The question I get asked most frequently by other Pagans is “How do you know if the Gods are speaking to you or whether you’re making it all up in your head?”
This is always an interesting question to get because the answer isn’t one many Pagans like to hear. The answer is one word: faith.
And most Pagans don’t like to hear that word because Pagan traditions are inherently orthopraxic. They rely on right practice, not right belief, so why does faith have anything to do with it?
While Pagan traditions do rely on practice – mostly through ritual – it is through those rituals that orthodoxy develops. Practice begets belief. Experience yields to faith. In turn, that faith becomes a deeper commitment to practice, and eventually, devotion to the Gods becomes second nature.
That, at least, has been my experience.
Not everyone experiences the Gods the same way, and that seems to confound a lot of people. But it’s not so confusing when you consider the fact that no one interacts with another person the same way as anyone else. Our relationships with other human beings are 100% unique. We may arrive at similar conclusions about another person’s behaviors and motivations, but we do so through different modes of thinking, and we may only generally agree with a conclusion rather than accept it completely.
If we are like that with our own species, unable to form a clear picture of anyone else that everyone else around us shares, then why should we expect the Gods to come across any clearer?
Relationships are unique. Among people, among Gods, and betwixt Gods and humans.
That’s the way that I attempt to develop relationships with the Gods. I treat them as individual beings in their own right. I look at lore as a way to get to know them, to get to see aspects of beings it is impossible for me to fully comprehend. And I respect the fact that I will never have a complete picture of a single deity, the same way I respect the fact I will never have a complete picture of another human being. It is impossible to fully comprehend the depth of anyone else – hell, we have trouble comprehending the depth of our own unique selves.
I can look at my own lack of knowledge, lack of comprehension, and not only accept it but be comfortable with it. And it is in being comfortable with that lack of knowledge that I can find the faith required to believe that the Gods are speaking to me when they seem to be doing so. Even if I sometimes feel that I’m making it all up in my head, how do I know that isn’t a method the Gods use to communicate? Why would I deny myself that potential conduit of connection? That potential avenue to develop a relationship?
I refuse to discredit any potential forms of connection, any potential conduits for the information the Gods wish to pass on to me. My goal is to listen, to understand as much as I am able, the messages that they wish to share. Because if there is anything that connects Gods and humans, it is the desire to have someone who is willing to listen.
In a world where we have become spiritually numb, spiritually blind and spiritually deaf, it is not surprising that we have become particularly inept at trusting in the spiritual messages we receive.
In answer to the question I normally receive, I don’t typically say “faith” because I know how few people listen to that answer. I’m aware of how easily people turn off their hearing when the words coming out of my mouth aren’t the ones they want to hear. Instead, I tell them that if they are hearing messages after performing a ritual for a deity, then it is highly probable that the message is coming from the deity in question. I’m saying the same thing, but removing the word “faith” makes the message somewhat more palatable.
However, it is faith that allows the communication to begin. Faith in possibilities, in potentialities, in different worlds. Faith doesn’t mean blind belief; it means keeping an open mind. Being open to the world of the Gods, to the potential existence of more than we can ever hope to understand, and being willing to listen to the messages coming from beyond our current understanding. It is the suspension of disbelief, the ultimate acceptance of personal gnosis, and the refusal to let anyone else determine the lens through which you view the world.
After all, if we can’t understand our own depths nor the depths of another person, then none of us have any business trying to determine what is the right or wrong path – spiritual or otherwise – for anyone else. And if we are all ultimately responsible for the lens through which we view the world, then we are all ultimately responsible for the development of the personal relationships we share with the Gods.
When it comes to how we communicate with the Gods and how we can be certain that the messages are coming from them and not our own psyche, this means that we have to find and/or develop means of communication that we trust to come from outside ourselves.
For many, that means of communication comes through work with different types of divination. Casting runes, reading tarot, using pendulums – all of these are methods of communication with the divine realms. Rituals also allow us to connect. These are perhaps the most readily accessible ways to communicate with the Gods. Learning to trust in the messages received through a medium can act as a stepping stone to learning to trust in the messages received mentally.
All it really takes is a desire to really listen. To truly hear. Even if the message isn’t the one you want to hear, even if it’s the last thing you want to hear…the willingness to be wrong, the willingness to be open to the potential of anything. That’s how I trust in my connection to the Gods.
And it is in that willingness to be open that I have found myself speaking to the Gods as friends, trusting in them without hesitation, and doing the things they ask of me when I am capable of doing so. That doesn’t mean I do the work without asking questions – the Gods I work with would never accept blind obedience or fawning devotion. Respect, yes. Dedication, yes. But unquestioning and unhesitating obedience? Absolutely not.
Other Gods may ask that of their followers, but I’d never work with a God that did. That is the right I have – to work with the Gods I choose. To develop relationships with the Gods I choose. Just as I reserve the right to become friends with certain types of people, I reserve the same right to become friends with certain types of Gods. We become friends most easily with those who are like us in some way, and that is a truth I’ve found that holds for both human and divine relationships.