"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Humility and Service

by Galina Krasskova

(This article was adapted from a sermon I presented on April 26 at the Interfaith Temple in NYC.)

We’re going to talk about service and humility today. I think these two things fit together beautifully. They complement and enhance each other and contribute to building a strong, resilient, spiritual foundation. In my religious community right now, there is a great deal of tension over how to best honor and serve the Gods. Sadly, this has even led to hostility and in-fighting over what constitutes the “proper” way to go about this.  I’ve seen slander, name-calling, and even threats of violence all over something that should be bringing people together: honoring the Gods. This is neither new, nor unique to my religious community. It has probably been going on for as long as people have been engaging in devotional practice. Needless to say, this has been on my mind a lot in the past several weeks. And while part of me thinks that my community simply needs time to mature, I can’t deny that the ongoing discourse has been productive. It has brought up several issues that I think are worthy of being addressed. One of those, perhaps the most important one, is service.

We need to reclaim the idea of joyful service. I have come to believe that the whole idea of service has become tainted in our society. We no longer respect it. Think about how we treat service personnel in our mundane lives from the girl behind the drug store counter, to the waitress or waiter at lunch, to the maid who cleans your room. These people are anonymous, poorly paid, and often poorly treated. Would you want your son or daughter to grow up to work in a ‘service industry'? Probably not, and I’d ask that you think about the reason for that.

Spiritual service can be a very beautiful thing, a sacred thing, a holy thing. It provides an opportunity to open ourselves as deeply as possible (an ongoing process if ever there was one) to the Gods that we love and adore.

I believe that most people want to be good people. They want to live their lives as happily as possible, honor their Gods, and try to do the right thing. That may sound simple, but it can be really, really difficult sometimes to ferret out what that right course of action can be. We are creatures honed by our experiences. We see the world through the filter of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what has been done to us. It can be very easy to get caught up in our own way of doing things, to believe that we’ve found the one right way to reach out to our Gods. From here, it’s just one small step away from condemning those who do so differently than we do.

My maternal grandmother was a mystic. She had visions of Christ all throughout her life, beginning when she was quite young. My aunt told me recently that growing up, her mom would tell her about these mystical experiences, in an attempt to encourage her daughter in the knowledge that their God was present in their lives and that He loved them. My aunt interpreted that to mean that God did not love her; that she had done something wrong, and was bad. I asked her why? Had my grandmother said something which indicated that? Her answer broke my heart. No, my aunt told me. She was led to that conclusion by the fact that she herself was not having visionary experiences. My aunt is a very analytical person. Her devotion is expressed through reading and study, and doing actual works like delivering communion to the sick. It was a long time before she could celebrate this method of devotion. Instead she wasted a great deal of hurt over what she did not have, neglecting what she did. Even now, I find that heart-breaking.

There is a wonderful quote by the Sufi mystic poet Rumi – and I quote it ad nauseum-- that goes ‘Let the beauty we love, be what we do: there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Think about what a profound statement that is: there are hundreds of ways to engage in devoted spiritual practices. There are hundreds of ways to love the Gods. And you know what? Not a single one is better than another. Not a single one invalidates another. It can be really hard when someone’s practices are completely different from one’s own. I think the Gods know best though. They know how we’re wired. They know what our gifts are. They know what would fulfill us and how we can best be utilized in service. At some point, we need to trust that, to trust Them to guide the process.

We are all individuals. We’re not meant to be clones of each other in our practices. If you believe that the Gods made us, surely then it follows that They cherish that diversity. It follows also then, that They cherish the rich diversity of practice and devotional means that flow from our individuality. We need to honor that, to embrace it, and yes, even celebrate it. No two people are meant to serve the Gods alike. I do so as a priest and shaman. But another may do so as a poet. Another by cleaning her ill friend’s house. Another by creating and tending a garden, another by raising children with love and respect, yet another by bringing a sense of integrity to her work in the corporate world. There are no limits save those set by the Gods themselves, which we may find through personal gnosis, the study of lore, or the contemplation of our own hearts. That one person may live their lives by being…a farmer, a doctor, or housewife while another may be a shaman is no indicator of worth. All these things are equally valued by the Gods. Yet all are radically different. I think it can often be difficult to come to terms with radical differences of perspective and of practice. How can things so dramatically different all be right? That, my friends, is the glorious paradox of spiritual life. It’s rather like global politics! There can be such beautiful strength precisely in our differences. We’re not meant to be the religious equivalent of Stepford wives. We’re meant to be passionately engaged with our Gods in whatever role They have gifted us with. Jealousy, fear, hostility…these things only serve to keep us from truly honoring both our own gifts, and the gifts the Gods have given us. They keep us from seeing how we ourselves are blessed. One of the keys, I think, to preventing these unproductive emotions from negatively impacting us is to seek humility in all we do.

There are certain words that seem to have taken on a negative caste in our modern culture: humility is one of them. Too often I’ve heard the idea of humility being dismissed as self abasement. There is this idea that we should all ‘follow our bliss’ wherever it may lead. When the goal is to develop our potential as human beings, to develop our spiritual awareness, to find the method of service that suits us best then this is indeed a good thing. Service, is really only living life in a way that engages passionately with the Gods and allows Them to do the same with us: all through the lens of our every day lives. But unexamined, unbalanced by other virtues like personal discipline, commitment, and yes, humility, all too often this idea of ‘following one’s bliss’ leads to an egotism and false pride that can prove a stunning barrier to spiritual life.  Here we find the idea that if it’s hard, if it hurts it can’t be good. Well, all healthy relationships challenge us. Our relationship with our Gods and with ourselves is no different. There will be challenges, and they will be different for each of us. Here we also find the idea that 'anything goes' and sometimes that may be true, but other times it can lead to a remarkable lack of focus, commitment and respect. It is often a difficult and delicate balance to try to maintain: I believe the Gods want people who know and value their own worth for, as my fellow priest Elizabeth Vongvisith points out: if we have no worth of our own, our devotions, offerings and prayers are likewise worthless. Discovering and developing a sense of our own beauty, as Rumi might call it, is an ongoing endeavor, part of service, part of learning how to love the Gods and moreover to be loved in return.

The Gods do love us, more than we can ever imagine. They see us, know us, and love us so very deeply. Recognizing that and allowing us to fall in love with Them in return is what spiritual life is all about.  They love us and want us to be whole and happy. The Gods and Goddesses of various traditions are not terrible, wrathful beings. Oh, Deities can be angry, but no one emotion defines how They manifest. We are children of the Gods. If we are made in the image of God, as many traditions assert, then our Gods are many-faceted, complex, ever-changing, passionate Beings indeed! In my tradition, Heathenry, not only were humans crafted by the Gods, but then the Gods came and walked among us intermarrying. Christians and Jews have a beautiful creation story wherein the hand of God carefully crafts humanity from clay and soil. Think of the care of a master craftsman, gently drawing form and life from a lump of raw material. Think of the care and love, and dedication that is needed to result in a masterpiece. We are our Gods’ masterpieces…in all our flawed and complicated glory. The ancient Egyptians as well as their modern Kemetic religionists have a God Khnum, who created our bodies on a Divine potters wheel, investing each with a beauty and individuality that is the delight of the Gods. Sometimes accepting this, how deeply we’re each cherished, can take tremendous humility.

