This week I had the chance to catch up with Dr. Megan Rose. Her first book Spirit Marriage, Intimate Relationships with Otherworldly Beings was released about six months ago, so it’s a good time to check in on how the work is being received. I am also fascinated by the methodology she used to write the book and wanted to explore that in detail.
Researching Spirit Marriage
Why spirit marriage? Megan didn’t choose the topic, she said, “the topic chose me. I had a personal phenomenological experience of spirit marriage.” Since she’s a religious studies scholar (she has a seminary degree from the Graduate Theological Union) she responded to her experience by researching the subject.
It became clear the topic was huge. It wasn’t just a historic practice but also a contemporary one. “I knew about some of these practices, but I had no idea that they were still happening.” She realized that to do it justice she would have to conduct her investigation in an academic framework “to just give myself a really strong foundation and a really exquisite protocol to approach the material.” She added, “the material can be kind of ungrounding. It’s really edgy and in some ways transgressive.”
Megan is that gold standard of researchers, the scholar who also practices. “I’m an embodied researcher, meaning I don’t just think about it up here. I sort of take it in into my whole being. And as somebody who is a practitioner scholar, I was going to be practicing this as I was studying it. So I needed to find a container, a place that I could do the research in a really rigorous kind of way. So that’s how the PhD came about. I actually went to do the PhD so that I could do this research.”
The Daimon of the book
To conduct the interviews Megan engaged in a methodology called Organic Inquiry. “It’s this wonderful transpersonal approach that says research isn’t just about getting it out of a book or looking at data or even interviewing somebody. It’s about being in a numinous conversation with not just the person, the human that you’re interviewing, but also all the other spirits, and the daimon.” She drew a parallel with Plato’s guiding daimonion and the Hellenistic idea of the guiding spirit. This methodology recognizes that there is a tutelary spirit which has prompted you to do the work. “Organic inquiry really understands that inquiry in itself, or research in itself, can be a sacred and transformative process.”
This methodology seemed like a perfect fit for a researcher who was herself called to spirit marriage. She put out a call for people to interview. Then, she said, “I did some ritual around this and said, okay, daimon, who do you want me to interview? Bring them into my circle”.
The interview candidates had to meet a list of qualifications. The school enforced certain standards. “When you do human live subject research, you have to follow these protocols.” A series of synchronicities led her to nine people with a variety of backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and education. These nine people came from seven different traditions. Of course, one person can’t speak for an entire tradition, she said, but “one story is very powerful and it can tell us many things.” It can inspire us and mirror some of our own experience.
How the book has been received
I had the chance to see Megan present her research at PantheaCon 2020. At the time I thought there would be people who said I am so glad someone’s talking about that because it really validates my experience. Now that the ideas are out there in the world I wanted to know the kind of response she’s received.
The work has definitely been affirming. “By and large, the reception of the book has been really positive. People email me from all over the world saying, ‘oh, my gosh, I thought I was the only person,’ or ‘I thought that I was losing my marbles,’ or ‘I thought that maybe I was making this up and I got your book and I see myself in one of the stories.’”
Her work has attracted some detractors as well. “They feel that my interpretation of the stories is not their experience, which is totally fine and valid. What I’m trying to do is open up the conversation.”
Other people don’t like the term marriage. “I say in the book there are other terms that are used. Indwelling, co-walker, …. communion, merging or mingling. I use the term marriage because that was the term that was given to me by the entity that contacted me. And also we kind of understand what a marriage is, right? We understand that it’s a bond or a vow that two people take, maybe for a lifetime, maybe for just a period of time. It elicits an understanding of deeper commitment.”
Some people wondered what the difference was between a teaching spirit and one you’re married to. “I think that the research certainly shows that we can have a variety of these types of relationships. And that one might actually step into a type of married relationship with a teaching spirit. It’s by no means required to marry a spirit, you know, but it is a possibility.”
This is where the research methodology helped. Megan conducted almost all the interviews in person and offered the transcript to each person to review and edit. She wanted to make sure the stories were clear and accurate and reflected the experience of the person interviewed in their own voice.
It’s not surprising to me that Megan would take some criticism for her work. As she noted the subject is edgy. Historically, women who have dared to discuss erotic subjects have become targets. The book is dedicated to Ida Craddock, the nineteenth century woman who wrote Heavenly Bridegrooms about a spirit marriage. Sadly, U.S. Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock used his position to persecute her to the point that she took her own life.
Megan herself was helped by Ida’s story. “It was the first account that I encountered. I had this numinous experience in the early 2000s of a spirit lover that was asking me to marry. It had no clue what was going on. I went online and found her and I knew I wasn’t the only one.” She gained more insight into Ida’s life when she interviewed Vere Chappelle who wrote the biography Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic, the Essential Ida Craddock.
Dedicating the book to Ida was a thank-you to her spirit. “It was a form of soul retrieval for her. I really want this book to expiate the slander and malicious attacks that she suffered. What she was trying to do was this beautiful piece on women’s embodied spirituality and women’s sexual freedom and women’s sexual rights. And she was just lambasted for it.” Megan wanted to spotlight her story for both religious and magical studies communities. “We need to be more aware of the sacrifice that she made.”
I observed that Megan herself was catching the same kind of flak that Ida experienced. She considered the connection. “You invoke powerful spirits and beings, and sometimes I think you end up, you know, maybe taking on a little bit of that karma.” There is an element of harassment in the criticisms she’s sustained. Some of the things posted online have been unkind and bordering on personal libel, as well as based on misinformation and just plain sloppy research. “Some of the critics, they’re just not doing their homework.”
Our culture today is more open than it was in Ida Craddock’s time but it’s still difficult for women to talk about these subjects. “I think that those forces are out there still in the world, trying to trying to suppress these voices and to disempower the experience. I think it’s really important to keep talking about it.”
Megan intends to keep talking about relationship with spirit. Her next subject is entheosis, divine awakening. She says, “This is an area that I think has some really juicy trans-cultural phenomenology.” She touched on this at the end of Spirit Marriage and thinks it could turn into its own book, “to look more deeply at these transformative psycho-spiritual processes that put us in a deep devotional relationship.” Megan notes that this kind of relationship usually happens with a deity, in particular our patron deities. I’m excited to see where this project takes her.
Here’s a link to the interview. And check out Spirit Marriage, it’s a well-researched, respectful, and deeply helpful book.