The Gods – Dealing with First Contact (One Pagan’s Opinion)

One of the more frequent questions that I tend to field from folks just beginning on their Pagan Path is about hearing and experiencing the Gods. Usually, its a query of how to go about having an encounter with the Gods, getting Them to speak to you. Sometimes, it is about that first moment you realize that They are speaking to you, which is what I want to deal with a bit here.

The sounds of flying swiftly, which makes it hard to find
The pathway through the darkness, every time I fall behind

I think I hear a whisper, around nearly every turn
But what the voice is saying, I barely can discern

The echoes that are following, the contours of the ground
Ebb and flow and eddies in a tidal wave of sound

And through the mist, I think I see your face and try to learn
The meaning of expressions I barely can discern

And through the mist, I think I see your face and try to learn
The meaning of expressions I barely can discern

The echoes that are following the contours of the ground
Ebb and flow and eddies in a tidal wave of sound

And through the mist, I think I see your face and try to learn
The meaning the of expressions I barely can discern

— “Discern”, performed by Trey Anastasio

The above is a song written and performed by Trey Anastasio, a member of the band Phish. Its a song from his solo work. I think that the song is a beautiful summation of dealing with the Gods that encounter you, as well as Those that choose you.

Most Polytheists that work directly with their Gods, remember that first encounter. That feeling of bewilderment at a Voice or Presence that feels so incredibly unknown, different and powerful. I remember my first encounters with Coyote. There was nothing super special about it. Most of my work with my Gods comes through meditation and dreams, and Coyote came through meditation – at least the very first time. I do not go through a process of emptying my mind when I start to reach for a meditative state. Rather I aim towards a state of “rest” and “calm”. I try to still my mind, rather than empty it. When I reach that state of stillness, I work through emotions and thoughts, one at a time. Except during that moment of first contact. Coyote was at the forefront of my mind, a feeling of another Presence within my being. Not expecting such an encounter, it frankly scared the shit out of me, and scared me right out of my meditative state. I spent several days feeling “unbalanced”, which for a Libra is quite an unsettling moment. I did not try another meditative state for another two weeks after that.

“Mother Nature”, Hot Springs, Arkansas

First-time encounters can be rather jarring and unsettling. I have heard some people describe those initial moments as feeling of panic, where they latch on to the notion that they might be going crazy or having some form of a psychotic episode. ::shrug:: That may actually be the case, but I cannot judge anyone else’s encounters with their Gods as being similar to my own. We all are individuals with our own way of dealing Life. Who am I to say exactly how someone else’s moment of initial contact with a God would be like? Or even with a Spirit of Place? Or a Spirit of Ancestor? Each of these entities would be quite foreign to our mindset of the world around us when we initially encounter Them. Your reaction would be what is appropriate to how you are. No judgment here. Everyone will have different reactions.

In my discussions with other folks, there seems to be a tendency towards two different reactions. The first is a proper fight-or-flight response. Folks tend to challenge the unknown and to try to assess the risk of continuing to deal with Whatever has arrived. Or they seek self-preservation, disengage from whatever activity got them here, and get out. The second, is that moment of curiosity. What is This? They peek further. Try to find some definition that works in their mind of just What they have encountered. All of this, as well as other choices that I cannot think of, are valid. Trust me, when you encounter a God, a Spirit of Place or a Spirit of Ancestor…it can be a rather difficult moment.

I have been approached by a few folks that wanted to talk about their own encounters with the Gods. Without divulging who they are or intricate specifics, let me tell you – generally – about the conversations. One conversation took place around an early morning moment at a Pagan gathering, around the still smoking ashes of the previous night’s fire. We were the only people awake in the camp, just before dawn. We sat together by the pit of ashes and discussed the entire encounter. I tried my level best to encourage this person that they were not going crazy; that what they had encountered was really there. Another conversation took place around another early morning fire, around 3am. We shared a bottle of whiskey between the two of us and discussed the encounter in-depth. The clear night sky with the hundreds upon thousands of stars were a surreal backdrop to our hushed conversation. We discussed how to try and communicate with the Entity that was encountered, since there did not seem to be an English language spoken. This particular conversation matches up very well with Try Anastasio’s song “Discern” that I posted above. There was even talk of how to make the Entity go away, if the person did not want to work with Them.

