The subject of spirit work and spirit-working/workers has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m both rereading
Walking the Heart Road by Silence Maestas, and I’m reading for the first time Walking Between the Worlds by Nornoriel Lokason. Spirit work, spirit working, and spirit workers are mentioned a fair amount of times in both books, though a decent amount of Nornoriel’s book challenges the idea that in order to have meaningful relationships with the gods and spirits one must serve a community in some way. Since the days of yore, when a small community of spirit workers gathered on LJ, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the term spirit worker, at least as it may or may not apply to myself, for a number of reasons.
First: whatever spirit work I do or do not do, it is not what drives my relationship with my primary gods and spirits. Poseidon did not approach me with an eye toward what I might in the future manage to do for Him in this world, and to entertain the idea that that may be the case is, for me, to begin a trek upon a downward spiral of un-doing. It is to undermine every hard bit of healing we have wrought upon my psyche and, worse than anything else, it is to ignore His input regarding the matter. There is much appeal in the idea that He saw raw potential in me that night upon the shore and decided to seize an opportunity, decided to make an investment. It certainly would be easier for me to accept, if maybe I wasn’t worth His attention then,that He saw in me something that might make me have some worth to Him down the road. Such an idea goes along more readily with my concept of my own inherent worth (or lackthereof), and it could be tempting to buy into the idea . . . except, He insists that no. What I am able to do now when I serve I am able to do as a natural outgrowth of my foundations being well tended, of my relationships being set right, of my spirit being nourished and nurtured rather than feeling used up and starving for sustenance. When that balance tips toward ‘used up and starving’, any spirit work that I might engage in is dropped – and here is possibly the main argument I’ve used as to why I’m not actually a spirit worker – without hesitation, and I retreat into His arms, into o/Our relationship, into the bubble that we create. If it’s really bad, that feeling of spiritual starvation, I drop pretty much everything other than being with Him. Rituals that aren’t centered around Him, rituals that are centered around Him but are maybe more ceremonial and thus taxing rather than nourishing, practices that aren’t immediately about Him – it all goes. Earlier in all of this, it would go with a fight on my end, but I’ve gotten wiser over the years, and now it simply goes. Self-recriminations are nothing but a waste of energy.
Another reason I’ve been reluctant to name myself a spirit worker in the past has been, my “service” has never once been about serving a human community. I am, and have always been, pretty darn comfortable about the fact that my definition of community is pretty inclusive. In the beginning this was extended to landspirits and mortal non-human animals naturally, and only later did it begin to include both gods and humans on a more general scale – if we’re talking a wide-scale sense of ‘community’. That being the case, it’s interesting to me (in that, ‘huh, isn’t that curious’ way) that I would balk at considering myself a spirit worker simply because other people might mean service to a human community when speaking of service. This is very much a case of words meaning things, and a struggle between what a word might mean to me and what it might mean to a majority. More curious, that, because I certainly do not let the majority of humans inform how I use ‘pagan’, ‘heathen’, ‘god’ or ‘religion’, so why the heck would I with this?
The last main reason I have for shying away from the label is, in my head, anyone who is acting as a connection to this realm for the gods or spirits is, in my mind, a spirit worker. Even if all they are doing is providing that connection, is being that doorway between the realms, that is still a very important service to be providing, and in my worldview, in my understanding of how any relationship with a god or spirit works, providing that connection is implicit in simply interacting with Them – we cannot help but provide that, any time there’s an exchange between u/Us. Thus, in my worldview, the term spirit work is sort of redundant to ‘being involved with the spirits and/or gods’. I realize that others may have a more nuanced understanding or definition of the term, but that is mine, and so mostly whether or not I adopted the term spirit work has been irrelevant.
Until this year, when Pops put His foot down regarding my avoiding any sort of serious involvement with His Hunt, crossed His arms, stepped back a bit, and allowed Them to harry me. For years (and years and years) Poseidon has had designs on the Hunt. My understanding of this has been that my Husband gets an automatic ‘in’ into my Father’s Hunt because of me – which starts to have suggestions of delusions of grandeur, maybe, but fuck it. Odin has adopted me. Poseidon calls me ‘wife’. I don’t think I’m any great thing, but I do believe that one of the things that we can do in our interactions with Them is to help forge connections between the realms – and what else is providing a link between two huge Families other than forging a bridge? Do either of Them need me for that? Not really, no. They can do it on Their own. But having mutual love and affection for a person does often smooth the way for calm interactions, does or at least can inspire otherwise territorial types to make an effort to maybe be less aggressive about such things.
I knew I was in no real danger (or, at the least, I knew that if Odin’s Hunt was going to be my ending this year, it was how He wanted it to be, and there was no point being deeply scared about it) but it was still uncomfortable. Hunting dreams (in which I was being hunted), seeing faces and shapes around me (I’m not a visual person, when it comes to Seeing; I get impressions and ‘knowings’ – I do not often See things, and it was unnerving), having flashes of scenes play through my mind, like daydreams, only I wasn’t driving them, and they would involve horrible, awful things. That, on top of Poseidon wanting me to really, for real for real this time, agree to spend time with Him, Over There, riding with the Host . . . I could keep denying this, I could keep shrugging it off (“No, You go with my Dad and go Hunting. It’s a menfolk thing, I’ll be the dutiful daughter and wife, I’ll keep a candle in the window for You both. Have fun!”) and I could keep losing sleep . . . or I could agree.
