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.
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.
10 thoughts on “On Vocation and the Mystical Collage”
Thanks for this post, Lorna. As you know, I’m in a similar position in terms of vocation. It’s so difficult to do this work without adequate religious support structures. We have no choice but to try to build these structures ourselves if we’re ever going to have sustainable religions rather than fractious spiritual subcultures.
I’ve made a vow to Those I serve to do what I can to contribute to building more institutionalized support structures within my lifetime, but of course I’m only one person.
As for the making a living part…for myself I’ve simply had to learn to accept that there’s no way to make a living from the work I do for my religious vocation, and there probably never will be. I can decry the systemic coercion involved in the need to “earn a living” all I want, and I can advocate for change, but at the end of the day I still need to pay the bills in a sustainable way, and I do not have spousal support so it all falls on my shoulders. I probably wouldn’t have time to do much religious work at all if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve lived in a family-owned condo with stabilized rent for the past 11 years. Even with that stroke of good luck, I’ll probably always need a day job to have any hope of making what I do for The Black Stone Hermitage sustainable.
For what it’s worth, we (the other admin and I) are on the verge of launching an independent community-supported web discussion forum with both public and private sections. We’re setting it up specifically for the purpose of supporting the work of polytheist monastics who are trying to build sustainable polytheist-and-animist-centered infrastructure and organized traditions. The project has been in the works for over a year, and finally we are close to launching now. The forum is already up, actually, though it’s not publicly visible yet.
So at least there will be another online space for these discussions soon!
Thanks for your reply. I love the work you’re doing with the Blackstone Hermitage. I think one of the main problems is the antipathy of many Pagans (less so Polytheists) to vocation, devotion, and, thus, to religion. Thus all the fragmented spiritual subcultures you mention. I’d love nothing more than to have a sacred place with indoor and outdoor facilities for regular worship and study but would not have the remotest idea (and less the money) to know how to get started with that. And I can’t think of any other local Pagans who would be interested. I’ll look forward to the launch of the forum and hopefully pursuing these questions further.
I feel you. I am at the moment very much trying to come to terms with the fact that my gods are calling me to just such a vocation. And it does scare the shit out of me. But I have pledged my loyalty to them, and so I will surrender and do as they ask. I would feel a lot more secure if I could support myself with a regular job, but then my training is as a high school teacher, and that kind of work is a vocation of its own, so just not compatible timewise. What to do? They keep whispering to me that ‘the forest takes care of its own’, but I find it very hard to trust in that…
Really tough choices. I tried careers as a philosophy lecturer, riding instructor, and fantasy writer and none worked out. I’ve found the greatest fulfilment in fulfilling my vocation by researching the myths of my gods and writing new ones as a form of devotion and service but, of course, this is not ultimately sustainable. So I have to find part-time work that doesn’t detract too much from my true work to sustain myself. I think the best we can hope for is finding a balance between vocation and survival which is liveable.
Some years ago I made the decision to create the work I feel inspired and called to create, and to stop trying to make that pay the bills. Trying to be commercial as a creator nearly broke me. I’ve found it works better to do paying stuff that I don’t hate, and to create on my own terms, and I think there’s a similar process here. The trouble is, when people start paying, they can start expecting things. Money is so often conditional, and it is so easy to be manipulated if your food and shelter depend on your compliance…
I’ve pretty much reached the same conclusions. I can’t write for money. Plus any day job pays far more than what can possibly be earned by trying to write for money. So it’s much easier to get a job and write to fulfil one’s calling.
For many pagans it seems that the descriptor is adopted as a lifestyle choice rather than a vocation, but I suppose it has always been the case that most adherents of religions are adopting social and cultural roles – or even nominally conventional customs – rather than vocational ones. But, as you say, for those that are following a vocation the support systems offered by mainstream organised religions can allow them to do this. But we must support ourselves – and each other – in whatever way we can.
I have been involved in a few different attempts to create a pagan community, though only successfully for brief periods, over the years and have developed my own vocation, partly assisted by these, which by now I regard as a more less individual path of relationship, though one that is shared with a few like-minded individuals like yourself. When I was young and unattached, I was able to devote time to this and engage in explorations to find my path. Since I have retired I have been able to return to the single-minded pursuit of following it, though the need for exploration is less and the capacity for it reduced. In-between, with a job in teaching and a family, I could not be so single-minded but kept the vocation going throughout. We do what we can, when we can, and with whoever we can, being mindful of the gods in all we do.
I hope you manage to find a way of maintaining yourself while following you path and trust that you will be shown a way forward.
Thank you for your supportive words, Greg. That experience of attempting to create a pagan community with various groups – firstly TDN, then Dun Brython, now the Awen & Awenydd group, seems to be a familiar pattern to me. Let’s hope the Awenydd group continues to work out! Likewise, at least I now have that individual path of relationship with my deity and a few solid friendships to depend on whether wider pagan communities survive or fail /I\
Fantastic. Gives shape to my own puzzling experiences.