Humility, like piety, is all about mindfulness. It’s all about knowing your own worth, and celebrating that without the need to judge or tear down others. “True humility is the ability to keep things in perspective. It means being aware that no matter how exalted you are, your feet are still made of clay.”* As French Essayist Michel de Montaigne said “Even on the highest throne in the world, we are still sitting on our ass.” True humility means accepting that we don’t know everything about any other person’s spiritual struggles. We can only know intimately about our own.  It means taking full accountability for ourselves and the harm we cause with our words, with our deeds, with the way that we choose to be in the world. It means accepting that we will fail, that spirituality is a learning process. And it means not taking ourselves too seriously. Humility is the gift that can keep us from feeling jealous or threatened at another’s spiritual blessings. Humility is the key that can lead us to gratitude for the gifts that we ourselves have been given; and I think it’s important to develop some sort of gratitude practice. What are you grateful for? What blessings move you to tears? It can be as simple as our ability to draw breath but it’s important to sincerely give thanks. This is how we grow in joy: through the practice of humble mindfulness.

 How do we encourage this virtue of  humility in our hearts? Well, for starters, we all, myself included, need to worry less about how our neighbors are honoring their Gods and instead look to the development of our own hearts. What is right for us? What do our Gods want for us?  Let’s not make a show of devotion for the sake of impressing other people with our holiness. It can be hard, when we’re feeling insecure, or when we want so deeply to be loved and accepted and acknowledged. We all want to be recognized for who we are and the good things we do. We all want to be special. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think we have to realize though that to our Gods, we are all of those things. There’s no need to demonstrate it egregiously. Let humility guard us against jealousy. Let us not look at someone else’s way of honoring, loving, and serving their Gods but pay attention to our own. We each have our gifts and our specialties. One person may be a priest and one person a parent but we’re all called to service and it is all valued.  It’s about living the life we are meant to live with engagement, mindfulness, and heart-filled devotion. We’re not less valuable to our Gods because we do one thing or another. You are not less valuable than I am because I’m up here preaching and you are not. We’re valuable. We’re loved. There’s no need to get into a pissing contest over who is more holy.

I fight with this sometimes, especially when my work is challenged within my own religious community. It’s hard not to become defensive, not to feel that I have to validate what I do. I have to remind myself that it’s not a question of other people being more intrinsically worthy than I am. It’s about what the gods want and what other people need, which may include things that my friends cannot provide for themselves, but which I can.* Or may include things my friends can provide for me that I could not on my own.  And I have to remember that the rewards I get from the service I give and the shape of my own devotion are just as satisfying to me as the rewards my friends get from their devotion and service are to them. Humility, for me, is about valuing myself and my work for what it is rather than what it is not.*

Recognizing that can lead to real joy, in one’s love and devotion to the Gods and spirits, and in sharing that joy with others. I don’t mean trying to get others to worship as you do, but in allowing the joy of devotion to guide your every interaction. We carry our gods in our skin, in our blood, in our breath: in every word, every deed, every single interaction. We have the potential to allow that indwelling connection to the Divine to guide every encounter. It takes practice. But that’s what devotion is all about: living mindfully with humility, with joy.

I’ll close by saying that I don’t necessarily believe humility’s antithesis is pride or even arrogance. I believe it to be entitlement or maybe complacency. Let us pray, every day to be delivered from these two things: complacency and entitlement.

(Many thanks to Elizabeth Vongvisith for her article on Humility, which can be found at http://twilightandfire.wordpress.com/. I have stolen shamelessly from it everywhere there is an asterisk. It goes without saying that I did so with her full knowledge and permission).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What The Norns Told Me

by Raven Kaldera

All spirit-workers are different, and we all have differing deals with the Gods and spirits that we work with. Some are god-slaves; some are contract workers or voluntary servants; some are indulged children or beloved spouses. Some are more than one of these things. What is expected of us will vary from divine/human relationship to relationship. Our jobs will be different, as will our rate of forced progress and our “wiggle room”, as it were. While there are some basic things that we will have in common with regard to our experiences, there is such a wide range of details that it makes little sense for us to compare ourselves with each other.

But there are a few basic truths, and sometimes we stumble over them. I asked my Owner, Hela, about the issue of our widely varying diversity, and how it seems that the Gods have such different expectations for people. Sometimes the same deity may have two people and give them entirely different sorts of attention. To a certain extent, of course, this can be put down to the fact that deities sometimes have different “faces” or “hats” or “aspects” or whatever you want to call them, and show different ones to different people. This can go even for casual contact – when I call up Aphrodite I get Aphrodite Urania, while my partner gets Aphrodite Porne. I get Loki the Magician; another friend gets the Breaker of Worlds, etc.

One of the cosmic “rules” that I’ve learned in the past is that when you call on a deity (who is not your owner) by a specific title/name/aspect, that’s the God/dess you get. Gods have rules too, not just ones that they agree to hold to, but ones that govern their nature and existence. If I call upon Odin as Grimnir, I’m not getting Jalkr. If I call Artemis as the Huntress, She Who Slays, I am not getting Artemis the midwife. This has been proven to be true again and again. While we do not control the Gods (there’s no rule that says they have to show up at all, for example), we can call upon those rules by which they exist, if we know what they are.

So I asked Hela specifically about the issue of human/divine relationships along the spectrum of patronage-to-ownership, and she waved her bony finger and pointed me in the direction of a Norn. For those not Norse-oriented, that’s one of the Fates, the Wyrd Sisters, the Ladies who weave the Web and thus have access to concepts deeper and broader than we meat-brained humans can sometimes comprehend. The Norn (I’m not sure which one it was) told me this about the nature of Deity.

First, She reminded me about the latter rule – the aspect that you call on is the aspect you get – and then elaborated how that worked in a more personal situation. Aspects were not only a list of qualities and jobs, like a horizontal foldout (and here her hands spread sideways, showing a set of images in a row). They were also vertical, if such a concept could be symbolized by two-dimensional space. There were aspects of Deity that were very humanlike (depending on the God/dess in question). They argued, they fought, they made mistakes, they were sometimes short-sighted and did not access the full truth of their divine abilities. (Although when they erred, they did that also on a grand scale.) They also loved, with personal fervor as opposed to impersonal distance; loved each other and sometimes mortals as well. This is not the sort of “love” we think of as in “God loves me”; it’s deeply personal and passionate interest in someone, not transpersonal “yes, I love your divine spark gently from afar”.

Then She told me that the nature of the interaction you get with a God/dess who chooses you is determined by whether you decide to serve/work with/love the aspect of them that is “more human” on that vertical axis, or “less human”. And, yes, the key word was Decide. There are a few things that God/desses cannot demand or force from even those spirit-workers who are thralls (and no, not all spirit-workers are god-slaves by any means). For example, accepting a proposal of marriage from a deity must be entirely voluntary on the part of the mortal. No one can be forced into being a god-spouse, even if they are enslaved in all other ways.

This also applies to the “vertical” aspect of deity that one ends up working with. “You chose,” She told me. “When?” I asked. I didn’t recall choosing any such thing. The image that came to me then – Norns like to communicate in images, unfortunately often confusing ones – was of a deity approaching a mortal that they were drawn to, and offering an image to the mortal’s unconscious. (Not the conscious mind, because that was not where the deep truth was found. The unconscious does not lie.) It could be like this, or it could be like this, said the divine Voice, and the mortal responded instinctively. Yes, this is what I want. And so it was. It was offered to you, and you chose, long ago, said the Norn.

