My post, Sacrifice seems to have gone viral among people of many different faith paths; I received more hits per 24 hour period on that piece than any other I’ve written to date (although it has a way to go for best all time hits, as God Sex and Hearing the Gods are currently the most popular.)
One person, identified as “C”, sent a comment full of well thought out and important questions, so I thought instead of answering them in the comments section, I would give them a post of their own.
1) Many, if not most, of us who are now polytheistic or polytheistically inclined have come from a Christian background. One of the reasons a lot of ppl leave that path is precisely because they do not feel heard, acknowledged, or cared for. Paganism, at large, has held out the image or idea that these other Deities are more tangible and responsive, more imminent in our daily affairs. However, it sounds like you, and many of your colleagues, are saying that the Gods are, or can be to most of us, just as remote and apparently non-responsive as the Christianity deities ever were. So how does Paganism/polytheism offer anything preferable, or as many assert, superior to the Christian paradigm?
There might be some conflation between the concept that the Gods are imminent, and the concept that Pagans can develop the abilities to see and hear them on a regular basis. One of the (debatable) theologies of most Pagans is the idea of imminence: the Gods are not living in some far off kingdom in the sky, looking down on us from a detached viewpoint, they are here on Earth, walking among us, interested and involved in our day to day existence. That’s how I view imminence, anyway. And as it is possible for a human to be interested in our daily existence and collect all kinds of information about us (as proven by how many times people google “Del Tashlin” to find this blog, for instance), and may even be an invisible hand guiding our decisions or the outcomes therein, it is all the more possible for the Gods to be at work in your life, and yet you might never actually get to have a two-way conversation with them.
The reason some people are given the gifts of understanding the Gods with their senses (hearing, seeing, etc) is specifically to live a life of service to those who do not. So even if you, personally, do not experience the Gods with your senses, it may only take a phone call or a coffee date with the right spirit worker in order to have personalized messages delivered to you (if the Gods have anything to communicate, anyway.) It may take the form of oracular work, or it may be divination. And that’s another equalizer in this; although you may not have the ability to hear with your ears, learning a divination system is available to most people, and I do believe that Gods communicate with us through divination, as long as you learn the basic energetic exercises that go with being a channel (grounding, centering, etc), rather than just interpreting the forces of randomness.
Another hurdle here is that few people take the time to really listen. We live in a society of constant distraction; music at the gas pumps, Ipods on the train, tv in the background; we have learned to think of silence as a terrible punishment. Even sitting in a car with another person, if the conversation dies, both people are likely frantically searching for a new topic of conversation, rather than just letting the silence pervade the experience. (I had the fortune to learn how to sit in conversational silence while dating a person who rarely spoke; at first, it drove me crazy, but over time I learned to love the feeling of release when I no longer pressured myself to fill the silence with random chatter.) You can’t hear the Gods if you’re constantly bathed in distraction, and that takes practice. It may take a meditative session of an hour or longer before you can allow your brain to silence the running commentary track, because even that may be too loud for the inspiration to come through. And like I’ve said in Hearing the Gods, it rarely manifests as actually hearing an external voice, even if most spirit workers shorthand the description that way (“Odin told me to buy whiskey” may actually mean “I was in the liquor store buying tequila for the upcoming party, when I felt an overwhelming desire to purchase a specific kind of whiskey. I followed my gut, and later I sat for two hours staring at the whiskey until I had an internal revelation that Odin likes whiskey, and it’s been a while since I’ve libated to him, so I should probably go do that”, followed by a sense of resolution when you finish the act.) It takes a lot of trial and error (and yes, error, as in “I really thought seeing two ravens for three days straight was an omen from Odin, but actually, it was just that there was some carrion outside my house and they kept coming until it was gone.”
