On Madness, Hallucinations, Being Wrong, Magic, and Belief

People frequently ask me, “How come I can’t perceive spirits/energy/Gods/ghosts?” Others want validation that what they sense – whether it be visual, audio, tactile, or even smell and touch – is “real” in some way. Some see the way I move in the world, where I take for granted that the things I perceive, including things that aren’t easily sensed by our everyday senses, and beg me to teach them how.

You (yes, you) are already seeing things that aren’t there. You’re already perceiving things that your intelligence can’t easily explain. The problem is, it’s happening without your conscious will for it to happen. The things I’m thinking of happen whether you want them to or not.

Let’s start with the most basic. Every person has a “blind spot”. This is a place where your optic nerve passes though the retina, which prevents visual processing. But it’s not like everywhere you look there’s a small void of nothing that follows you wherever you go (unless you’re Eeyore). Instead, your brain fills that space in with whatever else you’re looking at. This means that if you’re in a crowded city, like say Times Square in NYC, your mind is actively creating tourists and cars that don’t actually exist. Unfortunately, you’ll never know which of the annoying slow-walkers is imaginary, because the sense is fleeting and by the time you focus on that spot, you’ll no longer be perceiving an image your mind created so as to “fill in the blank”, but what’s actually in the spot you’re looking at.

When most people think about this, they truly start to wonder what is “real” and what is “imaginary”. They see the two categories as binary opposites, with no spectrum in between. But as any good optical illusion can teach you, there very much is a middle ground, for even when you already know how the optical illusion is created, your brain continues to perceive the illusion. It’s using adaptive technology that we evolved to interact with our world better, but in this limited instance that technology refuses to stop engaging.

Here’s another example: when you drive away from a building, it seems to get smaller and sink into the earth. That’s a literal translation of what your eye is signaling to your brain. However, we have learned in both intellectual and evolutionary ways that the building is exactly the same size and has not (tragically) collapsed into the earth. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are.

These sorts of perceptions are the very beginning to accepting the idea that not everything you see or sense exists in an objective “reality” that you share with everyone else. Tell me you’ve never had an argument with someone over the exact shade of a color – you demand that they see peach, but all they can see is pink. Does that mean that the shirt exists somewhere in the middle of pinky peachness? Or does it mean that in your reality, the shirt is obviously peach; but your friend is living in a different world that only has pink?

The crossroads of all of these odd human mind tricks is something I’ve done a lot of thinking about for quite a long time. It’s about the idea of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Humans (as we know) love boxes rather than Jackson Pollack paintings; they want easy categories that separate fact from fiction. But this is a lesson you can happily learn from your friendly neighborhood madman – that there is a world (or more than one world) that exists inbetween anything that we perceive as “real” and “imaginary”; and that just because something is “real” doesn’t mean that it’s “right”, and just because something is deemed “imaginary” doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

Have I completely lost you yet?

Madness can impart some pretty awesome life lessons if you only give it a chance. Stop fighting it for a moment and let it give you unique insights into the shapeshifting fog that surrounds us. Where perceptions feel so objectively real that to question them is to automatically be “wrong”. Yet we crazy folk know that sometimes what we perceive, either with our senses or with our emotions, can sure feel real to us in the same way a chair or a balloon is real.

Let’s start with the most obvious. You don’t have to be mad to hallucinate (but it sure helps, and it is sometimes cheaper!). Hallucinations can be brought on by extreme physical exertion, or fever, or from drugs like LSD or DXM, or even just from skipping a couple of meals. Heck, minor mirages (like seeing “black ice” on a highway or water in a desert) don’t require doing anything weird to your body or mind. And even if you’re fully aware that the thing you perceive is “not there”, your eyes and brain continue to do it’s damnedest to convince you. This also happens to people who hallucinate because of a mental illness or neurological problems – they see things that aren’t really there, and most of the time they know full well there isn’t a giant purple horse in their living room but yet they keep seeing it. It’s not like Tinkerbell, where if you don’t believe it will die.

Now here’s a thought: most of us think of some hallucinations as being fertile ground for ecstatic spiritual experiences. Many of my ordeal clients have pushed their bodies to a point where they have a breakthrough, and come to some grand spiritual conclusion about how we’re all connected or objectively feel something they couldn’t bring themselves to feel before. Other friends have had faith-altering experiences with entheogens (legal and not so legal), where they saw things and allowed themselves, for the moment, to believe in its realness because, well, that’s the point in taking them to begin with most of the time. And when people write or relate these experiences, we generally accept them as being “real” in the sense that they changed their friend’s mind, or revealed to them a spiritual truth they didn’t understand before.

For example, the first hook pull I ever experienced was not in a space one would think of as “conducive to spiritual breakthrough”. I was in a gymnasium at a summer camp, surrounded by people trying out different kinds of kinky play for the first time. To this day, I don’t know what lead me to ask my friend (and later mentor) Captain to pierce me then; it just seemed like the right time. So I had two eight gauge hooks put through my chest and was attached to some scaffolding by paracord.

I couldn’t honestly tell you anything else that happened in that gymnasium. Someone could have been crowned King Of All That Is and I wouldn’t have known a thing. I was lost in my own trip. During the actual pull, I kept feeling that if I leaned back, I would just fall to the ground lightly, as if in slow motion. There was a point of tension where no matter how hard I was pulling, I didn’t feel anything in my chest at all. It allowed me to have a wonderful experience of feeling like my body was not an immutable boundary between me and the rest of the world. I was the hooks, I was the person with the hooks, I was the hardwood floor, I was the trees outside and connected to all the people inside. What I took away from this was that my body was no longer a limitation, which for someone like me is a pretty big chunk of thinkydo that changed me forever.

When the pull was over, I went outside into a summer’s twilight. I looked up at the sky as stars began to appear, and I literally saw bands of bright blue light that pulsed between all the living things – the trees, the individual blades of grass, the people in the distance, the stars above. I posted a short recording to my journal that makes me sound like a blissed out hippie.

When I facilitate similar experiences for people, I tell them that whatever they eat or drink once the ride is over, will be the best XXXX they ever ate or drank. For me it was bread. I craved bread like a bread-craving bread craver. And even though the bread was slightly stale and unremarkable, to me it was like experiencing the manna that the Jews in exile were given by God. It was the King of All Bread-like Products. I ate slowly, mindfully, treasuring this odd experience of having the best bread I’ve ever eaten.

Objectively (whatever that word means), all of what I related about my experience is “wrong”. I was not literally a hardwood floor. There were no blue beams of light. The bread was pretty damn mediocre. But at the same time, every time I tell that story no one jumps up at me and demands to know if anyone else verified that I was a hardwood floor. No one feels cheated when I tell them it was the best bread ever (and that they’ll never taste it because, well, I ate it all). They can accept that since these things were perceptionally true for me at the time, and that I am not actively trying to deceive them by inventing experiences I did not actually have, that the story is not only true, but spiritually signficant.

Things change when we start talking about hallucinations brought on by means that don’t have the spiritual trappings to it, or if the hallucinations themselves aren’t of a spiritual nature. Once, when I had a very high fever, I was convinced I was not actually laying in my bed, but was hovering over it by such a small distance no one could see. I can still recall the sensation in both my mind and my body, and yet most of you are ready to dismiss this as being false, not true, not spiritually significant, because it was a) brought on by fever and b) isn’t inherently spiritual (at least to them).

Entheogens are a grey murky ground. Most, but not all, people can understand that some have spiritually significant experiences while ingesting certain herbs or chemicals. But I bet you’re already thinking to yourself that LSD can be spiritual, but DXM (sold over the counter in most cough syrups) cannot. Or, coming at it from another perspective, that if I tripped on acid and spent an hour looking at the tie-dyed head of one of my drums (I will not confirm or deny…), that was likely not spiritually significant. (It was.) But if I tell you that smoking a cigar made my skin feel the warmth and breath of a dead person who smoked cigars, you’d probably agree that it was “real”, or at least “significant”.

