Approaching Deity

The Gods have personhood – by which I mean they have agency of their own. They are people in their own right. We often mistake the word people as being synonymous with human, as humanity is the only race on this planet that has been ascribed a level of personhood.

The Gods are of a different race than us, and they don’t normally reside in this world – though I’m sure there are a few who choose to live among us. Because the Gods don’t typically reside here, it is easy to see how people may form the impression that personhood implies being human.

Personhood, however, simply implies having agency. It implies having a mind of one’s own, and thus implies the ability to make one’s own decisions – autonomy is guaranteed. With this in mind, it becomes easier to see that the Gods are people, too. They are a different race of people, to be sure, but they are people.

That is what makes it so important that we don’t approach the Gods using the God Faucet or thinking of the Gods as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky (See Sources). These are two ways of approaching the Gods that have become commonplace, especially among those who are new to Paganism.

The God Faucet is essentially saying, “I need a god that rules x domain, so I will arbitrarily pick a name from a hat and approach that god.” The reason that this is problematic, when dealing with the Gods, is that it ignores the personhood of the Gods. We don’t approach other humans this way – why are there Pagans who believe it’s okay to approach Gods in this way? The Gods are greater than us by their very nature, yet there are Pagans who approach the Gods almost as if they are made for the convenience of humanity. Perhaps it is because we live in such a convenience-based society, as there seem to be among us those who have forgotten that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Everyone includes the Gods.

To put this in perspective, imagine that you have just gone shopping and are carrying several bags of heavy items, and you have to walk a mile back to your apartment. Let’s pretend you just moved in, so everyone you walk by by to get back to your apartment is a stranger. No one offers to help you, but you don’t expect help from those you don’t know. You certainly don’t turn to one of the strangers you walk by and ask them to help you  – you already understand there is no reason for them to help you, so you don’t ask to begin with.

Now, the next day, you’re walking down the same street, but this time, your hands are empty. You’re simply exploring. You get ready to go into a particular shop when you catch sight of someone staring into the window with a wistful expression, and you decide to strike up a conversation. The two of you start talking, find out you have a lot in common, trade names – maybe numbers – and maybe even make arrangements to hang out in the future. You’ve established a relationship.

The next time you go shopping, you happen to run into each other and start talking. However, this time, you have an established relationship. Perhaps help is offered or asked for, and help is received or denied based on the circumstances of everyone involved in the situation.

This is the way relationships between all people are formed, whether the relationship in question is between two humans, two Gods, a human and a God, two spirits, a human and a spirit, or between a spirit and a God. All relationships require an origin. Even if the only relationship you want with a God is that of patron-client, patrons are often far more willing to help those clients who make an effort to understand the patron than they are those clients who expect everything to go their way.

The God Faucet is picking out a deity and saying, “Hey, do this thing for me even though I have no pre-established relationship.” The Vending Machine works in a similar vein, although it takes it a step further by insisting that the Gods are only around for human convenience. “If I make an offering, then you have to do this for me.”

That’s not the primary purpose of offerings. The primary reason we give offerings to the Gods is so that They may give in return. May does not imply must. We offer prayer, libations, and ritual – among other things – to the Gods in order to celebrate the relationships we share with the Gods. They are the way that we hang out with deity, the same way we go to restaurants, movies, and other venues to hang out with friends. To know the Gods, you must treat them as if they are people in their own right. Not convenient shop-owners who can provide you with what you want when you give them the right coin.

Alongside being asked by newer Pagans how to know that the Gods are communicating, I also often get asked how to approach deity. The question has a simple answer, yet people seem to dislike the answer. If you want to know deity, you have to approach the Gods the way they want to be approached. They converse with us through the means they have told us to use, means that we have known about for centuries. Pray. Offer libations. Participate in ritual. If you want to know the Gods, get to know the Gods through the means they have provided for us to get to know them. If doing so makes you uncomfortable, either get over it or get used to not knowing deity.

This is one area where there’s no real alternative, though there are multiple ways that we can approach the offerings we give to the Gods. But to know deity, we have to make an effort. All human relationships take effort. Why should relationships with the Gods be any different?

 

Sources 

Kin’ani. http://tessdawson.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-god-faucet.html  Explains the idea of the God Faucet.

Kirk Thomas. “Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods.” In one of the later chapters in the books, the idea of the Great Vending Machine in the Sky is addressed.

Action and Gratitude

When you work as closely with deities as I do, you start treating them like close, but respected, friends. And you usually don’t think too hard about asking friends for favors. In the case of deities, of course, you request favors via prayer.

In a society predominantly Christian, it can be easy to backslide into the mentality of expecting things to happen. And then, when things don’t go accordingly, it’s easy to get upset with the gods.

Backsliding happens to everyone, whether you’re willing to own up to it or not. It’s hard to constantly live in a polytheistic paradigm when the world around you is shouting monotheism at the top of its lungs.

Still, prayers to deities that consist of specific requests can only come to fruition if, once you have asked, you do absolutely everything in your own power to make it happen. The gods come in and add an extra umph at the end, but if you don’t even start, then why should they do the work for you?

It’s the same with spellwork. If you do a spell to get a new job, then refuse to put it in any work to find a new job, you’re not going to land a new job very easily. Intent matters, both in spell and prayer – in my experience, prayer and spell are basically synonyms. Spellwork is just a little more elaborate.

And, after you’ve done everything in your power to accomplish what you asked for – whether it’s money, a new job, or help finding a partner – it’s important to remember to do a ritual of gratitude. It’s the equivalent of sending a thank you note to someone for their effort, especially when that person (or deity, as the case may be) was never obligated to helping you or granting you any favors.

The Havamal tells us “A gift for a gift” and it also emphasizes hospitality, where a gracious manner is essential. The gods have given us so much already – when we ask for more, it’s only right that we work as hard as we can to accomplish what we can on our own and then offer our gratitude when they come in and lend a hand to cross us over the finish line, so to speak.

These are things that are very easy to forget…and yet, these are the things that are at the very heart of Pagan faiths. Action and gratitude. That’s all it takes.

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?