Seems like there’s been an explosion lately of fairly new polytheists getting into the mystical side of things – godspouses, spirit-workers, hedgewitches, etc. – and diving right in to pretty direct relationships with gods and spirits. Before they’ve even read up thoroughly on the lore and tradition behind a deity, they’re having conversations with Them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think this kind of direct engagement is what will keep our religions vibrant, meaningful, and relevant for centuries to come, rather than stagnating within the confines of rigid reconstructionism. I’ve always advocated that, along with study, one should begin practicing from day one. Start building those relationships early on, and value your own personal experience along with the collective experiences of those who have gone before.

But (you knew there was going to be a “but”)… it seems that a very crucial element of such practice is being neglected amongst this new crop of enthusiastic polytheists, and that is discernment. It is important to discern between what a god might like, or do, or say, and what They actually do like, are doing, are saying.

I read a lot from people who appear to be having constant conversations with the gods as if They were simply invisible friends, always near and always interested in everything we think or do. You get the impression that gods have nothing better to do than comment on one’s choice of breakfast cereal, or snark on a tv show, or tell you what to wear every day. These gods seem somewhat more like simple story characters – more personality than archetypes, but similarly limited and predictable in how They will act or react – than the awesome, complex, spiritual Powers that They are.

Now, this level of engagement isn’t without its usefulness. Any way one reaches out to the gods can be good – it keeps you focused on Them, and lays the foundation for deeper levels of communication at other times. Interacting with Them as a “character” can function to keep you at least lightly connected on a more constant basis than you could manage with true, direct contact (which would be hard to keep up while still working, driving, interacting with other people, or anything else that requires a lot of attention). It’s not all in your imagination, it just means that you’re mostly connecting with a surface layer of that deity, one which doesn’t require Them to be particularly (or at least, continually) active in the exchange. But doing this makes you more receptive when the god does fully manifest, which might happen at any time (yes, even while driving – I didn’t claim to be consistent).

Provided, of course, that you recognize the manifestation for the notable and exceptional occurrence that it is. The problem comes when you fail to distinguish between that sort of light contact and the type of intense communion with deity that marks a more substantial communication. Traditional shamans, mystics and witches – around the world and throughout the ages – wouldn’t have developed so many ways of altering consciousness and ritually approaching the gods if it were as simple as talking to Them in your head all day.

The gods are not just people who happen to be invisible and inaudible to most (despite our tendency toward anthropomorphism), and They are not limited to our ideas about Them. If the god you’re hearing never seems to stray (in appearance, tone, message, etc.) from what one would expect based on other people’s experiences, if They never surprise or even shock you, never challenge you, and if They are always there whenever you happen to turn your attention toward Them, then you are probably not touching the true nature of that god. To reiterate, you don’t always need to be doing so. But if you never go further, if you fail to recognize the limits of this everyday chit-chat sort of approach and thus fail to push yourself to access a deeper level of communication, then you will never really know the god you love as thoroughly as you could, and that is a shame, especially for one who aspires to that sort of mystic relationship.

I talk with my gods and spirits all the time (sometimes They even tell me what to wear – see above comment about consistency). I feel Their presence around me on a daily basis. I know and believe that is real, but I understand it isn’t the whole story. They have other things going on besides me. I see something that reminds me of one of Them, and think that They would like it… but I don’t then assume that They do like it unless I have an undeniable confirmation of such – a direct communication while in trance, a confirmatory omen or divination, etc. If I want to get Their full attention, I work for it – I do ritual, I put power behind my words and actions, I choose potent times and places, and then I shift my own consciousness to a receptive state in which I can listen and see more clearly. And I never, ever assume I have reached the end of this work to get closer to Them. There is always another level, both in the everyday connection (which can, to be sure, deepen in its own way, over time) and the more intense ritual times. But I know it is work, and it does not come of wishful thinking but of practice, experience, faith, time, trial & error, challenge, and sweat. The good thing about this is that there is always something even better to look forward to.

