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Taboos, Oaths, Celibacy, and Other Unpleasant Things We Do for Our Gods

This is not a topic I expected to write about but it came up in conversation today and this gave me a chance to organize and articulate my thoughts on the topic. A couple of days, a colleague sent me this article about a Catholic woman who has formally taken vows as a sworn, consecrated virgin. This is the second woman this year that I’ve read about making this commitment and while I have my own thoughts on being so public about such a personal devotional act, it did make me think.(1)

Now this isn’t something that the average Pagan or Polytheist has to worry about. For the most part, we don’t have requirements of celibacy for our priests, shamans, holy people, and certainly not for laity; in fact, I’d say the opposite was almost expected.(2) Still, it’s an interesting topic and one that provides a jumping off point for a meditation on the discipline of devotion.

I say this because the Gods can ask all sorts of things of us to deepen our devotion, and for mystics, spiritworkers, et al, it can be more grueling still. Celibacy can be one of those things. So how does one do that? It’s a horrible thing to demand of a person. It really is. I have several academic colleagues who are Catholic seminarians and they have a hard and possibly lonely road ahead of them. It is a very demanding thing to give over the pleasures of sex, eroticism, intimacy (no, one doesn’t have to sacrifice intimacy but sadly in our culture, we all too often tend to reserve intimacy for sexual situations). I’ve known my share of spiritworkers who had this particular taboo as well and it’s painful, not because one is forbidden for whatever period of time from having sex, but because if one isn’t having sex or behaving in an outwardly sexualized manner in our culture, one may be treated as strange, backward, or other. It can be very alienating and unless one is living in a monastic community (which none of us in our communities are) where everyone is fighting the same battle, it can be very, very isolating. I have heard people of all genders complain that after a certain time it’s damned hard to be single in this culture without being looked at like a ‘freak,’ but celibate? That’s beyond the pale for most. In many respects, the same can be said of many taboos and religious restrictions. Many of them set one apart or they’re inconvenient or, in the case of something like fasting, impact one’s energy levels.

I think that it is a powerful thing when we give ourselves over to reverence in this way: by doing what the Gods ask of us in demarcating our lives as being in devotional service to Them. It can open us up, draw us deeper into communion with the Holy, and elevate us spiritually. It can also be damned hard and confusing and sometimes that which brings us to the point of despair. As someone who carries numerous religious taboos, (not celibacy these days, thank the Gods! – though that was not always the case) I want to share something I’ve found helpful when it becomes really, really difficult and that how one’s mindset toward these restrictions (often willingly promised restrictions) can dramatically help in dealing with the bad times. Recontextualize the problem.

Think of it this way: maintaining one’s taboos each and every day gives one the chance to reconsecrate oneself to one’s Gods every day. Every single day again and again. It’s a process of making an ongoing offering, of giving something difficult and valuable every single day of your devotional life. That’s pretty cool.

The first article to which I link above actually talks about that a little bit:

“Sometimes people think of consecrated life as saying no to something – saying no to sex – but actually it’s saying a huge yes to a much richer life,”

I agree with that, and it’s something to remember when the dark times come. And they will come because no matter how willing we are to give our best to the Gods, to commit fully each and every day, we’re human and we have needs, wants, and desires that sometimes conflict with our best attempts at devotion. So it begs the ongoing question: why are we doing this? What do we hope to gain from it? What is this all about? The answers to those questions are one of the things that enables the devotee to stay the course, hopefully joyfully but if not joyfully then at least fiercely.

Of course, to bring this back to the article that prompted this train of thought, celibacy is a particularly difficult path to walk. For someone bound to celibacy whether permanently or for a specific period of time I’d offer the following thoughts. It’s ok to fall in love. It’s ok to love. This is normal and human and you will be the better for it. Closing yourself off to the possibility of love will harden your heart and I don’t think that’s what the practice of celibacy is about. Allow yourself the joy of natural human feelings. The caveat is that if you’re sworn in this way, you have to choose very carefully how to act upon that love and if, like the Vestal Virgins of old, or Catholic priests today, you’re sworn to celibacy then sexual activity is not within the scope of possible choices.

