Your use of Ordeal rituals raises a lot of hackles. What would you say to your detractors? (That we could publish in a family-friendly blog!)
Galina: Other than “grow up” and “own your own baggage?” Good question. I would say that when you harass and slander a god-servant for doing the work that the Gods have requested of him (or her), you are essentially spitting in the face of those Gods. Odin endured ordeal. He sought it out for very specific reasons. He is not the only God or Goddess to have done so in the sacred tales. Obviously it has some merit.
I would also say that not all of us are called to serve or honor the Gods in the same way and that is something that should be respected. Not everyone is or should be an ordeal worker; but some people are and it can be a powerfully transformative and sacred path into Divine service.
I think ordeal is frightening and triggering to many people and thus people tend to fixate on it. Ordeal is a very small part of what I do for the Gods compared to say counseling, teaching, writing or divination, yet in all the slander that has been spread about me (some of it quite creative, I might add), most of it focuses on ordeal. With this body of practices, we’ve hit upon a nexus of taboos: pain, blood, physicality, sex, mess, loss of control. (I include sex because some practices are also used in the BDSM community and there are ordeal workers who are also part of that community).
Ordeal teaches a person to transcend one’s boundaries and when we do that, we illustrate in ways that cannot be denied that everyone has those boundaries. Ordeal reminds people that we live in safe little boxes and that the Gods, sometimes non-consensually, can rip those boxes away and demand that we enter into the place of our deepest fear and sometimes, we may have little choice but to comply.
I’d also add that we’re a very lookist culture and ordeal challenges that too: to an ordeal worker beauty is found in blood, scars, burns, hooks, the lash: marks of submission to our Gods, of ecstatic transformation, of the joy of peeling away our internal blockages until we can let our Gods in. It is the joy of pure service, of challenge well met, of offering well given. There is an integrity in ordeal that the ordeal dancer comes to crave. There is a truth there.
I think that for many people the body and by extension physicality is still something taboo. There’s still an unconscious divide between the physical and spiritual. Ordeal shatters that divide. It shatters the safe delineation between sacred and profane. It crosses a taboo boundary. Most people that I have met are not comfortable in their own skin, let alone with using that skin as a vehicle to blast oneself open spiritually. Let me explain what I mean a little further:
As a teen-ager and into my early twenties, I worked as a ballet dancer. I learned to use my body as the primary vehicle of physical and emotional expression with a very high level of skill. I’m at home in my body. I know how far I can push myself. I know the muscles, tendons and ligaments, how they work, how they feel, how pain affects them in ways that people who have not ever studied a physical art may not. I understand that pain is neutral. It can be good or bad depending on what causes it.
This is a novel idea for many people, that there is good pain and bad pain. The pain of a torn ligament is bad. The pain of muscles that have been well warmed up and pushed to their limits in order to gain strength and flexibility is good. Pain is a nuanced thing. Those who study grueling physical arts like ballet or sports or martial arts learn to engage with this thing called pain in ways dramatically different from the average person – and yes, I do think my training first as a dancer and then a martial artist prepared me for ordeal. Ordeal uses the body: its strengths and weaknesses, it uses one’s own psychology to bring about a desired result. There’s nowhere to hide. It’s raw, an intense vulnerability. That can be terrifying even to witness.
It’s all too easy for someone who is NOT an ordeal worker to focus overmuch on the pain. It’s not about the pain. Some ordeals aren’t painful physically at all, but they are challenging. Pain is just one of many tools that one can use to get where the Gods need us to go and yes, the whole process can be messy. It usually is, even if ordeal isn’t part of it!
We as a society don’t much like messy. Spirituality isn’t “supposed” to be messy, right? Well it is whether we do ordeal or not, deeply committed spirituality is a powerfully transformative thing and change is always difficult. It always brings mess, which can be off-putting to the unprepared. There is nothing found in contemporary ordeal work that wasn’t found in cultures and religions the world over for thousands of years. These are ancient practices and they have survived the passage of history because they work.
The thing for non-ordeal workers to realize is that not everyone can or should do ordeal. If you’re called to it, you’ll know and thanks to the courage of many of my colleagues who persist in sharing their experiences even in the face of harassment, those newly called will know where they can go, who they can contact to get safe and sane advice. I have some articles here on my website for those interested in reading more.
You identify as a Godslave: this triggers a lot of people. They are terrified at the idea that a God might claim them or force them to do something without their consent. Could you talk a bit about what "Godslave" means and how being a Godslave effects your life?
