Thinking About: Discernment and Personal Responsibility

This morning, I had the pleasure of having one of those hour-or-so long phone conversations with a close friend of mine where we find ourselves discussing all manner of things from spirituality, to philosophy, plans for self improvement, and endless other topics. Today, a part of our discussion revolved around the possibility of forming a local group of witchy/pagan folk, and our concerns in doing so based upon things we’ve experienced both in other groups we’ve visited in person, and in the online community.

I’d also recently come across this post by @nightshadeandroses on Tumblr that discussed using discernment when practicing witchcraft. Though my personal opinions are a bit different, I thought she had a number of excellent points, and that some of the the issues she brought up pretty perfectly highlighted some of the concerns my friend and I had had in inviting others into our social circle and building community.

If you begin searching “witchcraft” or “paganism” on a number of sites, but particularly on Tumblr, you very quickly encounter dozens and dozens of blogs where the practitioners are detailing experiences that seem very intense: visions or messages from deities, relationships with spirits and deities that can take any myriad forms from devotional practice to spirit marriage and more, and more and more frequently at least in the media that I encounter: blaming the gods/fae/spirits for things going wrong or seeming out of control in one’s life.

Primrose’s post seems to specifically target those new to the craft who want to believe that everything they encounter is a sign or has some magical significance. Sometimes, a fly is just there because it’s summertime and there’s food about. So how do you differentiate between that instance and when it’s trying to tell you something? It can be difficult, it’s true, especially when you’re eager to embark upon a new spiritual path and start interacting with deities and spirits.

Her post recommends looking at patterns in phenomena, asking if the experience seems to good to be true or mimics a story you recently encountered from someone else, trying divination to confirm the situation, and trying to explain the situation with mundane explanations first.

All of these are excellent suggestions, and even after practicing for over thirteen years, I still routinely go through these steps if I’m not absolutely certain about things. As an example: I’ve seen a number of things associated with Loki lately, both Marvel universe type things and things a former roommate and friend of mine associated with him. I thought it was odd, but I noted when it started and which things seemed to come up more. I noted to myself “Hey, Endgame just came out, and that’s probably contributing some on the Marvel end of it.” and also that I’m not as familiar with the patterns of the wildlife and seasons in Georgia as I was up in Michigan. I made note that I kept seeing these things, but rather than jump to the conclusion that Loki wanted my attention (and as he’s not a deity I work with, it’d be surprising to me if he did), I decided to wait and see if the pattern continued, or died down a bit after the movie hype died down.

The other thing my friend and I were talking about is personal responsibility. It seems to be the same types who are constantly seeing signs from their deities and guides that do this, but I also notice an unnerving amount of “The fae stole x from me.” or “The gods/x deity/whatever has y plan for me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” as though everything that occurs in one’s life is directly at the hands of the deities one does/n’t worship and nothing one does seems to have any consequence other than potentially swaying those deities one way or another.

A person I knew constantly told me that their deities seemed to be pushing them towards personal sovereignty and leadership, but also blamed those same deities whenever things did not go according to plan. Now, personal sovereignty and leadership certainly are admirable goals to work towards, and it sounds to me like a path towards personal growth and development. So I find myself asking: Why aren’t you working towards them? Why are you resisting those plans they supposedly have for you? Could the mishaps that keep coming perhaps come from patterns that are toxic and restricting and holding you back? If you worship x/y deity, why aren’t you following the sort of virtues you believe they’re laying out before you?

I’m personally of the belief that the gods are not so intimately involved in every aspect of our lives, and that we have free will and the ability to co-create with the divine powers of the Universe. In my belief, we make choices, and the energies that be react in kind. So if I perpetuate toxic behaviors, toxic things will continue to happen to me. If I project that the Universe or the gods are constantly knocking down my tower and don’t do work to build a stronger foundation in my practical life, the pattern will repeat itself.

Image result for the tower tarot

The Tower from the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

The Tower card, I’d joked, was “my buddy” when I was doing tarot readings for myself. For years, it had been a recurring theme: I’d carefully (or so I had thought) construct plans for them to fall through and crumble. I had a narrative I was telling myself about the Universe “knocking over my block tower” just when I’d had it built. I’d blame other people for bailing on plans or not communicating. But I hadn’t considered at all that I was relying on other people rather than standing on my own feet, or that I wasn’t building strong and stable foundations for these plans to rest upon. This winter, while working through some course work, I had the following interaction in a visualization exercise:

I was standing on a summit a small grey bird in my hands. I could feel its heart racing as I held it. Brannan, my guide from the Tower of Pheryllt, stood behind me, his hand on my shoulder.

“A bird…” I must have sounded confused because I’d closed my eyes to visualize a paper boat and my imagination seemed to have a better idea.