One of the more popular posts that I have here revolves around my attempt to discern aspects of a series of sequenced dreams that I had. At the time, it was a period where it seemed that the Morrigan was reaching out to so many people to gather into what was perceived to be a battle group. The post I am referring to is “The Morrigan is Not a Valkyrie.” I have no desire to work with the Morrigan, which may come as a shock to many people. My perspective and my walk on this Path does not seem to readily find a cross-walk with Her. And I am not obliged to blaze a trail to find that Path either. My walk lies elsewhere. However, were I called directly, I would have a lot of thinking to do. I know I could not and would not answer readily. Her Path is not mine. Saying “no” to a God Or Goddess can be done, but there may be consequences to that choice. Thus the reason I would have to think about how I would respond. This was the same advice I gave to the individual seeking advice on how to tell a God to “go away.”

Now, with all that said – I am no expert in how you handle your approach to the Gods. In fact, I would say that what I have written here is advice – from my perspective. All, some or none of this will have direct or indirect or no influence on your own approach. The last thing I ever want in this world is to be considered an expert in ANYTHING with one exception: my own, individual perspective as it applies to me. So far as I have ever come to understand, I am the only expert in me. As such, I also believe that you are the only expert in you. How you deal (or not) with your Gods is for you to decide. Only you can walk your Path. Our Paths, and likely will, intersect at any given point, where we can lend one another support and comfort at that point. But you still have to put your feet on the Path for yourself.

Should you find yourself having encountered….SOMETHING and you need a shoulder to lean on or an ear to bend or an eye to read what you think, I am here. So are so many others. Don’t be afraid to talk, its sometimes helpful – even on issues not involving the Gods. And for those of who who find yourselves being approached for such talks, be prepared to listen. And remember, you’re not the expert…I know I’m not. I only have thirty-some odd years on this Path, and I am still finding myself seeing some aspects of all of this with the wide-eyed, doe-like eyes of a newbie. Even though that’s the case, I’m always just an Email or a text message away….as are so many others. We grow together on this Path, no matter how short or long we have been here.

You and the Gods – My Advice

After reading a few blog posts, I am reminded that while communication between yourself and the Gods is a process that can be utilized and maintained with a little practice and patience with many different methodologies, the intent of what is communicated is not always crystal clear. For example, I kept understanding some of the communication between myself and Crow to be of a “Be my Priest” nature, which it wasn’t. The largest issue was trying to understand the meaning of what was being conveyed without placing what was communicated into the paradigms that other Pagan folk I knew had with their own relationships with the Gods. I would never caution people away from communicating and working with any of the Gods and Goddesses, but I would warn folks not to place their communication and working into the same categories that others do. The assumption that everything is the same will trip you up, and you may find yourself in territory unfamiliar to what you thought or in a bargain you never intended.

Moments like this, standing in front of the fire and thanking the Gods for the safe travels of all, used to frighten me. (Picture by John Beckett)

I posted this leading paragraph to Facebook a few days ago, as a preview to this post. I sincerely fall into the perspective that sharing too much knowledge waters down the experience for the person receiving that knowledge. Sometimes; however, it is best to bring up some of the warning signs to help others from stepping into the marshy, boggy spots that can ensnare the unwary.

Finding accord with the Gods happens when you follow a polytheistic path, but that is not for everyone. Some folks never get that experience, despite their fervent belief. Others have a shallow belief in the Gods, and get slapped upside the head in the same vein as being beaten by the fishmonger’s wife in Asterix. Why? I certainly wish I had the answer to this question. But to be certain, piety alone is not going to bring that experience forward for you. My experience has been that patience, persistence, and some practice in meditative techniques and ritual forms are the most helpful tools.

