Taking a Responsible Approach to Spirit Work

Recently, someone in the Loki’s Wyrdlings group started to claim that he was Loki, that Loki horsed him all the time – even to the point that the cops in the area knew him as Loki. He posted pictures and did his best to entice people into believing what was obviously false information.

There are people out there who are like this, who claim to speak for the gods and other spirits as if they are able to know the minds of the gods. We cannot do that, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and our communities not to run around claiming that the gods are always horsing and/or communicating through us.

Yes, everyone has religious experiences. Many people do communicate directly with the gods in a way that is almost telepathic. That does not give those people the right to repeat the gods’ words as if they are the gospel truth for that deity. That is an abuse of the privilege of being able to communicate well with the gods. On top of that, the louder a person is about their ability to communicate with spirits, the more aware all spirits become – good and bad – about that person’s ability to communicate. That can potentially open a person up to dangerous situations with malignant spirits.

That is why discernment is such an important part of polytheistic practice. We all deal with very real entities with their own ideas and agencies. Not all spirits are benign. The gods are not safe, and we are not entitled to whatever we want from the spirit world. Bragging about deity communication or deity possession is also a good way to alert the less benign spirits that hey, there’s someone around capable of hearing them and holding their power. It’s a dangerous game to play, and a lot of people would benefit from exercising a little more caution.

I can give you plenty of examples of what not to do, but I think I’ll provide an example of what to do instead – there are plenty of people out there making spiritual mistakes, and far too few approaching spirit work with the right amount of caution.

One of my friends had an intense experience during meditation, and she was almost certain that the spirit that had communicated with her during that meditation was Yemaya. Instead of automatically going “oh yeah, totally her,” she discussed the experience with me and another experienced practitioner who already works with Yemaya to determine whether or not the spirit that had come to her in her meditation was actually Yemaya. It was only after the three of us discussed it and came to the conclusion that yes, it probably was Yemaya, that my friend gave an offering to Yemaya. The way in which the offering was accepted pretty much confirmed that it was Yemaya, so that promises to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

When my friend asked me about her experience during meditation, I had a responsibility to her not to give her information that could potentially put her in harm’s way. Even then, my strongest piece of advice was, “It sounds like it is probably Yemaya.” It wasn’t an “it is 100% without a doubt this one particular spirit” because I cannot give someone that kind of guarantee when it comes to spirit work.

Now, I am aware that not everyone has access to experienced practitioners, especially when it comes to deity and spirit-work. Even among contemporary Pagans, it is rarer to find devoted polytheists than people who solely practice some form of magic.

That lack of experienced practitioners seems to have created this idea that people can do whatever they want with spirit work and everything be fine. I have read horror stories about people going to “shamans” for “soul retrieval” who end up plagued with horrendous nightmares for years afterward. (As an aside, the whole “soul retrieval” technique was contrived by a scam artist looking to capitalize on the guru movement. Anyone trained in “core shamanism” has been duped).

I have also witnessed some terribly horrendous decisions made by those who refuse to listen to more experienced practitioners. I witnessed one woman make a blood contract with an incubus utilizing a ritual she pulled off of the first page of Google search results. I’ve also had people tell me of the spirits that attacked them in their sleep because they failed to ward their space – even after I told them they needed to ward their space.

Spirit work is inherently dangerous. Engaging with spirits means engaging with beings that you can never fully comprehend. Their motives and your motives may align on occasion, but there is never any guarantee that they want what you want. Acting as if the gods and spirits exist only to serve your purpose is a good way to put yourself in harm’s way.

When I warn people about this kind of danger, and I hear “oh, but you cannot judge another person’s religious experience,” it makes me want to scream in frustration. Because it’s not their religious experience I’m judging – it’s their inability to make wise decisions and approach spirit work with the respect it deserves.

As a note, experienced practitioners don’t give idle advice. That’s why I always highly recommend looking for someone with at least a decade of experience for advice. That’s what I mean by experienced. 

© Kyaza 2019

Deity-Human Relationship Patterns

All relationships with the gods are founded on mutual respect, reciprocity, and hospitality. Generally, we can say yes or no to the gods when they approach us, but the same is also true for when we approach them. The gods are not obligated to accept our offerings. We are not obligated to serve the gods against our will (except in rare cases, which I’ll discuss later).

In general, there are four types of devotional relationship patterns for working with the gods.