People who deal with deceptive perceptions – that is, crazy folks – get to live in a quagmire where it can be difficult or impossible to create such clear distinctions over what is “true” and what is “false”. When I am depressed, I feel like my life is made of all things sucky and no good at all. Even if, at the same time, my lovely boyfriend is over for a visit and is showering me with affection. I just can’t access the part of my mind or soul that sees that as a good and life-affirming thing, because depression tunes all our senses to “worst case senario”. Maybe I told myself, “He’s just doing that because he likes having sex with me”, or “He’s just being nice because he wants me to do something for him”. Let me tell you, even clothing that I usually love to wear can become scratchy and uncomfortable when I’m depressed.

Maybe that’s not as grand an example as a schizophrenic who hears voices, but I wanted to go for the lesser extreme and more relatable example.

Now, how does this all relate to seeing ghosts and talking to Gods?

I find that the most difficult two blocks most people face in this endeavor are things that most humans hold dear and aren’t ready to relinquish, even if it means having “super powers”. The first, and most fundamental, is the idea that they could be wrong. That at the moment of their death, completely convinced that they’re going to Valhalla, swept away by the Valkyrie, because they died from injuries in a streetfight over a woman’s honor (let’s say). But then the machine makes it’s long, unended beep, and then nothing. Nothing. No Christian Heaven and Hell, no wandering meadows of Summerland, no Longhall and hangouts with Odin or Freya, no River Styx or seventy-two virgins. You just cease to exist, the end, thank you very much.

I use that example because it’s one most people struggle with but rarely talk about. We all want there to be something more than this, either because we can’t handle the idea that our unique characteristics and funniest stories can disappear and the world keeps turning, the Universe doesn’t even notice. But at the same time, unless you’ve experienced something that you can accept as being a “ghost”, a remnant of someone who was once alive, it can be hard at times to hold onto the belief that there’s a world NASA can’t pilot to where all the dead people ever are hanging out and maybe boffer fighting or playing some damn good harps. (I think if I end up in Christian Heaven – like the Pope says I might – I am going to lead a rebellion to change harps to banjos. Or maybe Ukuleles.) Even some people who’ve had near death experiences eventually doubt what happened and contribute it to random synapse firing.

So having a belief – whether that belief is Valhalla or that you’ve been abducted by aliens – also means facing the feelings that come with being wrong. And our human society tells us that being wrong is a bad, terrible, awful thing. It makes you eat everything from your hat to your shoe, which doesn’t sound like the Best Bread Ever. It removes an illusion – disillusioned – that you had before. It makes you feel as though you want to die or vomit. It may turn out that there are no purple horses in your living room, and it may also turn out that although you lived your entire life as a Godspouse only to find out that the Mormons were right and all us crazy Pagans were making shit up.

Now, most Pagans (well, especially Pagans, but other people too) carry around the concept that I can believe with all my heart that Loki is my spiritual Dad and that when I die I will be welcomed by Hel into Niflheim; but if you believe that, upon death, your soul will go to the Summerlands and frolic with dryads and faires for all eternity, that’s totally cool. Even though the underlying language means one of us – probably you, because if all eternity is frolicking in a meadow I want to live forever, is wrong. But we consider it anything from impolite to downright heresy to declare your spiritual belief to be wrong or misguided, no matter how much personal experience we may have that says that you are. People who believe their religion is right and everyone else is wrong are either fundamentalist Christians or Islamic terrorists, right?

So if the first block is pushing forward with your spiritual beliefs and experiences with the full understanding that you could be 100% wrong, the second block is even harder. You will have to accept that nobody experiences the same reality as you. We could have a scientific debate about whether that statement is factually true, but since I’m totally okay with being 100% wrong (at least most of the time), we’d probably be wasting precious time we could be masturbating or something. When I teach magic (as opposed to spirituality, as I believe the two are fundamentally separate things), I tell people that the first step to doing magic is believing it exists and then going out and seeking proof of this. Whether it’s smoking a cigar with the intent of summoning your great-grandfather, or seeing the delight in a child’s eyes when you become the “dragon” that their little cardboard swords attempt to slay, it doesn’t matter how you approach magic or how you want to define it. But there’s no skipping the step of becoming totally invested in the belief.

And this is not some halfassed silly excuse why some people do “spells”, or even “curses”, and don’t get a result and others do. I’m not the kind of dude who’s going to judge your failed attempt by saying, “well, I guess you didn’t believe in Tinkerbell quite enough”. At the same time, we all know stories of mothers who have lifted cars off of their children, even when they’re elf-sized and need help carrying groceries. Because in their terror, they only saw one option to save their child, and in that moment the belief that maybe, just maybe, they can do something, excited the neuropathways of the mind and the body began pumping her full of adrenaline and other hormones, and before she can stop herself and say, “Waita minute, I am not the Hulk!”, her child is no longer trapped.

Another thing I frequently teach about magic is that, to me, it is only 50% metaphysics. Yes, there are some tried-and-true ways of doing magic that yield results, like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I could blather on with different metaphysical theories, but I’ll save that for some night when we’re both drunk and want to talk about metaphysics. The other half of magic, the part that needs you to believe in purple horses and cigar-summoning rituals, is psychological. In the same way that if I tell you seeing Elephants means you’re going to win the lottery (yes, I’ve used that example before) you’ll start seeing Elephants where you didn’t – if you do a spell to help you find a job, you’re also going to notice more job-getting opportunities, listen to conversations and notice when someone mentions their business is hiring, and you’re more likely to peruse job sites on the Internet. Whereas if you just keep thinking to yourself, “I should do a spell to help me find a job”, you’re likely going to only notice how hard it is to find anything you might be qualified for, and your friend’s conversation about zir’s business will sound like ze’s droning on about how great the company ze works for is, again.

Here’s the point I’ve been frolicking around in my blog meadow, making long-ass paragraphs along the way. If you sincerely want to have psychic experiences, you need to simultaneously believe that whatever you may psychically perceive is 100% unprovable by any objective means, and that sometimes you’re going to be 100% wrong. Whether you try divining for the first time, or think that Anubis wants you to wear black lingerie on every other Saturday, you need to do your best to invest in the idea that you’re right about that, at least in the moment, and do whatever you need to do to bolster your belief in your rightness. But, with a bit of cognitive dissonance, you also need to accept that you might be totally bonkers, or just outright wrong, or that ghost you see of your dead business partner might be a blot of mustard.

When I hear Gods, I know that there’s a chance that it’s not actually a God at all. It might be my own inner voice, my intuition, sounding more removed than normal. It might be another spirit masquerading as the God I’m trying to reach. Or it might be a God, but not the one I thought it was. For example, I’ve had a few cases lately of people thinking that Loki wants to marry them, only for me to discover that it’s not Loki; however, because there are lots of Loki’s wives on the Internet, some of them are disappointed and don’t want to be the only Aegir’s wife or Angrboda’s husband on the web. They wanted to join a community of people having similar experiences, and so they were doing their damndest to believe that voice was Loki’s. On the other hand, who the fuck am I? I mean, I can talk about how long I’ve been doing this spirit work/shamanic thing, or give you references to many people for whom I’ve helped them with their relationships with Gods, or whatever, but in the end, you either have to invest your belief that I am actually talking to Gods and can tell which God is which, or there’s no fucking reason to ask me in the first place.

I tell people all the time, that for the first three years I was working with this mysterious spirit who showed up in the looney bin, I thought Loki was Talesin, a Celtic hero. I had an altar to Talesin, read stories and other research about Him, made offerings and prayed to Him. I have no idea what Talesin thinks of all of this, as I’ve never actually talked to Him (even after making the differentiation and wanting to apologize). All that time, Loki knew I was wrong, and He was okay with it. He didn’t punish me or abandon me or break me; He just waited for me to figure it out. I can’t promise all Gods will have the same reaction, but that’s not why I tell this story. I got it wrong, big time, for three years.

It happens. Part of spiritual evolution is figuring out when something you believe in doesn’t serve you any more, or isn’t as true as you thought it was, or is downright wrong. I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, but I sure did when I was 18. After some reflection and thought and feeling myself out on the matter, it just didn’t make sense to me anymore.

I want to make sure I credit the book I’m currently reading, which lead to this diatribe. It’s called “Being Wrong; Adventures In the Margin of Error”, by Kathryn Schulz. I definitely relayed some of her ideas and examples, but did not actually quote the material. It’s an excellent book, and if this did anything for you, or if you want to understand how being wrong doesn’t have to be as bad as wanting to die, I highly suggest you take the time to read it.