Practice

Part of practice is doing the research into what meditative technique or what ritual format you are going to use. Study it. Learn about it. Know it inside and out. Practice it – alone, with others, in the daylight, in the dead of night, on a beautiful summer night, during a massive rain storm. Practice what you are going to do. And then do it. And continue to do it, whether you get results or not. If you are wanting to work with a specific God or Goddess, show your dedication to Them with this. Be prepared for silence. Also, be prepared for an answer.

Patience

Probably the most difficult part of trying to draw the attention of the Gods is being patient for an answer or some kind of flicker of attention. It might take seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, even years for something to happen. It might never happen. Learn patience. Realize that your technique may not feel “right” but try not to change it too much or too often. I am all for improvisation in ritual and meditative techniques, but changing these too frequently can make for a shaky time frame, at least from what I have experienced. Its a lot like trying to find a technique that pleases your lover, you are finally doing all the right things, and then you change everything at a moment’s notice, which kills that excited state that you just spent time building up to. Be patient with your technique. Be patient with the timing of everything. Remember, the Gods are not human beings. They react differently, They see things differently, They have a different concept of every aspect of the environment around us. Patience builds the rapport you will need to communicate with Them and work with Them.

Persistence

Like I noted above, the Gods are not human beings. They see the world differently than we experience it. Sometimes, it can take a bit more time than you might be ready for to catch Their attention. My perspective is the try, try again mode. But that does not always work for everyone. If you need to, give yourself a time frame in which to work, and if things come to the end of that time frame, stop and evaluate what you’re doing. Let’s say you gave it a year to catch Aphrodite’s attention to work with Her. When the year is up, look back at what you have done, all the rituals and devotions you have worked with in Her name, all the meditations you have tried. Hopefully, you have kept a journal of all of this. Read through all of your experiences, objectively look at what you have tried. See if there’s any changes that you might need to try. Then decide if you are going to try, and give yourself another time deadline. or you might decide its no longer worth the try and move on. Remember, in the end, its your time. You decide how hard and how long you are going to try.

My Relationship is Not the Same As Yours

I know I am repeating myself for a third time here (I like threes), but the Gods are not human beings. They are Gods. They see the world differently. They also communicate differently. Back when I had seriously started working with Crow, I kept getting a message of working deeper, more intimately with Him. Several other Polytheists that I knew talked about their relationships as Priests and Priestesses with their Gods. After a time, I began to assume that this is what Crow meant by this tighter working together. Turned out, I was reading the relationships that others had into my relationship with Crow. Crow wasn’t pointing at my being a Priest or even a Shaman (which would be a weird role for me to take on). Crow was merely wanting me to work more closely in my own personal rituals, and in my approach to working with the world around me. It was one of the more awkward lessons I have had to learn. Be sure of what you are being asked. Ask if you are understanding correctly by using slightly different terminology. If you don’t comprehend what is being asked, seek clarification. Sometimes, working with the Gods is similar to being a lawyer. Understand every nuance of what is being asked. Otherwise, you can find yourself in a bargain you never intended.

The Gods are not trying to trick you into something. I work with a Trickster God (two, if you include Coyote). Their understanding of our world is a little different from our own. Remember, they are not human. They see our world through Their perspective. When we communicate with Them, do workings for Them, do devotionals in Their names – it is all done with our perspective of understanding. Our understanding of Their perspective is imperfect, just as Theirs is of us. Take your time, make sure of what you are reading/understanding, and be comfortable with what is being asked. If you are not comfortable….remember, you have the Free Will to walk away and say “no”. Before you do turn away, seek an alternative to what is being asked. That’s only fair to both you and the God in question.

Working with the Gods is like any deep relationship you have with someone else. There is work involved. There is communication that needs to be developed. Rapport will be found through trial and error, time and patience…its extremely rare to have an immediate hand-in-glove relationship – with the Gods or anyone else. Roll up your sleeves, be prepared to work, be prepared to have patience, practice what you do…and be prepared for an answer, as well as no answer at all. Remember, its a relationship…it will be work. There will be play-time too, but first you need to do the work.

