Reading A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses by Isabel Colgate last night, I was stopped short by a casual remark she made that seems to me to actually be highly significant. Speaking of medieval hermits who had frequent visions, she wrote:
“They might have found it easy to say, ‘I saw,’ or ‘I heard a voice,’ where we might say, ‘I suddenly realized,’ or ‘I understood.'”
I don’t think this is a simple difference in terminology, but a fundamental shift in belief and worldview that I see expressed all too often not just in the general populace (where I expect there to be few people who believe in the reality of visions and the divine), or in the various forms of paganism, but within the ranks of mystics, spirit-workers, and the like who have been so influenced by our skeptical and mundane culture that they regularly downplay their own sacred experiences. And not just publicly, where some measure of humility and caution is reasonable, but in their own internal dialogues – they are afraid to commit to the reality that they hear and see the spirit world, to the point where they will credit truly otherworldly revelations to the workings of their own subconscious, just to be safe.
Now, I’m not saying that all ideas, mental images, whispered thoughts, or realizations – even those that are truly significant or seem to magically arise from nowhere – are products of the gods and spirits, not even for the most dedicated mystic. In fact, the process of discernment between internal and external sources for such experiences is a crucial skill that each such spiritual specialist must learn over time, and no one is going to be perfect at it. But pagans who actually believe in the divine entities they call on must then acknowledge that sometimes, those entities answer. And those who spend their life in conversation with such shouldn’t be reluctant to admit, even to themselves, the source of their inspirations.
So I call on all serious polytheists – don’t hide behind watered-down phrasing, especially in private conversation. Be willing to name the miracles that happen to you. Tread cautiously, of course, and be as sure as you can be that you’ve identified the right source, but after that, take courage and call it what it is.
I see the spirits. I hear the voices of the gods.