Wednesday, November 4, 2009
From the back of the book: In the Northern Tradition, the Sun is represented by the Goddess Sunna, and the Moon by her divine brother Mani. They give their names to two of the days of the week, and their rays shine down upon us, giving life and inspiration. This devotional is dedicated to them, and to their family. They are more than mere personifications; they bring joy and peace to every day of our lives. We saw them first in the sky as children, and now we can understand and reverence them even more fully with the help of this book.
It's available from asphodelpress.com, lulu.com and, in a few weeks, amazon.com.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I miss the rosary. I’ve been Heathen for close to fifteen years. I’m a priest, shaman, godatheow and utterly devoted to Odin and the other Gods. But I was raised Catholic and while I have no connection with that religion anymore, I miss some aspects of devotional regalia used to good effect within this religion. Perhaps it is simply that I remember my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, praying the rosary (she had quite a devotion to the Virgin Mary); or perhaps it is that we are patterned by where we’ve been, where we’ve walked, and those practices that first opened us to the Gods, even if these things are longer part of our spiritual practice. I learned to pray at my grandmother’s knee and though I’m owned by a completely different family of Gods than she was, that early training has been immensely useful.
It wasn’t until recently, when speaking with a couple of colleagues, also Heathen, that I realized I wasn’t alone in missing the rosary, prayer cards, and certain aspects of ritual. There is something very compelling about a certain type of prayer, particularly a prayer that at any given time is being said all over the world, and has been said regularly all over the world since the fourteenth century. There is something equally compelling about having a tool that speaks to the physical senses as a mnemonic, engaging us with heart and hands in prayer and remembrance of our Gods. I can’t do anything about prayer cards – I’m no artist, but I know a little something about constructing and deconstructing prayers. I believe that there is merit in examining the religious practices with which we were raised and repurposing that which is helpful. A tool is a tool after all, whether it’s used by a Christian, Pagan, Heathen, Muslim, or any other religious person—and why should they have all the fun!
We can never escape where we’ve been, and that’s ok. We can, however, make our early exposure to various religious practices work for us. My adopted mom was the first one to open my eyes to this. I have used prayer beads for years, but never anything approximating a rosary and I remain surprised at how much I miss the five sets of ten. There’s something about that pattern, a familiarity that feels right. I have half a dozen sets of prayer beads that I use regularly and it was only recently that I thought about reworking the rosary (after finding a set in the deepest, prettiest shade of Wodinic blue…). My mom was the inspiration for this work. When I was writing “Feeding the Flame,” she gave me a prayer, which I will share with you below. It was a very moving prayer to Loki and Sigyn, the Gods to whom she is dedicated. She said that while she personally is no fan of Christianity, she often found herself missing the “Our Father” prayer. So, being a woman devoted to a mystic, almost monastic path, she sat down and meditated on what exactly she was missing, because it certainly wasn’t the Christian God. She realized, through her discernment, that she missed the message of the prayer and so she wrote her own, that encompassed what she felt that prayer could say to her own Gods. I have followed suit.
So for those Heathens and Pagans like me, who love prayer beads and find them immensely nourishing spiritually, who love their Gods and Goddesses, who have absolutely no desire to go back to their birth religions, but who feel that maybe, the monotheists oughtn’t to corner the market on beautiful prayer tools, I offer this reworked rosary below. Call it what you want. I know that for me, it restores a practice that I have long missed.
Reworking the Rosary: The Prayers
One of the things that I find fascinating about rosaries, is that there are so many lovely variations on them. You could make your own, or purchase one. For me, this became in part, a means of also honoring my grandmother, because I was able to use her rosary for my own prayers, which I found especially nice.
Most rosaries begin with a cross. I suggest respectfully removing the cross, and any other Christian religious medals (there is often a center medallion to the Virgin Mary). I encourage respect because I don’t believe it wise to show disrespect for any Deity. Remove the cross and medal (if there is one, mine had a large bead there) and give it to a Christian friend. I took mine to a Church and left it there. It may seem a silly precaution but as I said, it’s never a bad thing to be respectful, even if the Deity in question isn’t yours.
After you have removed the cross (and medal) affix a religious pendant of your own choice, a pentacle, hammer, or other Pagan or Heathen symbol. If your rosary also had a central medallion, replace that with a bead or metal ring, or whatever you feel will work for you. I want to reiterate again that this is not to be done out of disrespect for the Christian Gods. I remove these things out of respect for both my Gods and theirs.
The original order of prayers for the Catholic rosary is as follows:
1. Apostles Creed
2. Our Father
3. Hail Mary
4. Hail Mary
5. Hail Mary
6. Glory Be
7. Our Father
8. One Hail Mary per each bead in the sets of ten.
9. One Our Father on the spacers between the sets of ten.
10. Hail Holy Queen prayer to conclude.
Obviously, we’re not going to use those prayers. Once you’ve made the rosary your own, I offer the following prayers:
Begin with the religious pendant. On mine, I use a Prayer of Service from Raven Kaldera’s book “Dark Moon Rising” and I give that here, but if this isn’t your proverbial cup of tea, feel free to write your own.
1. Prayer of Service
(from “Dark Moon Rising” by Raven Kaldera)
I offer myself to Your will,
To better serve Your needs.
I offer myself as Your tool,
For my path is one of usefulness.
I offer myself to be used,
For to be used is to be valued.
I offer myself to be honed
To give a finer edge.
I offer myself to be changed,
That I may become a vessel,
A manifestation of Your will.
2.“Teach me, oh my Gods, to have correct knowledge and understanding, for Your blessing is all that I desire. Speak Your words in my ear, oh Makers of all Things, and set Your wisdom in my heart. (This has been adapted by my friend Sophie Reicher from an Enochian prayer).
3. I bind myself today to the Holy Powers:
Their hands to guide me,
Their wisdom to teach me,
Their ears to hear me,
Their words to give me speech,
Their will to use me,
My heart, always, ever always, to love Them.
(repeat for 4 and 5).
6. Sigdrifa's Prayer
7. Lord and Lady Prayer (given below)
8. In the sets of ten, in place of the Hail Mary say:
Hail to the Gods and Goddesses.
Your grace illumines all things.
Your gifts shine forth,
Making fruitful nine mighty worlds.
Blessed are those that serve You.
Blessed are those that seek You out.
Holy Powers, Makers of all things,
Bless and protect us in Your mercy.
Lead us along the twisting pathways of our wyrd
And when it is time, guide us safely along the Hel-road.
9. On each of the spaces between sets of ten, in place of the “Our Father” say:
My Lord and My Lady, my Beloved Ones,
May those you call always hear Your voice.
May I always love You beyond trust and mistrust.
May my surrender be complete and voluntary.
Give me this day the grace of Your presence.
When I fail You of Your kindness,
Permit me to make amends.
Use me and teach me according to Your will,
And deliver me from all complacency.
This prayer was written by Fuensanta Arismendi. She would insert the names of Loki and Sigyn, but since not everyone is dedicated to these Gods, I recommend, after the words ‘My Lord and My Lady,” inserting the names of the Gods that you do most often honor and most deeply love.