~ by Dver on December 9, 2011.

71 Responses to “Discernment”

  1. I don’t think I’d like it if my gods had to tell me what to wear. I can make those types of decisions on my own and have been able to since I was five (when my mom explained to me the horrors of stripes and plaids put together).

    • Ha! Yes, in general I agree, I don’t need the gods’ advice or instruction on every aspect of my daily life. However, there are certain simple rules I follow in my appearance that were guided by my religious life, and occasionally the gods directly (though most of the time they are still my decision, in a devotional context). Same with food choices. I have nothing against religiously-motivated life decisions, even in seemingly minor aspects, but I don’t think the *gods* are all up in our business every minute of our lives, not even for those of us who are “god-bothered”.

  2. This is interesting. Myself being a new-ish polytheist (and the kind that is rather hesitant to ‘dive straight in’ in most situations), I’ve always sort of wondered about those people who say they talk to their gods all day and night. I don’t think I could do that, personally, it would seem too much like my childhood ‘imaginary friends’, and I’d go crazy second-guessing myself…
    It’s neat to read about those who are ‘god-bothered’, though. Surely shines a different perspective on things!

  3. I’ve been acquainted with a couple of individuals who seemed to be in constant contact with their god(s), and at the time it felt rather overwhelming, as if they’d somehow figured it all out and that was the standard to which the rest of us needed to aspire. It’s almost a relief to have, in time, realized that this is not the case. I won’t say, though, that I don’t sometimes feel disappointed at the lack of connectedness and clear communication – or rather, its infrequency, as I am not entirely missing those things. I suppose as with most things, it’s a balance.

    I do sometimes still struggle with the balance between experiences of/with a god that are consistent with or divergent from the experiences of others. I agree very much with your remarks that if we only ever experience the expected, we might not be going deeply enough into our communication with them. However, I find that when I’ve had an experience or insight that I can’t find documented or described anywhere, I become very doubtful and skeptical, and start to consider that perhaps I’ve strayed too far down the ‘wishful thinking’ path. Surely by now, I ask myself, someone would have encountered Them in that same way and written of it somewhere. It’s easier to doubt the validity of what I think I’ve experienced than to allow myself to think that perhaps it was a true thing. Perhaps it feels too much like hubris, to think that I’d have been given this special/different/unexpected view of Them.

    • Do it enough, and the frequency and clarity will improve. Especially if you work on learning various forms of altered consciousness, and also practice a lot of divination and pay more attention to possible omens. That being said, you may never be having daily chit-chats about the weather, but why would one want to talk to gods about nothing anyway? I’ve never understood that.

      I know what you mean about questioning the unusual experiences, and that’s a good practice. The gods will not always stay in the boxes we’ve created for Them, but that doesn’t mean we should accept without question something that doesn’t seem to fit previous knowledge and experience. It could, after all, be coming from our own minds, or be a mis-interpretation of a true communication. That’s where divination, omen-reading, consulting others, etc. comes in. It’s easier to accept if you can get some kind of external confirmation. Otherwise, well, it’s not horrible to just set it aside for the moment – you don’t have to DO anything with aberrant information, and sometimes I just kind of shrug and go “maybe” and figure I’ll revisit it if I need to later on.

      I don’t think it’s hubris, though, to think the gods might have something to say to you that They haven’t said to anyone else. We are all unique, our paths are unique and our relationships to the gods as well. Makes sense that some of the communication coming from Them might vary with the person receiving it, for any number of reasons.

    • However, I find that when I’ve had an experience or insight that I can’t find documented or described anywhere, I become very doubtful and skeptical, and start to consider that perhaps I’ve strayed too far down the ‘wishful thinking’ path. Surely by now, I ask myself, someone would have encountered Them in that same way and written of it somewhere. It’s easier to doubt the validity of what I think I’ve experienced than to allow myself to think that perhaps it was a true thing. Perhaps it feels too much like hubris, to think that I’d have been given this special/different/unexpected view of Them.

