I just read a heartbreaking blog post from Laura Pastoris about how her relationship with the Gods has caused her serious family problems. It's a powerful reminder of how spirituality and the Divine can put us in some painful places. This has not always been addressed in the Pagan and Heathen communities, although it is recognized in most other religious traditions. Sometimes the Gods don't just bless us, they turn our lives upside down and take away everything we hold dear.
Yes, my heart went out to Laura P. when I read that article and I salute her courage at having written about it so openly. I think it’s important that people who are being challenged and tested by their Gods understand that they are not alone, no matter how isolating it might feel: they’re not alone.
Going back to what I said about contemporary Paganism having evolved in a climate that stresses self-help and personal enlightenment over service, I think that the idea the Gods might test us, to strengthen us, to gauge our usefulness, to gauge how we may best we of serve, and yes, to enable us to grow spiritually is a very difficult and alienating thought. It would be nice to think that we could control the process and never be pushed so dramatically out of our comfort zones, but it doesn’t work like that. When you put your feet on a path of committed spirituality, you are giving the Gods and ancestors the lawful right to engage in such processes and They do and whether we realize it or not, it’s to our benefit (which does not make it any easier to undergo).
In Laura’s case, it’s obvious from her writing that she is tremendously committed to her Gods and to her dead and I think that she is a wonderful example for the Heathens and Pagans and Wiccans out there today who are finding that in choosing to love and devote themselves to the Holy Powers, they have upset the balance of power in their homes, and have alienated those who should be their greatest supports: their families. In being willing to share such intimately wrenching experiences, she is engaging in immensely sacred service to the Gods: she may well be providing a lifeline to the next person out there who finds that their spirituality and spiritual commitments so offend their loved ones. That is holy work.
I have to say personally, that in this, I am fortunate. Sekhmet and then Odin broke me in long ago. I had no romantic attachments and I was already fairly estranged from my birth family when the Gods first snapped me up. As strange as it may sound, this was actually an advantage. I had very few excuses, very few reasons why I could not do what was asked of me. As it was, my profession, apartment, all of my friends, and the group I was working with were taken away. They were no longer spiritually healthy for me.
Now it is the way of things in my life: if someone or something gets in the way of my spiritual work or commitment to the Gods in any way, that person or thing does not long last in my life. I am, admittedly, rather cold-blooded about it. I’m ok with that though: I am fairly intense about all my commitments. At any rate, it was the first and most painful lesson I learned: nothing should come between a person and their commitment to their Gods.
I won’t deny that this is hard. It goes against almost everything that we have been raised with, especially women, who culturally are still all too often raised to be conciliatory care-takers of everyone and everything. I have often found that as one begins to grow in faith, in devotion, in their commitment to their Gods, the Gods will start pushing one to become stronger spiritually, to face fears, to reevaluate priorities, and most of all, to learn to establish good and healthy emotional boundaries. It’s a very special kind of therapy. I say that because just as a person seriously committed to reaping the benefits of the therapeutic process may find that those in his or her life begin to object to the changes that process causes (even when they are healthy changes) so too does the same thing often occur with spiritual work.
As we become rooted in our power, as we become more fully ourselves, as we strip away the facades and platitudes that keep us from authenticity of experience or emotion and certainly keep us from true commitment, and as we connect to that which is far greater than ourselves, we change and grow in ways that can dramatically upset the balance of power in a household. Emotional blackmail, guilt trips, and the like no longer work quite so well because one’s emotional center has changed. That can be very threatening to those involved. It is however necessary. Particularly for those specifically owned by a Deity, there can be no room for bullshit. Every ounce of energy that we expend catering to someone else at the expense of our spiritual lives, care-taking, hiding who we truly are, and/or worse yet, hiding our spirituality is energy and time that we are outright stealing from our Gods and ancestors.
It is for this reason that I have often said that being the spouse of someone God-owned or God-called is a vocation in and of itself. It’s an incredibly humbling and difficult thing to realize that you are not first in that person’s life. If you’re involved with a spiritworker, mystic, or shaman rather than just a regular devotee, you may not be second, third, or fourth either. It takes a very confident, balanced, devout person to cope with that well and most people in our society just aren’t up for it. Even for those who aren’t called as any type of “spiritual technician,” Paganism, Heathenry, Wicca aren’t religions that one practices for an hour a week and that’s all. They are ways of being, ways of living every single day (as every religion ideally should be). They change the lens through which we interact with the world at large and they can dramatically change our sensibilities in ways that may seem strange to those not involved.
