On Vocation and the Mystical Collage

Vocation, from the Latin vocatio ‘a call or summons’ by God/a god, is rarely discussed in the Pagan communities, yet it is central to other religions. Why the silence? Is it because not all Pagans see Paganism as a religion? Because not all are called to revere and worship and serve the gods? If only a few of us receive such a calling and there is no framework of support within the major Pagan organisations, how do we navigate the highs and lows, the trials and pitfalls, of trying to live a vocation that has no precedent in the modern world and cannot be wholly reconstructed from the ancient?

These are questions I have been faced with, have wrestled with, have returned to time and time again during the last seven years over which I’ve finally responded to my calling by serving an apprenticeship to the Brythonic god Gwyn ap Nudd and making a lifelong dedication to him as his awenydd.

At the very beginning I knew of no-one else who had a received calling from a god. Having discovered the awen and the Brythonic myths through Druidry I met others within the Oak and Feather Grove and the Druid Network who offered support, but only a few who could relate to my experiences.

Only a few people experienced the awen as a burning all-consuming force demanding total dedication, that could only be quenched in the ice of a death-god, that would only be satisfied when its flames were seared as words onto a page, the cost of whose burning is burn-out and the ashes of depression.

Thus, for the most part, I stumbled through the mist and the darkness with the guidance of my god as my only certainty and, in my darkest moments, sometimes wondered if I could even trust him, he of many names and guises, whose realm is one of uncertainty and illusion, whose hounds are not always hounds. (So far his lack of pretences to truth and lack of false promises have always proved true).

Through speaking openly about my experiences and reaching out to others I slowly began to find other polytheists who had experienced a similar calling and shared all the same problems. The main one being that we have no support structure, no guidance, no place within secular society or the big religions. That we all know in our hearts what we are doing by building devotional relationships with the gods and spirits of the land and bringing inspiration to our communities has value, but this cannot be seen or understood by a society that values material wealth and economic growth above all else.

Because of this it is impossible to make a living from such a vocation. Yet some people manage to find careers through which it might be expressed such as teaching, counselling, conservation; some even get paid for their art. Others take any job that pays the bills and leaves the mind free for the true work.

I am currently making a small amount of income from book sales, writing for Gods & Radicals, and from my Patreon supporters, and have been able to live off this because my parents put me up. However, as this ultimately unsustainable, I am aware the time has arrived to return to part-time work.

Perhaps this has always been the case. Mysticism has never spoken to the masses, yet for those who follow such a path, the words of the mystics of the past are like bright shining jewels that glitter above the abyss, and can be life saving. Thus I write to add words born out of dedication to my gods to that glittering collage in the hope they will shine for others in the future.

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The question I pose to others is how can we support each other when there is no institutional support? How can we make our collage outshine the allure of goods and wealth? How can we work together as co-creators of a world in which the gods are honoured and the land and its spirits are respected?

One of the reasons Greg Hill and myself set up the Awen ac Awenydd website and several awenyddion set up the Facebook group was to create an online space for such discussions. I’d be interested to hear the response of people from the wider Pagan and Polytheist communities.

The lump of my ‘workshyness’ and wanting to change the world

“I want to change the world.”

I state my desire to my deity in meditation at 7am aware as I do so of the rest of the world getting up, feeding the cats, walking the dog, jamming down breakfast, starting the car and joining the endless chug of exhaust fumes to offices and retail centres.

I’m not going to work today. My statement is laden with guilt. As I’m not working and have the luxury of sitting in meditation I feel driven to make my focus changing the world which forces so many other people into mind-numbing meaningless jobs:

sitting in call centres 9-5 Monday to Friday wired up to head phones trying to sell double glazing and insurance;

cleaning the crumbs and greasy handprints off the computers and desks and emptying the bins spilling sandwich and crisp wrappers of the people selling double glazing and insurance;

taking complaint after complaint about benefit fraud and dealing with the pettiness of complaints regarding people claiming to have had a heart attack or to be suffering from depression daring to go outside in the garden or take a walk.

I’m speaking from experience. I’ve done all these jobs: call centre, cleaner, benefit fraud hotline. I’ve also been a chamber maid, shelf-stacker, packer and administrative assistant. I’ve done what is necessary to support my study and later my writing and performing but never managed to stick such jobs because they conflict with what I really want to do.

It’s a vicious cycle and not one I can escape by earning money from my vocation. It’s extremely rare I get paid for my writing and performances or facilitating workshops. Occasionally I sell a book. My yearly income would barely keep me for a month.