      [nods] I know that feeling well. Doubt is easy, but wishful thinking is just as easy, if not moreso. This is where I turn to divination for confirmation, and when that’s inconclusive, I’ll still write it down in my notebooks for future reference, in case similar messages and experiences build up.

      As for the potential of hubris, while a valid concern, the gods work in mysterious ways, and sometimes a message may be “individualised” for the purpose of making it easier to understand, or similar, or some other reason.

  4. love you.

  5. I’m always a bit put off by the people who say that they weren’t spiritual at all until a deity popped up and starting telling them what to do, but what they told them seems mainly to be “Give me some of your soda” and “This television show is funny”. I had a deity pop up and turn me off of atheism, but he came in a flash of thunder and shook the earth, not sounding like a casual friend. I really do believe that these people are having genuine experiences, but I wonder if their constant contact gets in the way of deeper, more meaningful connections. I also get suspicious because I’ve read in a lot of traditions about spirits showing up and pretending to be deities. These spirits are easily flushed out for their true nature by a fairly proficient practitioner, but someone who didn’t have any contact with spirituality on any level prior to someone popping in their head may not have the tools to make a critical assessment (or the desire).

    • Yes, I totally agree with your first few sentences! A god should shake your world, not go right to being your casual pal. And you make a good point about the danger of spirits masquerading as something else – it’s definitely a possibility, and more of a problem if you have no context for evaluation, or even any concept that it might be necessary.

    • “I had a deity pop up and turn me off of atheism, but he came in a flash of thunder and shook the earth, not sounding like a casual friend.”

      *chuckle* Loki first came to me more quietly than most people would believe, given His reputation — as either a loudmouthed, shallow jokester, or the terrible, vindictive bringer of Ragnarok. But He was neither of those things to me, at first, though I eventually saw those parts of Him later on. He seduced me as only He can and in a way I found impossible to resist, but I never for one moment forget that I was dealing with a god. Sometimes I read about other people’s experiences of Him and wonder if we are, in fact, talking about the same deity…but then again, I bet people read what I write and wonder the same thing.

  6. I wonder if that “character” type of conversation you mention is actually what they mean, and it just sounds like they think it’s more because things don’t translate through text. I don’t think I’ve read much where people talk like that at all, but it could be that I just don’t read it the same way. I’ve had people tell me my own experiences sound a little hokey and they assume I’m imagining things – and they’re right. I’m very new at all this and I’ve had a very difficult time learning to control my mind and develop further, so most of my experiences so far are superficial. I make a point of praying throughout the day and letting the limited understanding I have of them speak through my imagination when I need to feel a little of that connection, and I think I take it for granted that people know where I’m coming from and forget they won’t automatically know I don’t literally mean the gods are speaking to me throughout the day. I’m sure part of it is that I was raised Baptist and I’m already used to talking about prayer this way and having people know what I mean, and forget that in a tradition where the gods actually do speak if you do the work, talking about it in the same way doesn’t work.

    Anyway, I like the points you make here, and the reminder that there is more. Sometimes it seems like I’m never going to grow enough to experience it, and that’s frustrating and sometimes makes me wonder if there’s nothing more to see. But reading from people who have gone farther is encouraging and makes me even more determined to keep working and to do whatever I can to experience the gods in some way. Thank you!

    • I don’t know, that might be true, but OTOH I’ve seen this coming from people who identify as pretty serious devotees but make no mention of any intense ritual or trancework, so I have to wonder. But it is true that what someone writes on a blog does not necessarily constitute their full religious life.

      I do think you have to start somewhere, and that letting things come as they will, and then sorting through them later, has some benefits. As long as you’re aware that not everything is necessarily straight from the gods, it can be very useful.

