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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Godaþegn and Godatheow

By Hrafn

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
the territory."

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.


  1. Alex BettencourtMay 25, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    I disagree with the idea that there is a larger responsibility to newbies and to present a more neutral 'face'. I feel like this amounts to pandering--here, let me make this easier for you to swallow because you might not get it or might not like the implications.

    As a person who showed up to Asphodel events [Cauldron Farm is a private residence, First Kingdom Church of Asphodel is a separate church that often hosts events at Cauldron Farm..this seems to get lost in translation quite a bit] with no real experience in paganism to speak of, I met a handful of people who were god-slaves and a larger handful who were not...and didn't really think much of it, more than god-slave was not something I wanted to be. To that end, I was counseled that if there was any way for me NOT to be a god-slave, I should take it and run with it as it is a very difficult path to walk.

    Now, as a spirit-worker who is associated with Northern Tradition folsk but is not Northern Tradition and who is not a god-slave, I don't get what the big fuss is--my job is me and what I am assigned and that doesn't involve worrying about the relationships others have with their Deities, nor does it involve worrying about the impression my job leaves with others.

    Thanks for writing this--I enjoyed reading it. Excellent food for thought.

  2. This is about being able to present ourselves as multifaceted, not pandering or presenting a tamer face. To illustrate--broadly and by example--that there are more ways to serve the gods directly, with whatever skill set you happen to bring to the table, and that just because you are drawn to, tapped by, or even oathbound to a deity doesn't need to imply that you are a slave to that same deity, nor does it imply that someone who is a slave to that deity is in a "higher" relationship.

    Just a different one.

    This is a particularly common impression among those who are not directly affiliated with Asphodel, who are scattered to the winds around the planet, and who find this path through books, small--relatively isolated--groups, and through the internet.

    It's like if every book on Christianity were written by, not just priests, but a particular form of sequestered monk and your predominant contact with other practitioners and with those leaders was through online forums. No matter what is said, it would be easy to walk away with the impression that those in service to the gods aim to become sequestered monks.

    An analogous situation currently takes place with the Episcopal Diaconate: A lot of people ask if they are going to "go on" to become priests and view it as a step in the ordination process, when in truth they view themselves as coequal. There is no "going on" for them.

    In essence, there are options.

    This is what I am trying to make explicit by pointing out one of the other possible path, and part of the impression I want to help give newcomers to the path: That being a godatheow isn't the "default state," but rather one of many choices and possible paths.

  3. Speaking of inclusivity ... I'd like to see a counterpart for godathegn that is *not Northern Tradition*, so that it won't put off the majority of people in the Pagan demographic. Nothing with funny letters, either. Any suggestions, anyone?

    And someday, I swear, I'm going to put up a page with definitions and an FAQ as to what is my home, my Pagan church, my personal practice, my housemates, my friends, the NT kindred I happen to be an occasional member of, etc. ...and spew it all over the Internet so people won't make mistakes about who's what. I swear. A supposedly academic article referred to "Asphodel Farm" and spelled my name wrong. Sheesh.

    As to the issue of people thinking that god-slaves were all there is: Someone (who is not me, I'm too busy) needs to write books on this. Period. In the reference to the Episcopalians, the misunderstanding there would never happen because their church would churn out plenty of writing on the subject, in little time.

    However, Neo-Paganism is not a centralized religion with a single church and press. Books get written randomly, catch-as-catch can, and they come from all different areas of the demographic, from diverse perspectives. That means that the field goes to the articulate who are willing to put in the time to create books and publish them.

    (I am tempted to make reference to the fact that it's so many god-slaves doing the prolific writing having a huge amount to do with the fact that we have no choice, we are forced to write them, we can't choose to give up and watch Buffy instead. The theological implications of that are amusing. Free will's a hard thing, eh?)

    I'd like to see an entire book - perhaps an anthology of essays from people on various pooint of the spectrum, comparing their experiences - on the subject. But someone has to get off their ass and do it. Before I put the term god-slave in a book, no one would talk about it at all. At least now they're talking! This is good. Maybe it will spawn some real considered literature, not just angry posts.

    The best way for "newbies" to not be confused is for there to be available literature on the subject that defines things in a useful way. When I started writing about being a god-slave, I only had access to people who were god-slaves, and who were worshippers. Period. It was all I knew, and I wrote about what I knew. I still think that it was the right thing to do, because as I pointed out in my post on the other site, god-slaves are far more at risk of death and/or madness. I'll risk a few hurt feelings to save people from dying. Writing about what it is to be a godathegn (or whatever more-inclusive term people come up with) is *someone else's job*. And I am looking forward to seeing it done!

    -Raven Kaldera

  4. errata: Paragraph 3 should have read, "In the reference to the Christians". The Episcopalians were in the next paragraph and I became confused. My apologies.

    -Raven Kaldera

  5. Why have terms at all! I would say that I am devoted to my gods, but dont know what term fits me? I am very confused by the whole thing.

  6. I sought for and embraced a relationship with my Goddess of total surrender before encountering the term "godslave," but despite the discomfort I have with the term (due to the deeply-engrained connotations of "slavery"), from what little I have read about it, in actual practice the relationship appears to essentially be the same as mine.

    Though many Pagans would disagree with me -- most, probably -- I have long believed that this embracing this kind of relationship is the essence of what it means to be a priest or priestess. It is a consecration, a setting apart, of self unto one's deity, much like a ritual tool is set apart for divine service.

    I would enjoy knowing others who embrace this sort of relationship with their patrons. It is hard to talk about the experience with others, for lack of common ground.

  7. I just found this article and was wondering if anyone knows if someone is working on the type of book Raven mentioned? I know for me it would have been a valuable resource in my early days. I honestly think this book needs to be written.