So You Want to Try and Connect with Gods??

Nearly every polytheist I have talked with has heard this question or something quite similar to it:

How did you go about finding the Gods and Goddesses you work with?

To be completely truthful, I would say that its different for everyone. There are similarities and parallels that can be found in each person’s particular “moment” but each individual makes a unique connection with the Gods and Goddesses that they work with. No one connection will be the same. And while some approaches taken to the Gods and Goddesses may be similar, I would still claim each to be unique because of the complexities that exist within any relationship.

So, you want to try and make a connection with the Gods? Its quite an exciting moment when you decide to reach across and work with the Gods in some way or another. And I’m not talking about the $Deity-As-Vending-Machine concept. For me, working with the Gods can mean a lot more than that. And when you start to think about it, it can be a scary concept as well. After all, what happens if you get asked to do something that you aren’t really prepared to do? Well, that’s somewhat easy – you can just say “no”. We have the ability to choose what we will and will not do. We can (and do) create our own lines that are into territory too far. Many people call that personal sovereignty, where you are the ultimate decider of what is a request-to-far.

I have discussed how I met Crow through Coyote. Both remain in my life to this day – Crow more so than Coyote. I pledged myself to Crow as a Priest a couple of years back. But even as Priest, I do have the ability to say “no” – I just don’t normally do so. On tougher requests of action, I ask for time to think things through. One of those things was attending Many Gods West this year (where I am typing this from right now). Crow asked (rather strongly) that I go; that I talk with people; that I get to know them better; that I set my feet back onto the direction of getting out of the shadows and into the observable light. That was shortly before Pantheacon, sometime late last calendar year. I asked for time to think about it. I checked available time. I checked available funds. When I realized it was workable for me, I agreed. I could have just as easily have said no.

Coyote approached me through my dreams. It took a short while before I figured out who He was. That was my first encounter with Coyote. As I said, Coyote passed me over to Crow to learn more. Flidias, on the other hand, has been something completely different. I encountered Her through Dreams and meditations, where She has been hiding behind trees – among other items – beckoning me to follow Her. Most of my time spent with Her has been playing this game. She whispered Her name to me when I managed to catch up with Her – and I had to look that up to figure out who She is. Even then, it was a pain, because I had no idea how to spell the name.

There are many other ways that one might be able to approach the Gods and Goddesses. Study who They are. Find devotional rites and figure out how to do these on your own. Go to places that are sacred to Them, and meditate on who They are. Or just stumble across Them in your everyday practice. Or talk to others who have worked with a deity that you are interested in approaching. Find out how they had managed to come in contact with Them. And then try what they express worked for them. And be patient. Remember, you are trying to court favor with a being that sees the world very differently from you.¬†And realize, They may not be interested. That can suck, but it can be a reality. They have just as much right to say “no” as you do.

I will toss this out there as well…working with the Gods is not the same as rolling dice and looking up Their stats and such in Deities and Demi-Gods. My initial workings with Coyote were about changing the way I see myself; trying to not be so serious about who I am, and having fun with the daily drudgery of Life in general. My work with Crow has been far more specific, far more intense, and a lot more difficult in what I needed to do. In some cases, I have sacrificed what I wanted to do, for what Crow wanted me to do. But there is reward with the hard-work as well. I have learned lessons about myself that I would never thought I would entertain in my best dreams. That’s the exciting stuff. There are daily offerings and rites that I do as well. What I tend to call the “same old drudgery” – but its part of being who and what I am – A Priest of Crow.

I can always say “no” to any of this, so Crow is not my Master. We work in partnership, though I would consider Crow to be far more other-worldly than I am. In this physical realm, for the tasks He gives to me, I am His presence. I am quite sure I am one of my followers…my role is not the same as theirs nor is it bigger or better. It is my role. Our relationship is unique between us, it took hard work, and a lot of trust on both sides of the equation to get here. And I cherish what that relationship is. I celebrate it every moment of my Life.