She also showed me that there is a price for every choice. To serve a more human aspect is to bask in the ecstasy of direct emotional attention from a God. All god-spouses, by definition, chose this aspect, because it is this aspect that can love a mortal. It is also this aspect that can make mistakes with them, can overestimate or underestimate them, can lie to them (if it’s in that God/dess’s inherent nature to do so), and can be less than perfectly ethical with them. This aspect loves them passionately, and gives them personal attention, lays their own prejudices and pettinesses on them, and can be blinded to their long-term Wyrd (although even a deity in a personal relationship with you knows better what you should be doing than any mortal, including yourself; they are still Gods). To choose this is to choose the ecstasy and terror of yielding to the “imperfect” aspect of a deity. It is to love them and be loved by them in a way that those who don’t have such a relationship cannot even imagine. It is also to trust them even when you know that they are not acting from their highest selves … an act of radical spiritual trust.

On the other end of the continuum, there is the less human aspect of that deity. This is the part of them that is still “them”, still undifferentiated, but closest to being part of the less differentiated, “higher” aspect that becomes impersonal. It’s as if the Deity is acting from their highest self in this aspect, and the higher you go, the less “human” they are, and the less personal passion is given to you. As an example, the God/dess that I serve – Hela, the Norse death god/dess – could be described as having Her more human side as the daughter of Loki and Angrboda, the sister of Fenris and Jormundgand, the lady who has a history, and whose history has marked her with certain loves, hatreds, and prejudices. Her less human side would be the part of Her that is as impersonal as She can get while still being Hela and not Undifferentiated Death Goddess. That part is filtered by her role/nature as Death Goddess, but little else. It works from a place of much purer objectivity, and does not make the kind of mistakes that a more human aspect might, nor have their prejudices. Similarly, Aphrodite’s human aspect becomes jealous and offended and strikes down mortals for petty reasons; Aphrodite’s higher self dispenses love from a clean, ideal place. Zeus’s human aspect steps on his wife’s trust out of uncontrolled desire; Zeus’s less human aspect works from a place of perfectly honorable leadership.

The love that comes down from such an aspect is impersonal, transpersonal, seeing your “specialness” only in terms of how you can be made to evolve and be a useful part of a long-term Wyrd. This aspect doesn’t marry mortals. It also doesn’t make errors with them, or act towards them in a way that is ethically questionable. When dealing with a God’s highest self, you sacrifice personal love for perfect justice, as it were … and that will be expected of you as well. A deity with whom you have a personal, human-like relationship will put up with a lot more error from you. They will let you dick around and blow off your spiritual path for a much longer time, possibly your whole life … so long as you love them passionately, in the way that the Hindus refer to as “bhakti”. You are expected to be tolerant of their faults, and trust them anyway … and they will extend that tolerance to you. They will love you passionately no matter how much you continue to screw up, so long as you love them back with equal fervor. You can be petty, and they don’t care, because you are giving them the freedom to do the same. While they will endeavor to push you to evolve, it’s not the first priority of the relationship.

When serving the less human aspect of a deity, you can be sure that they will be seeing further and higher, and always doing what will be in the best interest of your own higher self (even when that hurts). You can trust in their unerring judgment with regard to your path. On the other hand, you will also be expected to behave from your own higher self, to be pushed hard and mercilessly, and for there to be swift. immediate, and unpleasant consequences when you act in unworthy ways. It’s the faster and more spiritually ascetic track, not the track of connection. You hold Them to Their highest standards (and, yes, this is something that the Norn made it clear that we are all allowed to do, even god-thralls) and in turn They hold you to the highest standards possible given your mortal nature. They will not lie or make mistakes with you, and neither will they love you or tell you that you’re special.

It’s something for people who are dissatisfied with the nature of the relationship with their God to think about. You have the power and right to change it, to move it up or down that axis … if you’re willing to pay the price.

Of course, I did ask if some spirit-workers deal with different aspects at different times. Yes, the Norn agreed – sometimes a divine Spouse can suddenly turn around and be an impersonal Boss for a week or month if it’s needed – but there is generally one aspect/relationship that was chosen first and which both parties revert to … because it’s generally the one that the mortal in question desires and needs the most. Usually there will be some discomfort when there is a temporary shift, and usually it’s only done because there is an overriding need having to do with the mortal’s well-being. (“If I don’t get Joe off drugs, he won’t be around to have this connection with me any more.”)

Then the Norn folded her cards and vanished, leaving me to walk through my spirit-worker friends in my mind, seeing their relationships with their patron deities with new eyes. I understood why I’d made the choice that I had made, even if I didn’t remember making it … and I understood that it was the right choice. I could even see the part of myself that I’d made that choice from, and it heartened me. In a way, it gave me comfort: there was something that had been within my power to choose, and I did it. I set the foundation for my relationship with my Goddess.

We all do. Isn’t that an amazing thing for a god-slave to say? And yet … I believe it’s true.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Drawing Down the Spirits - A Book Review

By G. Krasskova

A new book has just been released that I believe will prove to be of great importance to spiritworkers and shamans. It’s called “Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession” and it explores techniques of spirit and Divine possession across the Neo-Pagan, Heathen, and Afro-Caribbean spectrum. The authors, Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera, both have extensive experience dealing with Deity possession and they have collected a wealth of information, drawing on other experienced practitioners both within their respective communities and from other branches of modern Paganisms as well.

This book offers an extensive examination of the role of possessory work within modern Paganisms, beginning with a history of possession across the world and throughout history. Particular attention is paid to the 20th century and the rise of spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, and theosophy. While not the focus of the book, it does provide interesting historical and social context, particularly relevant since these latter movements formed the soil from which many modern Paganisms sprang. The real meat of the work begins in part II. The authors, in conjunction with the many shamans and spiritworkers interviewed, all of whom are ‘horses,’ (people wired to allow Deity possession) explore the dynamic of possession from the inside out. Many of the columnists of “Godsmouths” are quoted throughout the book, including our esteemed editor.

The reader is introduced to the way possession works: what exactly happens to the ‘horse’ when the God or Goddess comes in? What are the levels of possession? What are the possible negative side effects on the body of the practitioner and on the community of these practices? What are the benefits? What is the appropriate protocol to follow when a Deity is present? What are the obligations of community, horse, and handlers? All of these questions and more are explored extensively. The authors talk about how this is happening, what people can expect, and how to integrate these powerful practices into the community as a whole. Concrete information is interspersed with personal accounts throughout the book creating a powerful, diverse, richly faceted narrative.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important books to come out in the last few years with the Pagan and Heathen communities. Deity possession is happening and it is extraordinarily controversial across denominational divides. While there have been numerous academic texts concerning possession (ranging from tepid to infuriating), to date, this is the first book written by practitioners for both practitioners and the communities in which they work. It’s beautifully written and very accessible. If you’ll pardon the terrible pun, which I just can’t seem to resist right now, you actually get to read about how it’s done, why it’s done, and what it’s like….straight from the ‘horses’ mouths.” (Yes, I know.)

While I don’t agree with everything written (I don’t, for instance, see what the issue is with cross gender possessions. It happens. It’s not that rare though the authors spend what to me seems an inordinate amount of time examining the dynamics of cross gender possession), for the most part, I think this is an invaluable book for anyone actively involved in Paganisms or Heathenry. Even if you do not horse, have no desire to horse, have never seen a possession, and don’t want to see one, “Drawing Down the Spirits” (originally titled “Wild Horses” but changed by the publisher, unfortunately to something more ‘academic’) is still a fascinating examination of a growing devotional phenomenon within a broad, diverse, and complex spectrum of polytheistic religions. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The book is currently available from amazon.com as well as major retailers:

Drawing Down the Spirits
By Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera
Published by Destiny Books
ISBN: 978-159477269-6

(cross-posted to Blood for the Divine).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What I Do (the spirit work at least)

I want to begin by apologizing for my recent absence. I have again been quite sick, and since I do most of my writing via voice dictation, bronchitis makes getting this sort of work done nearly impossible.

