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.