I just started reading Door Into Shadow, at work, because it is engaging high fantasy and I need escapism. But it reminded me of the huge impact Diane had (and still has) on my ethical system.
She writes high fantasy and modern fantasy (as well as Star Trek novels) but the thought behind them is largely the same (and they might as well exist in parallel universes), and I basically took what underpins her fiction whole cloth to be my ethics, with very minor edits. I know Diane Duane self-googles periodically, and though I think I ought to promise myself I won’t go fishing for her attention, I wouldn’t mind it, and I don’t think she would be disappointed.
In her modern fantasy universe, the cosmology goes like this: At the beginning of things, the universe was created by a collection of Beings on whose reality-beyond-reality the ordinary reality of things is founded. One of those Beings is bitter and runious – Death/Entropy – and is in the sandbox kicking over what It can. As a species becomes self-aware, this Lone Power presents Its shitty (but shiny) gifts of suffering to them; this interaction affects that species’ longevity and relationship to death, as well as (or at least) its cultural narratives to understand those things. The other Powers oppose and mitigate It, and empower sentient beings wherever they are, to do this same Work.
Okay that is all great, BUT the most important thing about this cosmology as it plays out in the lives of Our Heros is that — those powers are not named. Or at least rarely named. It is not important if Kit’s strengths put him most closely in the domain of the archetype of the Artificer, or whatever it may be. The Powers are real, and may be immanent, or found in unexpected places, and you may shout to Them but They rarely answer back. They are busy, and you should be busy too. The primary job of these blessed and called people is not to turn back around and thank the Powers continually for what they have been given, but to change the world.
Our Heros meet, at one point (I think) Lugh, in Ireland. This Being is not spending His time in mortal form with neopagans of any stripe (except, I suppose, by happenstance) consoling and advising those people in whose religions Lugh plays a part. He is a blacksmith, shoeing horses, out of (as modern blacksmiths do) a forge in the back of a truck. Lugh is being Lugh, and if there is a lesson to learn from a belief that reality is founded on the reality-beyond-reality of many individual Holy Powers, it is to spend your time being particularly yourself, and doing the work that it is particularly yours to do.
Every religious path, at its best**, has this goal. The devout Kemetic upholds Ma’at, order, the bulwark against chaos, by being polite to the grocery store cashier; by sorting their recycling. The Methodists down my street preach their gospel by not preaching at all to the people they serve with a food pantry. I do not care what you believe (though I do like to chat theology with people who believe similarly to me) but if you are interested in getting the work done, we can work together.
Any moment when you are up to your elbows in hard work, kicking its ass and making progress (however blessed and right that work may feel) is not a moment before a shrine or inside a ritual. At its best, moments spent in formal ritual will give you inspiration, power, support, and grounding to then go out and do the work, or renew and comfort and console you after you’ve been doing it.
Although I say that literal hard work is thing that ritual work exists to support, there is no reason to get bogged down in minutiae. The Work that exists for an individual to do is exactly the same size as their capability. The small things are important and make a foundation, but for a gifted organizer, for a compelling speaker, for a savvy lawyer or an inspired artist to sit at home and sort their recycling faithfully and by that work say they are changing the world is a lie. To say that one doesn’t know what their Work is is abdicating the responsibility to find it. And (another point on which I think ours and Duane’s created universes agree) we don’t have time to waste. The best time to plant a tree is forty years ago. The best time to give a poor mother a leg up is when she was a child. The second best time is now.
In the words of an old saw that I love, “Don’t pray to God for a solution. She already sent one. You’re it.”
**I am sure there are exceptions, and those exceptions will be all versions of religions that I can’t stand.