“Do you know what it is?” I didn’t turn to face him, but I could hear the smile in Brannan’s voice as he spoke.

I concentrated on the bird for a moment and gave a nod. “It’s the Block Tower Story.”

“And what is the Block Tower Story?” He pressed me further and I furrowed my brow.

“That narrative about the Universe always coming over and knocking “my block tower” over—the one I’m always trying to plan around and avoid—to keep from “being screwed over again”. That Block Tower Story,” I replied.

“Are you ready?”

I looked down at the quivering bird again, took a centering breath, and gave a nod. I let the bird go, urging it out over the sea and away from the cliff. The first time, it came back and perched on my shoulder, its feathers all puffed out as it was clearly agitated.

Brannan gently took the bird from my shoulder and handed it back to me. “Try again. You’ve got to really mean it.” He stepped back again to watch.

I nodded and took another breath, and released the bird again. It made a circle back over my head, but took off over the sea, up into the clouds, and out of sight…

And every time I’ve found myself repeating that story to myself, I imagine myself back on that summit, looking out over the sea with the bird in hand, and I let it go again. Because the Universe isn’t breaking my block tower. I’m not building it correctly, and by taking ownership of that, I’m able to make better decisions about my life- not just in a spiritual sense, but in all of its aspects.

I’ve mentioned in passing, too, my belief that my afterlife is going to be something akin to joining the Wylde Hunt, and that I feel they have plans for me. But rather than resisting those plans, I’ve pushed myself to make actions that reflect that. I spend time in the forests. I try to make decisions that make a more positive impact on the natural world. I get involved with park cleanups and make sure that I’m voting for political officials and policies that protect my fellow citizens and our natural environment. I work on advocating for myself, on finding ways to make myself stronger, healthier, and more confident in myself. I turned my quest to get my driver’s license into a spiritual one as well as a mundane one. I’ve taken actions to get myself to a place more in line with my own goals as well as the ones I believe my gods have given me as well.

It’s not a passive letting the gods take all credit for what happens, good or bad. I am in control of my life, and my gods demand that I be. When I feel they are demanding something of me, it is usually that I take more responsibility for myself and take the reins of my life.

This isn’t meant to sound as though I’m telling folks what to believe, or as though I’m discrediting anyone’s experiences- quite the opposite! I am however concerned with some of the things I see posted, and wanted to encourage others to exercise perhaps some more discernment and take personal responsibility in their craft.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and as always:

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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2 thoughts on “Thinking About: Discernment and Personal Responsibility

  1. churningforest says:

    Great post. I think there’s way too much I could say about what you’ve written here. Not that I read much in terms of blog and online stuff (especially not in the last few years – too much craziness) but, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of eye brow-raising stuff and, I don’t know, I wonder if people really think about what they are doing. For instance, one of the things I’ve noticed is that peoples spirituality (or whatever they’re calling it) seems bound up with their online presences and it seems like, if they’re not posting or sharing personal (private) details, then it’s like their practice isn’t happening. I don’t think that a lot of stuff is intended for ‘mass consumption’ yet you see tons of posts and articles anyway.

    In a related vein, I’ve also noticed that Pagans/Polytheists (or, again, whatever they’re calling themselves) have gotten more self-centered over the years. I mean, I remember when folks were glad to have things like an altar space (not necessarily flashy ones like you see online nowadays) and things to put on/in it, deities/spirits to serve, learn from, etc. (Sure, people would hop around ‘traditions’, pantheons, etc. so I’m not saying there weren’t issues back then, cause there were.) Nowadays, it’s like people can’t light a candle and offer up some words to a any spirit being without that being ‘claiming’ them, wanting to marry them, informing them of some parental situation, etc. I think it’s really out of hand (which, yes, is not a ‘PC’ thing to say) and I think bucket loads of discernment are called for.

    Like you, I don’t think Gods/Spirits micromanage most of their devotees lives. In fact, I think people are expected to know what to do and, if they don’t know, they can learn because there isn’t a shortage of quality information out there although I do think that a great deal of it comes down to what you’re talking about: critical thinking, analysis, bias, etc. So, yar. I think I’ve said enough for now! (Like I said, there’s much to be said about these things.) Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • patchworkcrow says:

      I didn’t even touch on the maintenance of an online presence, but I agree, it’s definitely something I see a lot of. To a degree, I fall into that pattern myself from time to time. If it’s not aesthetic and worth sharing, at times it can feel not worth doing at all, and I’m sure that says something about Millennials and Gen Z and how we were raised and what technology is doing to us.
      As far as being ‘claimed’ by an entity and the other sort of drama… I can’t help but wonder if it’s not wrapped up in similar idea as the online presence thing? Like there’s a need for things to be exciting and interesting? I’m genuinely not sure.
      Thank you again for your comments on my posts! -Blessings.

      Like

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