Communicating with the Gods

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.

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Communing with the Gods

I’ve seen a lot of confusion on message boards and in blog posts about what communication with the Gods feels like. Or confusion about how it’s possible to talk with the Gods at all, given that They aren’t omnipresent.

There is this highly held taboo in many Heathen circles about talking to the Gods like They are omnipresent, like they are similar in nature to the Christian God. In fact, there is so much negativity towards the very idea of communicating with the Gods in a friendly way is often harshly ridiculed.

Instead, there are recommendations made to offer sacrifices to the Gods on the necessary days in order to placate Them. Heathens, especially, are told to focus on working with the wights and ancestral spirits instead of trying to develop deeper relationships with the Gods. We’re told that the Gods only choose certain people to work with, so there’s no point in trying to pursue a relationship with one of the Gods if it’s just going to be futile.

Working with wights and ancestral spirits is wonderful – I feel like I should work more with the wights and my ancestral spirits more often, but that is a byproduct of being made to feel like I’m somehow doing something wrong by working more with the Gods than with the wights.

No one needs to feel guilty about working with the Gods. No one needs to feel that they aren’t good enough to approach the Gods. Every God has His or Her unique type of worshipers. Loki has the fringe groups. Odin has the leaders. Freyr has the nobles. Tyr has the lawmakers. Ullr has the skiers. Mani has the sensitive. Freyja has the vain. Frigga has the mothers… I could go on forever. For every role you take on, there is a God or Goddess that would be more than happy to meet you.

This idea that the Gods aren’t interested in human affairs is nonsense. Yes, the Gods are busy with Their own challenges. That doesn’t mean They don’t get the messages sent to Them. I mentioned before that the Gods aren’t omnipresent. They can’t occupy the entirety of the universe at once. But Their names are tied to Their wyrd threads, and They receive the prayers we send even when we can’t feel Them.

Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but most people can relate. You know those moments when something really good or something really bad has happened and you can feel it so deeply within your soul that you know exactly what it is and who it has happened to? That’s the type of connection that a prayer said to a God generates automatically.

Now, while there are others out there who would say not to try to talk to the Gods like Christians talk to their God, I am not going to lend my voice to theirs. Because why should it matter if we use the same technique to talk to our Gods that the Christians use to commune with their God? I highly doubt that the Christian God is going to somehow forget that he isn’t Odin, Loki, Freyr, or any other God that doesn’t share His name, so what is there to lose?

Oh, but the Gods can’t hear us if we try to talk to Them like that; they ignore us because they find it offensive. Really? Have you tried it? I talk to the Gods in my head all the time. Do They answer back? Not usually in words, but I do sometimes get impressions and sensations. It’s much easier to send an impression than a verbal message via the threads of wyrd.

I think that Heathens forget that the wyrds of men and the wyrds of Gods can and do intertwine. We are all connected through the web of wyrd, and every person has the ability to sense that web. Every person has the ability to send and receive messages through the threads of that web. If you’ve ever heard the phone ring and known who was on the other side before you saw the caller id, you’ve experienced what it feels like to receive an impression through the threads of wyrd. If anyone has ever told you that they just knew it was you on the other end or that they just knew you were going to arrive, then you have sent messages through the threads of wyrd. The Gods are part of the web of wyrd, and everyone can send and receive messages through the web, including the Gods.

On message boards, I’ve often seen it said that Heathens shouldn’t pray to the Gods because it’s too Christian of a practice. I understand that there is some leftover resentment towards Christianity because the Roman Catholic Church did its best to wipe out all polytheistic communities during the Crusades. But guess what? They failed, and they aren’t trying to wipe us out anymore. Trying to convert us, yes, but their faith requires they do that, and not all denominations of Christianity believe in forced conversions.

There is such an anti-Christian atmosphere in any Pagan circle that it’s no wonder so many Christians end up resenting us. We ostracize them; we demonize their religion the way that they used to demonize ours. And I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that – I view Christianity, for the most part, as a very cult-like faith. I tend to think people who follow Christianity are either ignorant or complacent – sheep in sheep’s clothing. But I don’t think that because of the religion itself – I think that because most of the Christians I have met don’t even try to think for themselves. They just take it as writ that the Bible has all the answers. That is what gets under my skin.

And it gets under my skin in Heathenry, too. There are Heathens who view the lore as the end-all, be-all of the way Heathenry should work. Anything outside the lore is considered taboo, nevermind the fact that the lore we have was written specifically for a Christian audience, so there’s no telling how much of the lore was altered. If you need a book to give you all the answers, then you’re not thinking hard enough.