Do you want a similar relationship with a Deity? My suggestion would be to learn about who They are. Learn what They like, what They dislike. Put daily moments aside for Them and attempt to approach Them in whatever fashion you deem is right. And again, be patient, be respectful, and be prepared to do the hard work. Not every moment with the Gods can be like the movies. Nor should it. The movies are the movies. You are living in real life. And real life….it most assuredly is hard work.

 

Working with the Gods Does Not Always Have to be Epic in Scale and Scope

The past few days it has been really cold up here on the Oklahoma/Texas border. Cold enough that the pipes to my pool and hot tub froze up and burst. Its nothing major, and provides the opportunity to replace the old heating system that is currently in place. But it was an unexpected moment. And a little reminder of why two Trickster Gods have been such an influence on who I am today.

When I heard people say that they were “working with the Gods”, I always fell into a pattern of thinking that they were doing something similar to Hercules – achieving stuff for the Gods that was just some massive undertaking. But in working with the trio of Gods that work within my life, I have found that this is not always the case. Sometimes, the tasks are a bit more internal – and in reflection, typically even more epic in size and scope within an individual’s life – rather than epic in the measure of our entire Pagan community or scopes even larger than that. And sometimes, the individual scope is enough to effect change elsewhere.

Ten years ago, I would be cursing and angry about what happened with the burst pipes for the pool. I would be proclaiming my bad luck, and how Life is being unfair to me. In short, I would be pitching a Titanic hissy fit. My disposition throughout my earlier life has always been one of being knocked off balance by events that happened along the way. When shit happened, I hit major meltdowns of epic proportions.

But two Trickster Gods intervened in all of this six years ago. My life was turned upside down in every imaginable way. I quit my job after working the worst employer I have ever had. I found myself caught up in one of the biggest downturns in economic history within the United States. I was unemployed for ninety-eight weeks. One week shy of the maximum amount that could be pulled during unemployment. I was hired in as an adjunct professor at the college I am currently working for. A position that I felt uniquely unqualified for at that time. And through all of that, every step of the way, there was a voice in the back of my mind.

Keep calm. It is only a stretch of rocks in the road. You will get past all of this, and find yourself among the trees again. I promise.

That was Coyote, whom I had just started finding in my meditations. I was learning the lesson of seeing the bigger picture. Opening up to the perspective of seeing wider and further than just me, I soon realized that while I was unemployed, and that full-time work, along with the medical benefits that I needed for working with my diabetes, was a difficult stretch of road – it could be far worse. I saw that on the news constantly. People losing their homes because they had lost their jobs. Unable to provide for their families. People leaving the keys on the kitchen counters as they abandoned their homes. Their pets left behind in those same homes because they could no longer afford to feed the furry members of their family. Yes, my road was difficult. But it could definitely have been worse.

I was learning another lesson as well – that of transformation. My time working as a desktop support technician were over. My skillset was similar to that of a high school student entering the workforce. There was no way a forty-something man was going to be able to compete in that industry with workers who would do the same thing at a cheaper price. I had two Masters degrees and a Bachelor degree. My time working in hardware was over, and I needed to realize that. It took a while. Hardware was what I knew. Hardware was how I made a living. But slowly I was nudged into the classroom, where I taught basic hardware concepts. I was able to show students how data on them was utilized by their own government. How data flowed between government entities – and how it did not in other cases.

And through those two lessons – amid the howls and laughter that Coyote had throughout all of it, I learned to control my emotions a lot more, and figure out how humility would work for me. Not only was I transforming my skillsets and moving into other areas of Information Technology, I was growing as an individual in ways that I desperately needed.And I was growing towards being what I needed to be: a Priest.

I have resisted that title for so long, that I still feel odd in accepting that aspect of my Path. Its only been fairly recent that I have turned towards that and decided that I would define what the term “Priest” meant to me – rather than accepting some definition that mainstream society attached to it. I am not going to hear confession. I am not going to transform anything into the body of anything else – no matter what the ritual. And honestly, I am not likely to lead any ritual anywhere except in my own backyard. And even then, only when I am the only one there. For me, Priest is something a little different, which I have talked about before.