Revenge of the Month for Loki (RMfL) Post II: Not a Godspouse, I.

In the last few months, I’ve stirred up some dust for poking at Loki’s mortal wives – even though I count some of their number as my nearest and dearest friends. I encouraged readers to write about their own relationships with Him, especially if these relationships were not spousal.

Time to put my money in my flapping maw, I guess.

One of the biggest misgivings I had about answering Loki’s call – even though I had already surrendered to Him as His servant – was that I was not happy about His claim of being my “father”.

As a Christian apostate, I had spent too many years of my life desperately trying to relate to God as a cosmic Daddy. It never worked for me, and as I got more involved in my particular flavor of Protestant faith (United Methodist), I was lucky to find others who weren’t so quick to assume God-the-Masculine. It was just becoming the new vogue to refer to God as either “She”, or gender neutral words. This was much more in line with how I experienced God, and that feeling grew moreso in my first forays into Paganism, at the hands of Dianic Wicca, a particular kind of Wicca that is Goddess-centric (to the exclusion of a male “God” at all, or worship/mention of male deity) and wouldn’t even let men into their rituals. (Or Trans* Women either, let’s be honest.)

So just as I was getting more comfortable in my relationship to the Holy One(s), a Male Deity showed up and claimed to be my father. And not just in some metaphorical, archetypal way either – He actually detailed for me the scene at my conception, to prove He had been present, even if my (human) parents knew nothing about it. He claimed to have molded me in the womb, to be what I am today, so as to be a better shaman/spirit worker for Him.

Part of this relationship with Him was specifically engineered to help me overcome the deep wounds I had about my human father. He was a very troubled soul, nearly friendless throughout my lifetime, wrought with depression and other severe mental illnesses, as well as the results of a horrific childhood. I tried for years to come to better terms with him, especially as I became an adult and saw him for the sad man of circumstance and bad choices he really was, rather than the abusive tyrant he had been in my youth. Not that I explain away or mean to make excuses for the fucked up things he did to me and my siblings (and my mother too), but I understand much more where those dysfunctions came from. When I first learned of his death in 2007, I honestly couldn’t tell if I was sad or glad he was gone. So ambivalent my family and what little friends he had were, I was the only one brave enough to give a eulogy at his funeral, and even then I made sure to make it known that I wasn’t going to ignore or pretend that he hadn’t been an asshole to a lot of people in his day.

It’s obvious, then, why I never really felt God as a reflection of my father, which was really the only “father figure” I ever had – the only other male who served as a role model in my youth was a very fey gay man, go figure – because I could not separate the idea of my father as the self-proclaimed sovereign of my childhood household and this supposedly benevolent Being who not only never saved me from the terrors of abuse as a child, no matter how much I prayed, but who saw fit to give me a deep desire for spiritual service combined with a strong sexual attraction for gay men and lesbians. Either way you sliced it, the idea of a Holy Male (or wholly Male) never really felt right to me.

But there Loki was, not only claiming to have a hand (so to speak) in my actual conception, but now wanted me to worship Him as a child does their Father. I wasn’t having any of it.

But Loki, in his infinite patience, bore out all of my fighting and rejecting and trying to reframe our relationship in any other matter but this, until finally I came to accept my lot. And honestly, it’s more that I can totally see myself as not unlike His brood via Angrboda – a monster, not quite human, but of this world nonetheless. And this is why, friends, that I get really fucking pissed off when I call myself “monster” and you feel bound to assure me I am not. I do not see this as a bad thing, nor really a good one either, but just a thing, like being a redhead. In some ways, I see it not unlike many of the other labels I have come to accept for myself, many of them having once been epithets but now reclaimed: queer, trans, crip, fat, weirdo, geek, etc.

Then, of course, just as I started to feel comfortable with my lot, I found Loki’s mortal wives. Some of them are wonderfully nice people, fellow Lokeans that I love dearly. But just as many told me horrible things, like “If Loki really loved you, He’s marry you” or “If you’re Loki’s child, and I’m His wife, that must make me your mother-in-law in some way”, or “Why would someone *choose* to be a monster like Fenris, who is an enemy to the Aesir?” and so on. It broke the shaky confidence I had gained. I cried for months, through which Loki stayed mostly distant, waiting out the temper tantrum for what it was. I felt ugly, abandoned, unworthy, unloved, because He did not choose me for a wife, but instead a child. It made me feel condenscended to (from both the mortal lot as well as He), like I was fated to always be seated at the kid’s table, that no one would take me seriously as either a spirit worker or Lokean should I make my relationship with Him known.

(Maybe now you can see why I get so fucking angry when Lokeans come to me having been told similar things – the gas over Loki only really loving His wives being among them – because not only does it fucking hurt, not only is it not even remotely true, but because I’ve known more than one who have turned from Loki completely, feeling that if He did not want them for a spouse, they would find a different God who would take them as such.)

Part of my journey with Loki is to learn about being a non-asshole Father, but even more deeply as I started my transition, how to be a non-asshole man. Unfortunately, as many formerly abused children do, I have dated some pretty fucked up individuals in my day, hoping to find some sort of Daddy replacement, only to get wounded all over again. It has been difficult for me to figure out what kind of man I am, or want to be, because there aren’t many role models I’ve had access to in an intimate enough manner (not meaning “fucking”, but as in “understanding all aspects of them”) that have panned out. I think my picker has gotten better as I grow older, but it still needs some WD-40 from time to time.

It has also been about being the underdog, the minority voice fighting to be heard, to be respected. In the past few years, some have told me they see me as an Elder, and knowing how hard I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously (both in general and as a Lokean), I find a deep honor in that. I don’t know if I’m ready to take on that mantel quite yet, so for now I’m happy to be a Pope (which I will write about soon).

So that is my relationship to Loki, as well as I can tell it today. He is my Dad, and His blood runs through my veins as surely as my mortal parents do. I have learned to see my human father as a three dimensional human being, rather than just “the bad guy”, and I have learned to cultivate the aspects of masculinity that suit me, and to remember not to emulate the aspects that don’t, even if I might pass more as a man if I did.

Del, You Big Meanie! Why are you picking on cis gender women?

I’ve kicked up a lot of dust with my post about Loki’s wives, and regardless if it was singing my praises or cursing my name for all eternity, I’m happy about it. I’m a shit stirrer, and being the speaker of hard truths has taught me that any response is better than the whistlin’ of the wind.

But there seems to be one part of the entry that people are scratchin’ their heads over, one point that doesn’t seem like something I would ordinarily say, something that doesn’t fit with the overall point(s) I was trying to make.

Namely, “Hey Del, why did you single out cis gender women in your Ranty McRanterson post? Aren’t you, like, a gender activist?”

Let me start by quoting an email I got about six weeks ago. I have the permission of the author, as long as I don’t reveal their identity.

“Dear Del,

I’m very confused and as you’re a trans* man who works with Loki, I’m hoping you can help me figure something out.

I know, down to the marrow of my bones, that Loki and I are in love. He approached me, for reasons I’m still trying to figure out. And I was excited, and scared out of my wits. So I went online to find out what other people have done about these things, because you’ve mentioned God spouses and consorts before, so I figured I would find some.

And not one of them were anything other than female.

I know that Loki emanates from a traditional human culture, one in which homosexuality was seen as either all about severe power dynamics, or about men being lesser for choosing to have sex with other men. And there were likely very few, if any, same sex unions in Norse culture. So am I crazy? Do male Gods ever take male or otherly gendered followers? Even the few non-cis-gender women I found were all born female, or identify that way now, and I’m just a gay guy living in (somewhere in middle America), sure of my sexual orientation and my gender.

I feel very alone, and I’m really afraid if I tell anyone about my love for Loki, I will be in more danger than I already am for being out as gay *and* Pagan.”

I’d love to say that was the only email I’ve ever received of that nature, but I’d be breaking my oath as a truth teller. It isn’t always Loki, or even a Norse God; and it isn’t always a cis gender man asking the question, but the theme remains.

