Love and Labor

(This post started out as a reply to Redfaery on the post Is There Work For Me? I wanted to clarify that though my polytheism and my spirit work are fundamentally connected, they are not exactly the same thing. I’d like to nip in the bud any line of thought that states that our human love is capital, labor, or employment. Though a number of polytheists happen to be spirit workers, polytheism is a religious framework and spirit work is….well, something a little different that I’ve struggled for a very long time to put into clear language. Basically I want to make very clear that the distinct, personal, individual, and sweetly human love for the divine is too precious and valuable to be treated like labor, even though there may sometimes be effort involved. So this is to Redfaery, a dear and sweetly devoted person whose love of Saraswati touches me deeply – but it’s also to anyone else who I may have made feel slighted or diminished by my words. I’m sorry. I love your love and I honor your affection.)

I sincerely hope that I haven’t contributed to your feelings of discontent. I believe some bloggers and writers (myself included) consciously or unconsciously draw on the terminology of the “Great Work” as referenced in various magical traditions. (Precisely what the Great Work is in these contexts is also not terribly clear because it’s understood that each individual practitioner will discover its nuances and particulars as they apply themselves to study and practice according to the guidelines of the tradition they’re part of.)

When I personally talk about the Work, I’m referring specifically to my Work, and this Work is the cosmic, macro-level aspect of my daily, micro-level spirit work, which is a service-oriented and tutorial relationship with a great many spirits and Powers wherein I provide a lot of ground-level, go-fer style assistance to making Their presence more firmly established in this world and/or aiding Them in Their work and/or providing Them with the things They have difficulty providing for Themselves (this last bit is especially true in the case of spirits). These are endeavors that anyone can do, should they feel motivated to. Indeed, by expressing our love and affection for Them in a myriad ways, we are already fulfilling the first task I named.

Even though our worship and affection might have some instrumental facet, I feel that there’s some potential danger in characterizing the emotionally-based relationships we share with the High Ones as labor. Humans are not engines that produce an exhaust of loving emotion. We should be cautious about labeling our love as labor or employment; it is a short jump from there to thinking of our love as capital – which leads us right back to the vending machine model of divine relationship that many of us work so hard to root out in our own hearts and minds. (The vending machine model being that the High Ones dispense blessings when love is shoved inside them. This is perspective is demeaning to us and Them, but it is a model that nonetheless pops up in sacred relationships from time to time.)

Love is valuable for its own reasons, for its own sake, for its own experience. There is effort involved in the cultivation of emotional capacity, in the uprooting of psychological baggage that prevents or distorts the experience of love, and there is effort required in persisting in affection when injury is felt. Love, however, has a self-sustaining character. It arises spontaneously, blossoming from itself and creating its own increase. The experience of love might be effortless, unexpected, sudden – but it is not employment. I shouldn’t think of my affection as currency or labor; I hope you don’t, either.

Love is not production. Love is not capital.

I engage in spirit work because it was an opportunity presented me by a god I love. It is a path of service, self-improvement, insight, and growth that is fueled by my love for the divine and for this world. I took it up because my spiritual trajectory (my dharm, if you will), clouded the appeal and availability of other outcomes. There were other options in the choice I was offered, but there was only one correct one. My spirit work is an expression of my love. It is one facet of my affection, but conflating my useful potential – my capital – for my ability and capacity to love the gods is a mistake. This is a mistake I’ve made numerous times and it’s one that I will make many, many more times. I’d like to warn people away from the heartache and damage the results from this mistake.

You are not an engine of affection. Love from pleasure. Love from desire. Love from spiritual loneliness and a longing for celestial (or infernal!) comfort. Love for the High Ones cannot be contracted, bought, or bartered for. It is presence freely given – from us to Them.

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