The other half of the sacrifice, which I guess I didn’t make clear enough in the first piece, is that those who dedicate their lives to the service of their God’s people, have to learn and perfect a variety of skills in order to do their Job and do it well. (No one wants to go see the shaman who doesn’t know how to meditate, right?) And if you’ve got a great day job and a wonderful spouse and lovely children, you might not have the kind of time, patience, or dedication that these skills require. Most spirit workers I know do not have children; many of them do not have day jobs or if they do, they spend all of their free time working on their spiritual calling. It’s not something that a full time engineer can achieve unless they’re willing to make… you guessed it…a sacrifice. That’s part of the life I live as well. I live in a very small, suburban/rural city, in a very quiet neighborhood, and I spend about 70% of my time sequestered in my room, working on some spiritual thing or another. There are days that my girl (who lives with me) will only leave my food at the door, knowing not to interrupt, and that eventually I will peek my head out if I need sustenance. I don’t get to go out to the bar, or visit a friend, or have a game night. Sometimes I don’t leave my house for weeks, and then only to see a doctor. It’s a very solitary life, and although I have romantic partners, they all understand that the Work comes first, and that means I might disappear for a month, too busy to send a text message or schedule a visit.
In other words, for dramatic effect, I used the bigger life sacrifices that my colleagues make, but inside of that are millions of smaller ones, daily ones, choosing to answer someone’s well thought out questions rather than sleep, maybe? 🙂
2) Given that apparently only a limited number of ppl appear to be able to hear and communicate meaningfully with the Deities, how does someone, such as myself, who’s tried their entire lives to make contact, not come to the conclusion that ALL of this isn’t simply fantasy wish fulfillment?
Again, this ignites what my colleagues call an “on duty light”. It’s a small pull around my heart chakra (or sometimes the feeling of force pushing down on my head and shoulders) because these are the services I provide my tribes and communities. I am out there, ready and willing to verify that your prayers are heard, your offerings not in vain, and that your beliefs are not an addiction to Dungeons and Dragons gone awry. Loki rewired me and removed the obstacles in my life so I have the ability to offer my skills humbly, to anyone who might need them. And He did it to me, because honestly, I was wasting my life away and was ready to end it, and He decided there was a whole different track I could be on, if only I was willing to surrender my free will. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? Reading those words in no way can convey what it’s like when I was Told that after my most recent marriage failed, that having a spouse was too much of a distraction from the Work, so although I am allowed to have romantic liasons, I am now barred from taking a new spouse, or even having a relationship that resembles spousery (like living together, sharing finances, making decisions as a unit, etc). I’m a Libra, and we work best when part of a partnership. But it’s very true, what the Gods said; both of my spouses and the relationship I had that might as well have been spousal, dragged me away from my calling; and it wasn’t their fault. It was too easy for me to ignore the Work in deference to the work a long term relationship entails. In each of those relationships, if the Gods told me to do something that my spouses disapproved of (my Soon To Be Ex (STBX) was fond of saying, “Well, if the Gods want that, They can pay for it.”) I just didn’t do it. And it wasn’t outward denial to my Gods; I just let the Work pile up in the cosmic inbox and plugged my ears and la la la’d my way along. And each and every time, the circumstances were brought about that the spouse would be removed from my life – and oddly enough, not by my choice – which is why I tell would-be spirit workers and shamans never to tell the Gods that something like your children, or your job, or spouse, is keeping you from doing your Work, because They have ways of removing those obstacles, usually ways that aren’t fun or pretty.
But anyway, this isn’t about my sob story. What I’m trying to convey to you is that I can tell you, C, that your prayers are heard. That you are loved and noticed. I feel it coming through my body and spilling out of my pores. And in the future, should you have doubts, now you know how to find me, and I will happily serve you in any way that will strengthen your spiritual journey.
I know this may feel a little like going to a Catholic priest; as though you need an intercessory in order to communicate to God. But that’s not the case at all. Prayers are heard, even if the pray-er does not feel the revelation after doing so. You can always talk to your Gods, by yourself, in any way that feels right to you, without anyone’s help. It’s only when you seek confirmation – and it’s worth noting, that often when people ask me if their Gods hear their prayers, I can easily point out the omens and signs they were given, but did not notice or apply to their situation. So the answers are usually there, but it takes time and skill to see them.
3) If, as is taught by some, the Gods are our Elder Kin, why should they be so recalcitrant about speaking to us? Do any of you who do receive communication ever ask the Gods point blank why they deign to speak to so few or at the very least make their presence felt? To expect or desire or in any way accept the heart felt pleas, prayers, cries, devotions, adorations, etc. of untold multitudes of souls w/o so much as a breath of recognition and response of any sort sounds quite cruel and capricious!
