’t have written it when distracted by hunger, then I couldn’t have written it without the guy who made the sandwich. So all work is equal and there’s no such thing as “special” elite-status work. I think the same thing applies to the different types of spiritual work. Some have the job of journeying and spirit-work, some have a different job. But it’s all work.

    • Aine

      Yeah, but in that situation – who does society reward? Who do we prefer to praise? I’m willing to bet the barista isn’t the one. Not to be rude, but if we want people to be more content with their places, we need to actually work on changing how we interact and perceive people and positions. We can’t just say ‘yeah you’re important’. We have to work to show that, constantly.

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