Fire and I successfully completed the magical working I wrote about in my last post "The End of the Beginning" and already there are significant changes. Adulthood so to speak, brings with it new rights and new requirements. The Lady has declared that our Clan is now legitimate, rather than as she put it "a clan of children." With all this in mind, I feel that it is important to talk a little bit about who we are, what we do, and what we believe.

The first and most important thing that I want to just lay out on the table is this: despite some misconceptions to the contrary, I am not a Northern Tradition shaman, nor are we a Northern Tradition group. It is true that I have horsed or worked with several northern tradition gods, I have many northern tradition friends and colleagues, and my shamanic death was overseen by the Norse lady of Death. However, I have also horsed and worked with many non-northern tradition gods. Our patron and spiritual owner is not of the northern tradition. The system of divination I use is not to be found in northern tradition. Even the kind of shamanism I do is quite different from what I see some of my northern tradition colleagues doing.

So who are we then? I am a shaman-magician of the White Lady of productive destruction and destructive creation. Although to be fair, it is much more accurate to say a Lady of productive destruction rather than the Lady. And no, we don't know who she is. We just call her the Lady, though she has said that we should use The White Lady only when referring to her publicly, and I suspect that it is in some way inaccurate; 10 years on, and She still refuses to tell us her name.

As you might imagine, this has been problematic for quite a long time. Being a spirit worker without a pantheon, without even the name of your patron to tell clients and colleagues, can be very challenging. My magic and my shamanism is spirit taught and god taught. People whose spiritual practice is heavily based in lore and tradition often find this sort of thing very hard to stomach. UPG remains controversial in the spirit work world, and to be honest there are good reasons. But to people for whom UPG is anathema, a shaman or god slave who doesn't know their patrons name, and who's teachings and traditions did not come out of a book can have no place in the community.

Why then do we do things this way? Her Ladyship insists that she has a way she wants us to serve her, and that knowing who she is and how she's worshipped elsewhere would interfere with our ability to do so. But there is another more important reason that we are only now starting to understand. Not having a pantheon can be a real asset as well as a hindrance. I have only one allegiance and that is to Her, and by extension our Clan. I try to approach the work without bias, although I recognize that it's not truly possible. There is no conflict for instance in working with both Odin and Loki; nothing unusual about working with Frey one day, Artemis the next, and Kali or Quetzalcoatl the day after that. It is the very nature of my spiritual work to be eclectic and unfettered; this carries with it a host of unique difficulties. For many people, the very fact that we work with such a range of deities from such a range of pantheons, is in itself disrespectful and even inappropriate.

Despite not having a pantheon, it would be unfair to say that we don't have our own traditions and rules. Some of these rules and customs come from the Lady herself, while others have come about as we have developed as spiritual people or as a Clan. These traditions and ways of practicing inform who we are and who we serve as spirit workers. For instance, much of my own death and growth as a shaman followed the ordeal path, so the people who seek me out for shaman work are often those who need or respond well to that kind of work. The kind of deity that I serve informs my work as well. While I would never presume to attach a value judgment to the process of productive destruction, the fact that that is my lady's purview inevitably has an influence on that not only the work that I do, but also the deities that I work with, and the types of clients that seek me out.

Despite my growing appreciation for the lady's decision not to allow us a pantheon or what would conventionally be considered lore, there obviously remain times when I could wish that things were different. A strong grounding in lore can be the most freeing thing in the world. Having the security of hundreds, if not thousands of years of culture and tradition to point to, to legitimize one's practice is a wonderful thing. Working with UPG or eclectically can be rich and varied and fascinating, but it is also lonely. Because of the kind of work that we do, many of our colleagues and friends who have traditions and pantheons are often at odds with the mainstream of their own cultures. But they have those cultures, they may be black sheep, but they're still part of the flock.

As those of us in Tashrisketlin, our Clan, come into our spiritual adulthood the Lady is requiring that we stand up and say what it is that we believe and what it is that we do even though it is unusual and even unpopular. It might be easier for me in our community to say that I am a northern tradition shaman; I have enough background and experience to pass as one. But it is not who I am, and now more than ever, She requires me to be faithful to her, my Clan, and myself.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Terms of Service

A little polemic about being a God-slave
by G. Krasskova

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 the territory. Lately, I’ve been asked over and over what I mean when I say I am god-owned. To me and others in my position, that term is quite clear: I belong, like property to a Deity, in my case Odin. I have committed myself to this and I am content with this status quo. Yet at the same time, it is technically non-consensual, and if I ever decided I wanted to leave this relationship, I would not be permitted to do so. Within the bounds of this relationship I have a significant freedom, but I am not free in the way one unbound might be. My place is to serve. With my warrior/military mindset, this is fine. It’s not a problem for me overmuch and for that, I am grateful. I am also deeply in love with Odin and He has poured thousands of blessings into my hands, more than I can ever count. I can hardly complain. Of course, it has its challenges, it has its agonizing moments, and it certainly has its sacrifices but it also brings with it immense blessings. That being said, this sacrifice of personal agency inherent in being god-owned, the very non-consensuality of the process is extremely controversial, even amongst spiritworkers. It is an uncomfortable reality, most especially for Pagans and Heathens. More and more I’ve been hearing a number of disgruntled people complaining and arguing about the validity of such service, usually because of the mistaken belief that it casts their Deity of choice in an unfriendly, unpleasant light.

“Slave” is a loaded term and certainly I can understand why the use of such a word sets off alarms. For me, and for those like me however, in the poverty of our language, we have no other term that accurately defines the passionate service that we give to our God or Goddess. Ownership by any other term is still ownership afterall. I suppose that it is much easier for those coming out of a kink or BDSM community to find a measure of peace with the term, given that the protocols and parameters of service are given a measure of respect in that space. That is part of the problem, you know, with the term ‘god slave:” we don’t respect service. (Think about it. Think about how we treat service personnel in our mundane lives from the girl behind the drug store counter, to the waitress or waiter at lunch, to the maid who cleans your room. These people are anonymous, poorly paid, and often poorly treated. Would you want your son or daughter to grow up to work in a ‘service industry’? Probably not and I’d ask that you think about the reasons for that). Service can be a very beautiful thing, a sacred thing, a holy thing. It provides an opportunity to open ourselves as deeply as possible (an ongoing process if ever there was one) to the Gods that we love and adore. Yes, it is about the willing sacrifice of personal agency, but there is much joy found in that sacrifice.

Before going any farther, I’d like to take a moment to point out that there are a lot of ways that we can serve the Gods. Not everyone is going to become a god-slave. Not every one should become a godslave. 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. It is however the most common paradigm, and the most controversial one, and it begs exploration if only for the sake of those who find themselves being claimed and who have no clue how to cope with it. That should not be taken in any way to devalue other types of service. To say that every spirit worker must be a slave to their Gods is like saying every devotee must be a spirit worker. Such a thing simply isn’t true. What I have said in the past, and will say again here is that I believe the God or Goddess in question should define the terms of the relationship. It is up to the Deity to decide the nature of the relationship with Their chosen and what an individual Deity needs may vary greatly from one person to another. I would urge would-be spiritworkers to guard against assumptions and preconceptions. The Gods will show you and guide on into what They need you to know. Often what is forbidden to one of us will be required of another…even when the two in question are owned by the same Deity. One might say that there are absolutely no absolutes in this work.

