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.