As Above, So Below
The phrase “as above, so below” (which originated in Hermeticism) gets tossed around a lot in pagan circles, but I think many have yet to truly incorporate a deep understanding of it into their worldview. It seems we are still expecting the divine, and the magical, to appear like they do in the movies – a spectacular display of lights and smoke that will dazzle us and leave no room for doubt. But instead the numinous runs through the material plane like blood through arteries, able to be taken for granted too much of the time.
While discernment is extremely important, and certainly some things that appear to be messages are just random coincidences, I think we often err too heavily on the side of skepticism because of our preconceptions. That face we saw in the pattern of leaves on a tree must just be our imagination, even though it looked so much like a familiar god, even though we had prayed for a sign, because a real vision of a deity will manifest out of nothing before us, undeniable and life-altering. But why do we expect that the gods and spirits would use, as the medium of Their communication, anything other than the elements of our own physical world, when those elements are ready at-hand (and, as a bonus, easily processed by our sensory organs and brains)?
Certainly if we look to the past we will see that the ancient polytheists predominantly experienced the gods in the solid, physical world – a stranger could be a spirit in disguise (most likely describing a possession of a real human being, not an apparition), a lightning bolt at the right moment could answer a question, the outcome of a war could reveal the will of the gods. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that the thunderstorm will come out of nowhere in a perfectly blue sky the moment you might like it to, but perhaps it will shift course slightly or you will suddenly feel the urge to look out the window just as the lightning strikes. The gods are powerful but They are not omnipotent, and it is easier to work with what’s already here.
In other words, just because you can find a “rational” explanation for what you experienced does not mean that a spiritual explanation isn’t also valid. The one does not cancel out the other. We should not confuse over-cautious doubt with reasonable discernment. Especially as sometimes that leap of faith, to acknowledge an event as a true communication or communion, will change our whole way of seeing and interacting with the world around us. The more we pay attention, the more They are willing to speak to us (because who wants to shout tirelessly at someone who refuses to listen?).
Related to our expectations of the divine is how we expect our own magic to work. It is easy to get discouraged when we go through all the rituals, utilize all the age-old words and tools, and fail to see the sparks we hoped for. But wait, because a ripple you set out into the middle of a lake takes awhile to get to shore. In this dense world of objects, magic can’t always take the direct route we would like.
Perhaps you look through the forked tines of a stang or a holed stone, and the world on the other side doesn’t look any different – no shimmery overlay of Faerie, no shadows you couldn’t see before. But an hour later you come across a path in the forest you never found before which will become a power spot for you, or you find a rock in the shape of your animal spirit, or any number of other small miracles… and you may not even notice that one thing followed the other. If you sing a chthonic incantation in the woods and a snake slithers by, is that any less magical just because it didn’t resemble Hollywood special effects?
In fact, when the material world responds to you in that way, it is a sign that you are becoming synchronized with the flow of the numinous, the pulse of magic, and it becomes easier to move and shift that power (though you must always stay connected and aware of the demands of both physical and spiritual realities).
Be observant, and willing to trust your own experiences, and you may find that what you’ve been looking for has been there all along.