The Work of a Godspouse

I’m sick (the normal cold/flu type of sickness everyone gets, in addition to my chronic stuff) so I’m not sure what a good idea it is for me to expect coherent writing of myself, but this topic keeps coming up and every time it does I have the urge to pick at it a little, because it touches on some underlying issues of my own.  So, since it’s Hunt season and thus the ideal time of year for cleaning out dark corners and hunting down internal demons (as well as external ones), here we go.  

Most of my blog’s readers, I would imagine, have already read this  (If not, go and do it now; I’ll wait) as well as Jo’s response to it here. The original article is, by and large, a fairly well-reasoned exploration of the divisiveness among Lokeans as a “community” (if you could apply that term to such a diverse group-within-a-group), and for the most part I have no quibbles with it.  For one thing, I’m not a Lokean, and for another, I too have witnessed the issues the author writes about and I don’t disagree with many of his/her (forgive me, I’m not sure which) conclusions. However, the section of the post dealing with the Lokean sister-wife culture made me squirm for two reasons: 1) as has happened in previous posts by other people, here is yet another non-godspouse telling godspouses what their proper conduct as well as their work in the world “ought” to be, and 2) the assumption that being a godspouse is about “work,” per se, in the first place.  

My squirmy reaction to point #2 is rather ironic, given that I myself have been known to complain about the recent proliferation of um…enthusiastic young godspouses, most of whom are devoted to Loki. However, reading (and talking with, since we live in the same house) Jo on the subject has caused me to relent a bit.  No, I am not going to be taking on any “Does X (insert the name of your favorite god here) want to me marry me?” seidhr questions; that has not changed. But in pondering the irritation I and other “old timers” have expressed on this issue, it really does sound very similar to the irritation any group of “elders” is likely to feel towards a sudden uprising of “youngsters” tromping into what we have come to regard as “our” territory.  I’m not part of the “sister-wife” culture and never will be; I’m not even sure any such thing exists for Odin-wives (which may be why many of us always seem to be surrounded by Lokeans).  Frankly, I don’t understand the appeal, but this may be due to my own characteristic possessiveness as well as the fact that I regard my Marriage as intensely private; for me, it is not a spectator or team sport. (And I don’t mean that in as derogatory a fashion as it sounds, but it does seem that many people in these communities are seeking to involve others in their relationships in a way that would make me extremely uncomfortable.) However, if this is what works for this particular group of young women, so be it.  I don’ have to read their blog posts, I don’t have to hang out on Tumblr or join their seekrit Facebook communities, and I have my god’s permission to politely turn them down should they approach me with a seidhr or divination question that I don’t wish to answer.  Barring the existence of duty-lights to the contrary, anyone else can do the same.

What we can’t do, however, is make them go away, and we don’t actually have that right anyhow.  Nor do we have the right, as Jo has put it, to not be annoyed, anymore than generations of elders throughout history have had the right to not be annoyed by whatever half-cocked shenanigans their particular younger generation has dreamed up.  We may not have seen anything quite like this in the religious arena in our lifetimes (though I’m sure similar things have happened before, historically; nearly everything has), but dismissing this massive influx of newbies as a “fangirl” phenomenon is not only unfair but also borders on hubris.  It may very well be that some of these girls are influenced by Hiddleston-itis and will wander off to worship at the feet of some other actor (or deity) in the fullness of time.  It may also be that some of them will go on to become serious, dedicated polytheists.  In either case, who’s to say that Loki (or whoever the god in question) doesn’t want this huge upsurge in followers, and isn’t enjoying every minute of it?  In either case, I fully believe that He (or again, whichever deity) can handle the situation without our help.  And as for the fears that the phenomenon will make the rest of us look bad by association, well, that’s our problem, isn’t it?  It certainly isn’t theirs, and whining at them about it isn’t going to get them to stop.  What might? That ancient parental technique of modeling the behavior you would like to see; in this case, demonstrating—by doing—the devotion and service we think our gods deserve and would like to see Them receive from the new generation.  (Hopefully we don’t want to see these “youngsters” evolve into another generation of nags.)

