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Public domain image; alas, not “my” geese 😉

I don’t recall whether I mentioned this yet, but we have moved at long last into a home of our own once more. It borders a small nature preserve, which houses a natural pond and a small gaggle of geese.

I know about the geese because I can hear them and see them flying, dawn and dusk, back and forth from the pond. I don’t know where they go at night, or why they leave. It’s a mystery I haven’t solved yet.

There is an archway with a trellis leading from our backyard into the preserve, a relic of the previous owner, but I have not yet passed through it. It’s a secret I’m keeping from myself, another hidden treasure I’m teasing myself with until I succumb.

Another treasure, for this house is nestled in them. There was snow on the ground when we first viewed the property, and all lay wet and brown and sleeping when we moved in.

But since then, the trees have budded; bright green shoots all in the earth have exploded indecently, some distinguishing themselves as wildflower or weed, and others as daffodils, tulips, bleeding hearts, hyacinth. Some of the trees themselves have flowers, one with tiny red buds that I don’t know, a couple with great blooms bursting from fuzzy brown sheaves that shed petals like pink and white rain when the wind blows.

There are big black bumblebees rumbling drowsily through the leaves, and smaller, but still fairly daunting, red-legged wasps that land on the screens and scrutinize me with quivering antennae when I peer out at them. They seem more curious than assholeish, at least for now.

And birds. The birds. So many birds. I stare through my window like a child in front of a candy shop, and I can lose track of time so easily there. Next on my wishlist is a field guide to the birds here, for I don’t recognize them all. Of the ones I can name, I am most enamored at the moment with the blackbirds, who have flashes of bright red along the tops of their wings, and the cardinals, for we are hosts to a mating pair. I am excited for the babies forthcoming from the nest in the tree outside my living room window.

As is the cat, of course. He spends the warmer days glued to the window screens. The daylight hours are full of his hilarious chattering at the birds, his ambitious swatting at any bug that lands on the screen (to my chagrin, because claws), and his perplexing growling at our next-door neighbor, should the poor man have the nerve to go out in his own yard.

Feline nights are apparently occupied by stampeding with all the noise and energy of a herd of crazed buffalo through every floor of the house, but whatever. Life isn’t poetry 24/7, people. 😉

Something about it all–trees, flowers, birds, bees–salves some wound I didn’t realize I was carrying. I feel it all singing to me, and something inside myself singing back…silently, slowly, but singing.

The first hour after the keys to the house were in our hands, I took my youngest out in his new backyard to play, and my Beloved sent me a sign as if to say, welcome home. I see traces of Him everywhere, because how can I not? My life is enrobed with His presence; He sets the rhythm of my pulse.

My sign, however, was no trace, but a declaration. And here, there are more than traces to remind me of Him as the days go on. There is ever the wind, stroking my hair and whispering secrets into my ear; ravens playing in the sky and telling me stories from the branches; and a speeding of my heartbeat as He draws me into greenness, into growth, into a season I once viewed only with distaste and a longing to return to my beloved autumn.

(For mine is a God not only of Samhain, but of Beltane as well, and He will not allow me to forget it).

Inside me burns a fire now, great as any bel fire, and some things in me it destroys, and others it feeds, until I feel my flesh will burst with it, and out will come the me I’ve always been, still wearing that fire, maybe even breathing it. It scares me at times, and I wonder if it scares those who watch me change, but my God has no fear of me, and His breath fans my flames brighter as down, down we go, into this verdant, noisy, fragrant season that defies civility and prudery, the cold and the dead.

Once, I was all those things, but now, I have come home.

Spinoff: Discernment in Christianity vs Devotional Polytheism

This is just a quickie post for those who may be curious about the difference between discernment in Christianity and discernment in devotional Polytheism. I don’t have the time to look up all the footnotes, this isn’t really meant to be a scholarly work anyway. It IS based on my own experience and studies, as both a Protestant and Catholic at respective times in my life, and now, of course, I’m a hard Polytheist.