10. Once you have gone through all five sets of ten, you will arrive again at the spacer bead tying everything together. Repeat Sigdrifa’s prayer to conclude.
For those of you reading this who may use prayer beads in your own practice, I would love to know what people are doing. Please feel free to share in the comments or via email Krasskova at gmail.com.
Wikipedia entry on the rosary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary
History of the Rosary: http://www.rosaryworkshop.com/HistoriesIndex.htm
Gorgeous rosaries for sale: http://magnificatrosaries.com/_wsn/page11.html
Pagan Prayer Beads: http://www.pagan-prayerbeads.com/
Unpacking the Pagan Prayer Beads: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2344
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
This temple to Cybele in upstate NY is facing serious discrimination, ostensibly because they are Pagan but also likely because they are trans folk/trans friendly. If anyone can help, please consider doing so. These people are not only legitimate, but they are doing the Work. When the Gods came calling with a difficult task, they stepped up to the plate. If you are not in a position where you can offer any support, please keep them in your prayers.
For those of you who think this doesn't concern you consider: do we want a legal precedent set that encourages discrimination of polytheists? THAT has the potential to affect us all.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Check it out, folks.
(who has been swamped with moving into a new house and finishing grad school but will soon be back to a regular posting schedule :) )
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
In the early days of Neo-Paganism, many groups strove to be as nonjudgmental as possible, usually as a reaction to the religions of their upbringing. Some group leaders were careful to point out that while they might have administrative duties – making sure that the incense got bought, and that there were enough candles of the proper colors, and that the ritual speakers had all their lines – they weren’t there to tell anyone what to believe. Eventually, as some groups created more unwavering doctrine and dogma, it was slowly accepted in many of them that if belief in a certain theology is integral to the practice of the group, the leader (or the Council of Elders, or whoever else is chosen for the task) has the right and obligation to take on the task of Sacred Gatekeeper, deciding what beliefs and practices will be acceptable within that practice.
Part of the reluctance of leaders to take on the gatekeeping task has been the reluctance of Neo-Pagan group members to let them. Many Neo-Pagans left religions where they had bad experiences with gatekeepers, and they are wary of allowing anyone else to decide anything about their spiritual experience, ever again. Some individuals (and even some groups) commit strongly enough to this ideal that they staunchly support the concept not only of everyone choosing their own personal spiritual path, but of a group practice where there are no boundaries around what anyone might choose to do spiritually at any moment. People being who and what they are, however, this sort of thing rarely works for a mixed group of people. Spirituality may be deeply personal and individual, but religion is a group practice and any group practice requires compromise, if only to figure out what the heck this random bunch of people is going to be doing together tonight.
So now, to one extent or another, we have group leaders (or elders, or whatever title is used) whose job is to decide on and guard the boundaries of what-our-group-does from what-our-group-doesn’t-do. Part of that job will inevitably require them to evaluate the personal gnosis of anyone who wants to make changes based on inspiration of some sort. This is a heavy and uncomfortable responsibility. Most don’t relish the job of having to tell the bright-eyed member brimming with devotion and enthusiasm that after long and thoughtful scrutiny, this innovation does not fit with the concepts that the leader has been charged to protect. It’s hard to say those things in the face of someone else’s spiritual dreams, knowing that your decision may well be interpreted as a denigration of their devotion, their psychic ability, their intelligence, or even their sanity. It’s even harder to remain open and compassionate in the wake of the bitterness and resentment that often follows. The temptation to rebuff them, to enclose one’s self in the righteousness of one’s position of rules-guardian, is often strong.
This is why the leader of a religious group needs to remain compassionate and flexible about how the boundaries are enforced, and be able to come up with imaginative ways to make situations work. If it isn’t appropriate to do this activity that Quetzalcoatl has asked for in the main Greek-oriented Solstice ritual, might it be possible to hold a separate small ritual on another day? Could there be instead a workshop or discussion held about Quetzalcoatl? It’s also possible to tell the Message Bearer that things have to move more slowly; perhaps the group members need some information over time to get used to the idea of Quetzalcoatl, and patient “pre-briefing” over a number of months will bring a better result than forcing something onto a reluctant group.
If the personal gnosis is not something that the leader believes that the group can endorse at all, there’s a lot of credit that can be built by actively aiding the Message Bearer in question to find a group that accept their gnosis, or at least get them in touch with like-minded people. Just the fact that the gatekeeper is willing to help with that, or to designate someone to help with that, goes a long way toward counteracting the potential impression of all the personal denigrations listed in the last paragraph. There’s also a good deal of high moral ground in having done everything you can to be respectful of your member’s gnosis while still refraining from compromising your own boundaries.
In the event that the Message Bearer facing you down states that God X demands this and there will be consequences to pay if it doesn’t happen, the leader needs to be willing to verbally accept those consequences, even if the leader secretly believes that they are imaginary. (If nothing else, there will be social consequences regarding the leader’s relationship with the Message Bearer, and any other members who see the process happen.) This is where it’s often good for a leader to have a couple of trusted diviners that they can call on – if I refuse to do this because I don’t believe that my community will accept it well, will Quetzalcoatl really smite me, or is this particular Message Bearer overreacting and misinterpreting?
It also lends credibility if the group has a process for judging personal gnosis that isn’t just the leader’s whim. While the leader may have given the matter several days of deep thought and prayer and a couple of Tarot readings, it can still look like a whim to the people who don’t see that part. A public process that is moderated by the leader, or at least a public advisory committee, can lend more transparency and thus more trust to the process. (We’ll discuss a few examples of these in a different section.) More credibility is also extended to the leader whose own personal gnosis is publicly submitted to this process when there is any question in the group.
It’s fair for a leader who is facing down an intractable Message Bearer to remind them of their responsibilities as per the last section (perhaps by giving them a copy to read or reread) and then calmly ask how the Message Bearer intends to find a way to make the message convincing and acceptable to members of the group who honestly believe X or Y. It may help for the leader to remind the Message Bearer that those people are also under the leader’s purview, and also deserve to be part of his/her sacred trust to protect and be fair to all. Simply squaring off in oppositional positions of “Champion Of The Gods” and “Champion Of The People” will be counterproductive; it behooves the leader to undermine the assumption that those archetypal roles are inevitable, in any way possible.
(Some groups don’t have single leaders, but rotate the leadership or function in consensus. For these groups, the challenge is even greater. It doesn’t mean that they can ignore the standards below. Instead, it means that every single person in the group with influence must be held to these standards, without exception. No one ever said that taking responsibility would be easy.)
So, given that, what standards should group members – new and long-term – hold for the people who carry the sacred trust of being the spiritual gatekeeper for a group? We asked a number of Pagans this question over a period of time. How would a group leader have to behave in order to gain your trust as someone authorized to judge any personal gnosis you bring to their group? The following list is a reflection of those responses:
1. They are generally honorable people with a good track record of keeping their commitments and treating their members well.