Moving on to point #2, the idea that being a godspouse is inherently about “work,” and that the work in question involves one’s human community…this is one that always manages to catch me up, at least briefly, and I think the reason may go back to a comment Freya Asswyn once made about any mortal wife of Odin being,of necessity, a “folcmother.”  At some level, I agree with this; however, what I don’t agree with—as, again, Jo pointed out—is the unspoken assumption that this community needs to be human.  As the onset of Hunt season reminds me all too vividly, I do serve a community, but it is a community of spirits: gods, landwights, the dead, the fae, and an endless parade of unnameable beings that have never been mortal or human, many of which would, if featured in a horror movie, render it unfit for viewers with heart trouble.  I do perform some services for the human community around me—my “faith community,” as it were—including my writing, crafting, and seidhr and divination services.  However, it is this other community that I have taken oaths to, and it is this other community that will come looking for me should I renege on those oaths in any way.  The expectation that every godspouse must be a clergy person or community leader is, much like the previous expectation that the annoying newbies should just shut up and go away, both unrealistic and somewhat hubristic. For one thing, we aren’t all cut out for that line of work, and who are we to say that our gods want each and every one of us to be exactly alike and perform some slightly altered version of exactly the same service for Them?  Believe me, I am familiar with the line of reasoning that the godtouched among us exist in order to facilitate Their communications with Their other less fortunate devotees, and I know how seductive this line of reasoning can be; I’ve fallen prey to it many times myself.  I also know from experience that second-guessing one’s god-husband/wife, and/or questioning His (or Her) judgment is one of the few things guaranteed to tick Them off at you.  They know why They chose us, and They have a different—probably unique—plan for each and every one of us; this is true even among those of us belonging to the exact same god, which is why that urge to compare yourself with someone else, the work that person over there is doing and the gifts they have received, is so dangerous.  Sure, other godspouses may very well play the “holier/more favored than thou” game, either subtly or overtly, and many of them do, whether or not they do so consciously. (Hel, I am probably guilty of this too.)  But the gods are not interested in one-upmanship or comparison; They are interested in whatever Their plan is, and how you and your personal growth and development will serve that plan.  Trying to subvert that plan by modeling yourself after another human—or worse, after another human’s opinion about what you “should” be doing–is annoying to Them, to say the least.

Behind this assumption lies another, even more dangerous one: that being a godspouse is inherently about “work” at all.  This can be a tricky one to unpack, because while not all godspouses are spirit workers, and while you do not have to be a godspouse in order to be a spirit worker (please go back and read that one again, if you need to), the two paths do often co-exist in the same person. However, let’s be clear, since I don’t think I was in the last paragraph: they are two different paths.  Being a godspouse is a particular and distinct branch of the devotional path, and the devotional path is about, well…devotion, love, relationship.  Being married to a god is one possible—out of many—devotional relationships one may be called to, or even seek out, in order to come to a deeper understanding of Them and closer communion with Them.  It has been argued by many—and not without reason—that these humancentric relationship labels are limiting, since the gods Themselves are much too big to fit neatly into any of them.  Well then, why do They seek these kinds of relationships with us? Partly, I think, because these are relationships we understand and roles we can adapt to; they offer us a way to approach deity on a personal, even intimate level, a way for us to become comfortable and conversant with a being Who is in reality a mind-staggering Mystery. 

But I think there is also another reason that we can relate to even more easily: companionship.  I think the gods enjoy seeing Themselves reflected in our eyes, and I think—no, I know—that They have feelings of Their own, feelings of powerful and unimaginable breadth and depth which can—for reasons known only to Them—sometimes drive a being of almost incomprehensible might to do the nearly unthinkable: fall in love with a mortal, and seek that mortal’s companionship, understanding, devotion, and love in return. How could such a thing be possible?  That’s the question many of us torture ourselves with, although too many of us miss the awe inherent in the question and instead skip right over to the more self-pitying, “Why me? What does He see in me? I’m not worthy,” line of questioning.  So since I don’t have an answer for the actual question (folks, it’s a Mystery), I’ll address the smaller one: no, we’re not worthy, not any of us, not even the Big Name Pagans among us, and that’s part of the Mystery.  In a Facebook discussion, I recently saw someone repeat a saying (from Ifa, I think?) that has stuck with me: “God doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.”  So, if you’re worried about what your “work” as a godspouse is supposed to be, start here: stop worrying about your own worthiness (or lack thereof), stop second-guessing your divine partner, and most importantly, stop stumbling over Their feet.  Let Them lead.  This has been my own greatest struggle, and it is also the best advice I can pass on to you.  Let Them lead—because this is faith, not an ego game, it is devotion, not a popularity contest.  Because—and hard experience gives me the right to be blunt here, I think—anything else cheapens the relationship and makes a mockery of Their devotion to you.  And I don’t think that’s what you want, is it?