The primary aim of discernment as it is traditionally understood in Christianity is to distinguish between what is coming from God and what is not (i.e. coming from oneself, other humans, or the devil).

Discernment would be employed by a devout Christian for such things as:

  • major life decisions (marriage vs priesthood for Catholics; choice of spouse; family planning; which college to attend or school to send children to, etc.)
  • “inspired” ideas versus purely human ones (did the Holy Spirit tell me to write that book? Does Jesus want me to go on that mission trip?)
  • the spiritual meaning behind life events (was my car damaged in that flood solely for natural reasons, or is this meant to have some deeper meaning for my life?)

In devotional Polytheism, the goal remains pretty much the same: what’s coming from the Gods, what’s coming from me?

Discernment is employed for such things as:

  • evaluating and understanding spiritual experiences such as visions, dreams, and journeying
  • verifying or interpreting communication from one’s Deities or honored Spirits
  • understanding events in one’s life in the proper spiritual context for the individual, if applicable (this is not really touched on in my post on the subject, as it is highly individual how one views this kind of context. I don’t think I could possibly cover it, given all the world views within Paganism.)

The means employed most frequently by Christians for discernment are:

  • consultation with spiritual authorities (pastors, priests, religious, church elders)
  • the Bible
  • Dogmas of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Chuch, and Church-approved writings of saints and theologians i.e. those with imprimatur  (Catholics)
  • consulting the writings of authorities within a Christian’s particular denomination

As a Christian, I was always taught that anything that contradicted the Bible (or later, as a Catholic, the teachings of the Church) should automatically be dismissed as either coming only from myself or being a temptation from Satan.

Some of the means employed by Polytheists, as mentioned in my last post on the subject, are:

  • introspection and meditation (examining the experience, the message conveyed, etc.)
  • divination, whether on one’s own or through the services of a diviner or both
  • reading of signs and omens
  • consultation with trusted elders in one’s faith tradition (not touched on in my post because again, I don’t have one, so I couldn’t explain how this would work for a Polytheist or judge how much value it would be)

As a Polytheist, I’ve been advised to trust myself and my own experiences over other people’s, advice that I pass on because I no longer believe that others have greater authority over my path, and greater understanding of it, than I do (unless that Other happens to be the Deity I belong to).

Just thought this might potentially be of interest to somebody out there. Comparative religion is one of my jams. 🙂

New Polytheist Series #3: Discernment

This is one of those topics that actually is discussed publicly among polytheists and Pagans from time to time. I’m writing about it today, not because it is rarely or never talked about, but because there is such a wide spectrum of views on the subject that I would like to share my own thoughts for your consideration. You are the only one who can decide whether these thoughts are of any value for your path, but I think it is always worthwhile to hear from multiple perspectives, especially if you are still trying to figure out just what it is that you want to incorporate into your devotional practice.

I will be discussing, in an unusual level of detail for me, the subject of discernment. I hate always having to say this, but I’m gonna do it anyway because I just know that if I forget, someone will be giving me an earful at some point. There are many different ways to go about discernment. Mine is not the only way, nor the only “right” way. This is one way that you can adapt as you see fit, or set aside entirely for something else. It is based on my own beliefs which you may not share, in part or in whole. I have no doubt that many of you will disagree with some of the particulars, and that’s ok!

My personal stance is that discernment itself is not optional in the spiritual life, but you certainly don’t have to do it my way to be doing it (and if you disagree that it’s necessary at all, I’m not going to call you names and kick you out 😛 ) You may also understand “discernment” as being something else entirely from what I describe here, and that’s fine too, though I hope you will still consider my version of it as something of potential benefit, even if you choose to call it something else.

Again, as with all my posts, I hope you will take what helps you, set aside what doesn’t, and don’t let it ruffle your feathers either way.

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When talking about Spirits, what is Real?