The first relationship pattern is that of a devotee. Usually, a devotee makes offerings to the gods with whom they have relationships to sustain those relationships. When these offerings are made, how they are made, and what offerings are used depends on the tradition. This is the type of relationship that most practitioners have.

This is the level where most of my relationships with the gods I honor are at. This includes Thor, Tyr, Niorun, Freyja, Sigyn, Quetzalcoatl, Hermes Trismegistus, Bast, and Mani. This is the level that most deity-human relationships will always exist at, and that is perfectly acceptable and commendable.

Moving on, the second relationship pattern is that of an oathsworn devotee. This is generally a devotional relationship taken to the next level. Different commitments are required – essentially, a contract is entered into with a deity at this point. In exchange for doing X for said deity, Y is received.

That said, oathsworn relationships are dangerous, and you should not enter into them lightly, if at all. This is not a path for everyone – it is not safe at all. Because the gods have agency, they have their own plans, their own agenda, and they are not obligated to share it with us. Even if we are part of those plans, they do not have an obligation to share – we do not have a right to know their overall agenda. Their ways are not ours, and they will hold us to our oaths.

When an oathsworn relationship exists, that deity has a right to your time where and whenever they show up. They are priority #1 over everything else. The work they demand is hard, exacting, and often downright exhausting. This is not for the faint of heart. Do not swear an oath unless you know, with absolute certainty, that it’s the relationship that you’re meant to have with that god.

This is the type of relationship I have with one god, and one god only, and that is Odin. In exchange for the insight and wisdom his path offers, I do a very specific type of work for him. Generally, it is in the form of providing people with information about him and his path whenever the subject comes up in conversation or through other mediums of communication, like emails or comments on blog posts. In addition to that, though, he has told me before that the work I do for Loki is also the work I do for him. More on that later.

Moving on, the third type of relationship pattern is that of a godspouse, which may or may not be as demanding as an oathsworn relationship. It requires a strong commitment, as it is essentially the marriage to a god. The easiest example to demonstrate this is the commitment undertaken by Catholic nuns – they are the closest equivalent to godspouses in the Christian world. In this type of relationship, the god is your #1 priority, and devotions matter almost more (or more) than those to other gods. These are exceptionally rare relationships, and few people will ever have a chance to enter into one. The requirements of these relationships are often secret, as the work a person does in a godspouse relationship is highly personal, highly intimate, and, in general, no one else’s business.

The fourth type of relationship pattern is that of clergy. A priest serves a god in a ritual and/or communal capacity in the ways that the gods make clear. Clergy are devotees and generally don’t swear oaths to enter into the service of a god – some do, so there are exceptions to this.

There are different ways to be initiated as clergy. You can be trained through an official program, you can be called directly by a god, or you can be elected by your community to fulfill that role.

Most clergy members of polytheistic religions are willing and able to take on the role of priest for gods other than the one/s they primarily serve.

When it comes to this type of relationship, I hold it with two gods – Loki and Freyr. The way I became Loki’s priest was through a conversation I had with him one night where he asked if I was interested in a godpsouse relationship. I declined, as I did not feel that was the correct relationship for me, as I have always viewed him more as a big brother/best friend (sorta father figure) than as anything else. When I declined that relationship, he suggested I become his priest instead, and I agreed to that.

The work I do for him is varied and dynamic. I talk about him and his path via blog posts and in face-to-face conversations. I also established the Facebook group Loki’s Wyrdlings at his request that I build a community where Lokeans could feel safe to discuss their practices without being immediately harmed by the Heathens who still view Loki as an evil god and his devotees as evil. Adding to that, I established Loki University, which is an online school where people can learn about Loki and his path. Most recently, I established (alongside some other awesome Lokeans) a book collection called Loki’s Torch, and the first edition of that will be releasing in August. As you can tell, the work I do for Loki is not a light load. Being a priest rarely is.

In terms of my relationship with Freyr and serving as his priest, I actually approached him and asked him if he would be interested in me filling that role for him. If he had said no, I would have accepted it and moved on. He did not. My responsibilities to him are more ritually based than about community building, and all of the rituals I have facilitated for Freyr have been some of the most rewarding rituals I have ever done.

One of the requirements he has for rituals is that no one brings a weapon of any sort into the ritual space – from what I understand, this is fairly common among the Vanir deities. This is something I ensure when I facilitate rituals for him, and I am fairly certain this is why the rituals end up being so strong. The other work that I do for him involves astral work, which I am not comfortable discussing over the internet, as astral work is very dangerous for the untrained.