For me, one of the tasks given to me by my trio of Gods was to grow. Coyote required me to grow up, and learn to be more in control of myself. Crow showed me how to find the silver lining in situations. Yes, the pipes froze and burst. That’s a bad thing. But it certainly provides the opportunity to replace the aging heater as well as repair the pipes. Fliodhas is showing me to find beauty in all aspects of Life. To look at the beauty of things beyond the external appearances. To look deeper at the relationships, how things interconnect, and where the intersection of all of that has a deeper meaning than can initially be realized.

Certainly, there is a lot going in the world all around us. A contentious Presidential election. Seemingly endless terror attacks on our over-arching society. Many, many people using political tides as excuses for behavior that is completely unacceptable. I am reminded that each time these moments occur, we – as a collective society – need to stand up against that. But in doing so, we need to make sure that we don’t let our emotions go overboard and boil over – that we don’t become something we never meant to be in the first place. Certainly, such issues need to be responded to, but we also need to remember having restraint in those moments as well. That’s what makes us different than those people. For me, Coyote, Crow, and Fliodhas have provided enough insight for me to recognize this need within myself.

 

Because the Name is Different

Every morning, I greet the Sun as it rises. Whether I am indoors or outdoors, I take the moment of sunrise to stop and try to empty my mind. Its not the easiest task in the world, after all – I have a billion thoughts roaming around in there at any given time. The goal is to relax for a few moments, and start the day fresh with a new focus and a cup of coffee in my hand.

My evenings tend to wind up the same. I wait for the sun to settle below the horizon, and as I watch the ebbing tide of light disappear, I do a reverse of the morning moment. I spend a few moments taking inventory of how the day went, what I managed to accomplish, and what still needs a few moments of my time.

I have never been big on ritual. If you have read me enough here, you are aware of that. But I really need to establish that a little more. I’m not a huge fan of formalized ritual. I don’t see a need for formalized movements and recited words and prayers. Instead, I seek conversations – with myself, with my backyard trees, with the birds that are flitting from branch to branch in the evening, with the Kami, whose presence I feel in the nearby area.

Ok, I get it. I understand the wide-eyed, “you’re so strange” look you are giving me right now. But before you call out the guys with the butterfly nets, and tell them I need a new sweater that ties in the back – let me push this out in return. Why is that when a person – let’s use the generic concept of a “Christian” as an example – why is that when that person prays out loud to God or Jesus, their prayers are not consider to be a point of mental confusion? Its the same thing – you know.

When I hold conversations with the trees, the birds, and the Kami – its the same concept of prayer. Except that I am not asking them for anything. I’m not wanting anything from them. Except a moment of their time. I’m not asking them to intercede on my behalf. I’m quite capable of fixing my own fuck-ups, thank you very much. All I am seeking is a momentary interaction – on a personal and private level. Sometimes I get answers, sometimes I get responses. Most of the time, I don’t. But I still want to take the time, just incase I might get some form of a response.

I would suppose the same can be said to be true of the Christian that prays – out loud or silent. They pray to God or Jesus, not necessarily expecting much of a response, but they do so – just in case there may be a response of some sort. And yet, despite the similarity, I’m the one that gets labeled as mental head-job. I’m the one that is told that I am living in a Fantasy World. But the conversation would be flipped to a positive if it were God and/or Jesus.

I’m not saying this to tear-down what a Christian may have in the way of a personal, private interaction with God or Jesus. In fact, I would applaud anyone who has managed to cultivate that relationship. I have a similar relationship with Crow. I don’t always get told what to do, or how to feel – sometimes its just a “checking in” thing. But because Crow is not Jesus, because Crow is not the Christian God — I’m the one that gets the label of “mentally not there” — even despite the similarities. All because the name is different. And to be perfectly honest, I find that to be very sad.