That’s why I hate it when I see people talking about how Heathens shouldn’t offer prayers to the Gods or even approach the Gods without working deeply with the wights and ancestral spirits. I don’t know what kind of ancestral work others do, but the way I view ancestral work is this: they passed on the legacy of my bloodline to me, and now it is my responsibility to live my life to the best of my ability. I don’t need to consult with my ancestors to figure out how I should live my life – there are some ancestors I’d like to converse with just to learn more about their lives. But nothing should feel like a requirement. 

I found an article earlier about how the eight High Days are often held in the honor of a particular God or Goddess even when the practitioner (in a group or as a solitary practitioner) has no real connection with that deity. The reason that the practitioners hold these rituals are because that’s what’s expected. That’s what is required because those days are holy only to certain deities.

Just to throw this out there – no one is required to honor a deity they aren’t connected to. To me, making an offering to a deity that I’m not connected to personally in order to honor a particular High Day would horrify me because it would strike me as being incredibly rude. I don’t make offerings to Thor because we aren’t close, and He doesn’t want anything from me. I can feel Him around, sometimes, because He is still the protector of all Heathens, and I’m not exempt from His protection just because we barely get along.

That’s another thing – there are going to be Gods that don’t like you, and there are going to be Gods that you don’t like. It took me a long time to accept that one of the Gods I am never going to be able to be anything more than civil with is Thor, since He is considered one of the most important Gods within Heathenry. For a long time, I thought that the lack of His friendship meant that I could never properly be a Heathen because it seemed to me that He was the one God that all Heathens should be able to turn to.

But I don’t fall into any of the categories that most of His worshipers fall into. I’m not a farmer (and I don’t garden); I’m a scholar. I’m not a warrior, I’m a shaman. My strength isn’t borne from physical prowess, but from intellectual prowess. I’m not right for Thor’s path, and His path isn’t right for me. The paths I do walk, however – the paths of Odin, Loki, Freyr, Ullr, Mani, Freyja, Sigyn, Tyr (thus far) – are the right paths for me to walk, and I am the right person to walk them.

So many of us try to conform to the expectations of the mainstream when we don’t have to. We can forge our own paths, and we can use whatever method of communication we want to use in order to commune with the Gods. Sometimes the communication will come in the form of verbal words (that’s the rarest kind), other times it will come in the form of impressions or visualizations or impulses. Those impressions can come during ritual or just during everyday life. The Gods always get our messages, so we should never be afraid to talk to them.

I personally make it a point, when I ask for anything from the Gods, to add the condition, “If you are willing,” to the words said in ritual or prayer. I like it better than using “please,” because “please” seems too much like desperation when used within the context of a prayer. I dislike “please” because it makes me feel like I am annoying the Gods due to the pleading nature of the word. And using the phrase, “If you are willing,” makes it much easier to accept a negative response. Generally, when we say “please” in real life, we don’t expect to hear “no,” in response. That’s another reason I prefer the phrase, “If you are willing.”

Overall, however, the point I am trying to make here is that there is no wrong way to communicate with the Gods. The biggest problem people have with hearing the Gods is questioning whether they are making up the communication or really receiving a message. The only way to resolve that is to understand that the Gods can communicate through your imagination as easily as They can communicate through any other means. Once you stop trying to stop filtering out your imagination, you stop filtering out the Gods. Once you stop filtering out the Gods, you start understanding which messages come from the Gods and which messages come from your psyche trying to trip you up.

So figure out which Gods speak to you the most. Which Gods struck a chord with you when you read Their myths? Whose personality meshed the most with yours? If you don’t know where to start when it comes to approaching a God, pretend to have a conversation with that God. In your head or out loud, it doesn’t matter. If you’re interested enough in developing a real relationship with that God, and the God in question isn’t one of the more antisocial Gods, then chances are good that the deity will eventually get back in touch.

Don’t get me wrong, it won’t happen instantly, even if you already understand what I mean by sending and receiving impressions of intent through the threads of wyrd. Any trained high-level Empath does this type of sending and receiving naturally, so if you’re an Empath, you have to learn how to send messages across planes (which is less difficult than it sounds, thankfully).

For those who don’t feel confident in their sending skills, it might take longer for the message to reach the God you’re trying to contact, but the message will still reach Him or Her. Think of it as writing a letter to someone that you’d really like to meet – or, conversely, write a letter and burn it as an offering to that deity. That’s one of the fastest ways to get a message to the Gods, and we have Loki to thank for that little trick.

To reiterate my main point – there is no wrong way to communicate with the Gods. No matter what type of message you send or the medium you use, the Gods will hear you. Whether or not They respond, well, that is up to Them. If They don’t respond to you, then view the non-response as the message it is: “You aren’t suited to my path, try another.” Try not to view a non-response as a negative occurrence – chances are, the Gods already know who you are, and there is a particular deity’s path that will be a perfect fit for you. Perseverance is the key in communing with the Gods – if you give up on Them, then why should They not give up on you?