      As for your last paragraph, I feel that same way too! I look to people like the sadhus of India and feel hopelessly behind, but I just keep working on it. 15 years and I’m really only just beginning. That might sound bad, but I think it’s actually wonderful, in that we will always have more to strive for, and longing for closeness to the gods is a powerful thing.

  7. What a lovely discerning post, again. Though I do not know much about the Gods (first-hand), I do have experience with some people who claim the ‘god-bothered’ and I think you paint a very accurate picture of some of them. I think a lot of people fear there must be something wrong if they do not have a patron/matron relationship with a God and thus many are very vocal about the little conversations with them in order to show that they belong.

    I have read almost everything there is read on you website, including the recommended literature. If you had to recommend one single book for someone interested in trance-work, who has little experience in exactly that, but doesn’t like most pagan how-to books, what would it be? I would like something that is a how-to book, but has some intellectual depth to it as well. Your oracle-work for me a couple of months earlier has left me wanting more.

    • Honestly, I have not come across a how-to book on trance that I could truly recommend (the only one that is even vaguely decent was problematic for me on many levels – see my previous post: https://forestdoor.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/the-gods-are-real/). I’m not even convinced it’s something one can really teach in a book. Personally, I learned through a combination of trial & error, in-person mentors, spirits teaching me directly, entheogens, and long study of cross-cultural techniques. The latter gives us the most fodder for book study, because you can learn a lot from examining the practices of mystics and shamans throughout the ages. So in that vein, I’d recommend:

      Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities Through the Senses by Lynne Hume
      Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession by I.M. Lewis
      Music and Trance by Gilbert Rouget

      The only for-practitioners book I can think of that deals with ASC in a solid and in-depth manner, while not exactly a how-to book, is Raven Kaldera’s “Wightridden”. It is geared towards Northern Tradition stuff, but there’s plenty that applies to anyone, and I’ve gotten a lot from that book.

      • Thanks Dver. I had been looking at Trance-portation so I am glad I read your review before spending any money on it. I think Portals would the best book for me at the moment. It seems pretty comprehensive, I had not thought of using the sense of smell for example. The academic tone does not bother me, however in the absence of in-person mentors, something like Kaldera’s book may be useful to me as well in time.

        I have to save some funds for the new devotional of Neos Alexandria: Queen of the Sacred Way, so I think I’ll start with Portals.

  8. Thank you for this – it’s something I’ve been thinking about and worrying about. I believe the Gods spoke through you today – at least for me.

  9. Please forgive my old-school naiveté, but do people really claim that the gods are discussing television, or was that statement purely illustrative?

    • I can’t speak to Dver’s personal experiences, but when the Hellenistai forum was still active, there was one guy who claimed to have, in his words, a “patron relationship” with Hermes and Athene, but then in other posts, sometimes even the same posts, would admit that he doesn’t even burn daily devotional incense or pray, yet is very adamant in his belief that the gods, and Hermes and Athene especially, are his bestest buddies who just crap favours out to him cos he’s cool beans or something. These usually aren’t even significant favours that are clearly a signal from the Divine; one of these “favours” that I remember him attributing to Hermes was “Hermes found [his] screwdriver for [him] today”, as if the possibility that he simply remembered where it was, or that it was a coincidence that he found it when he did never crossed his mind — anything even just kind-of-a-nice-thing to happen to him is somehow obviously his ol’ buddy Hermes helping him out for nothing in return. Not to sound mean, but while I believe that he believes this is Hermes and/or Athene just showering him with stupid little insignificant favours, I don’t believe that the kind of bond he implicitly and on occasion explicitly claims can or will last long when some-one stops practising even the most basic regular ritual, assuming they ever did in the first place –but I digress.

      So, while I’ve not encountered people claiming verbatim to discuss television with the Gods, I’ve seen people who describe, at best, to only have a super-casual relationship with any one deity, and in the same breath implicitly put this on the same level as an intense patron relationship (that’s not to say that there aren’t several levels of patron deity, especially in ancient/traditional polytheism, such as patron deities to a city or a profession, but there’s also the intense personal kind, and that’s what often seems to be claimed in these instances).

