Thrice Burned: Toward an Empowered Spirituality
Sometimes pop-spirituality really sucks.
Yet pop spirituality is readily available, like candy at the checkout line. For years pop-spirituality dominated my fragile closeted witch consciousness. I was afraid of my ancestral traditions, they felt marginal and difficult to access. So I read the pop-books, sure. The Secret and others with a Law of Attraction focus, signed up for a shiny “neuro plasticity” magnetism course (which I later found was cribbed from a nineteenth century text), found myself in a panic around “thoughts become things,” and the ilk.
My life at that time was full of transition and challenge. Divorce, displacement, job insecurity, poverty, single parenthood. It was natural that I wanted to have some agency over my existence, and improve my chances at stability. And, at least for a while, it felt like it was working. I fell in love, got a good job, moved into a decent house. Then I became really, really sick. And the Law of Attraction said it was all my fault, that I created oppressive legal issues, workplace abuse and a crashing immune system.
Philosophically, I can now see the flaw…
But I couldn’t for a long time, lost in a morass of spiritual capitalism and cultural appropriation that defines so much of non-religious spirituality today. And when I really needed my spirituality, I felt it was inaccessible — because I had failed it somehow.
If you type in the word “manifestation” you get over 450 million hits. Big business, teaching folks to believe in self-determination. It also reinforces a bizarre attachment to all oppressive isms, the implied narrative being that if you experience privilege you must be “good” at manifesting your best life. If you struggle due to an imbalanced system, you just need to try harder, focus more, be worthy and you too can have success. (And, btw, someone wants to sell you this “formula” for a monthly fee.)
My wake up call came with severe illness and disability. For years I was undiagnosed. Then when finally diagnosed, my diagnoses were strange enough I could not access treatment. I had to leave my job, my home, our family declared bankruptcy and lost all of our belongings to toxic mold. I moved three times in the span of a year. In the last part of 2018 I was homebound, bedridden and my health was so poor I thought I was dying. What saved me wasn’t positive rainbows and good vibes only. What restored my sense of self and being was not manifesting my way to health.
What held me through that time was a deep connection to my ancestors and the threads of myth, an awareness of my sacredness in the complex whole, and trust in the ever changing nature of the web of wyrd. And in this story, difficulty and death, disability and change, are an essential part of ancient magic.
The myth above, Gullveig, is one that saw me through that time, and continues to feed me in this day as I struggle still with chronic, cyclic illness.
This story is always with me — it is channeled, never told — even though there is very little literature to support the transformational tale of Gullveig, just a few lines in the Poetic Edda, spoken by the völva:
She remembered great battle, the first in the world
That Gullveig spears pierced
And in the High One’s hall he burned her
Thrice burned, Thrice born
Often, repeatedly, still she lives.
Hei∂ they call her, wheresoever to houses she came
Wise Woman Witch crafting prophecy, knowledge her magic staff
She made enchantment wheresoever she knew, working a spell she entranced
Always beloved, she was sweet odor to ill women.**
It is the story that has kept me rooted through years of my own myth cycles, inspired both the seed that would become the Wild Soul Runes book, the Dark Goddess book and process, and the essay Fire Ecology just published this past year.
It is imperfectly held and imperfectly told, but it is a story to re-member, sacred bones to sing over on these holy days, to sing into in the myth cycles we are living. To open: in the old stories hardship never meant you were doing things wrong, and it was not about thinking your way to wellness. In the old stories, we all are visited by difficulty. It is part of our initiation into our path and purpose, it is what may be integrated, digested and empowered with life force for healing and growth. In the old stories what doesn’t die, survives. The painful, hard or impossible may actually anneal in us our unique magic.
Pop-spirituality bypasses, avoids and excuses. But that is because it is not rooted in land, repair, community, service or sacred story — the ethos of a tradition. Many of us end up on the pop path after rejecting historical religion, and because we are uncertain — or afraid — of investigating lineage traditions.
If you are like me, seeking and also scared, I hold out a hand in communion. Listen, this life is not meant to be smoothed with purchase and maxim, but lived in full — howling or singing. In the lifeways of our ancestors — however fragmented — in the stories — however small — there are taproots and tree roots and mycelium threads, a whole woven world that weaves our life in whole. To receive it we may be exactly as we are, perfectly imperfect, wild in soul.
By this and every effort may the balance be regained.