That may be the hardest thing about Pagan Reconstruction to understand. We’ve been patterned by 2000 years of Christianity to have one view of God, who is unchanging forever and ever amen. The idea that our God could ask such radically different things from us is a little alien to our world-view (though ironically not alien to early Christianity). We’re learning as our faiths grow and learning can be difficult thing. This is, I believe, a very important point. I belong to Odin. Odin may have taken me as a godatheow. That doesn’t mean that He wants every single person who serves Him to be a god-slave. We really need to stop trying to fit everyone into the same bloody little box in this work. The Gods will let us know how They want us to serve. There is a wonderful quote by Rumi, that I am endlessly quoting: “Let the Beauty we love, be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Godslavery is one of them.

One of the biggest issues that people seem to have with godslavery, over and above the apparent lack of agency, is that to many, it implies the Gods are cruel, capricious, even sociopathic. My own experience of Odin, even at the harshest point of ordeal has been anything but. Yes, He can be merciless. All the Gods can be (read the lore, if you doubt that). But He can also be passionately loving, and He is, most especially when He is asking His people to do that which is most painful. I would caution against casting human mores onto the Gods: They are rarely if ever cruel for cruelty’s sake. What we interpret as harshness may be anything but; it may be the deepest expression of loving kindness on the part of the Deity in question: I know my ordeals were; and I know other godatheow who would say the same.

In a forthcoming article about Ordeal work, I talk about the dynamic of submission, particularly the use of pain as a tool in this process. The ongoing argument against godatheow tends to be twinned with a great hostility toward ordeal work (even though not every godslave is an ordeal worker). In both cases, it is the loss of personal agency involved that creates the conflict. The submission to pain as an act of personal empowerment raises many questions not only about the nature of pain but also about the nature of personal agency. A clear distinction must be drawn between “pain as a cause of action,” and “pain as a kind of action.”(1) It is this latter manifestation of pain encompassed by Odin’s story. Here, pain is used not as an externally repressive measure, but as an expression of personal sovereignty.(2) Anthropologist Talal Asad notes that ‘when we say that someone is suffering, we commonly suppose that he or she is not an agent. To suffer…is, so we usually think, to be in a passive state – to be an object, not a subject.”(3) In Odin, however, the reader is presented with the image of a suffering body engaged in an act of power, or, as modern ordeal workers might phrase it: ‘hunting for power.”(4) In such a context, pain loses its emotional charge and becomes a consciously applied tool in a greater process of development. Pain becomes something more than a private experience, or an experience of utter loss of control. It becomes an act of power, one that sets the defining tone for an entire religious tradition. Of course, to those outside of this dynamic, accepting the fact that either godslavery or ordeal can be a holy act means completely re-examining everything we think we know about the Gods.

The Gods are real. They are not manifestations of one’s unconscious. They are not archetypes. They are not imaginary beings. They are real. They have personalities, likes, dislikes, will. Oh boy do They have will! What’s more, They aren’t always nice. Not only can They act in ways that might be interpreted as non-consensual, They often do. Many people, even (perhaps most especially godslaves) struggle terribly with this potential for non-consensuality. This may not be the way it works for everyone, but there are Deities (like Odin) who won’t hesitate a moment to force Their will on those who are lawful prey to Them. Can one back out? Sure. But the price is often much greater and much worse than one is willing to pay. It’s not a matter of “safe, sane, consensual,” or of “risk aware consensual kink,” though I have found that BDSM terminology can be very helpful from a psychological standpoint in coming to comprehend the type of relationship one might find oneself in with one’s Gods. The psychology of ownership can be .. .a surprise, at least at first.

At the same time, I think that the question of consensuality is a rather grey area, a keenly balanced knife’s edge upon which the spiritworker walks: I say I’m a godslave because I’m owned and to Him and Him alone do I place myself in thrall, but Odin gave me a chance to run away from it years ago. I chose not to take it. I cannot say He wasn’t fair: He did give me one chance. So how much of the bondage is my own personal agency and consent, and His will? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that so long as I’m not stupid enough to render myself useless to Him, that bond is now irreversible (on my end at least).

Happily, there is slowly starting to be more discussion about the various manifestations of the Deity/servant relationship. Silence Maestas put out a book called ‘Walking the Heartroad” by Asphodel Press that discusses at least half a dozen, if not more variations in the ways that Gods can interact with their servants. It may be that for some of us the godatheow pattern is the most common, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one. Even within my own relationship with Odin, it’s not *just* that, we relate on a plethora of levels (though at the bottom, deepest level, it is Master/slave). For me, this is incredibly fulfilling. I am closer to Him than I ever thought possible precisely because I was able to accept being bound as His godatheow. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m well aware, however that for someone else, being bound in such a fashion might actually hinder and harm them in their spiritual Work. This is why I say: leave it in the hands of the Gods. They know us better than we know ourselves.

I think that prevailing idea that A) the Gods are all sweet and nice and B) that They’d never force us to do anything are two of the most damaging ideas within Paganism. They’re also ideas that I think our ancient forebears would find laughable and quite possibly dangerous and unlucky. There is nothing safe about this work. Nor is there anything safe about the sacred. I think our ancestors understood that far, far better than people do now. But we’re learning, slowly but surely, we’re learning.


1. Talal, Asad, (2003). Formations of the Secular. California: Stanford University Press, p. 69.
2. Asad, p. 71.
3. Asad, p. 79.
4. Krasskova, currently unpublished article “Ordeal Work, Body Modification, and the Use of Pain in Modern Norse Paganism.” First presented October 4, 2008 at a religious studies conference at Ohio State University.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two poems for Hela

These were written for the Norse goddess of the dead by one of Her servants. They are posted here because some of the themes will probably be familiar to readers of this blog.


When I was young, no face.
She spoke to me from a shroud,
A cloud of darkness, cloaked and close
And I knew She was Death, and thought
She was old, old, old.

Once She came wearing a face
Like a costume, for a masquerade,
Black gown glittering with stars, fair face
With midnight hair – I recognized
A queen from my book of faery tales,
And even then knew She was hiding
Herself from me. The occasion?
We went to Faery, She and I.
I was admonished not to let go her hand
As she showed me off to silver folk
Who looked upon us both with thinly veiled
Disgust. I was a child, I knew nothing,
Save that I was privy to things far beyond
Comprehension. So I did not look at Her.

When I died, many years later, She came to me
And I saw Her, divided like Ardhanarisvara
But living and dead, not male and female –
No, that instead was me. Skin wearing off
Across the bridge of the nose, down to skull
And skeletal hand that left its mark
Upon my memory. I know you now,
I cried upon awakening. I am done with playing
Rumpelstiltskin. You are Mother Rot,
Lady Death, goddess of my ancestors,
And I have died at your hands.

Once She came to me wearing a face
Like a costume, for yet another purpose,
A slim white girl, snow-pale of hair and skin
Dressed in white furs open to pale breasts.
Her face was delicate, yet I could smell the rot.
I ran, then, rejected the one thing
That needed my consent, my open arms,
Because I feared, because I hated,
Because I could.

I walked the long road to Her kingdom,
Nine days worth. World after world
And ending by Her fire, serenading
The yearning Dead. She came, tall and glorious,
Tattered black shroud whipping in the wind,
Her knuckles shone and clacked like carved rings.
I knelt and gave Her dried roses, blood red.
As She took them, Her gown turned that color
Suffused with life, as if I had given Her my blood.