      • I have seen this too many times – people claiming an intense relationship with deity who can’t even be bothered to do the simplest devotional practices, but then attribute every little thing in their lives to the god’s influence. Not very likely.

        • Agreed.

          I admit, I’ve had periods, sometimes lengthy periods, where daily practises fell to the side because of my own personal “demons” to battle, and certain relationships suffered during those times. Even if one is to regard it as a casual relationship with Deity, I mean, I’d hope they don’t assume that they’re still friends with people they never call or e-mail, and I’d hope they don’t consider themselves close friends with people they don’t talk to regularly. How certain people can think they have some deep and meaningful relationship with a deity and then admit that they don’t even do regular rit just stumps me on the basic logic being that’s not how relationships work.

    • Yes, sadly, I have actually seen that happen, and other things just as trivial. Now, to be fair, I actually think it’s quite possible that a god – especially one with whom you’ve developed a strong and long-standing relationship – might, say, choose to send you a message via something you’re watching on tv, or otherwise have something to say about it on that level, but it’s hard for me to buy that these awesome forces of nature just want nothing more than to sit around chatting with us about Doctor Who or whatever.

  10. The difference in a god giving some daily advice and them fully manifesting can be pretty intense/scary. I’ve had some good intense experiences with my patron and some pants-crapplingly frightening moments with a deity I was sent to mentor with. For me, it has to do with the deity’s personality and their bailiwick. For some reason my mentor likes to wake me up in the middle of the night with things that need doing *right now* and puts enough force behind it that I fly out of bed with great zeal. I’m not in constant contact with either though my patron speaks more than the mentor.

    As some of the other comments have said, I used to be rather skeptical (and still am sometimes) of what goes on. I’m sure it has to do with being brought up to think that any sort of spiritual contact was Something out to get me because profound spiritual experiences didn’t happen any more since the New Testament, or that’s what the preacher had said at any rate. For me, it helps to use a method of divination after any questionable experience. As I’ve gone on, however, I’ve needed it less and less as you begin to get a feel for the personality of the gods or spirits you’re working with.

  11. Your words are very wise, and very resonant for me personally right now.

    I’ve been involved with witchcraft on and off for the past 15 years, and outside of the archetypeal concepts of ‘The Goddess’ and ‘The God’, and the occasional parayers to specific deities for specific purposes; I’ve never had much in the way of interaction with the divine.

    I think a part of me has always know that until recently I’ve not been ready for such interaction, that my idea of the divine was, as you have said, simply invisible friends. However, now that I am starting to delve deeper into my craft and practice, I find myself wanting to, for lack of a better term, get to know my gods better. And it is something I am taking seriously, because I do think that relationships with the divine are to be earned, by doing the work, my making the effort, by putting yourself out there.

    It probably makes me a skeptical arsehole – but the idea that people are hanging out with these beings, gabbing about ‘Breaking Dawn Pt. 1’, is ridiculous. Maybe it’s just me, but surely they have more important things going on?

    It’s rude, I know, but when I read blogs or the likes by someone who is like “So I was watching re-runs of ‘Xena’ the othernight, and then Ares and I had a big chat about his representation in the show and he was hella-pissed.” – I lob them into two categories: 1) Mentally unsound, or, 2) Incerdibly, desperately ignorant.

    I have no doubt that gods exist, and that they do interact with their devotees, I just believe they’re beyond giving a shit about these sorts of things 99% of the time.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, your Blog is amazing.

  12. Believe it or not I had my first contact with a god this month. I’d been very ill and having doubts when I asked for aid. The timing of it was extraordinary. I woke up after meeting and the world was unexpectedly a very different (dealing with elemental/season god). Sure it could be argued it was my subconscious or a delusion but if so it has been a very happy delusion and an incredibly helpful one.

