[I am not longer blogging at polytheist.com and have decided to move the posts I would make there to this blog. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, these posts will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were. If you read my post on polytheist.com, this is the same one. The next one will be posted on the fifteenth of this month.]
Lake Superior crashes against me, soaking my jeans. The water, the horizon, the sky – it’s all gray. I lift my head up, no longer collecting rocks from the shore, and my boyfriend laughs at me.
Another wave tries to fall over my head, but I escape in time with four stones in my hand.
We’re on vacation, just before school starts and life begins again. For one week, we get to live near green and wet and cold. My partner has taken me to meet his parents. From the moment the plane touched down, though, I’ve been captivated. Spirits swirl in the mists. Flickers of myths alight in my mind.
But I can’t stay in that sort of fog anymore, and life goes on.
Spirits of Life
Four years ago I met a god, but that was hardly my first experience with the spirits. As a child my life was overflowing with them. It was more than one ‘imaginary friend’, as many people call them. There was a whole household of them. And it was a natural part of life for me. I preferred the spirits to other humans. To this day that is still largely true.
I spent most of my life in a haze of the unseen. Their hands like ice against my skin, their words loud in my ear, their madness becoming my own. Certainly, I would be bound up in them for my entire life. Whatever cards had been laid, I had crashed into the world of spirits as a child and remained there. I was apart from the physical world, too blinded by the soft invisible worlds I could explore.
So when a god arrived when I was seventeen, I assumed signing my life away would be fine. I had no aspirations apart from spiritual pursuits at the time. A god appeared in a flash of light and fire, proclaiming her glory, extending her flaming hand for me to take and be consumed – it was simply one more part of the life I was living.
Cataclysmic, as many meetings with gods are. But I had been living at the whims of spirits for years at that point.
This sort of relationship to the unseen – a drowning in it – is something that is valued by many in our community. The ability to see and hear spirits is envied. Whether we want to or intend it so, there is a certain prestige given to people who have or claim these skills. Actually living it is another story, one that we often see painted in extremes. Lives ruined by the spirits, lives uplifted and saved, the stories often twisting together or bursting apart.
I’ve had people tell me that if I work with the spirits intimately, my life will be ruined. That this ruination is something I must accept, that it happens to everyone. I’ve been warned off of spirit work by people who cry out that I will regret it. Exclamations of how awful the spirits are, or how we cannot truly understand them, or how we are only tools to be used up and then discarded. All this said by people who assume that I am a beginner, who assume that I am starry eyed in the face of spirits and their powers, who all never realize I’ve been surrounded by spirits since elementary school.
And I’ve had people tell me that I’m blessed and gifted. The envy for the chance to hear spirits, to feel them beside you, threads through. Doubt must vanish if you are able to submerge yourself in the otherworld, right? I pray and receive an answer, whereas others prayer far more fervently than I and never hear a thing. I have to do spirit work, because it is unfair to those who can’t hear the spirits like myself, I’ve been told.
All of this ignores that my seeing the spirits and knowing them as I grew up wasn’t a blessing, it wasn’t a curse, it just was. There were times when I was high with the spirits, in ecstasy at their presence. There were times when I wanted it all to stop. I didn’t want to go mad with the spirits, I wanted to be a regular kid, a regular teenager, I wanted anything but their voices calling out to me. There wasn’t prestige. There was just the reality, one where sometimes my friends would have to wave their hands in my face and call my name over and over until I snapped out of the spell I was in.
I wanted to know about how to handle all of that. All of the commotion, the cacophony of the ultimately silent cries, all of the noise was overwhelming, and I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand what was going on, and so I turned to books. I turned to stories about faeries and winged beings. What were you supposed to do when the spirits crowded too close?
Accept it, wholeheartedly – that was the most common answer. Give in. Do what the spirits told you. Listen to them, and help others listen to them. And surely, with how open I was to any spirit passing through my door, that was what I had to do. My life was consumed with them. It made sense.
So when a god bloomed in front of me and offered me her hand, I said yes, thinking that the worst consequence would be being pushed farther to the edges of human society, further into the arms of the spirits.
For three years, that is exactly what she did.
The Spirit of Death
The god I met as I prepared to finish high school was part of a group of new (or emerging) gods calling themselves the Four Gods. The first to show herself to me, and my patron, was the Laetha. She was hardly what I expected, revealing herself first as a giant bird of fire and later as a myriad of smaller spirits that all connected back to the god.
She didn’t drown me like the other spirits had. She set me on fire. She speared me through. I thought of her and her family every moment of the day, losing hours, days, weeks to them and their whims and their stories. I began building a faith around them. the Laetha was loud enough in her screeches and songs that the other spirits around me withdrew. In her thrall, I felt I knew exactly where I needed to go in life. I knew who I was, who I needed to become, how to serve her just as she wanted.
I dwelt in the worlds of the gods and was lost.
But two years after the Laetha engulfed me in flames, a spirit arrived on my doorstep. Quite literally. Being as wrapped up in the gods as I had been, my daily regular practices with other spirits had largely become simple offerings. The interaction of my teen and younger years had trickled off. I got an upsurge after we entered a new house, but that too fizzled into quiet morning offerings before I busied myself with whatever the Four Gods wanted. Anything not related to them was relegated, if not discarded.