She is the daughter of shapeshifters,
She is the many faces of Ending,
She is the many forms of Doom.
She is beautiful as a poised serpent,
The iridescent black feather of a vulture,
The quiet slope of a marble gravestone,
The plume of scarlet on the razor’s flash,
The rippling watermark of old burn scars,
The sleek curve of a thorn,
The jeweled flash of a carrion beetle,
A clean white skull in the sand.

(C) 2009 Raven Kaldera

* * * * *
A Small Semi-Poetic Hymn To Hela, Who Owns My Ass

Sometimes I do not like my Goddess much.
Sometimes, even, my voice is raised
In hatred, in wrath, in despair
And yet, of late, the tiny things come to me,
One at a time, the reasons to be grateful
For serving Her. Of late,
I think on how the sky-Gods, the earth-Gods
Take part in politics between those
Who worship them - either to stir up,
Or to make frith, or to teach lessons,
And drag their reluctant servants
Into the screaming fray. Even Flame-Hair
And some darker others, may ambivalently
Turn their gaze and their workers hence.

Yet Her cold gaze
Is set beyond this; She takes no note of such
Tiny things. Perhaps because so few
Revere Her, the importance of folk is not
Counted by their reverence. She casts Her net
Wide and forward-looking; Her eyes seek
The greater plan, the wider implications.
I ask her of community, and She says:

Community is who comes to you
When you open your door and offer to serve
Any who come. Your people are whoever
It is given to you to aid, regardless
Of whether their necks bear hammers,
Pentacles, crystals, or even crosses.
Build the door and they will come,
And come, and come. Be as limitless
As Death, and beyond. Have no foot wholly
In any place, and many more will
Welcome you. Guard your honor,
Do your work, and care only about that,
But care about that deeply,
With an abiding passion
That burns like hallowed flame.

Yeah, I can do that.

So, Lady. If I must be a pawn
Let it be on a wider stage,
A greater play, with a cast of thousands
And thousands more.

You see, I am finding reasons
To be grateful for my Life
Every difficult day of its telling.

(C) 2009 Raven Kaldera

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going, Going, Gone or, You Really Can't Take It With You

by Galina Krasskova

"Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate."
-- Ambrose Bierce

This weekend was a working weekend for me. I got together with two colleagues, who also happen to be two of my closest friends and we spent four days away from our homes attending to various and sundry spirit-work and God-inspired duties. As always, whenever the three of us get together, even when we're not working, we tend to talk shop. It's a rare time to kick back, relax as much as we're able, and discuss our projects and Work-related problems with other people who understand completely where we're coming from. This can often be enlightening in a plethora of unexpected ways and this weekend was no different. 

As I was packing last night, carefully wrapping my runes, a carved Odin statue, and several other magical tools, pouring out the offerings that I'd collected, one of my colleagues brought up the question of how little thought is given to what becomes of the possessions of a Godslave, spiritworker, shaman, or magician when we die. Basically, it's more than just a question of who gets our stuff; but rather it should be a question of who should receive our stuff, and moreover who can safely handle it. What are the repercussions of what we leave behind? I've had to face this question last year when I, at the urging of the duergar Deity Andvari, wrote out my will. I clearly stated that a colleague, also a shaman, was to come in and take all my magical, ritual, and devotional tools and divine via whatever system he chose, to determine what should be done with them. The man I was talking to last night was that shaman in question. This was not the first time this topic had arisen between us. 

Why is this important you might ask? Well, just off the top of my head, I can think of several particularly salient reasons: A) my tools are reservoirs of power. The degree of energy that those of us doing this Work deal with on a regular basis has the potential to seriously alter, even harm someone unprepared for it. We have to be modified by our Deities energetically to handle it. It could cause energy sickness, or even blast open latent gifts in someone unprepared, drive them crazy, or worse. B) Some of our tools are ensorcelled. This means that they may contain a living spirit. "Just bury it with me" doesn't work so well when you're dealing with another spirit who has been entrusted into your care. Maybe being buried with you isn't what its wyrd is about. When you contract with a spirit, or even when you bind a spirit you then have an obligation to that spirit. Period. C). Some tools need to be fed, usually with blood, regularly. The spirits involved can get very testy, aggressive, and in some cases dangerous if this isn't done. I think you can see where I"m going with this one. Moreover, harm can come from having powerful tools pass into unsuspecting and unprepared hands. This is a question of lawful responsibility. We, the spiritworkers, magicians, godslaves, and shamans in question have the obligation to make the necessary preparations (to the best of our abilities) to ensure that our working items are disposed of properly after our deaths. We can't take it with us and we need to be really careful about how we leave it behind too!

Part of this ties in to respect for one's tools and resources. For me, this awareness came from my obligations to Andvari. He is all about knowing what is yours by right and what is yours by accident. He taught me about respecting money, and viewing the exchange and transformation of resources as sacred. Part of those lessons was acknowledging that part of honoring that sacredness means making sure that we leave as ordered a house as possible for our descendants. This means making plans not just for disposal of magical items, but for disposal of mundane assets as well. It's all about mindfulness, respect, and responsibility. We're bound by Gods. Our obligations do not end when we die. As my friend and brother W. has said to me on more than one occasion: "In our line of work, death is not a career ending transition!" We are responsible for what we leave behind even after we're gone, if we do not take steps to prevent disarray. This means we can fall into unlawfulness. This means we can incur a wyrd debt. Neither is a particularly good thing whether one is alive or dead. Harm is harm. 

This extends further than just writing out a will. I am a Master level magician. My house is tightly shielded. My workroom is even more highly warded. Those wards and shields are external to me. When i die, they don't. While i try very hard not to be brazen about what I do, even under concealment shields, to those with the senses and skilled motivation to ferret it out, my house is the house of a warrior mage of a significantly high level. That's fine while I'm living there. When something does manage to breach my concealment spells, I deal with it. I have that skill. But what if I died, no one tends to my wards and the house is bought by a family with several small children? What if my signature on the house, the power contained there, attracts something Bad then? Who is responsible? Who is going to clean up that mess? 

There's an old saying: "prevention is worth a pound of cure" and that really is true in this line of Work. We as a community need to start thinking about what is going to happen when we're gone and what type of a mess we're leaving behind. We need to take steps, not just to ensure that our possessions don't fall into the wrong hands, but that they get to the right ones wherever possible. We need to take steps to ensure that our dwelling places are cleansed, and any operative magic or energy there undone and grounded out. We need to do this not out of any secrecy or territoriality (though these things aren't necessarily bad) but out of sheer responsibility for the safety of those who will come after us. We need to take the steps NOW to ensure that our houses physically, spiritually, magically really are in order while we live and after we die. This is partly something that the communities we serve also have to learn: you benefit from your God-bound person's skills, but there is a necessary protocol to dealing with them. This isn't hubris. It's for everyone's safety. What we do is real. It has consequences (usually to us). Sometimes it's dangerous. Sometimes it's dangerous when we least intend it to be. Alive, we can prepare for these contingencies and safely deal with them. Dead, not so much. Most mundane people have to face these issues when it comes to money, property, and resources. We have to face them there and here, in this area as well. It's a matter of professional responsibility. We need to start discussing this and laying the framework as professionals for dealing with these issues. They're not going to go away and one day, they may just blow up in our collective faces. The Gods don't allow us the luxury of hiding our heads in the sand over any other issue. They're not going to do it here. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Grass on Both Sides Is Greener

Many times I have tried to remind myself of how I felt before the gods came into my life. These past few years seem lit up and thrown into sharp relief by the fire of my red-haired Interloper, by the absolute knowledge that gods do exist, and by the vivid experiences to which They have led me. By contrast, the years I spent before Their arrival in my life seem two-dimensional and flat now, in the proverbial 20/20 vision of hindsight. I sometimes wish it were otherwise, however. By that, I mean that I don't ever want to forget what life was like before the spirits chose and claimed me.