2. They are known for being honest and not deceptive. They know what they know, and what they don’t know, and are clear about that.
3. They accept criticism gracefully and maturely, apologize and make amends for their mistakes, and firmly hold to their decisions when they don’t think the criticism is valid.
4. They are clear and open about their spiritual beliefs, including the values that they extrapolate from those beliefs, and how those values might be put into practice. (“One of our sacred poems says X, and to me that means that I should always do Y, and in a situation that called for Y I’d react this way.”) They are willing to talk about both their passion for their faith and the times when they’ve been assaulted by doubts. (Be suspicious of a group leader who says that they’ve never had doubts, if only about their ability to live up to their own faith’s tenets.)
5. They are clear on where their authority begins and ends, how those boundaries were set, and whether all the members of their group agree on those boundaries. They are clear on what the group’s core values and beliefs are, and whether all members of the group actually believe them, and to what extent those core values and beliefs are held in other groups of the same tradition. They do not claim moral or spiritual authority over people outside of their group who did not consent to it.
6. They have handled the personal gnosis of members skillfully in the past – “skillfully” meaning in ways that have not created clouds of drama, and have satisfied all members to the greatest extent that they could be satisfied while not compromising the structure of the group. They have implemented (or inherited and used) a workable system for judging personal gnosis that has proven itself to be reasonably reliable.
7. They speak courteously about the personal gnosis of others, both inside and outside of their group, even when – perhaps especially when – it differs strongly from their own. They encourage similar courtesy among their members, and quash backbiting. They may firmly disagree with someone else’s position, but they do not descend into personal attacks or unfounded accusations designed to throw suspicion on the character of people with opposing gnosis, and openly discourage such reactions among their members. They differentiate between unwanted behavior and unwanted gnosis in former members – rather than “Joe was an evil pantheist who thought that Pan and Frey were the same god,” it should be “Joe disrupted a ritual and upset people by calling Pan by the name of Frey even when we’d asked him not to bring that up in group rites.”
8. They react to accusations of bad behavior by group members by thoroughly investigating the problem before stating an opinion on it, and they ask group members to similarly reserve judgment until the investigations are finished and a report made. (This should be especially true with regard to bad behavior that stems from someone’s personal gnosis.) They discourage intra-group hysteria and drama, and provide a constant voice of reason. They investigate multiple sources of the accusations, and cross-check all sides equally. They do not consider harm to be done unless someone is willing to come forth and claim that they have been harmed; accusations that “I heard on the Internet that they hurt someone, but I don’t know who that is,” should not be counted as useful information in an investigation.
9. They react to accusations of bad behavior by people outside the group by first thoroughly investigating as to whether the actions of the accused will actually affect the group in any meaningful way, besides providing gossip fodder. If the answer is no, they remind the group of this and refocus them back onto their own practice. If the answer is yes, they thoroughly investigate the problem before stating an opinion on it, and again ask group members to reserve judgment until they are finished. They remember at all times that most people enjoy a state of exciting drama over a state of boring peace, and will consciously or unconsciously attempt to proliferate the drama. They remind people over and over that if something is alleged, it should be proven before it is believed. A good group leader is a speaker for the truth, and rumors are the enemy of truth.
10. If someone has at one point claimed to be harmed by someone’s actions, but is unwilling to discuss this or stand forth, the group leader should offer their protection for speaking the truth. If this does not suffice, the claimant must be told that their experience will be discounted if they are not willing to stand behind it. This is a hard point, and many group leaders give way before someone’s wish to be safely anonymous and still have their “attacker” punished, especially when it’s near-impossible to tell whether the “accuser” is simply too frightened or is unwilling to defend a partially or completely untrue accusation. However, the leader owes it to the group to give them trustworthy evidence as to whether to believe something that may affect them, and this sometimes means making unpopular decisions between privacy and group stability.
11. They react to fears of possible outside negative influences by calmly and objectively investigating the likelihood of the influence affecting their group (beyond merely frightening people). If the possibility proves itself to be negligible, they calm down the fearful in the group.
12. If , for whatever reason, they are unable to investigate any of these problems calmly and objectively due to personal issues, they appoint someone whose judgment they trust and who can be calm and rational about the problem (perhaps because they’re not involved with the group) to investigate for them. This assumes that they have such trusted individuals to call on, which they should.
13. They have good problem-solving skills, and they are quicker to attempt to resolve conflict than to start it. They are good at conflict resolution, and they encourage courtesy and appreciation for each other in all their members.
14. They are appreciative of the strong points of their members, and accepting of their personal idiosyncrasies. One Pagan woman commented that she was more able to trust the opinion of a group leader who accepted her as a person. Another commented on the importance of giving credit where credit was due: “Joe, if I wanted advice on X, you’d be the first person I’d come to. However, this is Y, and I need to listen to someone who’s as experienced in Y as you are at X. Where the problem infringes on X, that’s where I’m going to take your opinion more seriously.”
Being the leader of a religious group is one of the most difficult jobs ever given to a human being. It’s often assumed (even if it’s not part of your group’s official doctrine) that you will be some sort of intermediary between the Divine and the people, especially if you’re a priest/ess and not just an administrator. When a Message Bearer shows up, it can create insecurities: “I’m the priest, why didn’t they give me the message?” In some cases, it may be useful to ask whether the message was sent by this medium for a reason, a reason that has nothing to do with the group you protect and everything to do with learning lessons about your own triggers and issues. While that may not be the case, it’s certainly worth musing about, if only when you’re home alone. It might even be true if the message is entirely false; it might be the Universe testing your ability to gracefully handle such things. So long as we deal with real Gods and spirits, and they continue to be interested in assisting our evolution, such ambivalent lessons will keep occurring throughout our lifetimes.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Message Bearer
Sometimes, as we’ve said, the message from the Spirits is for you and you alone. Sometimes that’s pretty clear, but other times people want to share that message – perhaps because they want to know if this sort of thing has happened to other people, or because it’s so life-changing that they just can’t keep it inside themselves. Sometimes the message even comes with the dictum: Share this. Put it out where others can see. The Message Bearer might write about it, or talk about it in workshops or discussion groups. In this case, the Message Bearer has the responsibility of acknowledging in the writing or the discussion that this is their own personal message, their own gnosis. They need not apologize for it, and one clear acknowledgment should be enough.
The problem comes in when the Message Bearer brings their personal gnosis to their religious group and asks to have it integrated into group practice and values. Sometimes the message may even be something concerning the group practice itself, which always has the potential to be controversial. While we’ve already established that a group needs to have a clear process by which to judge people’s personal gnosis, the Message Bearer is not devoid of responsibility for how the process goes.
If the Gods and spirits have given you a message and indicated that you must take that message to other people, you have been given a sacred trust, and you must not abuse the trust that They have in you. Certain obligations will be landing on your head, and if you shirk them, you will be dishonoring their gift of knowledge. If you’re a spirit-worker – if you’re the one with the “spirit-phone” who gets messages on a regular basis – you have an extra obligation to be scrupulous about these obligations, because you’re going to be in this situation a lot, and you’d better learn to get it right.