If I lived in Nazi Germany I would no doubt be classified as ‘arbeitsscheu’ ‘workshy’ and incarcerated in a concentration camp. Horribly across the UK a similar phenomenon is recurring as people on disability benefits due to physical or mental illness are being reclassified as fit for work. In many instances this has led to suicide.

I’m lucky as I’m not forced to work full-time because my parents put me up. I’m not too ill to work at the moment but I have suffered from anxiety and depression (and still do on and off) and know soul-destroying jobs unfailingly grind me down to tears and hopelessness.

My desire to write goes first. Then my ability to commune with nature and hear the voices of the gods. Meaning and purpose swiftly departs and with that any reason to be alive. If I didn’t have the back-stop of my parents’ home and their support I don’t know what position I’d be in or if I’d be here at all.

Which is why I want to change the world. I want to live in a world where the life of every individual is intrinsically valued. Not this world where a person’s value is determined by their capacity to work in a meaningless job supporting an economy which benefits only the rich and is destroying the earth and human society. A world epitomised by the small-minded vindictiveness of someone who despises their job grassing up the person unable to work because of their depression for taking a walk.

Realistically I don’t possess many qualities suited to changing the world. I’m impractical, illogical and socially inept. I beat myself up continuously because I’m not cut out to be an activist or legislator. Attempting to take a stand on environmental issues at local council meetings I stumble on facts and figures and get the names of councillors wrong to smothered laughs. Unlike some people who buzz off social situations I find them draining and buckle quickly under pressure. I feel like a spare part at protests.(Although I still attend local meetings and protests and will continue to).

What I am good at is poetry and myth. Not the first places you’d look at a time when the greatest need is for manufacturers of pikes, rioters to wield them and thinkers who can traverse the lies and double-speak of parliament with the grace and dexterity of an otter.

Is there anything more useless to this world than a poet? I can think of nothing more useless and could not find a way out of my feelings of uselessness this morning when I dumped the statement of my desire to change the world like a lump of plasticine unformed and unceremoniously at the altar of my god.

Within this monstrous cacophany of thoughts you’re probably wondering whether he got a word in edgeways.

Gwyn ap Nudd’s a King of Annwn: a master of visions and glamoury renowned for his interruptions of hunting horns and a hundred hounds howling on otherworldly winds with a chill to stop one’s heart, his shining beauty and cauldron full of stars.

Today he’s silent. All I see is a depth of indigo and at its edges the melee of my thoughts rattling their pikes. Then further into the deep other pike rattlers throughout the ages who have stated the same desire albeit probably not to Annwn’s King.

Gwyn’s half-smile creases the indigo like a wave. Rattling through the ages comes the answer: there’s no easy solution.

I’m angry. That was not the answer I wanted to hear. I want to throw the ugly unformed plasticine lump of “I want to change the world” out of the window or into the deep.

Sensing my wish curious voices rise. Restless spirits reach forward to examine the plasticine with what may be hands or serpentine tails or wings. I get the impression they want to take it and mould it in their world.

Now it comes down to it I’m not sure I want to give my lump to them. I clutch it close to me. It’s my lump. My problem. My burden. What’s more I want to be seen carrying it and I want to be in control.

They prise it from my fingers. Hold it up to the starlight shining from the seas of Annwn. I see it for what it is. A desire in itself authentic but baked clumsily in the crucible of work and workshyness to the chant of uselessness and guilt. They dive with it back into the deep still indigo.

My guilt and uselessness dissolve and I realise they stem from taking on the values of a system set on devaluing all religion that it cannot harness for political control and all art that does not beg to the custodians of the establishment or market itself as mass entertainment. A system founded on the destruction of mytho-poetic worldviews.

I catch a glimmer of the Awen in what the system needs to keep destroyed. No easy solution but I see what I need to do.

I speak farewell to the lump of my ‘workshyness’ and wanting to change the world.

I assert the value of myth and poetry and the value of a poet ‘useless’ and ‘workshy’.

I pour a libation for Gwyn, the spirits of the deep, the pike-wielding ancestors and walk in trust with a pike in my hand to change the world.

***

*This piece was written yesterday and was provoked by two excellent articles on contemporary political issues: one by Brian Taylor ‘Austerity Watch, Cut to Death‘ and one by Mark Rosher ‘Living with Madness‘ and an awful article condemning ‘otherworldy polytheism’ by John Halstead ‘If It Doesn’t Help Me Save This World, I Don’t Want Your Polytheist Revolution‘.