Never name that well from which you will not drink. — The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I recently read two very thought-provoking posts by the wonderful Dver of A Forest Door (one of the blogs linked at the right). The first is about discernment as it applies to online Pagan discourse in general, while the second is about discernment for god-spouses. While I might quibble with a couple of minor points (and argue that sometimes, people aren’t given the choice to only begin an intense relationship with a deity after a seemly amount of time has passed), I largely feel that it’s about time someone said these things. And I said so in comments to both posts.
After I’d made my comments, I went on to another site where, after reading other people’s writings here and there for a while, I tried to sort out a sort of revelation I had about my relationship with Loki through a journal entry which is, while not explicit or overly detailed, a rather personal thing. There’s a bit more anonymity on that other website than there is here, but even so, writing about this experience without getting into too many private details was a bit like walking a tightrope. And, after all my nice declarations of not writing too publicly about certain things, once I finished writing it, I was told that I ought to (read, must) repost that piece of writing here.
This sort of thing — declaring that I would never do such and such, only to find myself doing it immediately thereafter, whether accidentally or because I’m told to by one of Them – is a recurring pattern in my life. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was under a geas, but it’s probably just my peculiar luck at work, coupled with the gods’ ironic humor. That’s why I have that quote at the beginning of this post. So below, for your perusal (and possible amusement and ridicule) is what I wrote, with minor edits made to reflect the change in audience. You may interpret it as literally or as metaphorically as you wish.
Revelation: Poorly Worded, Incoherent, Immovable
It isn’t really about control. He wants me to choose to share my body only with Him, to choose to share my heart only with Him, to choose to throw open the gates of my soul and let Him be the only one to enter victorious. I may love and cherish others, but they cannot hope to gain a hold on me. He wants me to give myself up to Him day after day, a constant renewal of faith and troth, whether spoken or not. He wants it freely given, not grudgingly handed over by force or manipulation. He asks for it constantly, and I fulfill His request, always. To be free of this choice would be the worst punishment I could imagine.
It isn’t really about enslavement, either. I keep on my altar a box containing, among other things, a heart-shaped lock which I sometimes wear with a chain around my neck. I don’t wear it unless He says to. I carry the key and do not remove it — until He says so. He once asked for a collar and I wore it, and He almost immediately broke and lost it. He asked for a tattoo of dedication, then told me I needed to earn the right to the title He’d already demanded I have marked on my flesh. He starts in the middle and works out towards either end, sometimes both at the same time, but when that happens, I am left unshackled and unchained, yet somehow, ever more His own.
It isn’t even about fidelity. He asked for my marriage-oath in the words of His people’s ancient tongue, which neither my mind nor my soul has ever known. I gave it, trusting Him (and our Chieftess) to do right by me. Then, with the snap of a finger and the wiles of a trickster, He tried to coerce me into breaking my word in every conceivable way. I raged and screamed and wept and swore that I hated Him and would never trust Him again, until He was sure that I loved Him and was His forever, and would never leave.
As for me, I do not know what, if any, hold I have on Him, save one. Years ago, before I understood the significance of this act, He took a part of my heart from my chest — a living, pulsing thing, it was — and swallowed it. Then He tore a part of His own heart out, and bade me swallow it in turn. I did, and I tasted it, felt it slide down my throat and into my chest, knitting itself to my own, filling the void, making what was there more than the sum of its motley parts.
Later, once we had shared blood and breath in the forests of Jarnvidur, before all His kin, He gave me the rest, and took from me what was left, until I could no longer distinguish what was once mine and what was once His. All I know is that this heart that beats in my chest belongs to Him…and yet, if I chose, I could still drag it away and leave part of Him torn and bleeding from its absence. If I chose that, knowing that I would suffer the same thing as He.