1. First, cross-check your information. Get divination on the matter. We suggest getting readings on the subject from two different people – one who understands your spiritual situation and is sympathetic, and one who is distant and does not know or care about your situation. If they differ, something’s wrong. Discard the reading that is the one closest to what you want to hear, and try another one with a similar person. If you still get differing results, replace the other diviner and try again with someone similar. If there’s no cohesion after all this, put the matter aside and pray, asking the Gods and spirits to send clarity. Don’t try anything with the information for at least three months.
2. In order to best carry out the trust that the Gods and spirits have placed in you, you have an obligation to pass the message along in the way that will get it heard most effectively. If you simply throw it out and your target audience doesn’t get the message, or gets it wrong and becomes angry with you, you’ve failed in the Gods’ mission and dishonored the message that they trusted you with. Getting something heard most effectively may require using language that is familiar and respectable to the target group, or speaking from a persona that is nonthreatening to them and emphasizes what you have in common. It may mean giving out part of the message and creating a foundation that might eventually support the rest of it. It might mean intimately studying the attitudes and biases of your target audience, or seeking help from sympathetic members for ways to craft the “packaging” of the message. While the Gods don’t want you to compromise the meaning, effectively carrying out their trust may mean coming as close to that line as is humanly possible in your attempts to make it hear-able to them.
3. Ask not only whether you got the message clearly, but whether you are the best person to pass it along. We all like to think that we’re special, but it may be that you’re meant to pass it to someone who your target audience will be more likely to listen to. That may require some swallowing of pride, but the Gods are less concerned with your pride and more concerned with getting things done properly.
4. Be clear on who your target audience is. If it’s “people in general” or “random unknown people out there who are in the same situation as me,” your obligation is correspondingly less. You should indicate in your spoken or written message that this material is intended for that audience, and that it is your own personal gnosis, and that’s all you need to do. If your target audience is a specific demographic, it’s on you to make the message as effectively heard as possible, which might mean get expert help from sympathetic people in that demographic who can aid you in your slant. When you are a Divine Messenger, you need to remember that the medium is as important as the message, because if the audience rejects the medium the message dies and you’ve failed. You also need to remember that you and your public behavior are part of the medium.
If your target audience is a specific group of people with a leader, then the best thing that you can do is to go to the leader and ask them how to get this message across to people in a nonthreatening way. Remember that to be the spiritual leader of a group is also a sacred trust; leaders are gatekeepers that protect their people, and that’s their appropriate job. Be wary of personal gnosis that casts you as the implacable enemy of the leader (or the whole group) with no compromise but their surrender, or the one who is charged with “teaching them a lesson”, or the victimized and misunderstood voice in the wilderness. Those are extremely likely to come out of your own baggage. If you are fairly sure that the leader is going to reject your message, it may help to talk to members who know the leader well and can give advice on how to present it convincingly. Unless you intend to supplant and banish the leader (which is a dangerous game), don’t go over their heads and begin shilling for support for your idea without talking to them. It’s unlikely that you’ll get their cooperation after that, and things will probably go downhill at that point.
5. In addition, make sure that you know who your target audience isn’t. If you’re writing for people in one denomination, the disapproval of people in other denominations can be ignored, so long as you are being courteous about other groups and their differences from your own. You’re not trying to please everyone; you’re trying to get a message through effectively to a specific bunch of people. Achieving that, whatever it takes, is your job … and in this instance, if you don’t practically decide whose biases to take into account and whose to ignore, you aren’t doing your job.
6. If all else fails and you can’t find a way to pass it on effectively, it’s time to throw yourself down in front of their altar and say, “Lord/Lady, I want to do your message justice and get it heard and accepted by the greatest possible number, but I don’t know how to do that! Please give me some guidance in how I can make this happen.” If they gave you the Word to pass on, they’re obligated to help you do it … but sometimes you have to ask for help rather than stumbling in with guns of enthusiasm blazing and making a mess.
Throughout history, mystics have tended to be divided into two groups: the ones that the current social structure honors, and the ones that are outcasts. Sometimes the dividing line is political – those who say what the current group in power doesn’t want to hear will be blacklisted. Sometimes it’s about social standards – one recalls St. Francis and how his poverty-lifestyle horrified his rich Italian family. Sometimes it’s because the Gods and spirits pick someone who has good “psychic hearing” but isn’t the most stable of people (and there are many anecdotal reports that having a really strong psychic receiver throughout one’s childhood isn’t exactly conducive to perfect sanity). Sometimes it’s because the Gods and spirits lay taboos or demand behaviors from the mystic that clash with their culture and make them seem somewhat less than respectable. In fact, it seems like the most famous mystics didn’t start out as anyone “respectable”, and the few that did quickly turned away from what had given them that socially stable reputation in the first place. The call of the Divine can be all-encompassing, and in the face of it all the human rules can seem extremely trivial.
Still, it is up to the mystic who feels driven to get their message through to a discrete group to find the best possible balance of who they must be to be true to their calling, and who they must be to actually communicate most effectively. That can be the barest knife’s edge, but one assumes that the Gods and spirits would not choose someone who couldn’t eventually figure out how to do that … maybe after a few years of hard knocks. Still, some mystics were reviled curmudgeons to the end of their days, and it was not until well after their death that their works were revered. Perhaps to the Gods and spirits, with their long view of Time and the Universe, that’s good enough, but it can be fairly demoralizing to the Message Bearer in question.
Is being someone on the “edge” of society more likely to make you able to hear the Gods? Is hearing the Gods more likely to put you on the edge of society? We don’t know for sure, although speculations have been rife for hundreds of years. But they are still valid questions to ask, especially to the Message Bearer who is trying to balance looking trustworthy to the People and being true to the Gods, and shirk neither … because in this case, to shirk the one is to betray the other. It will never be an easy road to walk.
Friday, June 26, 2009
By Sophie Reicher
Magicians are territorial creatures. We grow more so as our power and skill levels increase. Working magic well takes a certain stubborn dominance of will that can lead to an incredible sensitivity toward power, territory and boundaries. We know where the sphere of our influence ends to the centimeter and we generally don’t much like others of equal power coming within a hundred yards of our territory, even sometimes when this happens by our own invitation. Negotiating protocol between a group of master magicians can be a headache-inducing exercise in diplomacy and tact (even when all of the magicians involved are good friends—there’s friendship and then there’s work after all). This is in part because magic is all about gaining and using power. I have heard politics called ‘the art of the possible’ and in truth, I think magic fits this bill even more. Those of us who reach the higher levels of practice are patterned and formed by the practice itself. If we don’t start out with rather large egos (often based in very clearly recognized and demonstrable skill), we tend to develop them over time. It goes, if you will pardon the pun, with the territory. High level magic can be quite difficult and quite physically painful and the Master or Adept develops a certain stubborn willfulness to endure and gain the upper hand. It’s a side effect of the necessities of training.
