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

Advertisements

Thinking About: Personal Deities

IMG_1048

This is a topic I’ve been wanting to take on for some time, but have been unable to find the proper words to do so- perhaps there never really are any. Something I’ve been working on over the past year or so is my relationship with deity. For several years, I’d defined myself and my path by them: “I’m a devotee of Herne the Hunter” or “I worship the Goddess Cerridwen” etc. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading myths, researching, learning, reaching out…

And over time had my own experiences that I then would try to rationalize against the mythologies. “I experienced x, is it y trying to contact me? How do I know?” I see these questions posted all over the online pagan communities- as though you were going to a doctor. List the symptoms, and someone will hopefully be able to tell you what it is you have. List your experiences and maybe someone who’s been practicing and studying longer than you will know the god or goddess who matches.

But when is a raven a messenger of Odin rather than a messenger of Bran or The Morrigan- or none of those at all? What if all signs point to Cerridwen, except this handful of experiences that don’t match anything in the established lore and practice of those already worshiping her? Does it matter? Does it make it less valid? How does one justify it?

What if, as it happened to me in the springtime of last year, you are faced with the divine who is such a myriad of things that she seems not to be able to fit in any one goddess’s body of myth?

Moon Goddess
The goddess in question appeared to me in several dreams and meditations cloaked in the deep blue of the starry night, half her face in shadow the other luminescent and beautiful like the moon. She carried in one hand a staff of birch that held a silvery sickle-moon crescent, and in the other a lantern that cast a cool blue light. She was a guardian of the cauldron, a washer of the ford, a wanderer in the mists, the cold kiss of death, the hands that wove the stars… And though I saw her face echoed in the stories of Morrigan, Cerridwen, Arianrhod, Hel, Artemis… I could not attribute a single one of these goddesses to her.

moon goddess sculpture

For a time, she worried and confused me. Who was she? I wanted to find an answer in a book or a blog post, or some obscure myth in fragment over the tides of history. The more I looked, the more pointless the search became, but still she called to me more than any deity ever had, and I knew I must answer her call.

I moved away from myth and tradition- though they have their place as things to honor, to draw inspiration from, to find guidance in- and started to simply interact with deity in the way it presented itself to me. What I have found is something more deep, profound, and personal than any relationship I’ve ever had. There is a goddess I worship whose name has, perhaps, only been whispered on my lips. She guides me in the darkness.

Horned God

A similar issue had arisen during college with my relationship with the Horned God. There was a darker side to the Hunter that I did not find present in existing myths, and I tried fruitlessly to pinpoint: Is it Herne, or some other being I work with? Now it does not matter. He appears to me dragon scaled or clad in a cloak of feathers, his eyes dark like the soil or the midnight sky, and like the Lady with the Lantern, he has names that only I call him, and my path is all the richer.

I guess what I am saying is that it is perfectly fine to connect with particular gods and goddesses, to reach for them or find inspiration and connection within the stories that exist about them. It’s more than okay to try and follow traditions and old ways and rationalize. But there’s something deep and rich and worth exploring, in not worrying about the who’s and why’s and letting the divine express themselves to you in the ways that they wish.

Blessings of the Forest, Frost, and Moon,
Rachel

 

Thinking About: Deities

53f7b77b449883bccb6f12df26266517

The Morrigan by Aly Fell

Perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions I see in scrolling about the online pagan community is “how do [I] know which deity I’m meant to work with or worship?” and it’s the topic of the next YouTube Pagan Challenge video I plan to do. Coming to paganism which celebrates the existence of many different gods and goddesses can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to decide which of these many personalities you’re going to mesh well with and form long-lasting devotional relationships with. With all of these choices, it can sometimes seem daunting wondering where to begin.

I’m going to open with my biggest bit of advice. Know what your beliefs about the gods are first. There’s a difference between being a pagan who is a hard polytheist and being a pagan who views individual deities as personifactions and facets of a singular divine source, or as archetypes within the collective unconscious, or any other combination of these things. As we know, beliefs held by pagans vary almost as much from individual to individual as they do from tradition to tradition. Knowing exactly what the gods are and how they affect our world in your beliefs is key to knowing how to proceed in entering into relationships within deities and other entities. For example, one might feel wary about approaching multiple deities at random if they believed as a polytheist that all deities are real and independent entities with their own personalities, temperaments, etc. On the opposite side of the spectrum, those who view the deities as archetypal or as part of a greater whole might feel more free to explore different beings tied with a similar archetype (death deities, fertility gods, etc.).

My second bit of advice: There’s no real right or wrong answer. If you feel called to a deity, or interested in them, by all means make a respectful attempt at working with them. Make an offering, try invoking them into your circle for a ritual, meditate on them or their mythos, try praying to them. Do this over a period of time. Make note of the results. You’ll find very quickly which personalities vibe best with your own. This can be affected by your own heritage, interests, etc. For example, though Herne and Cernunnos are both gods of the forest and hunt, I find that working with Herne better suits my work as we have a better connection. Cernunnos feels too ancient and serious, whereas Herne feels more human-like and approachable. For others, working in the opposite way might feel more “correct”. There’s no scientific way of telling which god or goddess your meant to work with. You’ll just know. There will be a sense of comfort, or power, or just knowing that whatever working you’ve called upon them for will work.

Not everyone has a patron deity. It is not a required part of being a witch or being pagan. Sometimes close devotional relationships will evolve, change, or fade. I used to work quite closely with the goddess Brighid when I was younger. Over time, the energy just didn’t flow in quite the same way. This happened naturally and organically. This is totally okay. Herne used to be more apparent in my life in the guise of Green Man. Sometimes, too, there are deities who appear only periodically in your life. They come bearing a message and help you through a particular time in your life, and then they’re gone. For me, both The Morrigan and Mannannan Mac Lir have been such entities in my life. They are often very present in the summer months to help me work through what I need to before fall begins and then are gone. Again, this is completely okay.

The key thing is do your research. Don’t just call upon a deity because x spell told you to. Know what you believe about the gods. Know the mythology and cultural practices associated with the deity you’re communicating with. Be respectful, and remember they do usually have a sense of humor. Mistakes are okay, and sometimes things will work out in very unexpected ways.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel