It’s time for me to write about last year. I’ve so much to say about everything that happened and what I learned from it, that there’s no way it will all go into one post. It’s too much. Instead, the next several posts will be inspired by different lessons I’ve learned or relearned or become more intimate with in the last year.
Of those lessons, the most important is something I consistently fail to sum up in one eloquent sentence. It has a great deal to do with what Del wrote about the sacrifices spiritworkers make. In short, I’ve been reflecting on what I give up in exchange for being able to hear the Gods, and why I give those things up.
The Gods only very rarely show up and tell me absolutely that I must or must not do something. I know quite a few spiritworkers whose lives are practically run by their taboos, but that’s never been my reality. I believe this has a great deal to do with Artemis and Her preference for agency and accountability, but that’s a whole other discussion I won’t get into here. The bottom line is that I must choose my own path.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that the path I choose will be the right one. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that I must figure out my own path. The Gods – and Artemis in particular – seem to have pretty specific expectations of what They’d like me to do, but usually They won’t just tell me what it is. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I have to figure it out (and the one percent that’s left is typically when Haides throws me a bone… pun not intended).
All of that leaves me in this weird sort of gray area. The Gods don’t exactly tell me what to do, but when I don’t do what They want, things go bad. Don’t get the wrong idea… it’s not that They intentionally smite me or anything… or at least that’s not how I’ve experienced it. It’s more like what we call logical consequences in the world of education: if a kid makes a mess at the lunch table because she was playing with her food, she has to clean it up. It’s not exactly a punishment; it’s accepting responsibility for what you’ve done, and doing what needs doing to make it right.
About a week ago, I was driving home from a ritual I’d helped officiate, and I had a sort of revelation: I can be the priestess I want to be. I’m already on that path; I’m doing it now. I’m proud of what I’ve become, of what I’m becoming. All it takes is a monumental commitment of time and energy. On some level, I’d already known that. The revelation was fully understanding that I’m not going to get to do all the fun mundane things I thought I’d be able to do when I finally finished graduate school. I have a steady job with a predictable schedule and good hours, so how come I still never have time for anything? Because I spend all my time doing spiritual Work, or tending to my sanity so that I can do spiritual Work. The Gods have not forbidden me from taking karate classes, or joining an A Capella group, or performing with a fire spinning troupe. There just isn’t enough time in my life for me to do any of those things and all the work I’d need to do to be the sort of priestess I want to be. I have to choose: I can do those things and be a lesser priestess, or I can give up those things, and do what it takes to be the best priestess I can be. If there were time for me to do both, I don’t think the Gods would object. It’s not about Them denying me things I want, or controlling my life. It’s about me having priorities.
This revelation came right on the heels of another that is deeply related to it. In the past year I’ve thought back often on the time I spent in Norway, and on all the circumstances that surrounded my going there and returning here. There’s a lot wound up in that for me to write about, but for now I’ll focus on this:
Before I went to Norway, there was some egotistical part of my brain that thought the Gods wouldn’t really let me go. I thought I was destined for something, that I had some grand Work to do, and that the Gods wouldn’t just let me walk away from it. When I did go off to Norway, and the Gods themselves gave me Their blessing, I was… confused. Why did They let me go? Wasn’t I destined for some great work? Why weren’t They pulling me back? When I finally did return, it was for many reasons, but they were all mine. I was miserable in Norway, and part of that was because I couldn’t function as the priestess I want to be. The Gods didn’t make me miserable to punish me. I just want to serve Them through serving a community by helping seekers, teaching students, and conducting rituals. That want is so huge as to be a fundamental piece of who I am. ‘Priestess’ isn’t just a job to me; it’s the largest chunk of my identity. Living in a place where I was unable to realize or manifest that part of my identity in any outward way drove me just as crazy as it would anyone else. I couldn’t really be myself there, so I had to leave.
After I’d returned, I continued to ask myself why the Gods let me go in the first place. Clearly They have Work for me to do. Would They really just let me walk away from that Work? I mean… of course They would… They did! But why?
The answers I found shook my understanding of my Calling, and of how the Gods Themselves go about what They do. I like to think it shows that I’ve matured… just a little.
Yes, the Gods have a job for me. They have important Work for me to do, and that Work must be done… but I am not the Work. The Work is what’s important, not me. If I walk way from the job, if I reject Them and choose a different path, They’ll find someone else to do the Work. Either way, the Work will get done. There’s nothing special about me, except that I’m here, I’m willing, and I’m capable.
I find this understanding to be both humbling and flattering. The Gods picked me. I am deeply honored that They trust me to do the Work They want me to do. Of course, being picked means that now I’ve got to do the Work, or else They’ll just pick someone else. They’ve seen in me someone capable of doing what They need done. Now I’ve got to live up to that potential.
I often wonder if I just happen to be the sort of person that so deeply wants to be a priestess, or if the Gods intentionally created me (and perhaps other people like me) to ensure that the Work that needs doing gets done. I’d guess that the answer is a little bit of each… but that’s just a guess. At the end of the day, serving the Gods means that I get to be who I really am. The price I pay for that is the opportunity to be anything else.
Let’s take a closer look at that before I wrap up this post. I mean, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s not really a sacrifice, is it, if all you have to do is be yourself? But what we want isn’t always in line with our true selves. How many times have you gotten into a relationship that wasn’t really good for you, but you just like that person so much? How many times have you eaten something that isn’t healthy because you like the way it tastes and you don’t care if it’s bad for you? We are all constantly struggling to know and be our true selves. The Gods – and Artemis in particular – demands this of me more than anything else: be only what you are and be all that you are. It is not as easy as it sounds.
So what do I give up? What are the things that I want but can’t have because they aren’t really going to help me in manifesting my true self? Some of them are simple things, like the activities I mentioned above that I just don’t have time for on top of everything else I do. Beyond that, I’ve finally realized that I just can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t accept and support the Work I do for the Gods. In fact, the better I get at the Work I do, the harder it is for me to maintain friendships with people who aren’t Pagan. It’s not that I only like Pagans. I just find that I don’t have much to talk about with people who aren’t Pagan. Religion has come to dominate so much of my life that there really isn’t anything completely separate from it. My spirituality permeates everything that I do, so talking to someone about anything without discussing spirituality in some way quickly turns into a delicate dance of ‘technically true’ and changing the subject. That’s fine for keeping up acquaintances, but that sort of conversation does not at all foster true friendships. Thus, the few non-Pagan friends I have are people who are comfortable discussing religion or spirituality with me. And, again, it’s not that I don’t like people who aren’t religious. I just don’t know how to live a life without religion. This is why I struggle so much to establish a close relationship with my parents. They don’t want to hear about my religion at all, and if you ask for me without my religion… well, that’s not really me anymore.
Anyway, I think this post has rambled on long enough. I suppose the point I was trying to make in all this is that all of us who work for Gods or spirits do give up something for our ability to do that work, but that sacrifice can take many different forms. It’s not always a shamanic crisis, nor a taboo mandated by a deity. Sometimes it’s a choice.