I never really gave much thought to how this affects a magician’s interaction with his or her students or apprentices until very recently. Over the years I have had both but the past two years I took something of a sabbatical from teaching (one does run the risk of burn out after awhile). Only recently have I again opened my doors to students and one erstwhile apprentice. I recently outsourced my current apprentice to another master magician for very specific training. When that magician in turn brought in a third teacher without informing me, I became quite angry. It was a violation (all unintentional on both our parts) of the protocol I had been taught. We’re all control freaks. That too goes with the territory: magicians are obsessed with controlling every aspect of their world as much as possible. Nowhere is that more pronounced than with students. There is a certain professional, collegial courtesy, an etiquette that we maintain when dealing with another’s student or apprentice, one that I’d never had cause to consciously put into words before. It’s painfully easy to forget about that etiquette when dealing with a colleague who is also a close friend. While the other magician and I had a productive discussion that resulted in my being kept ‘in the organizational loop’ so to speak (which was what I’d wanted), and while I agreed that the outsourcing to a third party was right and necessary, the whole incident caused me to re-evaluate how we were taught to relate to students and apprentices and what the difference between the two might be. There are differences and there is a traditional dynamic, a cosmological groove that often comes into play and oh how I wish I’d realized it when I first began teaching!
So here it is and any students or apprentices reading this might find the reality of the matter a bit dismaying. Understand that the magician is bound just as strongly as the student or apprentice. It’s in no way a one-sided binding. There are obligations and duties on both sides. No one gets the proverbial free lunch here. Basically, students and apprentices are both physical extensions of the magician’s territory. Understand that this means exactly what it says: the apprentice, particularly, and to a lesser degree the student are extensions of the magician’s sphere of influence. Students have far more freedom than apprentices and the magician has far fewer responsibilities to someone who is just a student (though what responsibilities there are tend to be quite binding). How tightly a magician controls the life of the Student or apprentice varies from practitioner to practitioner. I tend to train the way I myself was trained which was pretty old-fashioned and strict though the older I get the more flexible it seems I’ve become about the whole thing, at least in part.
There is a reason for the strictness of the training: an apprentice is learning to wield a significant amount of power. This is not a game or imaginary exercise. He or she is being exposed to training that can make him quite dangerous. It is the master’s responsibility to ensure that the student develops a certain sense of ethics, discipline and control, that he is she is not unbalanced by the training or the power, that he understands the costs, and the difference between lawful and unlawful action. Until the magician is sure that the student isn’t going to go off the deep end, or egregiously misuse his training, it’s best to keep control so that any potential problems can be nipped in the bud. We’ve all seen students who gain a little skill and suddenly develop egos all out of proportion to their training and who then rush out to do stupid things that end up either getting themselves or someone else hurt, or creating a mess for their teacher to clean up. The way to offset this is to maintain appropriate hierarchy, no matter how frustrating that might seem. It’s not enough to have the skill, there must also be a level of maturity and discipline. Understanding what I call chain of command from the very beginning helps immensely with that. It also gives the teacher the magical access and, moreover, the karmic right to lock the student down if necessary.
The magician is responsible for protecting the student or apprentice, for training him (or her), for helping him develop his gifts, and in some cases (I’m thinking of live in apprentices here) of providing room and board. In return, the apprentice or student works his ass off doing whatever he is told. That obedience is the coin with which the Student/apprentice pays for training. Apprenticeship takes this dynamic a step further. The apprentice is far more integrated into the magician’s life and household. Whereas students are simply expected to practice, study, and not seek out external training without permission, apprentices may become the magician’s errand boys, girl Fridays, house keepers, and assistants as needed. They maintain a far closer relationship with the magician and in turn, gain far more knowledge and power. Essentially, the apprentice becomes a reservoir for a certain level of power invested in him by the magician. The apprentice then becomes a living extension of the magician’s will. Over time, the magician begins to allow the apprentice to take more and more of an active role in whatever work is being done, to express far more individual initiative, and over time, both of these things combine to pattern and prepare the apprentice for handling higher and higher levels of power. Eventually, the bond reaches its fulfillment and the apprentice goes off on his own with the blessings of his teacher. The only obligation then maintained is that the apprentice cannot/should not use what he learned against his teacher. There remains a hierarchy of respect. It can be at its worst, a brutal system. At its best, it functions with military precision.
The downside occurs when expectations are not clearly set from the beginning. There is also the inevitability of transference (or counter transference), particularly if the Student or apprentice has any unresolved parental or authority issues. It’s incumbent on the magician to maintain constant objectivity with regard to the teacher-Student/apprentice relationship. The personal should not enter into it. It’s a hard road. My apprentice years were awful but I learned a tremendous amount and I don’t regret them in the least. I also learned that the hardest thing for a teacher is to know when to let go, when there is nothing more to teach. In the best relationship, the teacher learns as much from the process of teaching as the apprentice or Student does. Ideally, the apprentice is the most trusted person in the magician’s life. This is the person the magician is grooming to become a colleague, an equal, maybe a replacement. They should ultimately work as a well-honed team. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the ideal.
I also maintain a difference between a student: someone who comes to me asking for specific training in one or two areas, or who takes a class from me and a Student, someone who wants to learn the ins and outs of an esoteric art on an ongoing basis but who is not, for some reason, wishing to become an apprentice. I far prefer working with students, as the reciprocal obligations are few (teach what they’ve asked you to teach and let them go). The more in depth that a magician is working with someone, the more obligations for that person’s training, well-being, and safety the magician incurs. If an apprentice that I have trained goes bad, I’m responsible for cleaning up the mess and locking that person down regardless of the cost to myself. The severity of the teaching relationship allows the teacher to, as accurately as possible, suss out potential problems and instabilities. The downside is that as the apprentice progresses, he is well-placed to harm his teacher because he will know the ins and outs of the teacher’s protections and has access to the teacher’s workspace and tools. There’s a great degree of trust required on both sides. It also presupposes a degree of maturity and integrity on the part of the magician that, in reality, may sometimes be lacking. I see nothing wrong with asking for a trial period before entering into a master-apprentice bond because the last thing someone needs is to end up with a Teacher who is cruel or unbalanced. I’m not averse to actually writing up a contract with clearly defined responsibilities on both sides.
There is another side to the teacher-apprentice relationship (and to a limited degree the teacher-Student relationship) that is almost never discussed. Because the Student or Apprentice is so connected to the Teacher, the law of negative rebound often comes into affect. We most often see this with familiars: if someone throws malicious or harmful magic at a magician and his or her shields are too strong for the magic to affect him or her directly, it will often rebound and strike the point of greatest weakness: finances, love relationship, pets’ health, car…anything that isn’t protected adequately. One of the reasons that many magicians traditionally had pet familiars is that they form an early warning system that someone is trying to attack the magician magically. Familiars will absorb attacks meant for the magician and in worst case scenarios will sicken and die. This protects the magician and gives warning that counter measures must be taken. It’s one of the fundamental purposes of a familiar. Likewise, a powerful attack can hit the Students and apprentices before hitting the Master. This is one of the primary reasons that I keep a close and watchful eye on my own Students and my one apprentice: it is my duty to protect them from this eventuality. If you want to make a brutal point and weaken a magician, strike at his or her apprentice. It’s rude. It’s unfair. It’s a violation of traditional protocol but it’s also damned effective. It is right of ownership, invoked by the power of the traditional master-apprentice bond that allows the master magician to adequately circumvent this danger.