And holy crap, that’s much more than I intended to write on this.  Time to get off my soapbox and back to bed, since I’m supposed to be resting today, after all; I have You-Tube videos to get to.

20 thoughts on “The Work of a Godspouse

  1. I’m uncomfortable when people lump godspousery in with spiritwork, priesthood, and other roles which require community action. As I stated in a post on my own blog, being a godspouse is about forging a deep devotional connection to a deity — and that doesn’t have to involve other people at all, if neither you nor the god/dess in question wants it. I don’t share ninety percent of what goes on between me and Loki with the general public because it’s no one else’s business, and anyone who thinks they have a right to know all about my connection with Himself needs to stop being so nosy. None of us has to prove our right or desire to love our deities to anybody else.

  2. This…a million times THIS. And add to that that no mortal has the right to tell another that their God does not want them. That is up to the God to decide NOT them!

  3. Well-put, as always. :)

    My problem with the god-marriage=work=for community paradigm is that other forms of spiritual discipline (ie work) are *not* assumed to be directly for the benefit of a community. I have found in Heathen circles the assumption that what is done privately – study, brewing, rune work, whatever – will end up being for the community in some kind of concrete or at least observable way. And that is simply an anomaly in a greater religious context. Personal spiritual discipline is intended primarily as a way to refine a personal, private, connection with the divine and with the spiritual world the divine is part of. Whether or not that benefits the community is a secondary or tertiary concern, if it is a priority at all.

    “Well but isn’t Heathenry supposed to be about community?” Of course – and so is any religious collective. That doesn’t mean that one’s private religious life is going to be shaped with the sole or primary intention of bettering the community. If it is, then one’s priorities may be skewed – yes, people opt to serve others to serve the gods but that has to be supported by disciplines that are undertaken in private and for the intention of improving one’s own relationship with the divine. Otherwise there is no support for the work done for others.

    And let’s take a look at what “community” we’re talking about. Why is there the insistence that our religious endeavors benefit our religious community? Being a Lokean pagan touches my involvement in all kinds of other communities. If we restrict our gifts and skills solely to our co-religionists we’re cutting ourselves off from numerous networking opportunities, not to mention opportunities to teach and learn.

    • After reading this again, I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m a sole practitioner and that it might stay that way. Having a community is important, but not more important than our relationship to Them. So the ones who stay at home and only talk to a few people and mostly keep to themselves but have intense, deeply connected relationships with their Gods are just as powerful and effective as the ones who are social butterflies or prominent leaders.

    • If we restrict our gifts and skills solely to our co-religionists we’re cutting ourselves off from numerous networking opportunities, not to mention opportunities to teach and learn.

      Yes! This is something I’ve been discovering as I’ve been getting to know people in the fiber arts community, and seeing how my being Odin’s touches on my involvement with them–and it does, just as it touches on absolutely everything in my life. This is another example of how compartmentalizing–while it might seem convenient–doesn’t really work: it isn’t that I go around telling everyone in the fiber community about my religious life (I don’t), and it isn’t that everything I make is religious (it isn’t), but my relationship with Him and the Work I do for Him does affect everything else I do and am in a very direct way that is obvious to me, even if not to others.

      • Indeed. I think this is part of the reason that I’m being nudged to write more fiction and to mingle via interfaith work. And I think some of the “serve ALL the community” business goes back to the notion of discrimination/discernment, because there’s this fear that the line between beneficial to self and self-serving sockpuppety won’t be clear enough unless someone’s doing ALL the community Work.