I know perfectly well that there are those -- the majority of people, really -- who will never experience the gods in the way I have, nor see the world in the way I do. It's not that I believe that mine is the only valid spiritual experience, or the best one, but it seems to be one that other people who haven't had the opportunity crave very much. Yet talking about how my life has changed since I was first touched by the gods makes me really uncomfortable. Not because I am afraid of being disbelieved or mocked, but because I know that no matter how much they long for it, some of the people who ask me about it won't ever get to know for themselves how it really is. That makes me sad.

No, being god-touched isn't all good. I can say that until I'm blue in the face, but people seldom want to believe it. "Yes, yes," they say, nodding as my words go in one ear and exit the other, "but isn't the rest worth it?" Yes, the rest is worth it. It comes at a very high price, as others have noted on this blog. I won't rehash what they have already said -- if you've been following The Gods' Mouths for any length of time you've probably already got the idea that being a spirit-touched human being isn't always shits and giggles. But neither is it torturous at all times or without any real rewards. I could never consider the depth of my love for my gods, or the love They have shown me, and then turn around and say to someone, "Yeah, this job really sucks." Sometimes it does, but not always. Not even most of the time, although others may differ there.

However, I've realized that it's futile to convince those who haven't experienced this sort of thing for themselves of how hard it is to serve the gods directly, or on the other hand, to truly convey how awesome it is as well. It's terrible and wonderful, full of pain and joy. But, just as someone who hasn't raised a child can't really understand all of the complicated feelings a parent might have, a person who has not undergone the highs and lows of being god-touched to this degree can't really understand the experience of those who have. When I say "understand," I mean with the heart, not with the head. I'm not trying to be an elitist here, or judgmental. That's just how it is.

Saying this to people, though, leaves me feeling rotten and ungracious. Part of my job is to counsel people, to listen to them and help them find solutions to their problems, spiritual or mundane. When someone says longingly that they wish they could have what I have -- direct communication with the gods and a job given to me by Them -- the first thing I want to say is, "No, you don't." But then I think about how I viewed the universe before They came to me. I think about how much Their influence has improved me, how hard They have had me work to overcome my flaws and see myself as a good and worthy person. And I can't honestly tell these people that no, they wouldn't want my job. Doing so makes me think of how I felt many years ago when attached friends would complain about their partners and assure me that life as part of a couple wasn't all romance, companionship and weekends of hot sex. I couldn't hear what they said because all I saw was that they had something I wanted and did not have.

On the other hand, although I would not give this life up now for anything, nor could I go back to having a "normal" life undisturbed by deities and spirits popping into my awareness, and sometimes my bedroom, at all hours, it does get wearying. I have watched longingly as groups of happy, unaware people went about their daily lives, talking about things like ordinary jobs, dating, hobbies, what they're going to wear and where they're going to live -- all things that are under a number of constraints in my own life. I have sometimes wished that I could have the freedom to up and leave to roam the world whenever I want instead of being tied to a vocation, my oaths, my life as a servant of higher powers. I have labored under the delusion that life is simpler for those not in my position; it isn't, really. Nobody's problems will just go away at the wave of a magic wand, even if you're really a magician. In truth, life, whether the gods interfere in it or not, is just as hard, crazy, difficult, uproarious, wonderful and full of the potential for real magic for everybody. If that wasn't true, there'd be no point in it.

So I really don't know what to say to people who want desperately to experience the kinds of things I have, and are seeking assurance that someday it will happen to them, too. I don't feel qualified to tell someone else yea or nay, nor do I know what They might have in mind for somebody. The odds are against most people; folks like me are few and far between, really, even given that there are a number of different permutations of being god-touched, from those who are out-and-out slaves to those who are given a single task to do and told to run with it however they choose. But most people will never end up like me and my colleagues here on this blog. And I don't know whether to feel bad for them or to feel relieved on their behalf.

I suppose all I can say to someone who asks me whether or not I believe they are destined to be a divinely-chosen shaman, spirit-worker, seer, healer or whatever, is that the matter is between them and the gods. After all, I'm a hard polytheist, and I believe that They are perfectly capable of enacting Their wishes without us second-guessing Them either way. I can tell someone how difficult it is to be owned by the gods, and also how wonderful it is to know what my life's purpose is and will be. I can talk about the things I've had to sacrifice and the things They have given me in return. But I can't ever really convey what the experience feels like, and the depths and heights to which we are made to sink and rise. Maybe that's for the best.

The best gifts of all are the ones that come upon us unawares, yet of which we know as soon as we see them that we would die to obtain and keep them. That's as close as I can come to describing my experience as a god-owned priest, and it'll have to be enough. In the meantime, I guess it's my duty to remember what it was like before my eyes and ears were opened and have compassion for those who haven't yet found themselves where I am, or whose path lies in a different direction altogether...and to remember that even when you are god-touched, there are no guarantees.

A New Forum for Ordeal

We have just started a new magazine, aimed at spirit work and ordeal. It is called Blood for the Divine, and we have already started posting on various subjects. If anyone here is interested in writing about this subject, feel free to email us at godsmouths@gmail.com. I am trying to keep the number of email addresses down...

the editor

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On Sacrifice and Love

By Galina Krasskova
(This was originally written as a sermon for the Palm Sunday April 5, 2009 service of the Interfaith Temple in NYC. The issues involved, however, are ones every mystic, godslave, shaman, and spiritworker must at one time or another face).

St. Augustine said that ‘my love is my weight.” St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that
‘the food of real love is sacrifice.’ I’m a northern tradition shaman. I belong to a God who is all about sacrifice. I’m owned by the God Odin and through my service to Him I‘ve learned that sometimes Deity can ask terrible, frightening things of us and it’s up to us to summon the strength of love to carry us through. It’s up to us to willingly embrace the sacrifice that will in turn bring us closer to our Gods.

We’re coming up on two very important holy tides, both of which, in some way, are about sacrifice. Today is Palm Sunday, when Christ rode into Jerusalem accepting willingly and lovingly the path that would lead to His death. We’re also coming up on Passover, commemorating a time in Jewish history where followers of Yahweh were asked to give up everything and instead to trust their God to bring them out of bondage. Talk about a terrifying offering: you give Me everything and I will give you what you need. Trust me. As you can see, sacrifice is a powerful and sacred thing. We’ve also just passed a very important holy tide in my religion: Ostara, in which we welcome spring. This is traditionally a time of new beginnings and there’s no better time than now to reevaluate where we stand with our Gods and how we can serve Them better because at its heart, both love and sacrifice are about service.