I can’t speak for everyone, or for the Gods on this question. I can only speak to what it inspires within me. Many of my shamanic colleagues, mostly when we’re railing against our calling, wonder why there seems to be more spirit workers and shamans cropping up all over the place; in places where there were none before. Obviously, no scientific survey has been done to definitely state that there are more shamans, shamanic practitioners, spirit workers, God spouses, and the like, than there was 30 years ago. Before the Internet, it is very likely that many were called but failed to understand what they were being asked to do – no googling “spiritual crises” back then – or that they just went about doing their Work, quietly, taking clients as the encountered them on the street, or in their tribes, or perhaps even just their extended families. They may have used different words to describe what they did; I’m positive that during more oppressive times, there were many “special grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins” who knew about herbs spirits and energy work, but since the monotheistic paradigm made it difficult or impossible to discuss without being accused of Satanism/Witchcraft (in the bad sense of the word), it was just something like, “Every time I visit Sammy’s house, I always feel more focused, more clear headed, more connected.” and no one talked about how or why it happened.
In the age where we have better means of long distance travel, as well as the obvious ability to google various spiritual quandaries and find meaningful answers, when hospitals are hiring Reiki practitioners who are as well regarded as MDs, when Tantra is something an adventurous couple might try to spice up their sex life, and as the eon changes now into Aquarius and more and more people will be open to imminent spirituality, us wackjobs who have been studying, practicing, and quietly doing our daily devotions and research on our Gods will come forward. I can speak from experience how many clients I’ve had who approached me as atheists or anti-theists, and over time and exposure learn to open their heart to whatever calls to it…
The Gods are activating us. They are pushing us to be more public. For years I fought using the title “shaman”, and it really wasn’t until other people started using it in reference to me that I began to embrace it. (There’s a whole essay on that in storage, as I’m waiting for a co-conspirator to add their thoughts.) The main reason my Gods demanded I do so is because it’s a word that people understand, that they have at least some concept of what one is and what it does, whereas if I followed the emerging trend to choose a title that comes from the language of the Gods I serve (from godhi to seidkona to volupsa), many of my non-Norse-following clients, as well as those who are just starting out with this whole spiritual thing, will have no effing clue what that means or what skills I have because of that title.
I bet, right now, as of 3:15am EDT, there is someone in an ER somewhere dying, knowing each breath might be their last; when a God of some pantheon or another, probably unknown to hir, is appearing and offering the same deal I got – die now and give up, or let me the reigns and I will make your life meaningful again. And maybe that ER is three miles from your house. Who knows? But we are out there, and there are more of us out of the broom closet and mingling outside of the Pagan demographic, reaching out to communities and tribes we’ve been assigned to (or chosen, in some cases).
Which brings me to:
4) If They are indeed as capricious as what it sounds like you’re saying and as it appears, what makes Them worthy of our love and efforts at all!? If I’m going to get all the response I would from a bit of concrete, then why don’t I just call some random piece of concrete my deity and pray to it?
Well, speaking as an animist, I’d completely encourage you to find a bit of concrete and see if it has a spirit within it that you can help or learn from in some way. But I admit that’s also me being a bit of a saucebox.
For as much as my Gods have asked to sacrifice or surrender in order to live the life I do, I will emphatically exclaim that their presence in my life has brought such richness, has turned my life from black and white to technicolor, has given me the audacity to believe in things that science can’t, and may never, explain. I’ve seen glorious things, both in the realms of magic as well as in the transformation of the human soul when it opens itself to seeing the world as being encircled by Gods who are here, with us, encouraging us to be our best selves, to get over what holds us back and move forward boldly and with a surety they did not possess before.