None of this means that the master magician doesn’t see and value the individual personality and talents of the Student or apprentice. He does. In fact he has to. It’s because of who the apprentice is that the magician accepted him or her in that role in the first place. There has to be mutual respect and a certain compatibility of approach and personality for it to really work well. What I’m discussing above is the over-arching dynamic in which that personal relationship rests, the bigger picture, if you will. The best teachers that I’ve encountered are the ones who are always carefully and exquisitely aware of their duties and responsibilities, who never take either students, Students, or apprentices for granted. It’s a privilege, not a right to take on that role. We have an obligation to be the type of teachers we ourselves would have wanted.
This is the reason why magicians often want students or apprentices but also at the same time dread having them.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Neo-Paganism is largely a religion of converts. There are a small number of members who were raised in it and decided to stay, but the vast majority were raised in other faiths (or none) and converted at some point in their adult lives. This means that there is a continual trickle of folks who look into various Neo-Pagan groups to see if they’re right for them. Some will stay; some might move on to other Neo-Pagan traditions; others might leave entirely and become Buddhists or Hindus (or even go back to the faith of their upbringing). This is common, and expected. A spiritual quest may take someone through many paths, each of which rings true in some small way, until they find the one with the truest ring for them. It’s also true that human beings change over time, and the path that was right for us this year may not fit as well a couple of decades later. People aren’t static, and neither is their spirituality.
In some mainstream religious denominations, great efforts are made to convince potential converts to stay, and to prevent them from leaving and seeking out another group. Part of this may be due to a doctrinal dictum that stresses gathering quantity of members at all costs, or that believes in terrible consequences for any human beings who aren’t part of that group and honestly wants to “save” them, but usually it’s due to the entirely human emotional reaction of wanting group validation of one’s beliefs from as many people as possible. In these groups, schisms are seen as entirely negative and unwanted, and it is considered acceptable to attempt to restrict exposure to other religious ideas. (Most Neo-Pagans, being of a more tolerant bent, would tend to consider these groups as “repressive”.)
Since many of these denominations strongly value a generational continuation of their structure – meaning the children of the members will grow up to stay in the group and pass on their beliefs to their members rather than seeking out other truths – it is considered especially effective to restrict the spiritual explorations of children and adolescents. One hears “But what about the children!” often when theologically “threatening” practices are brought up, as in: “The children might hear about this, and be led astray! We must prevent them from ever finding out about it, because of course they’ll value the shiny new dogma over the familiar, because they’re too young to know any better.”
In Neo-Paganism, the subject of children’s religious rights has been a controversial one. Since we’ve generally been suspicious of any group that claims theirs is the Only Way, and the practice that all human beings on the earth should follow, and since we’ve historically embraced the idea that all people should choose their own path, we’ve usually (although not always) been liberal about allowing children to learn about a multiplicity of religious choices. Some groups – generally the initiatory mystery traditions who will not initiate anyone too young to make their own decisions – have erred on the side of teaching children about many different religions and refusing to privilege their own over any other. Others raise their children in their own tradition, but do not prevent them from exploring other options in adolescence, or punish them for doing so.
Second-generation Neo-Pagans, however, are still only a small percentage of our number, so we rarely hear objections on the “…but what about the children!” topic. Ironically, though, we do hear that same language with the word “newbies” inserted to replace “children”. “But what about the newbies! They’ll hear (alternative theology X), and they’ll be confused, and they might stray!” And so forth. One assumes that this is largely coming from people who were raised in the above “repressive” sort of groups, and who have not yet abandoned the concept of quantity-at-all-costs, or who take every defection as a personal invalidation of their beliefs.
The difference, of course, is that newbies are not children. They are, one assumes, mentally competent adults. (If they aren’t mentally competent adults, there will be some sort of legal caretaker to deal with, and one should proceed as if they are someone else’s child. If the state considers them mentally competent and you don’t, letting them into your group is probably going to cause more problems than it’s worth.) To treat a newcomer to your denomination as if they were a child, as if they were not capable of weighing opposing views, asking questions of multiple people, and making the decision that is best for them, is a profound insult. To even speak of newcomers, as a group, in this way is a profound insult.
It’s a rare Pagan who will admit, “Yes, when I first came to Neo-Paganism, I was so stupid and incompetent that I was incapable of reading multiple books, asking questions about anything unclear, and judging opposing viewpoints. I’m so indebted to the group that I joined for raising me to the level of being capable of making decisions when faced with a movie marquee or a restaurant menu. I’m so glad that they’ve prevented me from sullying my delicate mind with alternative concepts that will no doubt turn me into a confused, quivering wreck were I even to contemplate them.” Yet by even suggesting that certain concepts should not be available to newcomers, you are implying that this is the norm among them.
Most “newbies” – and personally I’d rather use the term “seekers” here as it’s less diminutizing – have a strong concept of what they don’t want, even if they’re not sure about what they do want. They know, for example, that wherever they came from is not what they want, or they’d still be there. They came looking for something that resounded in them, and they may leave looking for something that resounds more closely. For a seeker to look elsewhere is not a failure on the part of the group they are currently involved with. For a seeker to leave is also not a failure – in fact, it may be a success, if you count “successful” as “knowing what it is that you are supposed to do, and being willing to risk in order to get it”. It may not be easy to see it as a success when you’re a member of the “abandoned” or “rejected” group, but a good spiritual leader will be objective about the reality of spiritual seeking, and help their group members to understand this as well.
You’ll notice that I deliberately used the words “abandoned” and “rejected”, with all their strongly emotional connotations. It’s not unusual, and not entirely abnormal, for members of a religious group to take someone moving on just that personally, with the same anger that they would have about a jilted lover. It’s also not unusual for them to react to a member looking into alternate paths (especially ones who have values or practices in opposition to those of the current group) the same way that a jealous spouse would react to their partner drooling over an attractive person in a club. This is because we’re all human, and we all have irrational weaknesses, and love of one’s faith can be just as strong in us as love of one’s partner and family. We’re not perfect, and the emotions carry over.
However, it’s long been acknowledged as the case that one’s spiritual and/or religious practices are the best forum for improving one’s self and struggling to overcome such irrational and destructive emotions. A good religious leader is one that is able to gently challenge those emotions, in their members and (ideally publicly where they can lead as an example) in themselves, and prevent them from being acted upon. Indeed, if this is not done, the result is almost always a toxic rise of fear, anger, and repression within the group. For proof of this, we need only scrutinize the history of thousands of years of mainstream groups making those mistakes on a grand and murderous level. In a sense, they have done us a huge favor by giving us these examples, and they paid for that experience in blood and pain. We, as a new religion, should be grateful that they did it for us, and that we have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes … and learn we should.
