Recently there’ve been a few posts on what it means to be “god-owned”: Laura Patsouris’s “Fun Facts for the Deity-Owned” and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s “God-Owned: Humans as Pets” (written in response to Patsouris’s). I read both pieces carefully, as well as the subsequent discussions they spawned in their comments. Even when I didn’t agree with what was being said, it was exciting to see so many people in god relationships sharing their perspectives. Frankly, these types of conversations need to happen a lot more, even when there are significant differences in personal experience, practice, and belief. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but I tend to think we have more in common than we think.
As a long-time student and teacher of literature, one thing that did seem to divide people was how we interpret language. Every word has a denotation (dictionary meaning) and a connotation (what the word calls to mind). As reading the two articles makes clear, Patsouris and Lupus have very different perspectives on the connotation of the word “owned.” Patsouris associates the god-owned with non-consent and an orientation towards service. Lupus associates it with “rape-apologists” and (as the title suggests) “humans as pets.” I think Lupus’s labels here are inflammatory and will probably prevent some god-owned people from responding with anything but anger. And I don’t think Patsouris would agree with these models as representations. Patsouris’s piece is a basic introduction to these ideas, and 101 essays necessarily use broad strokes. I think if the two were to have a conversation, they would give more nuance to their statements (and, to their credit, that nuance did appear in their response to comments). However, as the articles stand, I don’t think either characterization fits my own experience.
On my own journey, I’ve been forced to rethink two of the concepts featured in these articles: service and ownership. Every time I seemed to have a handle on what those things meant for me, Odin would inevitably smash that perception. So this piece is an attempt to articulate where I am now in my understanding of being “owned.” This is not a how-to or a prescription for all those who find themselves in an intense relationship with deity. Although some of things I will share come out of very personal moments, those moments are the reason I perceive my relationship with Odin as I do. It’s not to show how much He likes me or how awesome I am—it’s to show how His own words have influenced my thinking.
It’s rather common to hear from professed god-owned people that they were dragged into their relationship kicking and screaming. A desired path or cherished dream was destroyed, an important human relationship fell apart, or their physical/mental health tanked. For some (like shamans), this seems unavoidable. Luckily, this was not the case with me. While I did struggle to understand what was happening, my tantrums were few and far between. As independent as I am, I generally did what was asked of me from the moment I found out about Odin’s presence. More than that, I found it reassuring to know what I supposed to do. Even when it was difficult, I liked knowing what He wanted from me. I liked serving Him.
Rather quickly, I slipped into a service role with Odin. I wanted to do whatever He asked, and I wanted to be pleasing and useful. Part of this came from the fact that I was falling in love with Him, which was natural as His spouse. I believed as Patsouris does that a god-owned person’s agency lies in one place: how the god-owned choose to react to being claimed. As she writes in her article, “we can choose to fight and whine and melt down and make the process of winnowing away all that holds us back from being Useful all the more protracted and messy; or we can get with the program and earn some Brownie points for being smart enough to cooperate.”
As hard as I tried to suck it up and “get with the program,” part of me began struggling with the prayers I said, prayers that presented myself as an object ready to be of use. I also began to have a difficult time reconciling my two roles: God-spouse and God-owned. When I tried to discover how the roles differed, no one could really give me a satisfactory answer. But I did genuinely want to “earn Brownie points”, so I tried to fight down those irritations as signs of my own ego fighting submission.
Then, as Odin does so well, He came down and pulled the rug out from under me.
In the fall of 2009, per His request, Odin was horsed for me (a shaman allowed Odin to possess him physically). While this shaman primarily worked with a different pantheon, he had horsed Odin for others before and is a man I trust and respect. I knew the event was going to provide some kind of lesson or test, but I didn’t know what it was. Odin was tight-lipped, even with the shaman. I was walking into the ritual blind. For weeks beforehand, I coaxed myself into a place of acceptance and endurance. I would do whatever He asked.
In front of a small gathering of my spirit worker colleagues and fellow god-spouses and consorts, Odin came.
And He spent the next two hours yelling at me, so loudly that the horse nearly lost his voice.
What had I done?
“This is NOT about service!” He boomed, standing over me. “You are the Wife of a God! Act like it!”
Meanwhile I sat in the mud, humiliated and furious. Everything I’ve been molding myself into, all of my focus on service was being thrown back in my face. He was not only rejecting it, He was angry.
It took me two, grueling hours to figure out what He did want: He wanted me to be able and willing to stand up to Him. He wanted me to claim my role as His partner. He wanted me to act like His wife, not His servant. It was one of my hardest lessons, but one that was sorely needed.
It took me months to unpack and understand that ritual, months to overcome to hurt and confusion. It raised a new stock of questions for me whose understanding will be the work of a lifetime: how does one act like the wife of a god? And, if “this is not about service,” what the hell is it about?