It defines my life. Every blessing that I have, and I have been gifted with many, has come to me as a result of my service. You do the work and the Gods will pour blessings in to your hands. At the same time: where I work, what I do, where I live, whether or not I can have any particular partner, sometimes what I eat and drink and wear are all dictated to me. How much sleep I get, and what friends I may have are impacted by Odin’s ownership of me. How I spend my money falls under a powerful taboo too. I am held to an extremely high standard by my Gods. Furthermore, if anyone or anything in my personal life interferes with that relationship, with my service to Him, they do not long remain in my life.
To be a Godslave means, essentially, exactly what it says: I am the property of a Deity. I have committed myself to this relationship and given up personal agency to a degree that triggers the hell out of many who hear the term. My life revolves around Odin primarily, other Gods secondarily and my service to Them. I did not have a choice as to whether or not Odin would take me up. I did have a choice in how much I fought Him, how much I cooperated with Him, and how useful I made myself. I chose to try to be as useful as possible. He gives me a pretty long leash, as it were but in the end, I am a tool for Him. I do not think that is a bad thing. I believe knowing one’s place is good and natural and allows us to truly shine. There are those called up like this who struggle much more than I with it though (and I want to be clear that not everyone is going to be or needs to be a Godslave. The Gods require different things from different people. I suspect there are as many ways to serve as there are people serving).
Because this word ‘slave’ is so triggering, I want to point out that my relationship with Odin is more multi-faceted than any one term can encompass. He is my Master, yes, but also Beloved, Husband, Teacher, Boss, Ancestor, and a thousand other things. I don’t fixate on the ‘Godslave’ part of the equation when I interact with Him. I am me, and at any given moment I will be used in whatever capacity is of most use to Him. I’m a priest, shaman, teacher, writer, poet, warrior, godslave, counselor, and probably royal pain in the butt for Him. I am all of these things and more or none of these things should He require. To quote Whitman: “I am vast. I contain multitudes.” Still, I won’t deny that the psychology of ownership can be a struggle at times and many of us find it helpful to have a term that so clearly identifies how we are bound.
‘Slave’ is a very loaded term for many good reasons. While in the BDSM community, it is a positive term of self-definition, or a role and job to be taken on with initial consent and under specified contractual terms, outside of that world it summons up images of the triangle trade, or sex trafficking or millennia of human horrors. It speaks to violence, suffering, cruelty, and an enforced lack of personal agency. Human to human that is a horrible thing and nothing in that description reflects the reality of Godslavery.
Still, we do not have another term that sends quite the same implication of lack of personal agency, of being bound to something bigger and stronger, to forced service. If the word is triggering I blame the paucity of our language. There can be immense fulfillment and joy in Godservice but that does not change the fact that many of us have no initial choice in the matter.
People don’t like to think that the Gods can affect us nonconsensually. It’s not a very post-Enlightenment, American idea. Free will, comfort, and lack of inconvenience are the virtues of the New Age movement and those things have precious little to do with actual encounters with Gods. Our ancestors would have understood that. I laugh when I see the endless arguments in Heathen forums about whether or not one should go down on one’s knees to one’s Gods. If a Deity truly is there, your knees will bend and it is right and proper that they do so. The Gods are real, not manifestations from our unconscious. They are not caricatures on a page. They are real, independent entities and They are deserving of our respect.
We each have our portion in life: what we are given in blessings, what we owe in return. It is right and proper to pour out offerings: to the Gods, the ancestors, the land spirits. It is egotism bordering on hubris to think that our personal comfort has anything to do with that. It is also hubris to think we have a right to negotiate and argue over the trappings of service. It is not our place. Much of being a Godslave is about learning one’s place. It allows one immense freedom to function well when you know who is above you and who is below you in the hierarchy. But we as a culture have forgotten how to think this way. We expect our spirituality to be egalitarian. The Gods are not egalitarian.
I think it’s an incredibly modern conceit that we have the right to set the terms with the Gods. It comes from a remarkable obsession with individualism and egotism and an equally remarkable disrespect for discipline, hierarchy, and chain of command. Frankly, we need to get over ourselves. I believe that Odin forces me to use the term ‘godslave” precisely because that phraseology is so triggering. It says “we can’t control this process.”
What’s ironic is that we can control an awful lot about being claimed by a God: we can control ourselves, how we act, how we prepare ourselves, how we make ourselves useful, deal with our own baggage, etc. We are not equal to the Gods and They are real, and sometimes, They demand things. To those who for whom religion is a largely theoretical exercise (the majority of people, I’d warrant), that is a terrifying dose of reality.