      • I get that Heathenry is explicitly community-oriented in a way that other faiths may not be (or may not be forced to be) but there is a weird tribalistic streak to much of Heathen community rhetoric that is absent in, well, pretty much every other religious community I can think of off-hand. There is sometimes a kind of jealousy towards private religious expression that is chosen in favor of community engagement – and that’s just weird. And yeah, I’m kinda picking from my memory and observations but it’s a consistent pattern even if it hasn’t been stated outright in these terms. Heathens are obligated to serve and/or engage with the community because the community is Heathen and because being a Heathen means being part of a community and thus serving them. Ummm – maybe? Not really? Not always?

        Yes, serving the community is a way of shutting off the sockpuppets and learning discernment; at the very least you get to learn how to discern whether your efforts are needed or even desired (and boy is that one a tough lesson for some of us). The trouble is that this service work is not contexualized within a paradigm of learning discernment. Discernment is talked about, if it is talked about at all, only in the context of listing to the gods, paying attention to the spirits, getting clear divination, etc. but it’s much more than that. There isn’t much discernment being learned or practiced if one is continually taking on ALL the community work. ;)

      • Yes, I’ve noticed that in Heathenry, tool it’s a weird dichotomy, because you aren’t going to have a whole lot to share with a community, as a mystic, unless you also have that personal time for looking inward. I too failed to find a Heathen community in which my presence was valued or desired. I can see your second point, too; community does perform the valuable service of being a reality check. But also, as Heather commented in her own post, taking on a lot of work for the community can come to serve as a shorthand substitute for discernment, when it isn’t really the same thing at all. I see some people out there taking on so much work that I have to wonder what else (in the way of personal interaction with their gods apart from other people) they can possibly have time for.

      • Yes, yes, yes. My religious work has taken me to *many* different communities and I’ve been able to contribute to and benefit from each of them. Community is very important but so is finding a community wherein your presence is valued – and that is something that the Heathen community proper has never really afforded me.

        All that said, I keep getting steered away from heavy identification with any of these communities. Ultimately I just end up right back at the altar, by myself, with my prayers. There’s just this cycle of entering and leaving, entering and leaving. And that’s just the way my personal path is going to be.

  4. Re: whether similar things (godspousery becoming “trendy” or whatnot) have happened in the past – I’ve gotten the impression it did, back in the medieval era, with people becoming brides of Christ. There’s a really fantastic dissertation about women writing about their experiences as brides of Christ/God back then, and some of the impact in some convents when some nuns were having serious mystical experiences and others weren’t (and then worrying that Jesus didn’t love them and that’s why they could work so hard and get nothing . . . sound familiar?), and I got the impression from what the author wrote, that this phenomena did start to become more widespread than just a handful of nuns or random lay women. If I were more into my academic research, I’d be really tempted to go do more research into what -was- going on with that, because I’m really curious what happened, socially/culturally – why did it spread, what happened, why did it stop, etc.? I know the church didn’t really like it when nuns went and had major mystical stuff happening, and shared it, without it being tidily controlled, and that may have applied to people outside of convents and monasteries, too, but I’m totally speculating now.

    These days, I suspect the reason it’s becoming more “popular” may be helped by the fact that the more people are writing about a fringe behavior, the more people engaging in it are likely to feel comfortable writing about it – and with more people getting drawn into pagan/polytheistic paths, well, I don’t think it’s going to die down, even if there are rarely major population explosions.

    • It’s not a text book, but Enduring Grace by Carol Flinders covers some of this same ground, regarding the medieval female mystics. (And is something I think all godspouses should read, for the realization that we aren’t the first to feel and write about our gods in this way, and that there maybe aren’t so many divisions between us and Christian mystics as one might think.) I’m not surprised it became something of a trend; by the middle ages, the Church had left so little space for women to have a real impact that it seems Jesus–who seems to have had enormous respect for the women in His own life–may have felt the need to address Himself to the issue in a very personal way. :)

      • Oh, neat! I will add that to my reading list. I’m not surprised to find commonalities between mystics, regardless of pantheon, or even type of relationship, though I’ve so far found very few people writing from the perspective of a child, or servant, or [other] in relationship to the deity they are closest to.

  5. Pingback: Art and community musings | Loki's Bruid

  6. I have blogged about the spousery issue before but i will say that i can see all the views on this one. I’ll be dropping you a note Beth

    • Thank you! But while I appreciate the sentiment, I will pass; the Liebster is designed for blogs with fewer than 200 followers (so I don’t qualify anyway), and I don’t have the time for the questionnaire. :)

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