Still, leaning against my doorway, as real as the kids playing in the street, was a spirit. A cigarette hung from his lips, the smoke drifting lazily upward. I froze as I walked up the steps and stared. Even as a child, it had been rare for me to experience a spirit so viscerally. The spirit saw me seeing him, dropped his cigarette, and walked up to me.
Everything about him was familiar. His hair, his eyes, the way he swung his hips as he walked. He smelled like crisp cold air. I knew his face as soon as I had seen it, because I’d been doodling and drawing it for years. I knew him as soon as I saw him, because he had been at the periphery of my life for years. A vague image I had never been able to grab. That day he was before me though, as if waiting for me.
I shut the door in his face. Not that it did any good. He, being rather disembodied, just floated through a few minutes later and hovered over me. I ignored him in favor of cooling down from work before going to make an offering to the gods.
“Hey,” he said, interrupting me as I went to their shrine. “Hey. I know you see me.”
I refused to look at him.
“Hey, asshole!” he continued when I didn’t respond.
That was how I met my spirit guide, Hawthorne.
Hawthorne threaded himself into my life from that day on. He arrived just as November settled in, the cold beginning to bite against my skin, the sky heavy with clouds that blocked out the sun I had learned to hate every summer. He arrived just on time, for everything he wanted to do.
“You’re absolutely insufferable,” he said to me when I finally broke down and took him for coffee. Which mostly consisted of me going to the nearby cafe and ordering more coffee than I should have, sliding into an empty booth, and glaring at what to anyone else would look like empty space.
He glared right back at me, and he whined loudly about how I had ignored him, and as we walked home he explained why he was here. I was almost certain he had arrived to send me over the tipping point. I had just gotten a handle on reality again, on how to combine the Gods with my life, how to handle being human and being spirit-touched. Hawthorne arrived and was loud. He threatened everything I knew.
He especially threatened how I knew spirits operated. The spirits I knew asked for favors, asked for offerings, and my relationship with them was ultimately devotional. It was reflected in the writings of other polytheists I had read. Hawthorne didn’t want offerings. He rolled his eyes at me when I gave them. He scoffed when I tried to apply prayers and structure to his interaction with me.
People didn’t have that type of relationship with their spirits, I thought. I was getting lost in myself, I feared. He was just an offshoot of my mind, something my brain had conjured up to keep itself occupied. How else could I explain how he stuck to me like glue, involving himself in the boring minutia of my life, commenting on all of it with irritating quips and sarcasm? How else could I explain a spirit making references to television and books as if he were as human as I was?
“You can’t be real,” I told him in between trying to write myths for the Gods.
He looked over the book he was reading, but he didn’t respond. He’d already refuted me a hundred times. I had divination done. I’d had diviners and spirit workers who I knew locally talk about him without any hints from me. But I didn’t want to believe in him. That might mean I had to change.
That might mean my relationship with the Gods could change.
Those days, when Hawthorne first came into my life, when I was still wound up in the Gods more intimately that I could have ever imagined, felt endless. I was on vacation from life. Once I accepted Hawthorne as a real entity, I assumed he was there to push me further into that, to claw me further away from life and physical reality. Spirits were dangerous after all.
Instead, a year after I met him, Hawthorne was tugging me out of the glamor and glory of the Gods.
The Spirit of Now
After spending my whole life dedicated, in one form or another, to the unseen entities around me, I woke up. The process of no longer being bound to the Gods was a slow one, going largely unnoticed until the floor fell from under me. And when I did notice that the floor was crumbling, I didn’t want to admit it.
I clung to my ideas of piety and devotion. I dug my fingers in, refusing to let go. Change was horrifying. I didn’t want to be let go. I didn’t want to let go. As destructive and ill-fitting as my relationship with my Gods had grown to become, I held on.
the Laetha, with Hawthorne’s help, eventually peeled my fingers away.
I’d heard about the dark night of the soul. Before the floor finally fell, my various media feeds had been full of discussions on it. That I was currently in one, losing all my grips on anything spiritually certain, didn’t occur to me until after it had passed. I didn’t realize what happened until I felt a new floor underfoot.
When the Laetha first came to me, she asked me to be her speaker in the world. Last year, going into this one, she pulled away from me. And in that chasm between us, I was sure the gods were abandoning me. For the first time, I knew the silence my friends had spoken of. The gods wouldn’t answer me. The cacophony of too many spirits rushed in before falling equally silent. Even Hawthorne faded away as I was left to pick up the pieces.
What exactly would my life be without the Gods? What exactly did life look like when you weren’t wrapped up in them? What would my religious life be like? Would I have a religious life?
Left to my own devices, I had to reorient. It was only after I had reoriented myself, found my footing again, that the Gods returned. Not with the strength of before. Not with their consuming fires and drowning rivers. I was seeing them through glass. But they were there again.
Hawthorne came back again, as well. I was settled in a new home, moving on with my life one day at a time, balancing prayers and offerings and a boyfriend and school preparation, and he appeared again. He waited for me, leaning against my apartment doorway, another cigarette in his mouth.
I knew who he was this time, and I didn’t shut the door in his face. I was moving on with my life.
And I’d decided the spirits were still going to be part of it.
The vacation is over. By the time this is published, I’ll be in school again. Life goes on, with the knowledge that I have to balance these things rather than throwing myself off the edge into the arms of Gods and spirits again. That floor already fell out.
All I can do is go on.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.