How can I tell what the gods are saying?
I’m in a relatively small camp of people who are ‘god-bothered’. We’ve usually been thwapped by gods and have really intimate relationships with Them, and many of us have conversations with those gods that are pretty distinct.
(If you’re going to get jealous or upset because you’re not god-bothered, please don’t. Yes, there are benefits to having an intimate relationship with a god, or even two or three, but there’s a reason the phrase “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse — a three-part curse, including “May you come to the attention of important people/authority,” which could well include the gods and probably does. Their intimate attention makes life very interesting, let me tell you. It’s not always all it’s cracked up to be; it’s a lot of work, honestly.)
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to have a distinct conversation with a god if you’re not god-bothered — just that it may not happen on a daily basis. You may have to go into trance or meditation to have a conversation like that with a god, and that’s fine.
You may be wondering how you can tell whether or not the gods like or your offerings or your rituals if you’re not in trance and you’re not in the habit of having very distinct conversations with Them.
I’ll tell you how I can tell.
It’s true that I’m god-bothered by my Sacred Triad and Hecate (still exploring that relationship; more to come about it later). But I’m also called to worship the Hellenic pantheon and I’m not god-bothered by most of Them. Hecate did sort of sink Her claws into me at Spring Mysteries Fest, and I do feel stronger replies from some of Them than others — but I haven’t had a single distinct conversation with any of Them (outside Spring Mysteries Fest, where you can talk to priests who have drawn down the gods — kind of a different thing from everyday communication).
How do I know They even want me?
I haven’t gotten any feelings of “Ugh, go away” or foreboding or KILLYOUANDEATYOU (while that article is aimed more at a relationship between a Celtic Reconstructionist and local land spirits, it’s well worth a read). When I did my Dionysos ritual on the new moon, I got a pleasant tingling feeling and the sensation that He was smiling smugly.
Yes, these are all feelings that I must navigate, which will automatically render them as invalid to many of you, I’m sure. But when it comes to relationships with beings that are non-corporeal feelings is all you really have to go on.
Which is why self-deception is an enemy to true communion with the gods or any other spirit. If you are in the habit of deceiving yourself, in the habit of telling yourself what you want to hear and only believing what you want to hear — if you cannot listen to hard truths, then you cannot listen to the gods.
Because not all gods will like you. Some will downright dislike you.
When I attempted to do a ritual for Nut as an incarnation of the Lady of the Stars, I got a very clear rebuff of “Sorry kid, but you are NOT one of mine,” followed by an immediate, intense silence. Years and years ago, when I attempted to make contact with the Christian god in a sort of “Hey, no hard feelings, it’s really some of Your followers I don’t like like, nothing against You,” I got a very clear “FUCK OFF YOU HEATHEN”. (Jesus, on the other hand, is totally a cool dude.)
Self-deception would tell me that all the gods like me. That I’d be welcome to converse with any of Them. That most of Them downright love me and that I can go to Them about everything that worries my pretty little head.
Hard truth: not all the gods love me. I’m really really lucky, actually, because I have at least three gods who love the hells out of me, and at least one that I could go to with anything that bothered me. (Manannan is like god-form of loving uncle for me.) That’s a frigging amazing number — that at least three of these amazing, huge beings that literally keep the universe moving care about me. Yes, I’m a tool of the gods — and that means They love me. (You’d be lying if you said you didn’t really love your favourite tool, whether it’s a laptop or a good drill or some amazing kitchen implement that allows you to make really great meals or a cane that helps you walk. Tools are important and being able to be a tool for my Sacred Triad is a source of much pride for me.) They put time and energy into me, and They love me.
Three of Them do, at least. Possibly more, but honestly — I’m happy with three.
Because I am simply a mortal. And expecting all of the gods to love me or to welcome me is childish self-delusion. Just like I shouldn’t expect every rock to want to come home with me; that’s not animism, it’s narcissism.
Step one of learning how to hear the gods: get rid of your self-deception. Start being really honest with yourself. Only when you’re honest with yourself can you begin to honestly interpret the signs They send. This is everything from feelings to omens, whether taken in a ritual setting, from a divinatory tool, or seen in animals and weather.
Omens is another way of getting answers from the gods, but not one I’m talking about here because I haven’t done it that often. When I read tarot I’m generally asking the deck itself for answers; occasionally I’ll see a crow and know it’s a sign from the Morrigan, but again — it doesn’t happen very often.
Regardless, the same advice applies: get rid of self-deception, and you’ll be able to understand what They’re saying.
Self-deception leads to delusion, and delusion leads to believing either everything is a sign from the gods, or nothing is, or some signs mean one thing when they really mean another, or signs are from the gods when they’re really from some other spirit who’s playing silly buggers with you.
First things first: be honest about yourself. Are you truly the greatest dancer who’s ever lived, or are you merely adequate? Are you really the worst cook in the world, or are you actually pretty good and just suffering from low self-esteem? Both low self-esteem and unwonted arrogance are self-deception, and both are harmful. Start with knowing thyself.
Next, be honest about others and how they relate to you. Chances are you didn’t miss out on that audition because of some vast conspiracy on the part of the director and all the theatre people in your town. Chances are the car behind you isn’t following you home; it’s probably just going the same route (I admit I suffer from this bit of self-deception). Chances are your partner literally meant “Ok, fine,” and you don’t have to over-analyze, unless your partner has a history of passive-aggressivity, in which case, get thee to a couples’ counselor. Chances are when your partner says nothing’s wrong but you know something is wrong that something has nothing to do with you and that’s why they don’t want to talk about it. Chances are your friend’s offhand comment about how they hate it when people do such and such had nothing to do with you and your tendency to do such and such. Chances are most things have nothing to do with you.
Now, be honest about the earth and its relation to you. Storms don’t happen because you bring bad weather. Earthquakes don’t happen because you showed off your tits. Volcanoes don’t happen because the world has turned away from the Christian god. We live on a big planet that likes to stretch her muscles and shrug her shoulders and get rid of cricks from time to time. Hurricane Katrina didn’t happen because the gods were angry with the pagans in New Orleans.
While sometimes the gods may use Their awesome power to show you Their displeasure, it’s very unlikely They’d let so many innocent bystanders get caught up in the fall0ut, generally speaking. Besides, I think it would be a much more impressive display of godly power to have a storm happen within 15 square feet, affecting only one person, than to wipe out several hundred miles of human civilization. Like a bolt of lightning out of the blue.
Once you start working on getting rid of self-deception it becomes a lot easier to filter out wishful thinking from what’s really going on, and at that point understanding what the gods are telling you becomes a lot easier.