Now, when it comes to establishing relationships with the gods, there are specific types of people, and it is important to understand this in order to understand how relationships with the gods develop.

There are people who are god-touched, which means they are very attuned to the spirit world (or astral plane, whichever you prefer), and they are able to easily communicate with the gods and other spirits. Because of this, gods often seek these people out, as it is easier to form a relationship with someone you don’t have to scream at to get to pay attention.

There are also those who are god-called. Generally, these are the people who have had gods watching over them for their entire lives, just waiting for the moment when the person finally notices the god’s presence. At that point, a strong devotional relationship spontaneously develops.

I watched this happen with someone I had a conversation with about polytheistic practices and how polytheistic religions answers the question of why good things happen to bad people. About two days after that conversation, which lasted about six hours, the man came back to me and told me that the goddess Morana had come to him and he was working with her – after essentially telling me during the original conversation that he was an atheist. Basically, once he was made aware of the fact that there were religions outside of Abrahamic ones, Morana came forward and made her presence clear to him.

There are also people who are god-claimed. This can happen in a ritual, but it can also happen if someone dedicates a child to a god when they are born. This isn’t always an ethical practice by human standards (although the Christian rite of baptism suggests otherwise), but the gods do not ascribe to our morality. If you were dedicated to them, they have a right to you.

Undoing that kind of ritual dedication is extremely difficult, dangerous, and not recommended unless absolutely necessary. A claim can also be held by a god if you dedicate yourself to them as a thrall (or a slave). Few people do this, but some do, and they generally walk a fine line between sanity and madness. This is not a path I would recommend to anyone, and if you are considering it, I would suggest an alternative path unless there is no other choice.

As a note, because so many of us are raised in Christian environments and usually baptized against our will (as we are too young to properly give consent), it is almost always necessary to do a severance ritual once we have chosen a different religion. I was lucky that I was never baptized, as my parents believed that I needed to make that decision when I was old enough to make it for myself.

I did, however, see a friend struggle with their baptism into Christianity interfering with their ability to properly work with the Celtic gods that they had chosen to honor. She had to have a severance ritual performed so that the Celtic gods could more easily communicate with her without the Christian god’s claim on her interfering with those relationships.

So, if you are someone who has been baptized and find it difficult to communicate with the gods of the path that you have chosen, I highly suggest finding someone trained who can perform the severance ritual for you. While it is is possible to do such a ritual on your own, the cut is likely to be cleaner if you have someone else perform it for you, as they are outside the claim that the god holds on you. Like I said before, severance rituals are dangerous, and they should not be undertaken lightly.

Lastly, you have the type of people that I call god-stalked. Like the god-touched, these people can be sensitive to the spirit world – sometimes they aren’t. This is generally a person that a god has taken such a vested interest in that the god will absolutely not take no for an answer. That means there is no ritual, no request, no anything that will get this god to leave the person alone. It is an adapt or go insane scenario and, thankfully, exceedingly rare.

Most gods honor a yes or no, but, again, gods do not ascribe to human morality. They do not have to honor consent because there is no such concept for them. Relationships are generally more productive when they do honor our concept of consent, but the god-stalked do not have the luxury of saying no. The only real way to deal with being god-stalked is to give in and accept that the god will not take no for an answer.

I have seen this happen to a grand total of one person in the nearly 20 years I have been practicing, and the deity was the Morrigan. This was a pretty unique situation, however, as we did a large group ritual to the Morrigan, and the person opened the door to allow the Morrigan access to them. Once the Morrigan had that door opened, she did not allow it to close, despite the fact that the person on the other side of it was trying to slam it shut.

This is why it is incredibly important that you do not participate in rituals if you are not potentially okay with the deity being honored coming into your life on a more permanent basis. Our gods are not safe, and it is imperative that if you are walking a polytheistic path, that you acknowledge and accept the dangers that come with honoring gods that have their own agency and their own agendas.

We can have amazing relationships with our gods. They provide us with an astonishing wealth of gifts in our lives. The gods, however, are not unfeeling forces or archetypes, content to do nothing except what we wish they would do. No, they are hugely powerful forces and sentient beings with their own desires, their own emotions, and their own ideas. Relationships with the gods are almost aways intense, unique, and gratifying. That said, however, relationships with the gods are never safe.

©Kyaza 2019