The overarching point of the post was that we needed to take a critical look at the current trend among spirit workers, and especially the subsect of Loki’s spouses online, and see what we can learn from it, both the positives and negatives. I am aware my tone made it hard for many to see where I was saying good things about these people, so let me try again without being quite so grumpy.

One of the really inspiring thing about the Tumblr and WordPress conclaves of Loki’s wives is that they have created a strong and findable community where spiritual paths that are considered in the very minority of Pagans and polytheists are accepted and supported without having to do a lot of “proving” that what they are experiencing is real and meaningful. If you read the stories of some of the early God spouses (Freya Aswyn was brought up in one of these discussions), you’ll see that God spouses were unilaterally treated as people who had jumped the shark when it came to spirit devotion. But they paved the way for these communities to thrive and flourish, maybe to such a place where non-spouses are seen as the odd men out.

For a while, I asked about non cis female spouses. I asked to be linked to blogs, books, and other reference material where I could send people like the dude above to let them know they’re not alone. I know they exist; I’ve met and interacted with a few of them but few of them blog about their experiences. Because they are so few, a Google search on God Spouses or the like don’t usually highlight these references. But many, many of the online safe havens for Loki’s wives show up.

Another commenter called me on belittling the teenager-crush-like behavior that many of these blogs and bulletin boards sport in droves. Although I admit, part of my derision makes me an asshole; I have been in more than one serious conversation about why Lokeans are excluded from some Heathen, Asatru, and other Norse-derived groups, and this “I had prawns at an adorable dark tavern in Jotunheim with Loki, and He was wearing the sexiest leather pants” attitude comes up. I agree, it’s not nice, fair, or right to have that held against us as somehow less serious or reverent than how others relate to their Gods; but they aren’t completely wrong either. Few other Gods, from any pantheon, have groups of followers who treat their Gods like that hot transfer student in English class with the leather jacket and the distressed jeans. I know they exist, but not in such numbers.

I don’t think this means that the Loki mooners need to shut up and go away, although I think using more discernment as to what they share about their devotional work and how it reflects on the greater community they represent, whether they like it or not, or whether they choose to be representatives or not, could be helpful to those who actually care about Loki being hailed at places like Trothmoot. I don’t belong to any of those sorts of organizations, as I do not identify as a Heathen, nor are all of the Gods I worship from the Norse pantheon. I do sometimes use the term “Northern Tradition Pagan”, but they’re specifically not only Loki-accepting, but dual-trad accepting as well.

I expect that many of the people I’m describing will happily go on doing exactly as they’ve been doing, or even start fake Tumblr accounts specific to spoof on my and others grumptastic views of them. Good. Part of what I want from all this dust-upping is for people to speak authentically about their experience, and if it’s all movie date nights and co-writing erotica, please for the love of Sleipnir don’t let some cranky redheaded old fart (me, not Loki) stop you. Running away because some asshole criticized you on the Internet is about as ludicrous as lying about shamanic abilities in order to make people think you’re awesome.

What I would like, if I may be so bold as to ask, is to take a moment to think about how you, the ones with the safe havens and popular Tumbrs, can help the guy who wrote me. Ways to be inclusive in you FAQs and advise columns to other God spouses and consorts to make sure you’re not setting a standard or assumption that one must be a certain age, sex, level of ability (in whatever), or sexual orientation in order to join your Fun Brigade. Use inclusive language when you write about your own experiences, so that people who have different plumbing can still relate. Link to people who are writing about God sex and/or relationships that aren’t heterocentric or assumptive. Remember that Loki Himself is a liminal God, and therefore isn’t always the lanky, elf-looking redhead I’ve seen way too many fan art pictures of. Heck, he fucked a male horse once, as a female horse, so who’s to say he doesn’t come in a female form to a male mortal, or has heterosexual sex with men as a woman, or homosexual sex with either men or women? Or maybe he manifests intersex genitalia and interacts with a slew of differently gendered people that way?

What makes this odd and a little uncomfortable for me, is that I am neither a Loki’s spouse or even a consort. I’ve had sex with Gods, but not Loki. Elizabeth Vongvisith used to tag posts that described sex with Loki as “Not Safe For Dels”, because as my Father I have some of the same hang ups as mortal children have about thinking about or seeing their parents engaging in long hot sessions of fuck. As a sex educator, I can at least accept that all parents, including my own (God or mortal), have sex lives – or none of us would be here – but like many offspring, I have no desire to see or hear about it, thank you very much.

But I don’t go around to the blogs and journals of Loki’s chosen and chastise them for describing the monkeyhumping that they do with Dad; in fact, specifically because of my love and service to the greater Lokean community, I suffer through quite a lot of it with grace.

One last thing, as I have to go to bed early tonight.

I’m an asshole. Just some dude who eats, and shits, and watches too much reality tv. (In fact, I’ll probably watch me some Celebrity Apprentice when I’m done writing this. Judge me!) Maybe you see me as some sort of “elder”, but please take note that I call myself a lot of things, like a grandpa and a cranky bastard and an old fart, but, like “shaman”, I really believe that a title like “elder” is one that is bestowed on you by those who recognize your work and contributions to community. So whether you invest any real meaning in my ranty pants, or dismiss me outright, is your choice. I am not now, nor will I ever, profess that I have it all figured out, that I am the sole arbiter on what spirit workers and shamans ought to be and not to be doing. Furthermore, I’m not a God spouse at all, but only know what I know from having the luck and blessing to know some really wonderful, intelligent, and well spoken ones who have deigned me as someone they can share the nitty-gritty of what it’s all about for them. I haven’t met every single God spouse, nor have I read every single entry on every single webpage written by all of them. I can only comment on trends that are remarked upon by people I trust, and what I experience in my own life. I am always, always open to be told how very wrong I am, and those who have commented on that post, or any other I’ve written or commented on will attest that I do not come out, fists ablazin’, unless you start attacking me or people I love by name or by insinuation. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly enjoy learning about the breadth and depth of spiritual expression that exists, and if that learning comes with a “Hey Doofus, read this!” as its invitation, then I accept.

There is at least one, if not more, repostes I will be writing in reaction to the crankyjock one, so don’t think this is the last you’ll hear of it. And if you read this blog for the kink stuff, there will be some good posts about that coming very soon too.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for reading, responding,debating, berating, and commenting on what I write.

“I aspire to inspire before I expire.” Unknown, possibly Manali Jan

Why “Shaman”? A Joint Post with Wintersong Tashlin

This is two essays in one. My partner and clansbrother Wintersong and I decided to take on this heady topic together, as we have similar and differing views on the subject. We have both been ridiculed, attacked, and disparaged because we use this title for ourselves, and it was one such letter Winter received that inspired this post. The first half is my thoughts, followed by Winter’s. Understand that any questions or comments you make to this version will be answered by me; if you wish to hear more from Winter on the subject, you’ll have to go to his version at Notes from a Barking Shaman to get his answers.

Del, from Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars, says:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
–James D. Nicoll

The word “shaman” is a hotly contested word in the Pagan and New Age communities. Honestly, when I first started getting the inkling that it was a word I was going to use someday, I avoided it heavily. Even now, it’s not usually the first word I use to describe the way my service to community manifests – I try to use the less controversial “spirit worker”, or “pastoral care counselor”, or “ritual facilitator” and sometimes “ordeal master”, although the last one isn’t without its own controversy. But use it I do, and I frequently get pushback from those who find it to be some form of cultural appropriation.

Raven Kaldera tends to sum up his use of the word by simply stating that the Gods told him to use it, so use it he does. I won’t take that tack – although in some sense it is true – because my thoughts on the matter are more nuanced and complicated than that. Like I said, I resisted the title for a long time, but then I came to a place of compromise on it.

First of all, I am aware that the word describes a very specific spiritual and cultural role in Northern Asia. Sources tend to attribute it as a Siberian word, but other cultures in the area had similar sounding words that described generally the same thing. There is some argument made that there is also a Sanskrit word, saman, which means “chant”, which could be part of its heritage.

Some people like to make the argument that “shaman” is a Native American word, but in a literal sense this is incorrect – there are no documented Tribal languages that use a word that sounds anything like “shaman” to describe medicine men or other spiritual leaders. The way the word became connected to Tribal spirituality is from English and American anthropologists, who lumped any person living in tribal culture whose primary role to their community was to work with spirits or as a spiritual healer. But it is not, at its core, a Tribal word at all.

