There are probably people who think I’m lucky because one of my housemates is a fairly well-known spiritworker who’s written a lot of books, and because I count several other spiritworkers of varying notoriety as friends, as well as belonging to both a Neo-Pagan church and a Northern Tradition kindred. And I’ll admit, compared to when I was isolated and first experiencing the crisis of actually being god-touched, it’s pretty convenient in a lot of ways. If I want a second opinion about some divination, I have a list of names. If I need advice on any aspect of energy work, I know people I can go to. If I want to celebrate Beltane by singing “Somer Is Acumin In” and dancing around a Maypole in a parti-colored Deadly Fool gown decorated with people dying in various creative ways, well…I’ve been doing that for the last five years. But while all this sounds fantastic (and in many ways it is) and enviable to many who aren’t so fortunate, I have to say that grappling with the other side of the coin has been something of a challenge, to put it mildly — that other side being the feeling that everyone else’s service to their gods is more important and more worthy of respect than mine.
My Job, such as it is, is simple. All I have to do — all I’m really required to do for Loki — is to love Him. That’s mostly what’s expected of me, when it comes down to it. The rest is either an obligation to fulfill my oath to Hela, or things that have sprung up along the way (as with the sudden reception of an Oya shrine that came with its own obligations). I honor my other beloved gods — the House of Mundilfari, the sea-etins, Freyr and Gerda, Bragi — out of friendship and gratitude. I remember my beloved dead because I miss them and want to honor their memories. But all of this, while important, is in many ways secondary to that first Job. Love, that’s all I have to do. For the longest time, I felt like shit about that.
So many other people I know — spiritworkers from various paths — have, in the course of their service to their gods, become college professors, authors, healers, magicians, priests, ambassadors for interfaith harmony, warriors, leaders, people who know a thing or two. They give workshops, counsel clients, write useful books of advice, mediate between groups, conduct initiations and rituals, fight the good fight as activists. They do important work for the spirits and are recognized as having contributed to the betterment of the world. And what do I do? Stick googly eyes on subway ads to amuse my fulltrui and get kicked off the MBTA. Write poetry that doesn’t sell. Set things on fire. Wash a never-ending stream of dishes for my household, like Sisyphus rolling a rock made of crockery up a hill. Wring my hands on this blog about other Lokeans doing it wrong. Walk the dog and collect the mail when my housemates are out of town. Sometimes I do readings or trancework or give workshops myself, but largely, I’m confined to home, where entire weeks go by without me doing much of anything but chores, writing, and prayer.
That’s fine — I knew that’s what being a nun would entail — but how does that compare to anything my friends have done, are doing? It used to drive me crazy, and I’d try to go beyond what Loki wanted of me, But every time I tried to do something to show that I, too, was capable of doing Great Work, it backfired, sometimes horribly. The message was clear — stay where you are, do what you’re doing, it’s enough. In truth, it was as much an acceptance of my role as it was a public declaration when I took my oath to be a nun. In most ways, I’d already been one for years, essentially, without calling it that.
I’m being honest when I say that for me, it really isn’t about fame and adulation from other people. It’s nice to be thanked for what one does, or recognized and admired from time to time (you can’t imagine how much it blew my mind when I met someone who traveled all the way from Florida mainly to come to my ConVocation workshops), but that’s not what was at the forefront of my thoughts every time I compared my Job to those of my friends. I wanted to do something worthy of my gods, something They needed. As time passed and my life did not change much, it became clear to me that I was incapable of doing anything more significant or generally of use to the world — and what did it matter, anyway? After all, the gods have plenty of people to love them, right? What does Loki want me for, when He has dozens of other people dying for His attention and willing to give Him whatever He wants?
And so it went. Months went by, and I watched my friends learn and change and acquire new skills, while I learned a hundred and one ways to fold cardboard boxes so they’d fit in the recycling bin. I tried my hardest to do what Loki wanted. I wrote poems and prayers for Him. I made Him offerings — sweets, liquor, home-cooked food, the occasional silly toy or joke item. I made my bedroom into His space as well, and the largest of my altars has always been Loki’s. I spoke for Him, invoked Him, asked for His blessing and presence in public rituals and fainings. I commissioned a god-pole for Him at the farm where I live. And I loved Him, as best as I knew how.
Once, I was told to go get training in yoga, and even had the tuition money come out of left field and practically drop into my lap. After getting certified as a teacher of classical yoga, however, I still had no car, nowhere to teach, and no students save for my loyal friends from down the road who wanted once-a-week sessions. It was plain, especially after I did divination, that They wanted me to get that training for other purposes than employment, and I wasn’t supposed to make a career as a yoga instructor. I became more resentful, more sad, and more convinced that I was being played for a fool by my gods and by every other spiritworker who patted me on the arm and assured me that my Job, too, was important — even when I thought that it was easy for them to say because what I did was so far beneath their “pay grade” or level of experience.
