I see a lot of general advice about spiritwork, generally of the ‘don’t do it, you’ll fuck it up’ genre, but people rarely seem to talk about what that actually looks like.
About eight years ago, my ex-then-significant other was embarking on a devotional relationship that I believe eventually turned out to be with La Sirene, but at the time she didn’t know who it would turn out to be. She wanted my support, and as part of that, she wanted me to promise my service with her.
Now, there’s a time and place for making promises to deities who are interacting with you but whose names you haven’t learned yet. However, I do not recommend doing it lightly. In my case, because I didn’t have any real idea who she was working with except what she had told me, I just promised my service to the sea for seven years.
Yeah, don’t do that.
At the time, my work was pretty closely aligned with hers because it made her happy, so at first nothing seemed amiss. I did the same work she was doing, and it was pretty straightforward. She was overwhelmingly scary sometimes, but hey, at least we were in this together.
Then the relationship started to get strained and my religious work went off in directions that were not what my ex was doing. I wasn’t getting anything but crickets from most of her gods, so I figured I was safe. I went back to Taoism, and I got a sharp sense that Someone was poking at me. Divination, meditation, and research led me to Tien Hou, a sea goddess.
“You’re already promised to me,” she said.
I’m fairly sure I did the metaphysical equivalent of staring, slack-jawed.
“You serve the Sea. You’ve changed directions, but the Sea is constant.”
Because awkwardly worded promises don’t go away because your interests have changed, it turns out. So I built an altar and burned incense and visited her temple in Los Angeles, and I did as she asked. She’s a merciful goddess, and I was fortunate. I would send someone who needed her help to her in a heartbeat.
And then Odin came back into my life, and directions shifted again. It happens, life is complicated. I can date this one precisely, because I knew I was getting poked and so I sent a request in to Beth for Mabon 2009’s seidhr. I asked the dreaded “who’s calling me?” (Beth, if you read this, I’m sorry) and was told Aegir, Ran and Njord were poking around.
The sea gods. Well, I felt pretty silly then. Ran ended up with the rights to my “contract” and she was a lot more demanding than Tien Hou. When she wanted me at the ocean I ended up at the ocean – I suddenly had travel obligations for work that landed me oceanfront on both east and west coasts, regardless of the fact that I suffer from vertigo and flying is painful at best. I wrote for her, I sang for her, I gave blood and other offerings in both oceans. When we drove up the California coast I greeted her and her daughters at multiple beaches, like I was on some kind of magical scavenger hunt.
I came to love her. But it was hard, and there was bitterness on my part that I didn’t feel I’d signed on for “this” even though I had. But I did what she asked and while she was demanding she was never cruel.
By the time she released me to the Columbia, I’d all but forgotten service was for a term and not forever. I was pretty lucky, in that respect.
I can’t say I’d choose to do it again, especially blindly. The contract lasted longer than the relationship that prompted it. But in the end, I learned a lot from the Sea, all three of her, and while I went into it completely unprepared, I survived it. My life was not destroyed.
We learn from the mistakes we make. Most of the time, they’re not permanent and not fatal. I don’t recommend that you go promising yourself to gods known or unknown forever without any exit clauses, and I think you should carefully consider a spirit marriage or job the same way you should consider carefully a job or marriage in your physical life.
But eventually you have to take a risk to go forward. Sometimes you do something without thinking it through. It isn’t the end of the world, either. Keep your promises, fulfill your side of the bargain, and be open to the opportunities you have. If you find yourself in over your head, you have an amazing opportunity to learn how to swim.