A discussion on Facebook inspired this post. Someone felt that the term “godphone” was misleading, and a little disrespectful, and called for people to stop using it. I can see what their point is, but I want to write a bit about where the term came from, what it originally meant, and why I don’t think I’ll stop using it (although I may temper how often I use it, and with whom).
I can’t say for certain that I was there when the word was first coined, but I can say that I know from whence it came. A certain clique of spirit workers, shamans, and other spiritually minded folk were trying to explain the different ways divine communication can occur with humans. We were not at an academic conference or high-brow conference call, trying to codify something meant for Merriam Webster; we were a bunch of goofball spooky-foo folk having a very casual conversation about what it is that we do.
The term itself was a slang, a shorthand, for “the ability to speak to the Gods, and to hear the Gods in return”. It was not meant to imply that one could just “pick up the phone” and have immediate, pin-drop-chrystal-clear communication with any Deity one would choose to speak to/with; in fact, most people who have this ability protest often that no one has 100% signal clarity (again, “signal clarity” being a term that came out of these discussions) and often we reach out and get no answer, or are Told something but our questions/protestations were unheard (or possibly ignored). In this age, we see phones as something ubiquitous; everyone but the very poor or the very eccentric has one, they carry it around with them wherever they go, and they serve many functions. When this slang was thrown around, cell phones were in their infancy; it was back when having one meant that you were at least middle class, if not more well off. Mostly, we were thinking of much older technology, back when “busy signals” were a thing (and something we discussed), and “call waiting” was not exactly new, but something you had to pay extra for. So part of trying to explain where it came from means understanding what “phone” meant in, say, 1998. (I think it was coined after that, but the point I’m trying to make is that we were thinking more like a basic land-line, not Iphone.)
In the same vein, we had coined “god radio” as a slang for those who could hear the Gods when they chose to speak, but the communication was one way – that is, that the person did not feel they could communicate in real-time with the Gods. It’s not that they were *never* heard, but that they had to rely on the same “technology” that most people have when it comes to speaking to Gods – prayer, ritual, sacrifice, devotional work, meditation, etc. Again, this term could be seen as problematic, as a radio is something you can switch on and off at will, and that sends a continuous stream of information while it’s on. This was not what we meant to imply with the term at all; it was really just the idea that no matter how much you talk to a radio, the dee jay on the other end can’t hear you unless you pick up a phone, send an email, or drive to the station. And even then, how many times in your teenage years did you call a radio station, trying to request a song or win something or share your opinion, and you actually got through? Most urban radio stations are so overwhelmed with calls that you considered yourself really lucky if you got through.
To illustrate how facetious we were when we had these discussions, some people started talking about having a “God tin-can-on-a-string”. This was meant to imply that the person could faintly make out small bits of communication, or their sense of interaction was more in the way of emotions and intuitions; they could “feel” that a God wanted to say “X”, but they weren’t hearing the words directly and clearly. As for sending messages, they felt that they were even less able to do that than those who had radios – no phone line to call, no email address to write to, just a can they can shout into hoping that the God on the other end would get the same sort of intuitive answer from the human. Of course, they too had access to the kinds of communications that everyone else does, like the ones I listed above.
And then there were the “block heads”, or “brick heads”, or “ears plugged with cotton”; as this was all facetious in meaning, we never really came up with a similar technological metaphor for people who feel like they have absolutely no sense of the presence of Gods at all. Now, before you think I have some sort of disdain or condescension towards these people, I have found these sorts of people to be some of the most important to have around when it comes to signal clarity; without them, I think some of us would get so lost, unable to discern between sock-puppets, wish fulfillment, make believe; and actual, meaningful messages, omens, signs and signals from the Gods. I have many such people in my life, some of whom are even more spiritually active than I am; and I rely upon their more practical judgement when it comes to determining if my UPG makes sense, sounds like something a certain God would say, do, or want, or was a case of misreading the message. They play just as important a role in the greater task of facilitating communication between the Spirits and the people. Really. In some ways, I envy them; their “faith muscles” are so much stronger for having to rely on their own 5 senses, their heart, and their head when it comes to spiritual matters. They are also somewhat naturally gifted grounders, who keep us woo-woo folks from completely disconnecting from the material world. They can help when a possession goes awry, or when someone is completely deluded by the voices in their head (whether or not those voices are divine in origin or not), and as a valuable head-check when someone gets a message that seems out of character for the Divinity in question, or asks something of us that seems random, or dangerous, or worrisome. These are the kind of people I would go running to if a God proposed marriage to me, let me tell you. I would want to know that I wasn’t falling into a rabbit hole of a completely imaginary world made up of whatever thoughts came into my head.
I know I’ve said it, and others have as well, but I really hope you can see how none of these is inherently better or more desirable than any other. It may seem like having a two-way pipeline of communication with the Gods would be preferable, but let me just list a few reasons why I find it to be as much of a curse as a blessing:
- Frequently, we don’t get to control when the “phone rings”. I was talking to a colleague recently about a message they received while driving, that was so overwhelming they were afraid of driving off the road. Not only do I mean, “They call at inconvenient times”, but also that sometimes they don’t “pick up the phone”. I have tried to communicate that even we sit in darkened silence, and I think it’s fair to say that it can sometimes be harder for us, because once you’re used to being able to feel their presence and have their counsel, when that goes away the lack is so much more keenly felt. In a very odd way, it’s like being addicted to a drug – yes, drugs make you happy and relaxed and whatever other emotional reason you take them, but when you can’t find any, or when you have to abstain, or when you can’t afford them, or one of the many reasons why you might not have some, the lows that come are so terrible you frequently end up in the hospital. So yes, it can be reassuring to have an inner sense of peace that you know what the Gods want from, and of, you; but that peace is shot to shit when They decide They want you to figure this particular situation out on your own.
