For many years I’ve observed a strong crossover between devotional practitioners and spirit workers. In the grand Venn diagram of my personal informal observational study, there is considerable shared territory. It’s not absolute or even predominate; it’s maybe 50/50. That is – about half of devotional practitioners are likely to have some sort of spirit work calling going on and about half of spirit workers are likely to have a strong devotional streak to what they do. (However, I do believe that one is not necessarily likely to predict the other and I’ve not really noticed any firm or reliable trends that predict either. Devotional inclinations develop along the lines of personality usually and spirit work, well, that’s for the Gods to decide, isn’t it?)
My spirit work is strongly expressed through emotional connection and the language of relationship; my life as a devotionalist is indelibly shaped by the fact of my existence as a spirit worker. I imagine that this situation is familiar to many of my readers. Despite the analytic seduction of this particular correlation I have rarely found any firm connective tissue that would tie the two together in a manner that would be meaningful to anyone else.
However, I recently uncovered a little tidbit that might tie these two worlds together a little more strongly – at least in some cases. I do maintain that the path of the spirit worker and the path of the devotionalist are different enough that we need not explain one in terms of the other; similarly, a person should never feel pressured or under the assumption that one path indicates the emergence of the other. (While I do have opinions about how closely they are related in a spiritual and karmic sense, those are simply opinions and thus are always changing and not terribly reliable.) All those disclaimers said, here’s a little sample of what I discovered.
I found that in certain cases of extreme devotional fervor, in intense moods of separation and love in particular, the physical bodies of devotees are said to have changed somehow. Some of these changes are mythical in their extremity (like the shrinking of limbs) but those highly visible changes are built up to with more subtle changes over a long period of time. These smaller changes are both the response to the extreme emotions of the devotees and evidence of these feelings. Perhaps most tellingly, there is a precedent for increased physical sensitivity in the devotees.
Heightened sensitivity is nothing new to many of the long-term devotional practitioners I know. Sensitivity to environmental stressors seem to be the most frequently experienced. Light, noise, the press of people, and even various psychic and spiritual forces are causes of overstimulation, discomfort, distress, and general discontent and anxiety for a number of people I know. Some of this is personality but some of it….well.
Spirit workers are quite familiar with the understanding that the path changes them merely as a natural outcome of engagement. It is inevitable. Some of these changes are referred to as mods or modifications, spiritual (or not-so-spiritual) adjustments that make us better able to execute the particular tasks we’re called for. Though mods are (or used to be) spoken of as deliberate alterations that the Powers initiate, modification happens on its own. We grow a new spiritual (or not-so-spiritual) body in response to the demands of the path and our engagement with it. I’ve personally developed a handful of food sensitivities that I feel are pretty closely related to the Work. A friend speculated that the weird, undiagnosed physical ailments I live with are one manifestation of the frustrated shaman’s path I’m part of. Maybe, maybe not. There are precious few spiritual clinicians out there that can diagnose these things. But anyway.
Finding an acknowledgement that devotional practice carries the potential for profound and subtle transformations was actually quite significant for me. Yes, there seems to be little reason to expect an intense spiritual path to *not* change a person and indeed, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence within our contemporary pagan and polytheistic communities to support this. Even in more magical currents, including traditional witchcraft, sabbatic trads, and Western mystery stuff, you find the acknowledgement that people are changed in some way by having emotional ties with Powers. (These are usually discussed in terms of magical powers obtained through the company of a spirit, but change is change.) But see, I study devotional practice. I specifically study devotional practice in the context of bhakti and modern paganism. In many ways bhakti is my guidebook. I rely on this tradition of generations of devotional experts to provide a certain guidance through what I’m experiencing here and now. I don’t mistake what I’m doing for bhakti, but bhakti helps me make sense of what’s happening in my life. So when the tradition that has taught me says, “Hey, your longing and love for the Divine really does change your shit”, it’s significant to me.
This is a pretty new little discovery and I’ll need to do some more digging before I can really share more details on it. For now I’ll offer this to my fellow Heartroad-ers: Yes, your love and longing is real to this world and others. Yes, your physical existence is shaped by the company you keep. Yes, these transformations are sacred and they are the scripture that your life is writing. And yes, the frightening and monstrous and disturbing transformations we endure are all the more beautiful and profound because they are proof that we participate in a love that is stronger than life as we understand it.
Someday I’ll write about how I’ve become my own proof of the Gods. Someday I’ll talk more about my weird gold eyes.