This brings us to the issue of schisms. When it’s not just a lone seeker but a whole subsection of the group that leaves, fires of insecurity can burn even higher. The usual jilted-lover feelings are often accompanied by a (perhaps justified) fear that the schism will leave the group too structurally unstable to continue. Neo-Paganism has historically had a more phlegmatic view of schisms than other faiths due to its earliest groups being initiatory mystery covens that deliberately limited their numbers for reasons of spiritual intimacy; when there were too many members, people were expected to “hive off” and form their own “sister” groups. The “hiving” policy was often used as a way to head off at the pass potential doctrinal arguments that might split a group – “Well, if you feel that strongly about it, maybe it’s time to form your own group?” This practice – directly in opposition to mainstream “quantity-at-all-costs” values – was touted as the best way to peacefully propagate (mostly Wiccan) groups.
Today Neo-Paganism is an umbrella faith with nearly as many denominations as Christianity, and they differ as drastically in their structures and doctrine as do Unitarians, Mennonites, and Russian Orthodox Christians. Some retain the old values of “splitting a group willingly and with good will is better than breaking it up angrily after attempting to keep people against their will”. On the other hand, some argue that the ease of hiving off means that people leave too soon rather than stay and work out their problems; one Pagan compared it to the concept of the high divorce rate in modern Western countries being due to the comparative ease of acquiring a modern divorce, and the attendant unwillingness to stay and work out conflicts. Since the last few decades of Neo-Pagan history have seen the rise of legal Pagan churches and congregations that exceed 50 people in number, the justification of keeping groups small and intimate seems outdated except in the remaining initiatory mystery traditions. And, of course, people don’t convert without bringing in baggage from their prior faiths.
There’s also the issue of differentiation. When there are only a few obviously different traditions, it’s easy to tell one from the other. When there are a myriad of small groups with only a few subtle variations between them (which, while they might seem superficial to an outsider, were theoretically crucial enough to schism over), it means that it might take seekers a while to differentiate them. This is often one of the areas where the cry of “Keep that information from the newbies!” is most frequent, as groups become offended that a newcomer might mistake them for that other group.
This all means that the question of whether or not to schism is no longer so simple, and will vary in smoothness from tradition to tradition. What does all this have to do with personal gnosis? It’s the single biggest reason for schisms in Neo-Pagan groups today. Ten or twenty years ago when there were fewer variations in Pagan theology, the foremost reason tended to be personal differences between group members. There’s still plenty of that today – certainly enough to run a close second – but in the anecdotal evidence we’ve gathered, someone’s personal gnosis and the divided reactions to it among group members has surpassed simple infighting as the bedrock group-splitter. (It can cause, and be accompanied by, a good deal of personal infighting, though.)
For the seeker, there are a few simple truths. First, any group that suggests, even subtly, that you ought not to read or look into other spiritual viewpoints (especially opposing ones, and most especially ones that depend on the personal gnosis of a non-member) is in essence telling you that you are not a competent adult capable of making spiritual decisions for yourself. Second, they are also telling you that they do not have faith in the truth of their own practices to speak clearly to those who are meant to embrace them. In other words, they don’t trust you, and they don’t trust their gods and spirits, however they conceive of that. Third, while groups are not obligated to never mention other groups or theologies in unflattering ways, a wise seeker will be suspicious of groups where bitching about specific outsiders, or comparing themselves positively to such people, seems to be the most popular topic of conversation. The old adage about people who continually put down others doing it out of low self-esteem applies to groups as well as individuals.
A seeker contacting a particular group, or representatives of that group, is like a stranger coming into someone’s home, and as such, all the rules of hospitality apply. In many Pagan religions, hospitality is a sacred obligation on both parts. The host has an obligation not to make the guest uncomfortable, and the guest has an obligation not to be rude to the host. When it comes to religious group activity, we could lay out the mutual obligations like this:
1. The group has an obligation to be clear about their beliefs and values. Ideally these should be written down where a seeker can read them. If joining the group is going to require specific changes in their behavior outside the group, this needs to be made clear. For example, if a group believes that the outside behavior of members will bring bad energy to (or make a bad example of) the group, and that associating with, marrying, giving money to, or reading about certain individuals or other groups will bring this on, that needs to be laid out up front where a newcomer can find it easily. If they will be expected to become vegetarians, they have to know that rather immediately. It is indicative of a lack of maturity in the group to have clusters of unwritten rules that “everyone” knows about but no one can be held accountable for subtly (or unsubtly) coercing people into following. Seekers should be wary of groups who are uncomfortable with openly “owning” their rules, or putting them in writing. (Certain practices may be secret and open only to initiated members, but basic theological beliefs, values, and rules of living can’t fairly be in this category.)
2. The group has an obligation to be clear about how personal gnosis is handled in their group. How is it judged? By what people? By what standards? What’s an example of how it was done in a way that the group finds acceptable? While a group does have the right to ban all personal gnosis from entering group practice, be suspicious of groups that don’t have a clear process for judging it, or have a history of handling it badly (meaning in ways that create backbiting and disharmony).
3. The group has an obligation to be clear about who their group actually consists of, and who they are speaking for. This requires being honest and up-front about which of their values and beliefs are actually shared by other groups in their tradition, and groups outside of their tradition. Right now in Neo-Paganism, there are almost no traditions who have agreed to a central religious authority that is allowed to define beliefs and practices for all groups within that tradition, and cast them out if they dissent. Therefore, when a group claims that their beliefs and practices are shared comprehensively among all other groups in their tradition, be suspicious. The wise seeker will cross-check that with other groups in that tradition, especially ones that are geographically far away and/or have no connection with the group in front of them.
4. The group has an obligation to make sure that the person who explains the group values and beliefs to newcomers is actually authorized to do so by all members of the group.
5. The group has an obligation to make it clear how belief during ritual events is handled. For example, if a newcomer is not sure that they believe in the group’s theology, can they take part in participatory rituals, or should they refrain out of respect? Can they “act as if” without actually believing, or is that sacrilegious? Does belief make a difference at all, or is the only issue polite and appropriate behavior?
6. The group has an obligation to be clear about the customs and behavior expected during their events, and to designate someone to brief newcomers. This is especially important if the group has a fairly closed structure that has created its own specific internal culture, or a good deal of formal ritual protocol. If a newcomer badly violates a custom, the first person to call is their designated “protocol handler”. If the protocol person didn’t explain that rule properly, the newcomer is blameless. A reasonably decent newcomer will feel embarrassed enough having been set up for possible failure; calling them out for it adds insult to hospitality injury.