- With this gift, comes the responsibility and awkwardness that when a message comes for someone else, you are frequently forced to relay it. Even though I have struck a loose deal with Loki that I don’t have to be my lover’s shaman (so I can be off the clock when I’m being all cutesy with them), that deal doesn’t seem to include the godphone; when it rings, it rings, and They get louder and more insistent that I deliver the message. Strangers. Doctors. Therapists (and you can imagine the reception there). Atheists. Christians. Children. Parents and other family members. Police officers. Employers/Bosses. Some of us have learned how to deliver the messages without being all “I am the metatron” about it; I will say things like, “I know you’re worried about your son; I have this strong feeling that he’s going to be okay, as long as you continue to pray for him and maybe read the story about (some God or spirit or saint or whatever); there might be wisdom to glean from it.” I remember once, upon meeting a friend’s friend for the first time, I had this one sentence message that was burning on my tongue; it was a literal pain to speak anything other than the message. But I had just met this person, and I had no idea how they would react to this, and I didn’t want to come across as some high fallutin’ gypsy fortune teller in a horror novel. Finally, when there was a pause in the conversation, I just said, “Does the sentence ‘Cut down the tree so the flowers can grow’ mean anything to you? Is it lyrics from a song or something? It’s just been running through my head all night.” And of course, it turned out to be this very serious message about their recent breakup, where she and her partner had painted a tree mural on the bedroom wall; every night she would crawl into bed alone and cry because of what this tree represented; she had been considering painting over it and putting something cheery (oh, like flowers) over it, as one of those cathartic steps you take after a breakup. She was completely freaked out that I knew about it, and I said, “Well, when you hang around me, these things kinda happen sometimes.” I never used the words “God” “Spirit” “Godphone” or “Divine Message”. And to this day, I don’t think she knows exactly where the message came from; but that’s not the point. See, that’s a nice story of having to tell a stranger something. I have lots of ones where I’ve been punched in the face, or had nasty rumors spread about me, or had people post to the Internet that I am a fraud who rips people off, or that I use cold reading to do “divination”, or whatever. People are (rightfully) a little scared when you just pop off some piece of personal information about them without any way of knowing it. It makes you look like a cyber stalker, or worse. So although it might seem like a cool thing to have, you don’t get to dictate how it gets used, or in what situations.
- There are times that I attribute mundane things to spiritual causes. It’s an unfortunately side effect of being a shaman. When so much of my time and energy is spent in spiritual pursuits, it’s very easy to lose touch with reality. Like this post from Dying for a Diagnosis, where one of my more grounded friends asked me if I chose not to undertake the requests of my Gods, since I believe that my chronic illness is part of my spiritual journey, would that mean that I would get well if I gave it all up? And it did make me think about how I, and others I know, try very hard to make everything in their life feel spiritually significant. In a way, it’s not that different from hypochondriacs seeing every physical change as a possible symptom of a terrible disease; we want to be immersed in the spiritual as bad as they want to be diagnosed with a rare illness. That’s not sane, and it can do very bad things to your life. You can decide that since you haven’t been able to find a job for six weeks, it must mean that the Gods want you to be unemployed so you can spend more time doing spiritual stuff; but you still have to pay your rent and bills in order to not be homeless, and it’s not uncommon for people who fall into this to thusly demand that people should financially support your existence because you’re off being all spiritual and shit. That’s not healthy, or fair. It can also lead to using spiritual excuses for bad behavior, or to support your fears. There are some Godspouses and consorts out there who are definitely terrified of human relationships (either that no one would love them, or that they’ve suffered trauma and can’t re-engage, or just that they’re terribly shy and don’t approach people). Having friendships and relationships with Gods can become a replacement for the real human need for connection; and without someone in your life to give you head-checks (which, honestly, people in this situation would likely avoid, afraid that they’d be told the truth) you can easily lose yourself in your invented fortress of solitude, content to spend time only with the spirits in your head. Again, not healthy.
If I had one wish these days, I’d surely ponder whether the right choice would be to wish that all people would find peace in their own spirituality, and not be jealous or envious of others. I would wish that they would find joy and fulfillment in whatever calls to their heart, and that they would explore the depths of their own spiritual calling, rather than trying to pattern their experiences after other people’s. I wish people would understand that we all have important roles to play, and we all have skills and talents that we can cultivate with a spiritual mindset; it’s so much easier to build up on a talent you already have, than try to force yourself to develop something you’re just not gifted with.
As many have said in the past few months, it’s not dissimilar from learning an instrument: you have to choose the right instrument for your disposition, anatomy, and talent; you have to find a mentor or teacher to guide you through the first fumbling steps (or, alternately, spend focused time on your own reading how-to books and watching 101 videos on YouTube); you have to take those fundamentals and work them over and over again until they slip from your fingers without thought; you have to strengthen the muscles and embouchure and postures and calluses so you can play for long periods of time without pain or struggle; and then you have to break out and start tackling pieces of various difficulty, starting with “Happy Birthday” and moving on to concertos or jazz improvisation. It’s not like you can walk into a music shop, pick out an instrument because you like the way it looks (or are envious of someone elses skill), and immediately become a virtuoso – much less teach others. It’s good to have heroes to look up to, but at the same time, you need to respect the years of practice, agony, mistakes, and strain that they’ve put in to get where they are, rather than declare that the universe (or the Gods) are unfair not to immediately reward you with the exact same level of skill and devotion.