And like the quote above states, lots of English words are taken from other languages and used in similar contexts as the original language used them. Words like kindergarden, pastrami, phoenix, and even batman come from other languages, but when people use them in everyday conversation we don’t accuse them of stealing from German, French, or Russian. The word shaman has a similar history – anthropologists learned of shamans and shamanic practice from the Northern Asian area, including the word for said, and began applying it to similar persons and techniques from other places.

But I know that doesn’t sate the detractors of the word. Just because a word has been subsumed by our motley tongue doesn’t mean that someone claiming it, no matter the context, is not a form of subtle cultural appropriation. I do feel there is an intrinsic difference in some English-speaking people who use the word, and this may be where the accusation of cultural appropriation comes from.

Where I agree with those who take umbrage with the use of the word are people who use it to describe practices that either mimic or directly descend from other cultures. There are a lot of (mostly white) people who offer “Native American Sweat Lodge experiences” or “Native healing ceremonies” who use the title “Shaman” to describe their role in these rituals. It can be practically impossible at this point to discern which ones have actually studied and learned not only the original rites, but the culture from which they come from; and those who’ve attended a few classes or rituals and decided there was money to made in creating similar experiences for (mostly white) people who don’t know any better.

I also agree that there are some people who claim the title “shaman” specifically to make money from hapless seekers who have a general sense of the English meaning of the word. As an active person in Pagan community, who sometimes rubs elbows with New Agers, I’ve met these sorts of folks. They live pretty average, middle class lives; but when it’s showtime, they put on Tribal looking clothing and bring out the drums. I’ve attended some of their “rituals.”

It’s usually the unintended association with those sorts of grifters that makes me reticent to use the word for myself. But a few things happened in my life that made me come to terms with the word as it relates to my personal practices and the services I offer my community.

First and foremost, I was not the first person to use the word in reference to myself. It’s hard for me to remember the specific timeline, but there was a time where people started either asking me if I was a shaman, or telling other people I was. Around the same time, I had clients who referred to me as “their shaman”. I will be honest – at first, I cringed. I associated the word with the ne’er do wells who put on their spiritual selves to make money, rather than those who lived and breathed a life focused on spiritual service, both to the Spirits/Gods and to the people. But sometimes a ball starts rolling down a hill, and you can either start the arduous journey of pushing it back up, or go for the ride.

Around the same time, I had become pretty active in the clique of East Coast spirit workers of which Raven Kaldera is a member; as he uses the word for himself, others started to assume that I did, too.

Finally, I underwent a spiritual journey to ask the Gods I serve if this was something I should actively try to change or accept. It was an odd experience, because I got several answers from different Gods and Spirits I have worked with or for. The first collective answer I felt strongly was that I had to use a word of the language of my people – English – so using a word like Gothi or Hougan would make little sense. Also, because I serve Gods from various parts of the world, choosing a word from one specific tradition would be confusing for those who sought me out to work outside of that paradigm. Although I sometimes identify as a “Northern Tradition Pagan”, I’ve made it abundantly clear through my writing that I work for many Gods who are not Norse in origin.

Secondly, They were clear that I had to use a word that the people I was here to serve would understand. Using a word I made up for myself, or something that wasn’t as easily comprehended, would end up alienating potential clients. One of my strengths is that I can move between different traditions and be of service to people who have relationships with a wide variety of Holy Ones. Along the same lines, if I chose a word like “priest”, it could be seen as misleading, since “priests” tend to be dedicated to a single cause – either serving a specific Deity, or a specific congregation/community.

The job description for “shaman” has, admittedly, become watered down over time, but the core of it still remains – I am a person who is attuned to the Spirit World, who has learned and cultivated ways to communicate and work with the residents therein, and who uses that ability to help those who seek me out because of those talents. There is also a delineation that has been made between “spirit workers”, who are people who do work for Spirits (on Earth and in the Beyond) – some of which serve clients, but some of which have very solitary practices – and “shamans”, who have undergone some traumatic life event (typically dying, but some recognize going completely mad and other traumas that radically change your life in a way you can’t change back) and have been rebuilt by the Spirits/Gods in some way that make them better suited for the Work.

The other differentiation I have seen between “spirit workers” and “shamans” is that spirit work can be a part-time endeavor – you can have a relatively normal life, a spouse and family, a career that isn’t rooted in spirituality – whereas most shamans I respect have lives that are controlled and dictated by their service. This doesn’t mean that shamans can’t have other sources of income, but the difference that I’ve witnessed is that whereas spirit workers can sometimes delay or ignore a request from Spirit or a client, shamans rarely can, especially if that client was sent by a God I have oathed to.

It would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that part of the reason I think Those I Serve chose that title for me is specifically because it’s controversial. It’s not like in every other aspect I’m an average Joe – almost every aspect of my life is seeped in some form of controversial identity. I’m queer, I’m trans* identified, I’m kinky and live in a 24/7 power dynamic, I have a radical appearance and lots of body modifications, etc. It’s part of my job to provoke, to make people think about their assumptions, to teach by example that people can choose to live their truth, even if they fear that truth might alienate people they care about.

Like I said in my essay about detractors, I’ve actually gained clients from people who have tried to besmirch me for my use of the word shaman; it’s piqued people’s curiosity about what terrible, awful things I do and they end up contacting me for something I do in my work as shaman. So in a way, I’m okay with open discussion about whether or not I’m a cultural appropriator or not. In fact, I enjoy that every so often when I read things that challenge the usage of that word by Americans or other English speakers, it makes me reassess my own usage of the word and make sure that I’m being true to myself, and not just being lazy by using some shorthand or convenient word rather than something that better describes what I do. As a person who also heavily identifies as a trickster, it would be antithetical to my nature to get angry when people question anything I do, even if they aren’t the politest when they do it.

In the end, my use of the word ‘shaman’ is like any other title in the Pagan community (like High Priestess, Elder, Magician, Spirit Worker, Occultist, Pantheist, etc); my usage will only continue if I live up to the qualifications to it over time. No one takes a self-appointed “Priestess” who does nothing for community and does not do actual service to a God/dess; if I ever shirk my Work (which I don’t think is an actual option for me, but that’s another post entirely) then people will stop calling me that, and eventually it will cause me more agita than it’s worth. But in the meantime, it’s the word on my Cosmic Shingle, and I have to do my best to live up to it.

Winter, from Notes From a Barking Shaman, says:

Del has already done a thorough job of breaking down the issue with the cultural appropriation argument against the word “shaman.” While I don’t feel compelled to expand on his analysis, I do want to make it clear that I agree with it. The argument can be made that the use of “shaman” is cultural appropriation from the Siberian peoples it is originally attributed to. But then you would have to take the issue up with the Native Americans and other now-English-speaking cultures who use it as well. I doubt many folk would be eager to explore that particular territory out of a drive for linguistic purity.

Moving on: I will be completely honest, as a self-descriptor “shaman” is a word that I’m deeply conflicted about.

I believe that for every person who hears the word “shaman” and thinks of one who serves as an intermediary with the spirit world, and perhaps helps guide others in their own search for knowledge and connection beyond the mundane, there’s going to be someone who hears “charlatan,” or “scam artist” or just thinks “but… you’re white.”

Why then would I use it?

Simple, it’s the word my Patron tells me to use, at least to refer to specific parts of my Work.

Which isn’t to say that’s the end of my relationship with the word. I’ve been a “shaman” for many years, and over time there are things I have learned about this word, at least in regards to how I relate to it.

When my Lady first informed me that I would be taking a prolonged break from my magical studies and Work, to undergo an extensive process of transformation in order to become a shaman, I was certainly not thrilled. Up to that point the study and practice of magic had been the primary focus of my work for Her, and one of two primary focuses in my life. Moreover, I knew that the process involved would seriously suck, if I survived it.

My own shamanic death/rebirth cycle was comprised of four major ordeals over the course of two years, each one of which could potentially have resulted in my physical death if it had gone less than perfectly. This was accompanied by a worsening of my physical and mental health over the course of that time. I came out the other side as one who is never fully in the mundane world or the Otherworld(s), not wholly alive, but certainly not a shade either.