Loving Loki is easy, you might argue — He makes Himself so very charming, attractive, good company, worthy of admiration and adoration. And that’s true, but love (for a nun) isn’t simply a feeling, as I’ve said — it’s an action, and when you think that nothing you do can possibly be good enough, nor as good as what other people are doing, it becomes really hard to be enthusiastic about doing it. Now, I have never for one second stopped feeling love for Loki, even when I’ve been at my angriest and most doubtful of His love for me, but the idea that I ought to be doing more inexorably became an idea that my love was a meaningless thing and that I was fooling myself most of all when I told myself that what I was doing as a nun was just as important to Loki as anything anybody else did for Him. That, to be frank, is poison to a contemplative life.
The goal of monasticism isn’t to prove how disciplined or obedient you are, or to make a show of poverty or self-denial. None of that — the regular hours of work, prayer, and ritual, the rules, the restrictions, the funny clothes — are an end, but are all means to an end. They’re tools one uses to rid the mind and body of habits which impede the real goal: attaining perfect union with the Divine. If you’re also a hard polytheist, as I am, then that means your goal as a monk or nun is to seek without cessation a true, deep, and abiding understanding of your gods, or your particular god or goddess — and with that gnosis often comes love, a fierce, passionate love quite as compelling as any love one has for another mortal. I was aware of this, too, but felt that because my Job couldn’t possibly be that simple, I was failing both Loki and future pagan mystics and monastics, assuming anything I write will survive for someone else to look at after I’m dead.
When you become that depressed about your life, nothing anybody says can shake it until you, yourself, decide you’ve had enough. That’s true even when it’s a deity telling you to get a grip. Loki tried in a number of ways to make me see that He did, in fact, value me and my contributions, but I wouldn’t hear any of it because the malaise of self-doubt and unnecessary shame wouldn’t let me, and because I’ve always had a hard time believing I’m as good as other people. So finally, after months of this torment for us both, He was forced to seek another channel to get the message across. I’ll never forget it, either.
That year at EtinMoot, as it so happened, we were visited by Sithgunt, the sister of Mani and Sunna, who is said to be a goddess of twilight. I knew next to nothing about Her, but since I was at the time the gydja of Iron Wood Kindred and nominally in charge of the event, I wanted to thank Sithgunt for coming to us. When it was my turn to speak to Her, I went before the goddess in Her seat, knelt in front of Her, and opened my mouth to speak. I never got the chance. She lit into me right away — politely, never raising her voice, but I was frozen in shock nonetheless. I could see glimpses of Her through the horse’s body — hard to describe, but it’s more or less like being able to see through glamour. Her pale face wasn’t harsh or angry, but Her violet eyes penetrated me as She spoke:
I have come here to tell you what you otherwise will not hear. Do you think that what you do is unimportant? Do you think you are less than these [Sithgunt gestured at someone off to my left] or these? [She gestured at another person to the right.] He needs you so that he may drop the mask when it becomes too much to bear. What you do is not easy, I know, but it is simple. I envy you the simplicity of your job; I, with all my books, all my wisdom, envy you. Think on that — a goddess envies you your work.
I am not the sort of person who responds well to being reprimanded, but Sithgunt’s soft voice hit me like an arrow to the heart. I was in tears when She stopped talking, although I can’t really say that She was being unkind. Sithgunt said what I needed to hear, and the fact that I had never before had any dealings with Her made the message all the more potent — not to mention that the person being possessed by Her knew nothing of my spiritual difficulties at the time. I thanked Sithgunt when She finished reading me the riot act, to which She remarked that She had come to “repay a debt.” I don’t think I’m being egotistical when I say that I’m pretty sure the debt (whatever it was) was to Loki, and that He had asked Her to come and say something to me. Believe me, it’s not something I feel smug about.
After a talking-to from a goddess who makes the effort to come in the flesh and say something like this to your face, it’s really hard to keep being obstinately convinced of your own worthlessness. Sithgunt’s words stayed with me, and although I have never asked Loki about what really happened that day, from then on, I stopped feeling as if my Job of loving Him was insignificant. Sometimes it is still hard for me to believe that I’m doing what I need to do, but I keep making the effort, and that’s what counts — love being action and all. And I may only be a home-keeping nun, but it seems Loki loves me enough to ask another deity to set me straight, rather than letting me continue to be unhappy. I can’t argue with that.
Sithgunt was right, however; making it your life’s work to love your god may be simple, but it is not very easy. It isn’t easy to set aside things I once loved and that were a huge part of my identity for years because I need that room in my life for Him. It isn’t easy to continually throw myself into the pursuit of gnosis, knowing beforehand that from the outside, it’s not going to look like anything more than self-indulgent spiritual wankery and an excuse to sponge off others. It isn’t easy to know that I will age without a mortal spouse or family to shelter me, and die without descendants to mourn me, because I’ve forsaken all of that for love of Him. It isn’t easy to ignore all the bullshit spread about Loki and His kin and His followers, rather than let it upset me all the time and make me say and do things I’ll regret later. But I’m going to try to do my Job and not worry about whether or not it’s as much as other spiritworkers give or whether it’s as important as what my friends are doing in the world. It’s what He wants, just love, simple and uncomplicated — or as uncomplicated as anything can ever be with Flame-hair.