I have those times, though. I won’t bullshit you. In long stretches of the darkened silence, I have pounded my fists and demanded to know why I was asked to give up so much if all I was going to get was “do this thing you don’t want to do, and don’t talk to me until it’s done”. Or worse yet; when my chronic illness first manifested, mostly in the form of severe chronic neurological and muscular pain, I actually wrote a letter to many of my colleagues, demanding to know why Loki would have punished me so, and what am I not doing that He feels this is a suitable punishment. Was it? No. Although now i see my illness as a blessing, I do not believe that any of my Gods thought that making me use a wheelchair or be hopped up on opiates was a grand idea. I believe in science as much as I believe in magic; my mother’s lineage is full of autoimmune and neurological disorders, and so it’s very likely whatever it is I have (if you’re interested, my other blog, Dying for a Diagnosis is all about that part of my life) is genetic, not divine. But have the Gods found a way to make it work with Their overall plan? Sure, in the same way that anyone deals with a monkeywrench. Or maybe They knew all along this was coming, and that was why They chose me and not the dude down the block. Who knows? To this day, I have no idea why I was picked. :shrug:
But yes, I empathize with the feeling that it’s all for naught, that the messages you receive (if any) are just wish fulfillment, that you’re merely using the Encyclopedia Mythica as your literary porn (in the case of Godspouses and consorts), and that in the end it doesn’t matter.
This is not a problem of the Gods. It is a problem of human faith. Faith is a difficult thing to nuture, because at its core it is holding a belief and acting upon that belief without the presence of proof. My Boyfriend is struggling with this as we speak; he once had a working God Radio (he could hear Them but had no way of knowing if They heard him) but his God purposefully broke it, mostly because he had to learn to trust in his own faith, rather than rely on the stream of information coming from Them. Once his faith is bulletproof, he’ll get a radio back (and maybe a phone, if he’s lucky), but right now, he needs to cultivate belief in the absence of proof. Without that absence, then what we believe in ceases to be spiritual, and becomes either science or fantasy.
There are days when I question if what I’m hearing is really Them, or if it’s just a fantasy game I like to play by myself. I wonder what would happen if I broke one of my taboos, or ate something They’ve told me to avoid, or even denied their existence. I just came through my own ordeal, where I underwent a surgery that I had been Told would have a life or death crisis (and it did, as I stopped breathing and was on a respirator for a short period of time) and that I had to pass my Underworld ordeal in order to return to the land of the living. How much did I want to reason it away, to look at what was going to happen as a simple surgery (the removal of a large abscess in my abdomen, as well as 40lbs of infected and necrotic tissue, as I was literally dying from the inside already), and not some big ass Spooky Foo Showcase. Friends came from all over the country to participate in the rituals both the night before, and the day of surgery; we sent out instructions for those who couldn’t be present so they could work from home.
When I woke up in ICU, one of the first revelations I had was that they had all made this giant deal out of it, and other than the whole not breathing thing, everything turned out all right. I mean, I have severe trauma in my mind from the ordeal I passed in the Underworld (which I am still in the process of remembering), but physically, so far everything is going well. I wonder – was it all the hoopla that upped my odds of success? Or were we just blowing the procedure out of proportion.
Lucky for me, I was able to verify my spiritual thoughts with people completely unaware and unaffected by what I thought was going to happen. Boy howdy, did I seek out verification – I believe I spoke to over ten different spirit workers about one aspect or another. Yes, I even contacted spirit workers I did not know personally, having no idea if their godphone was “real” or “memorex”. (Please be old enough to get that reference.)
But that’s faith. And I can’t give you it. No one can. It is something you create, from pieces of your soul, and that you nurture on a regular basis. It’s perfectly normal, and somewhat expected (as my Gods tell me) that we doubt from time to time. They know it’s a lot to take in, and I even have felt their frustration that They couldn’t just manifest or create some random miracle before your eyes in order to bolster your faith. It’s kinda the one rule Gods have to abide by; devotees must come based on their faith, not on verifiable proof of existence. It sucks, but I guess you can lodge your complaint with the Universe, or whomever makes up the rules for the Gods.
5) Not to in any way demean, belittle, or question the trauma of your sacrifices or any those of any of the ppl you’ve mentioned, but MANY of us out here have gone through horrific sacrifices as well. My own include job loses, poverty, deaths of many loved ones, debilitating health problems, having my life threatened, and more. But regardless, there’s still no response from the Spirit world or the Gods, no matter how I implore them. So to say that there’s some kind of dividing line – involving sacrifice – between who receives communication and who doesn’t, seems arbitrary and unwarranted. It also sounds suspiciously like that old gem that crops up in everything from diet to religion, “you’re just not doing it right!”