Also, find ways to get human touch. Even if it is a massage once a month, find an outlet because this is a human need without which we aren’t healthy. There have been studies that show that babies die if they don’t get enough human touch. Why should adults be any different? We may not die, but I think lack of intimacy can warp us in very problematic ways. It’s ok to be bound to celibacy and to be affectionate, in fact it might even be healthy and necessary.

I don’t know what promises my readers have made to their Gods, or what the Gods Themselves have asked of Their devotees. I do know something of the ferocity with which taboos can descend upon shamans, spiritworkers, mystics, and godspouses, so if any of this is a help to those you reading, then I am very, very glad.

Notes:

  1. My colleague had sent it to me because I’m a godspouse, but I’ll be the first to admit that celibacy is not required for every godspouse, nor even always permanently for those who do walk that road. The first article that I read about Catholic consecrated virgins may be found here. The article, linked in the body of my post, actually points out that consecrating one’s sexuality in service to the Gods did not originate with Christianity. It was found in polytheistic cultures too.
  2. Save in particular cases of individual godspouses, spiritworkers, et al.

Answer to a Question I Received This Morning

I wasn’t going to write about this, but I received a rather heart breaking question in my fb message box this morning and for some reason I am unable to respond to it on fb. It’s the type of question that I very much feel requires a response so here goes (and hopefully the person who messaged me will see it here).

I woke up today with this question awaiting me: “What should I say to those who think I have offended other Godspouses, and say I don’t deserve my God’s love?”

So I’m going to be very blunt: if those other godspouses and people harassing you are on tumblr, tell them to fuck off or just ignore them. I’ve yet to see anything spiritually sensible or mature come out of that cesspool.

Secondly, if they’re not on tumblr, still tell them to fuck off. It is the height of hubris, not to mention egotistical cruelty to tell someone that they don’t deserve their own God’s love. None of us deserve to be loved by the Gods and all of us deserve to be loved by Them. It’s one of the paradoxes of the devotional relationship that one of the Holy Powers might wish to connect to us so deeply and yet that is exactly what happens. Being loved by the Gods isn’t a matter of worth. That’s Calvinist crap right there. The Gods love us perhaps simply because we are Theirs. The only Being that has any right whatsoever to comment on how your Gods feel about you is the Gods Themselves.

I’ve seen a lot of absolute and utter horse shit being written about being a ‘godspouse’ and I’m coming to think that most of it is written by people who don’t have the faintest fucking clue but who very much want to be special snowflakes. More to the point, if you have a god spouse who gets annoyed, well that god spouse can just put on their big girl panties and deal with it. Being a god spouse does not make you a better human being. It does not make you the arbiter of all your Gods might want. It doesn’t even make you a decent person. What does it make you, if you’re actually what you claim? Someone in the deepest kind of emotional relationship with a God, not the best kind, not even the most effective kind of relationship, but one that is intimately bound up with your emotional body as a human being. It makes you one perfectly placed to serve as hands and heart of that Deity on this world but if you don’t understand that the core of the relationship is service to your God than you’re a piss poor godspouse in my opinion. If you think being a godspouse somehow elevates you above all other devotees: ditto. And if you’re telling someone that their own God doesn’t love them and that such a person doesn’t deserve to beloved, you’re an utter piece of shit as a human being.

So to my morning questioner, how should you respond? Let me give you a visual aid that you may feel free to pass on to all of those who spread such utter crap:

kid giving the finger

 

Our Gods deserve better than this. Grow the hell up, people. Grow the hell up.

On Being a God-Spouse

61qnUreeG9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A colleague and I were talking recently and he asked me out of the blue, “What do you think of Godspouses?” In the course of my answer, I said “I am one to Odin.” Despite following my writing for some time, he was quite surprised. He hadn’t realized this and he asked me why I didn’t write more about it. I get that question every so often so I figure tonight, I’ll do just that.

I have been Odin’s god spouse since the early nineties. I don’t talk about it because the particularities that 90% of the people who ask (my colleague excepted – he really was just wanting my opinion on the matter) want are no one’s business but mine and Odin’s. It presupposes (accurately) a level of intimacy on every possible level that frankly I don’t think we ought to be discussing. It’s not for public consumption. Godspouses, especially for Odin, can be so wrapped up in their God, so taken up by Him, filled to the bursting point with His wod, that there’s little room for anything else. It is a level of connection that is unique, though the same could be said for just about any other relationship one might have with a Deity. If we’re doing our devotional work right, then each devotional relationship however it may play out, is unique.

