Deity and Spirit Work 101
“Spirit work” and “deity work” are terms that describe the act of entering into relationships with spirits and deities. these are terms used often (but not exclusively) in pagan and polytheistic communities.
Polytheism, in essence, is the belief in multiple gods. polytheism can be approached in many different ways, from a soft polytheistic viewpoint (the belief that the gods are archetypes) to a hard polytheistic viewpoint (the belief that the gods are somehow completely autonomous beings). ). some polytheists may work with one god even while acknowledging others, while others work with many different gods. some polytheists are even what’s known as polyaffiliates, meaning they work with multiple gods from different pantheons.
many polytheists identify as “pagans” or those who follow earth-centered practices. however, not all pagans are polytheists, nor does anyone need to be a polytheist (or even a theist) to be a pagan. That’s because spiritual practices can be tailored to your spiritual needs and worldview.
my bias in this guide comes from a hard animist and polytheistic perspective. I experience gods, spirits, and entities as autonomous even if I don’t experience them as literal. prepare yourself for that language as you work through this guide.
relationships between Christian and pagan deities
Beginning relationships with deities and spirits means knowing what these relationships can be like. In the Western world, our approach to divinity is heavily Christianized and heavily colonized, and Westerners often have a Christian impression of divinity even if they didn’t grow up practicing the faith. If you are a Westerner, your understanding of a god/devotee relationship is likely to be that of a lord/servant dynamic. this implies things like:
- humble yourself before god
- put god above everything
- risking the wrath of god if you don’t
Those from Catholic backgrounds may also have learned that God doesn’t care about everyday human life.
This is not the universal approach to divinity, not even in other organized religions. especially not the approach of animistic religions like Norse paganism. when it comes to paganism, not all devotees or even deities want a lord/servant dynamic between them. That’s because deity relationships work the same way human relationships do: they can take on any dynamic, be healthy or unhealthy, and begin and end.
Much of this has to do with how a religion views the divine. In Christianity, God is seen as a role model to match and a being to please. but in Norse paganism, for example, the deities represent human behavior taken to larger-than-life proportions and are therefore figures we can identify with.
The trick to having successful relationships with deities is knowing that they abide by the same rules as mundane relationships. navigation that requires practice, self-sovereignty and discernment. we will see this later in chapter 2.
how are the relationships between the deities
if deity relationships don’t always have a lord/servant dynamic, what dynamics do they have? some examples include teacher/student, parent/child, artist/muse, family, friends, and even lovers. these dynamics are not forced, but arise from the collaboration of both the deity and the devotee.
no matter how dynamic and healthy the relationships with the deities are:
- clear communication
- mutual understanding
- respect for boundaries
whereas unhealthy relationships involve:
- control tactics
- non-consensual actions
- scare tactics: intimidation and threats
- manipulative behavior
(You can read more about the warning signs of spiritual abuse in Chapter 4.)
These relationships can be initiated by you or by the deity. if you want to work with a specific deity, it’s perfectly fine to communicate first. deity relationships are constructed, not assigned.
Lastly, although relationships with deities are much like mundane ones, they cater to spiritual needs rather than physical ones. in this sense, they are not a direct replacement for worldly relationships, especially romantic ones.
A few final miscellaneous expectations related to deity work are as follows:
The deity’s work requires effort. This involves research, learning new tools, learning new skills, sharpening your senses, and trial and error.
Your relationship is between you and the deity. No one should act as a dedicated “interpreter” between you and the deity in question. that can expose you to a lot of potential abuse. It’s fine to use a third party to help you with an instance of discernment if you need it, but ultimately, no person or entity should interpret your relationship with a deity or spirit for you.
You can say “no”. Just because a deity/spirit wants something doesn’t mean you always have to give it to them. the gods can be held accountable for their actions, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with just because they asked you to.
the gods can say “no”. I saw it very well expressed in a post on tumblr: the gods are not dolls that you can take out of a box and play when and how you want I like it. they are autonomous beings capable of making their own decisions and will not always do the things you expect them to do.
Incompatibility occurs. Sometimes a deity’s personality, methods, and antics may not work for you. it’s okay. recognize when it happens and adjust accordingly. This may mean taking a break, putting some emotional distance between the two of you, or going your separate ways entirely. it’s best if this can be done mutually to facilitate a healthy transition.
a note on entities from closed cultures
If you are experiencing a situation where an entity from a closed culture is trying to contact you and you are not part of that closed culture, it is your responsibility to contact a spiritual authority from that culture to see if you are allowed to work with them. that deity.