Patreon Topic 20: On Worshiping vs Working With

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“Working with vs worship. Where is the line, is there a line, how does this dichotomy play into a layperson’s spirituality vs a spiritual specialist’s practice from your perspective?”

I am going to start with the basic definitions of the words and work out from there. I also want folks to bear in mind that the answers I am going to give come from my perspective as a Heathen. In my experiences with Wicca there is a lot more blending of worship and spiritwork vs that of Heathenry, especially for laypeople.

Work is “1 Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result…2 A task or tasks to be undertaken.”

Worship is “1 The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity. 1.1 Religious rites or ceremonies, constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity.”

The fairly bright line between these two is the purpose for which a spiritual activity is engaged in. Is the work with a God a religious rite or ceremony ‘constituting a formal expression of reverence for a deity’, or is it ‘effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result?” Where that line gets a lot less bright is in the shades of gray where a God may have us do work in service to Them. Even so, unless the worship of my God is the point of the activity at hand, then it is work of some kind of work I am undertaking for Them rather than worshiping Them. Work can, of course, be done as a devotional activity, “Of or used in religious worship”, such as dedicating the sweat of one’s exercise as an offering, or the money one earn’s going to a monthly donation to a water preservation effort in one’s State as an offering to the watervaettir.

Can working with the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir involve worshiping Them? Certainly. Every time I engage in Runework I am making prayers of worship and thanks to Óðinn and the Runevaettir, my Dísir, Väter, Ergi, Þverr, other Ancestors, fylgja, kinfylgja, and other vaettir who may work with me during the Runework. I make offerings before and/or after the Runework. However, the overall focus of the Runework is in the name: it is to do work with the Runes. Likewise, spiritwork of all kinds (including Runework obviously) can involve worship even if the worship itself is not the sole focus.

So we could be very stark and say ‘this is work and this is worship and never the twain shall meet’ and just a cursory look at my own practice would not bear this out. I explored this a bit in my August 2020 Q&A 1 where Elfwort asked me about magic.

I think where the dichotomy comes into a layperson’s spirituality is if they choose to engage in spiritwork. My wife very rarely engages in spiritwork, and when she does, it is usually because Frigg or Brighid, has called her to do it. Most of her expression and experiences, religiously speaking, are those of worship. I would say that unless a layperson is regularly choosing to engage in spiritwork this is also their experience.

A spiritual specialist does tend to blend the two, especially in work they are called to do. My work as a spiritworker are areas where I tend to blend a lot of worship and work together. In order to do a Rune reading well I need to have had a developed relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, have studied the Runes, and experience reading the Runes. Initiation into working with Runatýr and the Runevaettir was part of this for me. The set up for doing this work well is to have a good relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, and so this requires to make prayers and offerings. Spiritwork and worship come together into a whole relationship.

Is it necessary for every spiritual relationship in spiritwork to combine worship and work? No. There are some spirits that I may have to work with, eg the spirits of disease, for whom I have no desire to have a worship relationship with. I just want them gone or handled. Here, the line is fairly bright since I have a goal in mind for working with (or working on, as the case may be) a spirit. A spiritual relationship can also be quite different depending on context. My work with Yggr has been “We have things to work on” rather than a worship relationship. Yggr is Óðinn, to be sure, but this heiti generally comes forward when something needs to be done or worked on.

If there is a hard, bright line between worship and spiritwork, I do not often see it. Often my spiritwork is interwoven with worship, and my relationship as solidified through my worship is the backbone of how and why I can do work with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in the first place. I think this can be equally true for laypeople, since laypeople are not spiritual specialists but can have entire swathes of spiritwork available to them. Where it plays into one’s life is where we choose to go with it, and where we are called to by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

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