    I did a few things that day but mostly I did a lot of house work! I’d been living in a poor state and next thing I knew I was being given a list of instructions, to do my washing and cleaning and making the place healthy again. I really wasn’t up for it and it was overwhelming but I did my best. The reasoning for it was you couldn’t heal, couldn’t serve and couldn’t ‘think’ with a dirty house. The attitude was ‘If you can’t do this much then you won’t be much use for yourself or for me.’ Eventually I had enough of it all as it was too overwhelming. So far from my experience it seems on one hand they can be respectful and helping yet on the other hand tyrannical till they meet their ends. Tough love baby.

    I’m still skeptical to a certain degree but the experience was so profound I have difficulty trying to debunk it. The amount of clarity it has caused so far has been really life changing. I’m now being able to address things so that I can balance and move on.

    Really, I still don’t believe you NEED a god or goddess to come to you and teach you etc. In my case I was keeping a door closed out of fright and this god just kept knocking. It took me a long time to let her in. I’d been pretty much obsessed with this god for years but never made a move. Funny all I needed to do was ask.

    • So far from my experience it seems on one hand they can be respectful and helping yet on the other hand tyrannical till they meet their ends.

      Oh yes, absolutely, though some may lean more to one side or the other.

      The amount of clarity it has caused so far has been really life changing.

      And that, to me, is a good bit of proof that it was a true experience. Mystical rapture can be nice and all, but if it doesn’t change you, something’s missing.

      Really, I still don’t believe you NEED a god or goddess to come to you and teach you etc.

      I think it totally varies from person to person. Most people probably can get along just fine day to day without the intensive guidance and instruction of a deity, and only need to turn to the gods in times of great joy or hardship. This is the “lay” aspect of traditional polytheism. Our modern situation being one of mostly converts, we tend to think we should all be priests. But only some are truly called to live a life so intricately entwined with the gods – because for all the benefits, there are a lot of negatives as well.

      Funny all I needed to do was ask.

      Do you know, I STILL have to remember that lesson from time to time, even with all the practice I do. I still sometimes will resist just asking for Their help or appearance.

  13. >>if They never surprise or even shock you, never challenge you,

    Ah. I probably should have thought of that. Although I’ve become more physically active of late, I still hate running (have all my life), and although I’ve run a couple of 5K races lately, the idea that popped into my head last week — of running a half-marathon — was so utterly alien to me I could not possibly understand where it had come from.

    Should have been obvious, in hindsight. My oldest patron is Hermes, the Swift. :/

    • Yes, whenever I have an idea that seems totally out of nowhere and contradictory to my normal thoughts, I will suspect the intervention of a deity. Of course it’s not *always* the case, and as I say above I would confirm via various methods, but it definitely is “suspicious” – especially when it involves Hermes!

  14. […] this in my latest Miscellanea wrap-up but then I feared that it might get lost in the shuffle. This post by Dver on the need for discernment in our spiritual relationships is, in my opinion, one of the […]

  15. I’m one of the newer pagans that dove right into Polytheism, myself, and I quite agree with just about everything you said, particularly about how people claim to talk to their deity all hours of the day.

    I’m *still* learning to figure out how to deepen communication with Hermes, and I met Him four months ago. He’s had me doing meditation with the focus of quieting my mind, but on a normal everyday basis, yes, I talk to Him here and there and think “Oh, He might like this,” but I don’t assume it right off the bat or get an answer all the time, or talk to Him every hour of every day. I work based off the feelings I get, and if it seems fine, I take it as approval. Even then, I need to double check just to be sure.

    And I firmly agree that it’s important to develop a personal connection to a deity, but not to forget the lore behind Them. In my case, Hermes has had me looking up everything from Greek culture, society, history, to the religious aspects. It’s one of the reasons He led me here, actually. He told me you had many resources, and He was right! I’ve found many, many books on everything I wanted to know straight from here, and I bought your book, Kharis (I’m still waiting for the UPS to deliver it).