Once I agreed, They all eased up a bit, and spelled out exactly what They wanted from me, how They wanted me to be a part of Their company – and They laughed uproariously at Their great fun when I realized that what They wanted was nothing more than what I already had the tools to handle. Ah, what a grand joke! What entertainment that was!
Still, that too has me thinking about spirit work, specifically the spirit work that I do, and the fact that often spirit work, often service, is stressed, to the point where those coming into this maybe expect that they have to be spirit workers – and that’s simply not the case. This is another one of those things wherein we really need to let our relationships set the bounds of the relationships, wherein we need to be open to the gods and/or spirits we are involved with, to define with Them what is to be. For some, service to o/Others is a path they take to better understand themselves, to encourage spiritual growth and fortitude. For others, that may be the worst approach to this entire thing. For some, the thought of being loved, of being treasured, of being supported is the hardest thing to grasp and the most authentic way to a place of being able to serve. For those of us who have been forced into caretaker roles maybe way before we had the tools (or, you know, years) to fulfill that role in a healthy, holistic way, the idea of serving others may be the thing that makes us high-tail our butts away from relationships that might otherwise help us a great deal. I’m not sure those who have not been in that sort of a situation can understand fully how detrimental the mentality of “you must serve” can be to those of us who have a low sense, or are fully lacking any sense, of self-worth.
Love can be the spirit work we engage upon. Love certainly has become a central tenent to my devotional path. It’s been a winding path to this point. First came awareness, at Poseidon’s behest. Later, this evolved into compassion– first detached compassion for others, later for myself, and eventually that became the sort of detached compassion/loving-kindness that is my current struggle. I picked up service along the way, and the particular service I provide I’ve set down and picked up and set down and picked up again and again, and I’ll continue to do so. And I have no shame in this fact. It has only been within the last few years that I’ve even been able to look at service in the name of my gods, at the behest of my gods, in a way that is less about “you should be doing X” and has become a more authentic pouring out of what I am filled with. This vessel is not always filled, let alone overflowing, but when it is, the natural inclination seems to be to give.
All this being said, what, then, does my service look like? What does it entail, and whom does it serve?
The longest-standing way in which I serve is in serving the spirits. Some of you may already know that I practice Reiki. My initiation into Reiki was centered around serving others, initially humankind, but that quickly spread to other communities. Sending Reiki to the recently deceased and/or dying (with no limit placed upon species), sending Reiki to the Waters and to the Earth, are regular parts of what I do. Sometimes this entails going and sitting int a cemetery or by the river’s edge; often this entails parking my butt in the bathtub with some incense and a candle and some earplugs. It’s rarely fancy or elaborate.
Another way I serve is through my writing – and here I mean my fiction. What I don’t talk about a great deal or in great depth is how the stories come my way. I don’t experience interaction with beings as muses the way that muses are classically understood. Sometimes I’ll get flashes of concepts I want to explore, but the most common way I receive stories is that a character or two will come to me and tell me their story. What that looks like to me, as a person who regularly interacts with gods and spirits, is that a spirit of one kind or another comes to me with a story they want written down and released into the world. For the longest time I had great concerns – if I experienced these beings as real and the gods as real and other spirits as real, how could I ever know which ones were really, really, for real, real? On that front, I’ve given up. I’ve surrendered. So long as they are not causing me or mine any harm, it’s none of my business to decide the level of their Realness. They impact my life – they enrich my life – and that’s enough for me to consider them real. Their being real does not in any way invalidate how real Poseidon is. Writing – pursuing this calling – keeps me tapped in, keeps the connection open, and Beth can tell you that whenever I go for a period without writing there are obvious side-effects and negative consequences. I am grateful for the people who read my fiction and enjoy it, and I’m humbled by their support, but I write, ultimately, for the spirits who bring me stories and request that I tell them.
The most directly-in-service-of-humanity work that I do is, activism. Some may not consider sitting in one’s home and writing on the internet activism, but such people may have too narrow an understanding of the term. I’m out as a pagan, as a polytheist, as a godspouse, as a devotee to both Odin and Poseidon, because I can be. I write publicly, I use my real name, and I write about some pretty private stuff, because I live in a place and time when the worse that’s likely going to happen to me is I’m going to get ridiculed. That’s not true for everyone, and that’s a huge part of why I feel a responsibility toward activism. I want to be a voice that people can hear – whether they’re new to paganism, to polytheism, to deity- or spirit-devotion – as an example of how one might walk one’s path. I try my best to keep it real, because when I was starting out, everyone who’d been walking similar paths seemed to have their shit together, and I still don’t feel like I have my shit together, and I want to present as authentic a representation of what me walking my path looks like. Not that I think I’m the shit – I don’t – but because I think it’s important to have as many examples as possible available, to drive home the fact that what walking your path looks like is up to you (or is up to you and your spirits and/or gods) and not so much up to other humans who have nothing to do with you beyond being on the internet together.
Bottom line for me is: love is the work. Love makes the above three things happen and makes them possible to be sustained for longer periods of time without burn-out . . . and I’ve only reached that place through Love. For some, service has to come first. For others, service comes after one has shored one’s spirit up. Neither are right or wrong, and no one should be shamed for doing it one way or the other.
edited because homonyms!