The word sacrifice is really interesting. It means to make sacred. It also means ‘belonging to the Gods.” What a beautiful concept, that through our efforts, through that which we give gladly and willingly we can touch the Gods, we can enter into a loving and reciprocal relationship with Them. Now sacrifice has certainly fallen out of favor in modern society. Personally, I think that’s because of what it implies: there are no free rides, not even with the Gods, most especially with the Gods. Spirituality is hard work. God tested Abraham. He said “give me your son.” Yahweh sacrificed His own son…horribly. Think for a moment on the story of the Virgin Mary: you have a fourteen or fifteen year old girl who was told that she would bear God’s child ...in a culture that ostracized and stoned unwed mothers. By accepting the sacrifice her God asked, she was risking not just her comfort, her reputation, her future, but her very life as well. Nor are examples of such sacrifices absent from the polytheistic religions, as I well know. The God that I serve hung Himself on the Tree of life for nine nights and days in agony. The Goddess Inanna descended to the underworld where She died and it took yet another sacrifice of her beloved husband to restore Her to life. The Goddess Isis sacrificed both Her husband and Her son at various points in Her sacred canon. Sacred stories from faith after faith after faith are replete with Gods and Goddesses who sacrifice themselves, who undergo painful ordeals all to show us what spirituality may require. These sacrifices come down to one thing: love. Love isn’t some abstract ideal, it isn’t some sentimentality. Love rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. It’s like having a baby. Loving the baby is all very well but that love is expressed by cleaning and caring for the baby: by changing its diapers, by keeping its ass clean, by feeding and burping it. Love is hard, ongoing work.

I have a colleague who defines devotional practice as the art of religious love. But what does that mean? What is devotional practice? What on earth does it have to do with sacrifice. Oh, you’d be surprised. Committing to consistent mindfulness is one of the most challenge things you can ever do and devotion is just that. There are many, many ways to engage in devotional practice. What ties the various techniques such as ritual, prayer, meditation, and study together is that when engaged in regularly, they have the power to dramatically enhance one’s spiritual practices. These are the things that carry us through our sacrifices. We’re engaging in a type of devotional practice by being here together today. The secret to making it last, to reaping its benefits is to keep focusing on the Gods when we’re going about our daily grind, when life distracts us. All of these things, like regular prayer, or meditation, they help to discipline the mind and heart to the Gods, to create the necessary emotional and spiritual receptivity which can nurture and nourish spiritual life. Devotional practices are grounded in a certain interiority of practice and it is from this interior journey that one is able to establish the building blocks of true piety.

Piety. There’s a word that has fallen out of favor in modern religious circles. It comes from a Latin work: pietas, which literally means dutiful conduct, especially toward the Gods. It encompasses a broad spectrum of right relationship and right action: toward oneself, toward one’s fellow humans, one’s ancestors, and, of course, toward the Gods. It implies a way of being in the world, not out of it but in the world, here and now, and a way of mindful interaction. Essentially, piety is the thorough, all-encompassing expression of ongoing and evolving devotion. At its best, it is quiet and forthright. True piety does not rest in broad, conspicuous gestures or flamboyant, seemingly “religious” behavior. Such things would be caricatures of this virtue. Rather, real piety lies in making one’s heart open to the Gods and striving every hour of every day, as best we can to allow that awareness to govern our every deed. And we do this knowing that in our imperfection we shall fail, --- we are perfect only in our own imperfection -- we shall have set backs, and we shall have to get up, retrace our steps, and forge onward again and again and again. That’s sacrifice! Piety involves the grace on ongoing perseverance. It is this virtue that both informs and flows from ongoing devotional practice. They work hand in hand. And you know what? Through devotional practice, it is possible to fall madly, passionately and deeply in love with your God or Goddess. The key to strengthening that bond is sacrifice.

So what does that mean? Are we all expected to make burnt offerings on some high altar in the wilderness? Hardly, that would be way too easy! Sacrifice is different for every person. It can mean giving up your time, giving yourself the gift of regular discipline in prayer, in mindfulness. It can mean learning to take care of yourself and your body, because these things are precious to your Gods. It can mean consciously accepting certain taboos. I have many colleagues who are shamans and god servants within their communities who willingly (mostly willingly…sometimes we grumble) accept intense taboos. Some are forbidden by their Gods to marry. Others must maintain a partner. Some cannot hold a regular job, some have terrible health problems as a result of their work. I know one woman, also owned by Odin who had to leave her husband because he could not accept being second to her God in her life. She was called to be a shaman, a walking sacrifice to this God. And she paid for that privilege. Like love, sacrifice is rarely an abstract and it is never sentimental. It hurts, it causes a change in who you are and who you might become. Most of all it changes the dynamic of the relationship you have with your Deity. It might mean making that sacrifice in the wilderness. It can mean doing that which is difficult and doing it with an open heart. Inconvenience, my friends, is not sacrifice. The question when we approach our Gods, when we are entering into this holy service is this: will you do that which makes you uncomfortable when the One who has given you breath asks it? I have said before and I’ll say it again here; if we do the work the Gods ask us to do, They will pour blessings into our hands and often from the most unexpected of places. But we have to do our part too. It’s not a one way street.

True sacrifice is about setting aside one’s own sentimentalities, one’s ego, one’s desires. It’s about putting the God or Goddess that you honor centermost in your life and allowing everything else to flow from that holy point. We cannot give too much to our Gods. There’s a beautiful prayer by an anonymous 13th century French mystic that I’d like to share with you now. In it, she says;

“And if of some of you He requires even more,
Asks of you a payment of pain,
Praise Him more joyously still;
The great Good that awaits you
Should make your patience strong.
As a rust-covered sword soon gleams
Beneath the weight of a polishing hand,
So the soul who gives herself truly
Comes to shine with the blows of God.”

I think she had something there, I think she grasped something essential about the spiritual state, about loving and serving a God. After all, folks, if service were easy, everyone would do it.

Maestas, Silence, (2009). Walking the Heartroad. MA: Asphodel Press.
Hirschfield, Jane, (1994). Women in Praise of the Sacred. NY: Harper Perennial.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The End of the Beginning

Fire and I dedicated ourselves to our Lady in February of 1999, although by that point we had been serving her since the previous October. It was when we swore to Her that our magical and spiritual instruction began in earnest, and Clan Tashlin was formed.

Since then we have studied magic, taught magic, become spirit workers, gained friends, lost friends, healed, destroyed, and seen our lives become something far different than we could have imagined when we first set out on this path. We have grown and changed, taken new names, and reclaimed old ones.

Now we stand on the edge of a precipice. In a few days will be working a piece of incredibly complex magic, which represents the attainment of so much that we have worked towards. We've known this kind of magic exists ever since we swore to our Lady. From day one, as She and our teachers instructed us in the workings of magic, this was always in the back of our minds. It was understood that if we studied diligently, and were good boys and girls we might grow up to someday be ready for what we now find ourselves preparing to do.

It is an unbelievably intimidating thought.

It is not that I lack of confidence in our ability to do the work. Rather it is that there are many spiritual and magical rules and rights that are conveyed upon us and upon our Clan once this is done. For one thing Clan Tashlin, or more accurately Tashrisketlin, becomes an official and living entity in Her eyes, rather than the proto-clan it's been for the past 10 years. What this means to me as the Clan shaman remains to be seen.

Sadly, though not surprisingly, Summer has decided that he does not want any part in this process. Unless he negotiates with Her to leave Tashrisketlin, he will remain part of our little Clan (as there are only eight of us at the moment it would be especially sad to see him go), but at a challenging and triumphant time like this, his absence is especially noted.

As long as I've been Wintersong I have been working towards this moment, but now that it nears I find myself wondering what the future will have in store for us. When one has strived towards a goal for so long, its completion can only be bittersweet. None of this is how I expected it to be, but then I know that I am very much not the person I expected I would be when I looked towards the future 10 years ago.

In some senses the future beyond the completion of this working it is dark. However, it is not the darkness of despair, but rather the sense of anticipation you feel in a darkened room, as your finger rests on a flashlight's on switch and you wait to see what shapes the light will reveal.