Friends, Allies or Servants?: On Human-Other Relationships

Ever since the dawning of humanity’s spiritual consciousness, we have been trying to create and re-create relationships with the rest of existence. Indeed, many scholars (including mythologist Joseph Campbell) argue that the root of the word religion, religiō, probably derives from Latin ligare “to bind, connect”, making re-ligare “to reconnect, bind together again”.

This reconnection speaks to some sense of loss, or distance, between humans and the rest of creation. There are numerous myths that speak of some breaking away or disconnect between nature and humanity, usually with the humans having forgotten, forfeited or otherwise lost some intrinsic part of their natures, parts that they had previously shared with animals, plants, etc. In the various monotheisms, this is usually termed the Fall, and associated in the largest of them with the story of Eden and the Tree. Non-monotheistic mythologies have different stories explaining what happened, but of those that do contain a falling away, religion is seen as the process and attempts of regaining or reconnecting that part.

Throughout recorded history and myth, there are countless tales of one manner in which this reconnection takes place – that of human-Other relationships, from the tribal totem ancestor to the marriage of the Christ, and more. Demigods and other half-divine humans, fairy lovers, artists with a muse, deity-brides, heirodules, maenads, shamans and other walkers between worlds – all have some sort of unique relationship with one or more spirits or powers, often with a romantic or sexual component.

On the converse side of the coin, there are also the relationships of power – the summoning, binding, and subjugation of spirits and demons in sorcery and ceremonial magic, the taming and breaking of wild animals (how many of our strongest and most prevalent relationships with our animal kin came into being – horses as an exemplary example), and the Jinn, egregores, golems and other captive or created beings who serve the will of human masters.

In recent years throughout modern paganism, there has been the ascendance of a different type of human-Other power relationship, mostly exemplified in spiritworker circles. Whereas traditional human-Other relationship with the power differential leaning toward the spirit were usually romantic, sexual and intimate, much like a romantic relationship between humans, this new type adds an element of power struggle or imbalance and sometimes skips the romance altogether or turns it into a BDSM-oriented relationship. There are some spiritworkers and other pagans who have more traditional relationships with their spirits, but by and large the most vocal are those who fall under this newer style, usually termed god-slavery.

A fourth type of human-Other relationship that has been documented in folklore, and also exists today is that of humans who, through physical or spiritual means, have as part of their makeup non-human traits or abilities. In older days, these were considered to have had fairy, elven, giant or troll ancestors, and thus were direct blood-descendants of these spirits and beings. A common example of these are the various Scottish clans who claim descent from all manner of Scottish and Irish spirits – selkies, kelpies, various unclassified fairies/fae, the Tuatha Dé Danaan themselves, etc. In modern times, there are those who exhibit these traditional characteristics themselves or are part of a family who have carried traditional claims throughout decades and centuries, and also the growing subculture of “otherkin”, those who feel that some part of them is other than human, whether that be a previous life as non-human or an addition to their otherwise human self.

In Waincraft, forming relationships – whether they be with physical persons, animals, plants, trees, and landscapes, or spiritual ones – is an important part of reconnecting with our world. Some of these, particularly those between physical persons and spirits, may certainly have sexual or romantic overtones (or even be, like the stories of old, loves and lusts and marriages between humans and spirits). Waincraft does not hold that any particular relationship is right or wrong in its own regard, (certainly every type of relationship is right and wrong for different people and their needs, however), but values the diversity and wonder that reconnecting with those outside of our own selves, provided it is enjoyable, productive and nurturing to all involved.

The real truth is that we humans are not so different from everyone else, nor are they wholly alien to us. Everyone in existence loves, loses, grieves, laughs, flirts (have you seen spring flowers courting the bees?), yearns, grows and changes – even gods, even microbes. And the reason for that, is that we are all, in our own ways, kin to each and every thing that exists from the largest galaxy to the smallest bacterium. And our relationships should reflect this, whatever forms they take. The spirits are our family, the animals are our brothers and sisters, the plants and trees and mountains our uncles and aunts and cousins.

Instead of power and all its potential for abuse, corruption and coercion, let our relationships be founded and grown in love, with respect for ourselves and our worth, respect for our partners and their worth, and in the recognition that in the Great Web, all our strands merge, all our destinies intertwine, we are all Alive, together.

In omnibus sit amor.