May 2, 2012

Fancy Titles

Titles are interesting beasts. The Gods have them (think of Odin’s many honorifics), and humans have them too. In spiritual circles, you’ll come across all sorts of titles. There are priests and priestesses and shamans and spirit-workers and… well, anything else you can think of. Some titles might be ordered for free (the Universal Life Church comes to mind here) or bought from a presumed authority or earned through training. Others might be given directly by a Deity or another entity. The ways of coming by a title are as myriad as the possible titles themselves.

In my day-to-day life, I have a fancy title. Technically, I am to be addressed as “Your Honor” or “The Honorable.” As a practical matter, the main time I ever encounter this appellation is when I'm receiving correspondence from the bar association. Since we don't wear black robes or carry around a gavel, "Your Honor" tends to get lost in all the bustle. Still, the title is mine. Acquiring it was a matter of being hired for a particular job and then swearing to an oath administered by a busy clerk in a windowless office. The entire process probably took less than 60 seconds. Nonetheless, at that moment I was suddenly was transformed into “The Honorable."

Receiving a title might be a quick affair. Living up to one's title is much more involved and can entail a lot of responsibility. For example, I have to accept certain restrictions on "everyday" freedoms, even when I'm off-duty. Likewise, practicing attorneys must navigate the complex world of legal ethics--a mere implication that they've accepted someone as a client potentially sets them up for a great deal of suffering.

All of this is to say that serious titles can involve serious burdens.

Back to spiritual matters: I do believe that the Gods and Goddesses might give us titles of various sorts. Committing to being a devotee would certainly be an example of this. However, a word of caution. It seems to me that our Norse Deities can be a practical lot with Their own peculiar sense of humor. Imagine, if you will, a God or Goddess handing you a sword or an ax, the most beautifully crafted and perfectly balanced weapon you have ever held. Imagine further that you have little to no training in using this particular weapon.

What do you do with that shining sword or resplendent ax? Do you immediately wave it around for everyone to see and perhaps lob off a few of your neighbors' fingers? Or do you accept the gift with respect and deliberation, and then take the time to receive advice and instruction on its use?

Titles--especially ones backed by oaths to the Gods--are a serious matter. This is not to say that all is necessarily lost if there has been some confusion. For example, in her book Fulltrui: Patrons in Asatru, Mist gives an excellent account of having a patronage commitment renegotiated from Odin to Frigg. Our Gods are truly good Gods, and They do not set us up for failure.

We do need to be sensible, though. Not every person who claims to have a spiritual title is reliable. Step back, and watch how they wield their presumed gift. Words are words. Keep an eye out for what follows after those words.

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