    Anyway, this was a lovely entry and very thought-provoking. Sometimes I too fall into idle thoughts like the ones mentioned, when there are more important roles that deities play in each of our lives than to comment on our choice of clothing.🙂

    • I’m *still* learning to figure out how to deepen communication with Hermes, and I met Him four months ago.

      I hate to break it to you, but I’m still learning how to deepen communication with the gods, and I’ve been doing this for 15 years.😉 It’s a process that never ends, but that’s really a good thing.

  16. I like this post, in fact I ‘liked’ it on FB… I commented that it was an excellent piece on discernment in ones spiritual and religious journey…

    The thing is, it occurs to me that while ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ are synonyms, they also have slightly different focuses… Spiritual is focused on ones soul, and Religious is focused on more of a group/community experience…

    Our religious communities, including such strange entities as the Pagan Blogoshpere help provide us discernment on our spiritual journeys…

    Thanks again for your writings and work,
    Pax / Geoffrey

  17. I think this new trend of gods as your best friend is one of the things that is making me struggle with my faith. I sort of went along with it in the beginning; gods can go shopping and pick out what they want, they’ll make funny comments about the most mundane aspects of your life etc. I wasn’t getting that though, and the more I read about people supposedly in 24/7 contact with the divine made me feel insignificant. I wondered why they weren’t with me constantly. Had I offended them? Was I unworthy? I also got dragged into letting other people tell me what the gods wanted of me. I actually got an email from someone asking me when I was going to “buy them chocolate as it’s candy season”. I cut off contact with them in the end.

    The growing number of godspouses and ‘priests’ (sorry to offend anyone but I believe only a handful are chosen and this requires years of work and dedication. Not a couple of months and a fake wedding) will ultimately damage paganism and the practice of magic. Who wants to spend hours in trance and ritual when you can close your eyes and make believe?


    • I think this new trend of gods as your best friend is one of the things that is making me struggle with my faith.

      If nothing else, THAT comment made me extremely glad I wrote this post. It really bothers me that someone could be doubting themselves because of other people’s chatter about this stuff.

      I wonder if, at least some of the time, people are interpreting a vague “pull” towards something (say, a particular object in a store that might be appropriate for a deity’s altar) as a direct communication, and then sort of extrapolating a conversation that is mostly in their head, but does have a kernel of true connection.

      I do think it’s sad and potentially harmful that so few people these days seem willing to undertake the kind of dedication and WORK that a truly deep level of mysticism requires. We think we are somehow cleverer than all those who have walked these paths before us.

  18. This was a great, great post.

    I’m skeptical by nature of many religious and “otherworldly” things, and have been hesitant to engage in any truly spiritual workings in fear of what I might find. I don’t know if gods exist, if they arise from our collective minds and are “real” in the sense that we created them, if they’re archetypes, or simply products of simian brains that helped our ancestors cope with harsh environments. Experience after experience leads me to believe that yes, the gods are real in some sense, but again and again, there is the voice of doubt and reason in my mind telling me it is impossible. I know senses can mislead and feel many people cannot distinguish what is coming from the outside world and their own heads.

    How do you know divination and information coming from dreams or trances isn’t just the product of your brain or fantasies? Is there a test you administer or certain rules of logic you follow, almost like a peer review? And how do people know the beings they’re seeing aren’t hallucinations?

    I also agree with your point about the gods pushing and challenging us. I feel that any meaningful relationship with the deities exists to enrich our lives and help us become better beings. For me, serving the gods means serving the world, and constantly working to improve myself so I am better able to help others. It’s not “their” work I do, but “ours,” and they serve as resources and inspiration. Whether I believe in them in the literal or figurative sense- well, I haven’t really decided yet…

    It’s also interesting people treat the gods in such casual terms. My supposed spiritual experiences were awe-filled, but terrifying:

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
    and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
    I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Every angel is terrifying.

    -Duino Elegy 1, Rainer Maria Rilke

    The heart of god is dark and deep. Beautiful, treacherous, and too awesome for our small souls to comprehend.