7. The group has an obligation to refrain from deciding that they know what is spiritually best for any given newcomer.
The seeker, on the other hand, has the following responsibilities:
1. The seeker is obligated to remember that every group has the right to set their own rules. If you don’t approve of their rules, no one’s stopping you from leaving. (See that part about schisming we mentioned earlier.) You may feel that their rules are stupid, destructive, or sacrilegious, but it is a breach of trust to say that while enjoying that group’s hospitality. If you really have questions about their practices that you’d like more understanding of, speak to the leader or to designated spokespeople in private – not in a roomful of people – and keep your tone respectful and not contemptuous or accusatory. Ask in a way that’s designed to foster good communication, not defensiveness.
2. The seeker has an obligation to wait on asking the group to incorporate any of their personal gnosis until they have been in the group long enough to make a commitment and earn their place as a member. It’s neither fair nor terribly effective to walk in and start telling people how they ought to do things differently.
3. The seeker has an obligation to bring up personal qualities, practices, deeply held beliefs, or existing spiritual commitments that might conflict with the group’s practice and theology. There’s no point in waiting until one is invested to find out if they’re homophobic, or let them know that you want to belong to another religious group at the same time, or that you really believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is your true patron. It’s best to get a rejection out of the way first thing, to the relief of both parties. This may seem to violate the last rule mentioned, but there’s a clear difference between saying, “I believe this, even though it’s just my own thing,” and “I think this is the way that groups in Tradition X ought to believe.” If the group has trouble seeing that difference, and treats a careful statement about personal beliefs as a generalizing reproach, that’s good evidence of a lack of objectivity and reason. Similarly, the seeker has a spiritual obligation not to lie about their actual beliefs in order to please the new group.
4. The seeker has an obligation to respect the customs and protocols of the group as they are explained to them, at every event that they choose to attend. There’s no excuse for acting rudely, or challenging them on their customs, when you have no commitment to their well-being. If the seeker cannot bring themselves to follow one particular custom for personal, ethical, or spiritual reasons, they should privately seek out the leader or an elder in the group with their concerns beforehand, and see if they can participate in the event without taking part in that custom. An example of this might be an abuse survivor who has trouble being touched by strangers facing a ritual that requires embraces as a greeting, or a ritual where participants are requested to make a promise that conflicts with an existing vow. A mature and responsive group leader will try to make a newcomer comfortable if possible, but if the rule cannot be bent for whatever reason, the newcomer has an obligation to step aside and not attend if need be. If the newcomer’s personal practices are such that they cannot attend an event without violating group customs, for the Gods’ sakes don’t inflict yourself on them.
While a seeker who moves on from a group isn’t obligated to tell them why, it is a courtesy. If the reason is just “it wasn’t for me, no harm done”, it might relieve worried members who are afraid that they offended. If there was an actual problem, it can be useful to a group if a recently departed newcomer courteously points out ways in which they were made to feel unsafe or unwelcome, so long as it is done with an attitude of “It might not occur to you folks that someone might be made to feel bad about this, so I’m just giving you useful information for the future,” and not “You bad, horrible people hurt my feelings,” or “You’re doing it all wrong!”
If a seeker acts like a competent adult, they have the right to expect to be treated like one. If a group expects them to act like one, they should come through. One hopes that if such codes of conduct were socially encouraged in our demographic, they might end the problem of infantilizing “newbies” and make welcoming a newcomer a less suspicious activity.
Monday, May 25, 2009
One of the larger--and more uncomfortable--areas of discussion right now among Spirit Workers is the nature of our relationships with the gods. Some of the terms that get used, such as "god slave," carry a great deal of baggage with them. Many of the more prominent members and authors of our community claim the title godatheow (godslave). I will go into significantly more depth on this topic later, but for the moment I would like to talk about impressions. One of my concerns is that newbies will get the wrong idea and believe that godatheow is somehow a "higher" form of relationship with the gods or a natural state that spirit workers tend to migrate to as they become more advanced. They may also conclude that these individuals have become "closer" to the gods than they can get without going through the same process. While the current group of authors and godatheow generally disavow this, it doesn't help that so many of our highly visible members are godatheow, and many of them interact with one another enough that it can give both them and others a skewed impression of our community, leading Galina Krasskova to say in her essay Terms of Service:
"I am a godatheow, a godslave. Most of the spiritworkers and shamans that
I know are also godslaves - outright owned by their Deities. It goes with
While later on she states that One does not need to be a godslave to serve -- I want to make that abundantly clear -- no more than one needs to be a priest, or healer, or ordeal worker to serve and be of use to their Gods one still walks away--in general--with the feeling that if you are a Spirit Worker in the Northern Tradition and not a godatheow then, on some level, UR DOIN IT WRONG. My teacher has over 20 years of experience and is in the service of Freyja. While I am working on three years in my Spirit Work training, I have around 11 years work as an occultist and have been service of Odin for over 4 years. Most of the members of my group have similar--or more--experience in a variety of different occult communities. I have friends who have undergone a full shamanic initiation, others who are shamanic practitioners of varying degrees of "immersion," and many who are members of initiatory magical traditions. Very few of these individuals--spirit workers, shamans, and occultists--could be referred to as godatheow. Not that there is a problem with being a godatheow, but I have to believe that it is fully possible to serve the gods--even as a spirit worker--without being a full slave to those deities. In short, I would like to challenge the assumption that it goes with the territory, and say that there are a growing number of us that are not god slaves--are for one reason or another not suited or required to be god slaves--but are still dedicated, Northern Tradition spirit workers. I also want to emphasize that I am approaching this with an attitude of this also rather than this instead. The Vanic-oriented practitioner Nicanthiel commented on this as well, stating that:
"As such, there has been a lot of talk in spiritworker circles, especially
those connected to Cauldron Farm, of god-slavery as the default spiritworker
paradigm; the assumption seems to be, either you are completely en-thralled
by your Boss(es), or you're not really a spiritworker. I challenge that assumption,
because not everyone is suited for slavery, and indeed, not every God wants a
slave, Frey being the most obvious example. Are people called by such Gods, or
lack the nature required for full slavery to be denied the right to serve their Gods?
Even Odin doesn?t always want slaves; sometimes, all He wants is just a warrior,
or just a magician, or just a tool."
Nicanthiel presents the term goda?egn/godathegn as an alternative, where "?egn" would be a noble servant of a higher noble. Raven Kaldera summarizes this term nicely and gives it his stamp of approval, saying that a goda?egn would be someone who had a strong (perhaps oathbound) bond with their deity, but had full agency except in some limited areas, and could leave if worst came to worst. I feel that this accurately encompasses my path as a spirit worker, it correlates with my own UPG of my relationship with Odin, and am going to start using it in my own practice. I firmly believe that one does not need to be a godatheow to serve the gods, even as a devoted spirit worker or shamanic practitioner, and that a god may find one person well suited to be a godatheow, and find a completely different use for another individual that doesn't require that kind of relationship. These paths are mostly just different, and come with their own risks and characteristics, and some come with their own unique safety considerations. Like with relationships: Internal Enslavement isn't "higher" than Total Power Exchange isn't higher than M/s isn't higher than D/s isn't higher than vanilla and polyamory is not higher than monogamy or vice versa: they are different models and suitable to different people, to negotiate with each other.