Many years on I’m still exploring what it means to be a shaman in service of the Mistress of the Forest Fire, and discovering what my shamanic work fully entails, especially as I finally start the process of incorporating my magic and my shamanism.

Perhaps the first thing I learned about this word is that it’s very loaded, not only in interpersonal interactions, but in the eyes of the Universe and the gods. Declaring oneself a shaman can open doors and bring connections to the spirits that had not been there before. There are areas of spirit work where working under the title of “shaman” gives me different privileges and access than I have as a servant of the gods, or as a magician. This is especially true in my work the Dead.

Of course, simply declaring oneself a shaman doesn’t make you one (and like Del, I was not the first person to use that word to describe myself). Laying claim to a title that isn’t yours can have consequences, and perhaps the most destructive I’ve seen is the declaration that one is a shaman leading to one’s wyrd becoming tied to that path, even if that was not the desired outcome.

Personally, I believe that the connection to traumatic transformation, although not necessarily around death, is a big part of what makes one a shaman. I’ve met shamans of madness as well as of death, and there can be a third, far rarer path of shamanism as well.

The process of going deep into another state of being, so much so that it completely consumes you, and then coming as far back as possible, leaves a person changed. Existing not in this world, but not in another either, is to me a major factor that distinguishes a shaman from other forms of spirit workers. My beliefs differ from Del’s in that I feel strongly that one can be a spirit worker 24/7 without being a shaman. Although not all spirit workers are 24/7 and I’m not convinced all shamans are either.

I should also note, that I believe it’s possible to be a “full time” spirit worker or shaman while also having a “day” job, particularly if said day job dovetails into one’s spirit work. The definition of a “full time” shaman or spirit worker is by its nature rather subjective after all.

I realize it is a digression, but here are some forms of spirit workers I’ve known. It is certainly possible for one person to be more than one, and not everyone who fits these titles are spirit workers per say.

in no particular order

  • Shaman (since we’re talking about it)
  • Gods-slave
  • Gods-spouse
  • Purpose-bound
  • Mystic
  • Medium
  • Monastic
  • Scholar
  • Bard
  • Priest/ess

For me, “shaman” is a job, a sacred role, and one of several central facets of my identity. For all that, in some ways, I don’t consider being a shaman to be all that special. Within the framework I use to define “shaman,” it is rather rare, even among pagans, polytheists, and spirit workers. But in the end it is simply another way to serve the gods and the Universe, no better or worse than others.

I do believe that shamans do a particular form of important Work that few others can do. However, the same can be said of a mystic, bard, gods-spouse, or any other of a variety of spiritual roles and titles. It is also worth noting that many of those other roles and titles are in their unique way as controversial and emotionally loaded as “shaman” is.

As a demographic we are figuring all this stuff out as we go along. Together we are creating not only new ways to express faith and experience the divine, but on a more fundamental level exploring ways to conceptualize the nature of our individual and shared reality.

Words are one of the essential ways we define our existence, so it’s of no surprise that words like “shaman” become bound up in layers of intellectual and emotional meaning, with all the controversy that can entail.

In the end though it’s the word my patron deity says I use, so I use it. All my complex feelings and intellectual considerations around “shaman” will always come up short in the face of Her insistence. That’s the nature of our relationship, and I find myself surprisingly ok with that.

What is a “Godphone”?

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.

Questions about Sacrifice

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.

The Invisible Third

dedicated to my boyfriend “His Boy”, because he asked for it, and then waited and waited…

You tend to end up dating the kind of people you hang out with. Spirit workers and other spooky-woo types tend to hang together, because we live odd sorts of lives and it’s nice when you don’t have to explain all the weird jewelry and what a geas is and how come you wear a wedding ring but I haven’t met your spouse. It’s convenient to find yourself in situations and telling someone they need to ground and re-shield and they can just do it, rather than need you to launch into an hour-long lesson on what that means and how to do it.

It’s like any other profession – it’s comforting to know that your experiences, frustrations, and jargon are understood by others. And although not all engineers date other engineers, you tend to find that left-brained people tend to drift towards other left-brainers, and vice versa. I’m not saying this happens every single time, but it’s not uncommon.

With that said, it’s no surprise that I have found myself in a V relationship – that is, where two people are dating the same person, but those two people aren’t dating each other. But that’s not the unsurprising part – it’s that the other branch of the V is an Invisible Person. Yes, my boyfriend has a sexual and romantic relationship with his God, and that relationship, as you might expect, is his primary commitment.

Now, to those who haven’t been around people in these sorts of relationships – God spouses, consorts, whores, etc – you might be thinking that it doesn’t affect my relationship with His Boy all that much. I mean, for most people raised in a mainstream religion, what you do with God happens either when you’re all alone, or when you’re surrounded by others who believe the same thing. That’s not how this stuff works at all.

This Invisible Person, whom we affectionately call Mr. Mister, is as “real” to us as any other person. Mr. Mister has wants, needs, desires, boundaries, and faults. He makes demands on His Boy’s time and life, and sometimes those demands rub up against things I may want or need from His Boy. Like any other poly situation, you’d think the answer would be to negotiate and communicate. And sometimes that works, and sometimes that can be more problematic.

In our situation, it happens that I have fairly accurate signal clarity. I don’t say that as a boast; it’s something I’ve been told by countless clients and colleagues over the years. His Boy strains to hear the very smallest whisper from Mr. Mister, and even then his faith is at a point where he second guesses himself a lot. So there’s a lot of talking between Mr. Mister and me, and me relating messages from His Boy when appropriate, and some of His Boy talking to Mr. Mister, but not a lot of Mr. Mister talking directly to His Boy.

It took some negotiation on my part to create strong boundaries around this – Mr. Mister started “showing up” uninvited, either by just being energetically present in the room, or sending me messages to pass on, or in one case, taking over my body with no warning. I had to make it clear to him that I honor he is a part of this relationship, but that there needs to be a strong foundation between His Boy and I that exists separate from Mr. Mister’s influence. Mostly, I asked that he attempt communication with His Boy directly first, and then if that fails, to come to me and I’ll pass the message along. If he wants to be present while we’re spending time together, I just want a little warning so I can prepare, and that it has to be proportionate to the amount of time I get to spend with His Boy without Mr. Mister.

One last little tidbit about our specific situation: this is the first human relationship His Boy has ventured into since making his oaths to Mr. Mister. Everything has a “let’s try this and see if it works” atmosphere to it, and we’re both trying to fail on the side of being too cautious, rather than too lax. It seems sometimes I forget a rule or push a boundary, but overall I’m very aware of what I am free to do with him, and what belongs only to Mr. Mister. It can be tricky sometimes, because a slip of the tongue or a errant touch has put me in Mr. Mister’s sights, and that’s not really somewhere I want to be.

The first step we both took when we decided we wanted to experiment with this relationship is that His Boy spoke to Mr. Mister about it. Well, that’s not entirely true; he sorta agreed to be my boyfriend before asking Mr. Mister if he was allowed to have human relationships. His Boy is still new to this whole God-consort thing, and hadn’t yet fully explored what was now off limits because of his new relationship. When we realized we had forgotten this fairly important step, His Boy did what he could to apologize and then ask. I was in fear for a while there; we weren’t assured that Mr. Mister was going to say yes. Not only had they not discussed human relationships and what was allowed, but His Boy had gone ahead and agreed to the relationship without permission. It’s an odd feeling, knowing that an Invisible Person holds the power to tell your potential partner that sorry, this relationship that you’ve just screwed up all your courage to ask for isn’t in the cards. There was some nail chewing and mental pacing while His Boy communed with Mr. Mister about it.

Then it was my turn. I sought out a diviner, so my signal clarity would not be influenced by what I so desperately wanted. I asked if this was okay with Mr. Mister, what I should be wary of, what belonged to Him vs. what was available to me. It was made abundantly clear to me (and to His Boy through different channels) is that marriage is out of the question, unless there’s a silly legal need (like health insurance) or some other earthly need for it, but no romantic oaths of living together forever. This works well for me, since I am pretty much done with the concept of marriage anyway. It was also made clear that although both His Boy and I find power exchange attractive, we could not enter into any sort of permanent power exchange relationship. And for me specifically, I could not either collar him or be collared by him. Basically, the message was that we could do nothing that might confuse His Boy about who is on the top of the hierarchy of his relationship structure.