I say that I couldn’t ever make myself reject Him or break the marriage-oath I swore, but I know, deep down, that that isn’t true. The worth of the gift is in its free giving, and in the knowledge that it may be taken back if the giver judges it to be ill-used. There was a time when I actually considered doing that, but I no longer do. I can’t say with true certainty that I won’t, one day, reconsider it. I hope not, but the nature of this kind of relationship is in its stretching boundaries that one cannot, from where one currently stands, either anticipate or understand. If I ever stand at that crossroads again, I would hope that the choice I make is the right one. Whatever that is.
All I know is that the longer I tread this path, in my poor, maladjusted, cynical, and none-too-disciplined way, the more I comprehend the scope of what He hopes to have from me: my entire self, my entire being, a union so complete that the ego shies away from imagining its own immolation. But I’ve been to the place where the land of crazy and the land of the dead intersect, dwelt there for long, terrible weeks, grown used to the flavor of madness and the feel of the tenuous connection between body and soul. I’ve also seen past the mask of this lifetime, past all the masks, back to the beginning when there was no mask and I was more purely and essentially myself. And so (I think) I no longer fear death except in the most adrenal, primitive, reptile-brained, reflexive sense, though saying this is easy for me since daily, the things that keep me tied to this world snap and flutter free, or melt, or are burned away.
I fear separation from Him more than the idea of my own non-existence.
I can see the edges of the thing I’m heading for, glimmering like a mirage on the horizon — that Certain Knowledge, that total understanding, that complete immersion in the thing most desired and beloved, the thing hungered for, the thing that draws one like a moth to the flame of the candle, a thing which is both deadly and irresistibly beautiful, so bright that it throws everything around it into utter darkness. It’s probably a lot farther away than it looks; such things usually are, and I am barely a novice at this, barely along the journey. I shouldn’t even be here, I sometimes think, me with my quirks and lazy habits and filthy Converse sneakers and addiction to Diet Coke. I’m not deep-minded Thomas Merton or brave Joan of Arc or even snarky, tempted Augustine. I’m just me, a tiny spark on the edge of His awareness, longing for the greater fire and shadowed by the haunted memory of an existence I asked Her Ladyship to take from me, the way you clear a blackboard full of figures, which you can still see despite many passes of the eraser.
But I chose this. I choose it. I will choose it, every day of my life from now on, until the land of death grows clear and sharp in my sight, and my life loses focus at the in-between place.
And I now realize that slaves* are not so different from me, after all, on the inside. That’s a choice too, every day, each and every day, even if you’ve supposedly given up the right to choose. Because if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. I’m not trying to speak for others so much as identifying what I feel is something that is poorly describable in our faulty language. The closest I can come seems to be to say that in the end, whether I identify as a slave or not, it amounts to the same thing. Whether or not someone else who does identify as such believes they choose to give themselves over every single day, or has already moved beyond choice, isn’t really the point, either.
I will try to describe it: there are some things that the mystic cannot say in words, only in figures of the heart, just as there are things that the slave — the willing slave who loves the master or mistress, that is — cannot say in words. But both slave and master understand, and both Lover and Beloved know, and both I and He know the shape of the thing I’m describing, too. If you have open eyes, you’ll see it. If you have consumed the meat and gristle of another’s heart, you’ll know how it tastes. If you’ve thrown open your own soul’s gates, whether to conquer or surrender, then you’ll understand.
My heart, chained, is held in His hand, blood flowing from my lips to His, the fire of love a gift that warms us both.
(*I’m speaking here of god-slaves, or even people who live consensual kink lifestyles for spiritual reasons, and not those who are forced into servitude and suffering by other people. That sort of slavery is never justified.)
* * * * *
Speaking of Thomas Merton, the other day, I found a quote of his that seems both relevant and eerily well-timed:
There is no question for me that my one job as a monk is to live this hermit life in simple and direct contact with nature, primitively, quietly, doing some writing, maintaining such contacts as are willed by God and bearing witness to the value of simple things and ways, loving God in all of it. I am more convinced of this than of anything else in my life and I am sure it is what He asks of me. Yet I do not always respond in perfect simplicity.
from When The Trees Say Nothing, edited by Kathlen Deignan (Sorin Books, 2003)