I did not feel belittled by your question at all; in fact, you’re not the first person to ask me this. Frequently, people will write me and tell me about some horrific experience they’ve survived, wondering if it was a shamanic crisis (usually in addition to asking that if it was, when would the cool spooky powerz show up?). Not every trauma has a spiritual aspect to it. I had a miscarriage in 2002, and although it was a terrible awful thing, if it had any spiritual meaning (other than I am not supposed to have children, which I’m still not entirely sure if that’s true or not) I have yet to find it. My father died in 2007, and although it brought up a very complex set of emotions and messed me up for almost a year, I don’t feel it had any spiritual relevance. I was raped in college, and oddly enough, I’ve been told by the Gods that it didn’t have any spiritual significance; I just invited the wrong person to spend the night in my dorm room.
Because I have her permission, I’m going to use Galina as an example. She was a dancer, who suffered an injury that she feels put her on the track of her Work with Odin. Here’s the difference between a random event and a spiritual crisis: many dancers, once injured, decide to become dance teachers, or find some other way to stay connected to the life that they love. Olympic gymnasts become coaches, mentors, judges, or even go into producing the events. Just because something bad happened to someone, doesn’t mean that their life has to change dramatically. But Galina had a revelation, of what quality and kind I do not know, but something in her gave her the unshakable conviction that dancing was over, and that she was to pursue her spiritual calling instead. For me, it was that at the moment of the crisis, I had an actual “hallucination” (or “visitation”, take your pick) of Loki, talking to me and telling me what was to happen.
I have worked with several clients who really, really wanted their trauma to have some deeper spiritual meaning, maybe to help them make sense of it, to feel like it had some sort of silver lining. And no amount of divination or communication with the Gods revealed any greater purpose. Sometimes we’re just the extras in someone else’s movie; we’re not always the star, even if it may feel that way. Maybe my rapist had a spiritual conversion when he was fired due to my accusation. Or maybe it was his boss, who upon hearing of the incident, came to understand his role as a Sacred Guardian, and that he had to make sure all of his security guards understood the sacredness of what they were doing. Or maybe it was the person I told the story to, who realized that their own trauma didn’t exist in a vacuum, and went on to create a non-profit for LGBT rape victims. I’ll never know if there was any spiritual meaning to it, or where in the pond the ripple found a stone to push.
Loki reminds me daily that although I can pretend to be a rock star (see the title?), that I am really just a vagabond, wandering into people’s lives and saying or doing the right thing at the right time, and then fading to black as that person moves on without me, who may not even remember my name a year later, or who runs into me at some event and can’t remember how we know each other (even when their tear stained face is burned into my memory). That’s what I mean when I talk about having humility as a prerequisite for these abilities; the Gods aren’t likely to give them to someone who only wants them to gain power, control, or fame/prestige; in fact, I’ve seen some of the effects that happen to those who walk that path, and it rarely ends well. Humility is as much a part of my spiritual practice as meditation or energy work. Without it, I’m an asshole on a power trip that only helps other assholes who don’t mind being a part of that power trip, who stroke my ego and tell me how awesome I am; meanwhile, so many wounded and hurting can’t break through the shielding of inflated ego, and go on ignored and untreated. Whereas if I walk among them, hurting and wounded myself, not only will they find me, but they will understand that I know what it’s like, because I’m a human too, having a human experience.
So that’s the end of C’s questions. I hope my answers help in some way, not just C but everyone who stops by.
Just as a warning to my regular readers; my next essay is going to be about racism in the Leather and kink communities. It contains some information and images that might be offensive (and should be, but you’ll see). I’m working hard on it, because it addresses a complex issue that has many points of view at play. I hope you’ll read it and take part in a town hall that’s based on it on Sunday (check this post for more information. There is a chance I won’t be able to finish my post before Sunday, but Leatherati already has many posts on the subject.