I was also told that there were some skills I possessed that Mr. Mister was very interested in, either me teaching His Boy or providing for him. I balked – I have a strong personal rule that I don’t date “jobs”. I did it once, and learned the excruciating way that I can NOT keep my feelings locked in a box, even if I know going in that the relationship is a spiritual setup, rather than a romantic or recreational one. And usually, when the Gods are interested in me for spiritual “dating”, part of the “job” is to force them to come to terms with their issues around relationships, and that always ends in a terrible horrible break up, and most of the time also includes the “client” spreading horrible rumors about me because they can’t deal with how many buttons I was forced to push. I hate it, a lot, so I have asked Him Who Owns my Head (Loki) not to send me more jobs like that. So when Mr. Mister seemed interested in “employing” me as a tool in his relationship with His Boy, I was more than hesitant.

However, I spent about a month communing with Mr. Mister about exactly what he wanted from me, and what He was going to do in exchange. As He is not someone I have taken oaths to or am sworn to work for, there’s absolutely no reason for me to bend my neck and just do what He asks without something tangible in exchange. I also made it clear that “getting to have a relationship” was not enough of a poker chip – it was a big one, no mistake – but for the amount of things he wanted from me, it wasn’t enough on it’s own.

It was made clear at the end of the month that He and I had come to an agreement. I would serve as a sounding board for His Boy while he strengthened his own signal clarity, and when the time is right, I will assist in “fixing” his connection with Mr. Mister so His Boy can hear Him more reliably. I would encourage His Boy to do things in public that Mr. Mister wanted him to do, and remind him when it was appropriate. There was a sexual technique that Mr. Mister wanted me to introduce His Boy to (well, His Boy knew what it was, but he had no experience with it), and since it meant taking a cherry of His Boy’s, I was pretty okay with that. Finally, He was very clear with me that I was to keep a vigilant eye on His Boy’s mental health, and if he slipped into being more symptomatic, went off his meds, or made some other change that would affect his life negatively, I was to put on my Madness Shaman hat and get His Boy back on track. I’m not so pleased about this, as a recent relationship of mine came to an end because no matter how much I tried to assist my partner with their mental health issues, they ignored me and continued to make bad choices until I had no choice but to leave.

Overall, however, it wasn’t too much to ask for, and most of it was something that I thought fell under the category of “being a good boyfriend” anyway. He and I ended the negotiation by me making it clear that if He wanted something else, He had to have a tangible benefit for me in His hand. As Mr. Mister is very “negotiation” oriented, He could appreciate this.

(Not the first time I was happy that Loki taught me not to fear Gods, but to stand up to them and talk to them with moxie, for sure.)

Now His Boy and I have been together for a little longer than six months, and it seems to be working out. Mr. Mister has made less surprise visits, although sometimes He drops little messages in my mind – like recently we were at a party and He told me to give His Boy a good time – and I think His Boy has gotten an unexpected side effect of all of this. He has been much more diligent in setting up and working with Mr. Mister’s altar, sitting in reflection more often, and in general keeping Mr. Mister closer to his heart and head and an active part of his life.

I do believe that at this time in my life, who I date or have relationships with is not really in my hands anymore. I do have some choice, and can say no, but ever since I surrendered the reigns of my life over to Loki, every relationship I’ve had has had some spiritual meaning, lesson, or exchange that has been important in my progression. However much I am angry at the STBX (soon to be ex) at how things ended up, I recognize that without his relationship I would be in a radically different place than I am now. And in some way, maybe that’s an example that His Boy needs in his own life, how to engage in romantic and sexual relationships while balancing that he has a job to do, an Invisible Person who takes precedence, and it’s not something he can hide in order to get laid.

Both His Boy (whose blog can be found at Rock of Eye) and I are hungry to hear from others who have Invisible People in their relationship life. How do you deal with communication, negotiation, boundaries, and other typical relationship issues? Have you figured out interesting ways to acknowledge Their presence in your life and in your relationship? Are you just starting out and want to talk to others who share the same experience? We’re both hoping to hear from people with an entire spectrum of experience, from those who are just figuring this all out, to those who have done it, and maybe even those who did it for a while and then went back to being monogamous to their Invisible partner. If you don’t feel comfortable posting publicly, you can contact me at awesome.del@gmail do

What is “Spirit Work”?

In the theme of writing Spirit Work 101 essays, I figured I should probably back the truck up a bit and do my level best to explain what spirit work is, exactly.

The issue I face is that people use the term in a variety of ways, and there really isn’t a good definition out there that sums up the vast experiences, relationships, and devotional work that one might define as such. The first time I heard it applied to the kind of spiritual stuff I had been doing was by Raven Kaldera, a controversial person in his own right. The term sometimes gets sullied or maligned by his association with it – as though if you define your spiritual vocational work as “spirit work”, somehow you are in lockstep with him on his beliefs and practices. This is not the case.

Again, as always, I want to clarify that I am only going on my own experiences and discussions with others who call themselves spirit workers or who use the term spirit work to define their devotional practices. I invite those with alternate points of view or experiences to leave comments so as to expose readers to an array of ideas on the subject.

In the vaguest of ways, spirit work is a kind of spiritual practice that deals mainly with interactions between humankind and the world of spirits and Gods. It is different from other kinds of devotional work in that there is some form of communication between spirit workers and the spirits/Gods they work with or for. Usually, it also incorporates actions and practices that Spirits/Gods ask the spirit worker to do – as mundane as “carry this brick for two blocks and then put it down again” (an actual example), or as metaphysical as “spend nine days in a trance state exploring a specific place on the astral realm” (another actual example).

It does seem to require the ability to have, at least, one-way communication between the Holy Ones and the practitioner. One must be able to discern what the spirits may want, or want us to do. For more information about hearing the Gods and other spirits, I point you towards a different post of mine that addresses that subject. It is possible to do spirit work without this, but it usually requires having someone else in your life who has this ability, so they can help you figure out what the Gods want you to do. It is not uncommon for spirit workers to go through periods of feeling blocked, or having bad signal clarity, or in some other way find their “Godphone” or “Godradio” broken in some fashion. I’ve been there from time to time, and it didn’t stop me from being a spirit worker or doing the work of my Gods – it just made me rely harder on my own faith and the work that had been outlined in the past. I have another post on the way that addresses this subject in more depth.

The way that spirit work manifests in a person’s spiritual practices varies, depending on several factors. Usually, a person is chosen to do this sort of work based on the skills and talents they already possess – a spirit might choose a seamstress to create sacred costumes, or choose an artist to create devotional works of art for a spirit’s followers/devotees. It also happens that sometimes a God or spirit will embue a person with the ability to do the work they require; many people gifted with oracular or possessory abilities tell tales of being “rewired” so they can do these things reliably and with more ease.

Spouses or consorts of Gods sometimes consider their relationship a form of spirit work, since it usually comes with some sort of public devotional work. Some find themselves writing publicly about their spouse (books, blogs, essays, etc), while others become priests and help others who have a devotional relationship with their Consort. Some relay messages to those who cannot hear the voice of Gods, and others do social justice or other charity work in the name of their Deity. However, some Godspouses/consorts keep their relationship private, and this may play into whether or not they identify as a spirit worker.

At the core of the defintion is work. Although praying, writing, keeping shrines/altars, and other spiritual pursuits can be a part of a spirit worker’s life, the filter between “devotee” and “spirit worker” is when you take on tasks specifically at the request of the Holy Ones. It may be hard to discern whether you erected that altar to Kali Ma because you felt a deep connection with Her and Her mysteries/mythology, or because She herself asked you to. I know that when I began, I knew I had crossed over from devotional work to spirit work when the things the Gods asked me to do were things I would not have done of my own choosing, or things that changed my every day life and routine.