As I sorted that out, I got another lesson, this time on ownership. I was blessed enough to arrange another horsing this past December with the same shaman, again at Odin’s request. This time there was no yelling, and I even had the opportunity to speak with Him privately. In the midst of our conversation, He began tracing a small circle over my heart with His finger. After a few moments, I asked what He was doing.
“This,” He said slowly, “is my spot.”
I immediately replied, “it’s all yours.”
To my surprise, He frowned. And in a single sentence (which is too personal to share), He stated His frank disapproval of that idea. I felt the rug pulled out yet again, leading to more confusion. If Odin owns me, surely all of me must belong to Him? Not according to Him.
One answer could lie in the face of Odin who has claimed me as His wife. My current human teacher has often expressed bewilderment at the parity I have in my marriage with Odin. As someone who has seen and counseled many spouses and consorts, he claims to have never seen anything like it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I also interact with His most human face. Perhaps part of the balance He finds in our relationship is how human our marriage can seem. I make certain decisions, I question Him, and I have more freedom than most. It could be that what I can be to Him as a wife is more valuable to what I could be in a different role.
It could also be that He knows me well enough to have figured out how to get the best out of me. In another moment in our December visit, I expressed frustration that He doesn’t give straightforward directions.
“You wouldn’t like it if I told you what to do,” He replied.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I would probably resent that eventually.”
“No. You’d resent that immediately.”
Moments like these make me question how Patsouris talks about agency. This “fight or surrender” model is too stark a dichotomy. The word that gets lost here (which I spoke of in the comment I left on Lupus’s site) is negotiation. Even people I know who identify as god-slaves negotiate with the gods—both on their own behalf and on the behalf of others. This doesn’t make them whiners or less useful. If anything, it makes us more useful. While They may know what’s best for us, we have a better handle on what it means to be human. I think it’s for this reason that Odin seems to have a habit of asking His human wives for their advice.
Yet agency also comes at a cost. In a recent conversation with a consort of Loki, we noted that sometimes the hardest thing to hear Them say is “you decide.” Not just about small things either—about major aspects of your relationship, or even how the god is handling another situation. (And divination in these cases is taken as an attempt at cheating the system, just FYI)
So, am I “God-Owned”?
One thing that has helped me make sense of all this is a closer look at the historical meanings of the phrase “to own.” We all understand what it means to own objects or property. To own a person, however, could have a more nuanced meaning. To illustrate this, I’m going to turn to an example from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
When most people think of this novel, they think of the love between the doomed Cathy and Heathcliff. Cathy infamously exclaims, “I am Heathcliff!” while Heathcliff bemoans that he “cannot live without my soul” when she dies. Devastated, Heathcliff takes revenge by gaining possession of the property and people whom he believes kept them apart. He literally takes ownership of everything, but is defeated in the second half of the novel by Cathy’s daughter, who is also named Cathy (I’ll call her Cathy II for clarity). It is Cathy II who mends the rift between the two households, and she does this through her different understanding of the word “ownership” in her love with Hareton.
In a crucial moment of the novel, Cathy II speaks to the reluctant Hareton with the words, “Come, you shall take notice of me, Hareton: you are my cousin, and you shall own me.”
Cathy II does not mean that she is his property or object. She does not mean that she’s there for his personal use. Turning the Oxford English Dictionary, we see that “to own” in this case means “to acknowledge; to recognize as familiar; to show kinship.”
It’s this meaning that brings me closest to what it means for me to be owned by Odin. In our December meeting, He shared another insight with me: each of His people reflects a piece of Himself back to Him. In looking at them, he is recognizing a part of Himself. Since he’s a multi-faceted god who undergoes great change over the course of his life narrative, it’s not surprising that his people reflect different phases, aspects, and roles. For me, this diversity represents a great mystery. It’s not relativism to acknowledge that we are all different things to Them, even when we share the same label. This is something I felt neither article stated. It’s not just that being god-owned represents one type of god relationship. It’s that even among the god-owned, the level of agency, choice, and personal dynamic with deity is richly varied.
One thing I agree with Patsouris wholeheartedly is her closing statement: in the end, this is about love. Absolutely. Perhaps it’s because I’m a god-spouse, and loving my husband is the core of our partnership. It strengthens the work we do together, even when that work is hard. In a recent meditation, he gave me these words, which not surprisingly brought me to tears:
“Never forget: this is about love. I value your tears because they are yours. You cry because you are in love, not because you are in pain. Love is stronger than pain.”
And yet, I also love Loki. I love Lilith. In each case, we work together from a place of mutual recognition, mutual gain, and shared goals. As in human relationships, those who love us best challenge us the hardest. And in those challenges, we flower.