Thanks to some mostly-online conversations, I’ve been thinking recently about how we talk with the gods, how they talk to us, what it means to have those conversations. Much of the work we do in ritual is mediated: there are prayers, there are offerings. We pull an omen; the seer interprets it. This is certainly communication, but it’s markedly different from the sort of direct verbal communication that we have every day with the people we encounter in our lives. And I think that for most of us, raised in the often-distanced cultural context of the modern monotheist religions, that sort of of direct verbal communication feels, by default, a part of the mythic past: maybe once people spoke with the gods, but certainly not now.
But that’s simply not true; many people do talk with the gods. I know I do.
And I don’t mean talk to the gods, a monodirectional stream of thoughts and prayers where responses, if they come at all, are abstract, obscure, indirect. That definitely happens, but here I mean talk with, true bidirectional conversations with question and answer, statement and response. I am, to be completely honest, rather unsettled by this fact. Normal people don’t talk with gods; normal people don’t hear the voice of their gods, and certainly don’t respond to them. That’s the stuff of dissociative mental illness. And yet: I’m rather even-keeled, and deeply skeptical of… well, everything. This is rather outside my normal, material life. And so I actively fight with the voices I hear in my prayerful mind, pushing back against them as narcissistic mutterings, my brain muttering to itself the things it wants to hear. And sometimes that dispels the thought, melting it like so much cotton candy. But equally as often, the voice pushes back, often with self-aware amusement: yeah, they’ve seen this before. And as I go forward on this path, I have to push back less: not that I stop hearing the imaginative mutterings of my brain, but rather that I’m better able to discern a true speaking; it feels a certain way.
And I wish I’d known this when I started. I wish I’d seen more frank discussion of talking with gods, so that I’d know, when it happened, that while my skepticism was a very good thing, I also was allowed to keep open that sliver of possibility! But we often keep this all hidden. I can’t speak to others’ reasons, though I can guess at them, but for myself: I have feared being judged, that friends, family, coworkers would be worried or — gods forbid — think less of me as some kind of idiot who believes in fairy tales.
And I suppose I still fear that judgment. But to a certain extent I’ve taken away my own escape route, sometimes purposefully sometimes accidentally: I write this blog under my own name. I make no secret of myself at public ritual. I ‘out’ myself pretty consistently, discussing weekend plans with coworkers. On a Google search, and even more a YouTube search, my ADF work is very well represented. That genie won’t go back in its bottle. So I’m trying to write about these and other ‘woo’ experiences more forthrightly, in hopes that some future, skeptical seeker might read my words and know that, yes, you can be a rational, skeptical person who believes in the importance of a secular society, the centrality of the scientific method to materialist knowledge building, etc etc. And yet, you can also talk to gods, can know that there are forms of knowledge creation that are simply not the province of science, can embrace a crumbling of the walls between modernity and magic. You’re experiencing a real thing.
This was all supposed to be preamble to a post about a particular conversation I had with Manannán, but I’ve somehow gone on for 650 words already. Next time, then.
Header image: “The Dish” by Luke Chapman/Flickr. License: CC BY-NC-ND.