    • An afterthought:

      There’s also the possibility that tricksters will behave differently than other deities. And also the possibility that gods only reveal the parts of themselves they believe we are ready for.

      • There’s also the possibility that tricksters will behave differently than other deities. And also the possibility that gods only reveal the parts of themselves they believe we are ready for.

        I definitely know both thoughts to be completely true.

    • You have a lot of good questions. Some can be dealt with logically, and some are a matter of faith. I believe the beings I’ve experienced are real, because the ONLY things we know about “reality” come to us through our senses – that chair over there could be in your mind too, but you assume it’s not because you see it. I have seen, heard, touched, smelled, and felt the presence of the gods as much as any physical thing, so for me, either it’s all real or nothing’s real. I’m going with the former.

      That being said, that doesn’t guarantee that any particular perception is correct or clear (just like your friend existing doesn’t mean you didn’t misunderstand their last email). Yes, there are tests you can administer. For instance, you do a divination and want to make sure. Look for a confirmatory omen the next day. And/or, ask a friend to do a divination, but without revealing the details so their answer will be unaffected by their own thoughts. A lot of the oracular requests I get are just that sort of thing, people looking to confirm impressions or experiences they’re unsure of. Also, over time, as you do this, you will then be able to retroactively examine your experiences with the knowledge you have of their outcome, and see what markers you can identify that would help you know a “true” experience – I also do this with my oracular practice to help refine it, which is why I ask for feedback from querents. You can then figure out that this ritual action or that prayer or that entheogen or this day of the lunar month is more conducive to receiving accurate messages. That will help streamline the process going forward.

      • Thanks a lot. You’re advice is wonderful. Sometimes I doubt my own senses and experiences. But in the end, I suppose reality is what we make of it. I think it’s wonderful you’re reviving ancient oracular practices and really enjoy the cross-cultural perspective of your blog.

      • I believe the beings I’ve experienced are real, because the ONLY things we know about “reality” come to us through our senses – that chair over there could be in your mind too, but you assume it’s not because you see it. I have seen, heard, touched, smelled, and felt the presence of the gods as much as any physical thing, so for me, either it’s all real or nothing’s real. I’m going with the former.


  19. […] I said in my post on Discernment, it seems that a bunch of pagans these days think that they can just bypass all the work and […]

  20. Thank you for writing this, Dver. It needs to be said, no matter how little some people like to hear it. I understand that this and your more recent god-spouse post have gotten you some flack from folks around the Internet. I think that probably means you’ve touched a nerve, and perhaps gotten some folks to think more critically about what they’re saying.

    I’d love for there to be more earnest discussion of mystical experience in the public sphere, and while I’ll admit to talking about seemingly trivial conversations between me and Himself, that’s not at the heart of my devotion to Him, nor is it what I want to be known for. I’d rather be known for thinking about why things happen to me than simply relaying each and every detail of my life as a god-spouse and monastic, in the same way that most people want to be remembered as good spouses and parents rather than for the details of every domestic altercation or teenage indiscretion, if that makes any sense.

    • I understand that this and your more recent god-spouse post have gotten you some flack from folks around the Internet.

      So I gather, although it’s interesting that none of those people has actually come over to my blog to directly engage in the conversation (from some of the comments, I’m not sure they’re even reading the whole posts). They seem to mostly be sniping on Tumblr, where it’s difficult to have a real back-and-forth (and impossible without a Tumblr account). Nonetheless, I do hope it gets people thinking, if nothing else. And I’ve heard from several people who were doubting themselves because they *don’t* claim this constant chit-chat level of communication, so I’m glad to be a dissenting voice in that regard.

      It is so very hard to talk about these things, for me included, but I do think it’s worth trying, because they are so important. I have gotten so much out of reading your blog for the same reasons, and I definitely think of you as one who is writing about the deeper issues. Thank you for that.

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