Moreover, I don’t think being a god spouse is a public role. It is part of who we are in relationship to the God to Whom we are wed, but it’s not a public persona. It’s not a job. I’m a vitki and shaman and spirit worker and priest and those are things i *do*. Being a god spouse is what i *am*. it defines a personal relationship rather than a public work relationship. It’s not a ‘hat’ i take off at the end of the day. Also, I think there are dangers inherent in trying to conceptualize godspousery, in trying to pare it down for the comprehension of there. I think that unless one is very careful, writing too much about this type of relationship can give the impression that we reduce a GOD to the informal boyfriend on the sofa when nothing could be further from the truth. There is a danger of falling into prosaic terms and language, of using overly plebeian terms to describe what is beyond description. It’s not a human to human relationship. It is being bound up utterly by a Power. It is too easy to become shallow in the telling of such a Mystery.

I will say this: it impacts and supports every facet of every other aspect of my Work. It is what sustains me as a shaman, a spirit worker, a priest, hell, even a human being— all of it. It is what nourishes me as a devotee. It is what allows me to serve as Odin’s oracle. It is what drives so much of what I do and drives my desire to connect more fully to Him. So what else do i want to say about this?

Well, for starters, each Godspouse is different and their relationship with their God is different. While Odin is Odin is Odin, each relationship is unique in and of itself. The fullness of any God’s nature is beyond our ability to fully hold and conceive; and the Gods have different heiti or by-names, epithets that refer to specific paths of that Deity. sometimes I think these epithets serve as a filter whereby the God translates His or Her presence for engagement with us.

Secondly, all god spouses do not get along. I don’t know about other Deities, but Odin (and this is perhaps the one universal lol) often provokes a jealousy in His god spouses….a hunger, an obsession that makes it very difficult to acknowledge that we are not the only god spouse on the planet. I’ve seen Odin’s women tie themselves in rhetorical knots trying to get out of this one. While some Gods have god spouses that can get together, get along, and bond over how awesome their God is, you get a bunch of Odin’s women together and whether we admit it or not, we would generally like to murder each other. I personally think Odin feeds on the intensity of emotion that His presence evokes amongst us all. I’m ok with this: it is another way of serving our God.

I have often been asked why Deity’s take Godspouses? I have no idea. I think in part it allows Them to feast on our humanity in a way otherwise unavailable to Them by virtue of the limitations of corporeality. I think it allows the god spouse to serve as a window for that God, a very human shaped crack through which the Deity’s potency and power might seep more and more fully into our world. I think we carry our Gods with us, wherever we go, into every interaction in some ineffable way, in a way simply not possible with any other relationship. It is this last that i think is truly crucial about godspousery: we are contaminated with our Gods and simply by virtue of maintaining our relationship with our Gods and doing our Work, whatever that may be, however mundane, we carry that contamination into the world. We are sacred space belonging first and foremost to the God to Whom we are bound.

In every respect then, it is equally important for god spouses not to grow complacent in their relationship with their God. I know for myself, the thing that I’ve had to guard against the most is taking for granted the bond that is always there, always palpable. It isn’t something that should ever be taken for granted. I also think it can be difficult for god spouses to grow beyond the initial almost teenage enthusiasm that is a natural part of falling in love with one’s God. it is such an overwhelming experience both falling in love with Them and being seized up in return. It’s a joy beyond imagining.

For those who complain about how it’s “not in the lore” I would also beg to differ. Yes, actually it is. Godspousery is not in any way a modern or new phenomenon. There are accounts and evidence from ancient Egypt, Etruria, Sumer, Greece, the Northlands, and if i looked hard enough, I could probably find something pointing to this in Rome too. I tend to note such references as I find them. The modern academic and sadly, community habit is to edit or interpret godspousery out of the analytical equation. We find so many other things for what these references could mean (we do it with possessory work too, by the way) rather than take “Wife of a God” literally.