Some spirit workers work solely with the spirits, which can muddy the definition I gave above. These people find themselves in deep communication with the Holy Ones, and even though their work may not be in the public eye, it may still be defined as spirit work. I usually link this to those who work as a bridge because sometimes their private work benefits others in an indirect way. For example, a spirit may ask you to erect an altar in the middle of the woods, far off the beaten path. The person does it in solitude, not telling anyone about the altar or its location. However, two years later, that spirit leads another person to the altar, to give them some assurance that what they’re feeling and hearing isn’t madness.

Others find themselves working primarily with people, but for a spiritual cause. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes the spirits ask their devotees to work in social justice or other charitable places in order to help the spirit’s “people”. A devotee of Baphomet, for example, might volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen because Baphomet has a warm heart for “the forgotten”. Dishing out stew may not look all spooky-foo, but the fact that Baphomet requested the person do it makes it so.

One of the struggles of some spirit workers is that Gods ask different things of different devotees. This can create everything from jealousy to downright derision. There are those who state that the Odin they know would never ask someone to do Ordeal Work in His name, while there are others who do exactly that. Once again, Gods are bigger than our brainmeats can comprehend, and the reason They take vastly different kinds of “workers” is because They are in need of a wide array of services offered in their name. Personally, when I “came out” as a child of Loki, many of his spouses derided me for not being chosen for that sort of relationship, and I felt discouraged and jealous. However, as time as gone on and I have gone deeper into the work that He and the Others I work for, I know securely that it is the right place for me to be, and to be anything else would distract me from my Purpose.

Now, for me, the differentiation between a “shaman” (essay forthcoming, co-authored by Wintersong Tashlin) and a “spirit worker” is that “shamans” have undergone some form of traumatic transformation in which they surrender their wyrd, or destiny, to the control of the Gods. In exchange for this surrender, the Gods bring the person back from their traumatic experience a radically different person, now focused on making the Work their primary focus. So although there may be full-time spirit workers, unless they’ve physically died, gone completely insane, or in some other way lost touch with our consensual reality, and as their solution accepted a Spirit’s dominion over the rest of their days, they’re not a “shaman”. Some people confuse the taking of clients as being a difference between spirit workers and shamans, but that’s not the distinction for me or those I know who identify as either shamans and spirit workers. Now, like me, there are some that identify as both; there are others who shy away from the word “shaman” because it has a complicated history (I promise, essay soon!) and so they use the less contentious “spirit worker”.

In a similar way, the word “priest”, in my lexicon, is someone who leads others in the worship of a Deity or Deities. If someone identifies themselves as a “priestess of Aphrodite”, then I expect them to be working directly with other seekers and devotees of Aphrodite in creating and participating in worship and work for that Deity. One need not be a spirit worker to be a priest, but one may be both a priest and a spirit worker. Have I lost you yet?

The word “devotee” is what I use for someone who has taken to worshipping a particular Spirit or Deity. They may have cultivated a feeling of close relationship, with or without the ability to discern the voice of that Spirit for themselves. They may have a shrine or altar to said Deity, do good works in their name, and witness to others about their particular Spirit. However, usually the word undertaken by a devotee is of their own volition, or a product of researching what devotees of a certain Deity did when the culture of that Deity was more alive/active, instead of being at the direct behest of that Deity. It could be that a devotee was told via a third party as to how to go about doing said devotional work, but unless the devotee is offering that sort of counsel/communication to others, I would not call them a spirit worker, per se.

But then, I am not one to go around investigating people’s claims to whatever word they feel defines their Work. I may ask questions if I am planning on doing work for them or with them, but in the end, I believe that if you take on the label of “spirit worker”, at the very least you should be able to speak to, and understand in some way, the Holy Ones. You should also be doing some form of actual Work on their behalf, in whatever way that particular spirit or God asks of you. You may work for one specific Deity, or a pantheon, or for any inhabitant of the Other Words, as your personal practice and relationships develop.

I hope I’ve given you some insight into how I define “spirit work”, and what a “spirit worker” does. Again, I encourage those who disagree, or who define these terms in another way, to add their conversation to the comments. Please be respectful and engage in polite discourse; I know this can be a touchy subject for some.

A Month for Loki: Post VI

It’s the end of July, which means that the Month for Loki project is over. Of course this isn’t the last you’ll hear about my dear Patron; oh no, don’t you worry. I have a strong feeling that as I reinvent myself yet a-fucking-gain He won’t be far from my heart.

I wanted to take a moment before it ends and talk about one more aspect of my relationship with Loki. See, if you go looking in the blog-o-sphere, whatever the hell that is, most of the Lokean blogs you’ll find are from female-sexed (although probably gender-bent in some way) godspouses. It just seems to be what Loki likes the most. This is not to say I haven’t met male Lokeans, or people who relate to Loki in ways other than godspousery, but that’s the primary mode you find on the Internet.

I’m not one of those. See, Loki and I relate as Father-child. He has made it abundantly clear to me that I am a Jotun-blooded monster, akin to Fenris, Jormangand, and Hel. He has told me intimate details about my mother’s vagina as his way of proving that he was present when my birth parents got busy. What’s interesting is that I was an unplanned pregnancy, or at least that’s how the story goes. My mother and birth father’s early relationship is very much shrouded in mystery; we know there are two marriage licenses with different dates on them, and when I had my abortion my mother confided that she had done the same thing. My birth father told me once that he had advocated for my abortion, but you know, he was a dick.

When Loki revealed his relationship to me, I wasn’t pleased. I mean, I was happy we had some form of connection, but I had lived the first third of my life with a Father-God figure watching over my shoulder, waiting for my every little sin to condemn me to Hell. One of the reasons I had embraced Paganism was to escape Our Father Who Art In The Sky. I believed that Gods were imminent – here, on this planet, in some form or another – not living off in some distant cloud-filled fairy land. I believed that the Gods could love us in a variety of ways, not just as unevolved little children who would never be fully adult in Their eyes. But as time went on, and I learned more about my spirit-siblings, I came to accept it.

Then I met other Lokeans. The first Lokean I met was a female godspouse. She quickly informed me that if Loki truly loved me, He would marry me. I looked at her like she had three heads, but deep inside I had a fairly large faithquake. Was this true? Why does he see other devotees in that way, but yet again somehow I am infantilized, treated like a child, delegated to the kiddie’s table? Maybe my spirit work wasn’t as important, so I didn’t need the prestige that comes with being a spouse. Maybe Loki didn’t find me attractive enough, so it was better to relegate me to “monster” rather than “lover?

It was a pretty bad time.

So I went to Loki. Over the years, he and I have had this conversation more than twice. I honestly don’t know why there are so many Lokean godspouses, other than it makes him happy. But I’ve come to accept that my relationship with him is strong, deep, and vitally important. I don’t know if I would have the kind of signal clarity that I do (I am known for having pretty spot-on clarity, not just with Loki, but in general), because I have that blood in my veins. I am better able to do the Work that I do, which is different than most godspouses, because of that connection. And Loki is not a Big Infallible Father looking over my shoulder doling out demerits: sometimes he’s the Dad who throws you a beer after a hard day’s work and watches the game with you; sometimes he’s the Father who you can call when you car breaks down on the side of the highway; sometimes he’s the Pops that introduces you to all his friends with pride, which in turn gives you a leg up in the Work that you do. Now, I would never call Loki “Pops” to his face, but you get the idea.

I’m surrounded by godspouses and consorts in the spirit work community in which I hang. Somehow I thought when I started experiencing God sex, that eventually someOne would snap me up and I could be one of the cool kids. But it’s clear to me that’s not my path. I would be lying to myself, to my clients, and to my Gods if I tried to force it. I mean, there are Gods who are willing to take Godspouses sorta willy-nilly, as long as the human is ready to make some serious commitments to them. I could do that. But it would derail me from my wyrd in a serious way, and my life seems to flow better when I follow my wyrd.

I mean, there’s also the whole, “I gave Loki the reigns to my life” thing, and at this point, my relationship with him is set in stone. My devotional relationship to him exists outside of any comparison to anyone else’s – it is between He and I, and the people who benefit from the results of that relationship – my clients, my colleagues, the communities I serve.

Hail Loki, Father of Lies and of Monsters.
Hail Loki, whose biggest punishment was the death of his children.
Hail Loki, who loves those who are hard to love.
Hail Loki, who sees into the heart, rather than on the skin.
Hail Loki, who literally made me who I am today.