I’m not even going to address the ways in which our monotheistic culture so often leads to polytheistic religions being met with contempt, or viewed as a dirty little secret within a family, or as an amusing “phase.” In this, I suppose I am a fundamentalist. Consider it a necessary balance for all the people out there who consider saying “Hail, Thor” an inconvenience. I admit that there is a learning curve. We spent a life time developing certain behavioral patterns, learning to value certain things in certain ways and that doesn’t change overnight. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to hold fast to our faith in the secret chambers of our hearts. Courage and strength and commitment is not something we’re born with. These are virtues we develop by meeting challenges every day of our lives. They are the spiritual virtues that come from picking oneself up after grievous hurt or grievous failure and recommitting to one’s commitments. I think the Gods realize that and if we but meet Them as much as we can, They will help us the rest of the way.
Before I get too far off on a tangent, I shall bring this conversation back to your original point: when we commit to the Gods, They commit to us and that can have dramatic and far reaching consequences and even when it’s a good and rightful thing, it can still be wrenching to go through. That is simply the way of things and anyone familiar with religious literature across traditions, from Heathenry to Christianity, from Hinduism, to Buddhism will recognize that this is an almost universal pattern.
In Vodou Money Magic I talked a bit about our difficult relationship with money. In the Pagan community we have what you've called the "doggedly downward mobile aesthetic." Among New Agers you have a "Law of Abundance" which states that you can get rich by thinking positive thoughts. I know you have some strong thoughts on this, especially given your relationship to a spirit we both honor, Andvari.
Andvari is a God Whose lessons are very much concerned with knowing what is yours by right, with managing your luck through the very practical means of honoring your commitments, keeping a budget, and maintaining right relationship with those around you. He is a God of money and wealth, of resources, and most of all of exchange and responsibility. I learned about Andvari from my adopted mother and when she died, I inherited many of her taboos and obligations. So yes, I have some very strong thoughts on the proper way to treat and interact with money.
First of all: money is sacred. Whether you have money or don’t have money, this does not change its essential nature. I wrote about this in an upcoming column in “Witches and Pagans” magazine because I think it’s something that our communities desperately need to hear. The first step to developing a relationship with money is to stop thinking of it as something dirty. Money is sacred. It is alive. It has its own unique spirits. It’s about the sacred reciprocity and flow of exchange. Honored rightly, it is the nature of money to transform itself into those things used to nourish us. Money provides food, shelter, clothing, enjoyment: all those things that keep us warm and happy. Money is what allows you to give other people pleasure, to provide for their dreams. Money is the bread you eat and the bread you share. Money is the warm clothes you buy for your baby.
As I note in my upcoming article, up to a point, if you don’t have it, money is all important. When you’re hungry, homeless, cold, starving, frightened of being out on the street, wondering where the next meal is coming from, wondering if you can pay your rent this month, money really is everything and only the most sanctimonious bastard would deny that; it’s only beyond a certain point that one can afford to think that money is not everything, can afford to relegate it to secondary or tertiary importance in the game and dance of life’s survival. Still, regardless of its place in one’s personal priorities, the ways to interact with it ought to remain the same.
The way to honor money is to learn to interact responsibly with it. Learn live within your means. Address any shame or fears you have about financial matters. Learn how to budget effectively. If you respect money, it will respect you. The inverse of that is also true. I am consistently appalled by the shoddy money-ethos that permeates so much of contemporary Paganisms stemming, I believe, (at least in part) from this body of religions’ coming of age in the 60’s when money represented the establishment and “the Man.” These shoddy attitudes come out in many different ways, from that downwardly mobile aesthetic, to an unwillingness to charge or pay for services, to financial ignorance, to an inability to keep deadlines, to general business disorganization, and even to the whole concept of Pagan Standard Time.
These things are all connected: they represent disrespect for the grace-notes of Midgard, for the underlying foundation of very practical virtues that enable us to live well. Living well need not mean being rich, but it should involve living in a way that does not involve reeling from crisis to crisis, neglected deadline to neglected deadline, and how one is going to pay for the doctor, the dentist, or one’s rent all the time. It means, even when times are tough and finances painfully tight, that one looks carefully toward the future and takes the necessary steps to meet careful goals. This isn’t rocket science. Tending to the practicalities of life is the first step toward living a spiritually sound life. For those interested in magic, it’s also the first and oh so necessary step to becoming a competent occultist: get it together. Magic isn’t an excuse for poor lifestyle management.
I’ve been poor and I’ve been comfortable and I’ve passed through several stages in between. That being said, I think that the worst thing we can do is to hang our sense of personal worth on how much money lack or how much money we have. Honoring money isn’t about that, rather it’s about loving the power of exchange, and the minutiae of resource management, it’s about loving money for all it is and all it can be, even when we have to count every penny. It starts there and in the little things like commitment and responsibility. Money has two runes: fehu, the wealth that sustains, and laguz, flow. Learning to honor money means committing to learning to dance in that flow rightly, honorably and well. The practicalities of Midgard, of the human world aren’t something divorced from and lower than our spirituality. They are part and parcel of it. That means that the way we deal with money, the way we deal with our commitments, the way we struggle for balance is all part of the work: it’s all spiritual practice.