Spiritual experiences are notoriously difficult to quantify. Many people, myself included, will stress the importance of discernment, and although it isn’t cool to come out and say it bluntly, the question above is at the root of why.

Discernment, as I understand it and defined without the sugar coating, is basically just the process of coming to a decision about the true origin and relative value of whatever spiritual experience or communication you think has occurred in your life. Was the message you received solely your own wisdom, your subconscious mind, your higher self, etc, or did it actually originate from a Deity or other Spirit? Did the vision you experience take place in any kind of consensual reality with the entities who you thought were present, or were you the only one participating, even though you “saw” others in it? Was the conversation you think you had with a Deity taking place between you and that Deity, or you and what you (or your subconscious mind) only thinks They would have said? And so on.

First, I want to say that I’ve seen it argued that it doesn’t matter whether your message actually came from a Deity or whether you “really” had the spiritual experience you think you did. Supposedly, the only thing that should matter is that whatever happened was “real” to the one who experienced it.

In a way, I agree, but in another, I don’t. The issue I can’t get around is that it damn well does matter to me if you’re talking about your experience with me and other people–that is, if you happen to also be someone who views Deities and Spirits as being Persons. I am such a person.

Let’s say I have a wonderful dream that you and I went shopping at Target together, and it felt very real to me. If I then hopped on this blog or social media and told everyone about our great trip to Target, the funny things “you” said, etc., you would rightfully be appalled and offended. As far as you’re concerned, the trip never happened, no matter how real it was for me, but here I am publicizing it as though it were fact. There’s both a lack of respect here as well as a certain breach of mutual trust.

And you know what? Maybe the dream accomplished good things for me. Maybe it cheered me up, relaxed me, reminded me of the things I love about you and strengthened our friendship in that peripheral way. It was not without value in its own right. It wasn’t meaningless, at least not to me. But it’s still inappropriate for me to talk and act as though it happened outside my head and you are aware of it when, in fact, it did not, and you aren’t. It’s disrespectful to you, and misleading to the people reading it who are assuming that you know about this trip and actually said and did the things I’m reporting you said and did.

More than that, even if I keep my mouth shut about this dream, what if you insulted me in it, or hurt my feelings, or complimented me on something that you actually don’t like? In any of these scenarios, my perception of you could be altered accordingly. It may have felt very real, but is this seem fair to you, or helpful to our friendship? I need to be clear on whether my dream was just a dream or something more, and then I need to weigh and treat it accordingly.

I think there is a temptation to shrug and say “it doesn’t matter if it’s real” because the underlying assumption is that if it only happened for you, it’s the same thing as saying that it’s worthless, it’s meaningless, whatever lesson you took away isn’t important (or isn’t “as” important as if a Spirit had given it to you), etc. And that, I just don’t agree with. An experience’s worth to you as an individual is a separate value from whether it was Divine, supernatural, or otherwise external in origin.

Let me repeat and rephrase, because this is very important: if you got something out of it, it wasn’t worthless, no matter where it came from or who came up with it or who was, or wasn’t, involved. Your wisdom is not invalid because it comes from you. Your subconscious isn’t worthless. Respect yourself and your own knowing, don’t belittle them. Your experiences do matter no matter where they came from.

Experiences with Spirits aren’t the only ones that matter, and having an experience that included a Spirit without Their willed involvement doesn’t cast the other experiences you’ve had with Them, or your relationship with Them in general, into doubt. Every instance needs to be taken and evaluated, not just in the context of your wider relationship, but on its own merits as well. No one gets it right 100% of the time, no matter how long they’ve been at this.

Before I go on, I want to emphasize that experiences are not “fake” because other p/People don’t share them. I do agree with the idea that experiences can be real for an individual even if that reality is shared with no one else. I just disagree with the part that it doesn’t matter where our experiences fall on the spectrum of consensual reality. I believe it can be harmful to our understandings of our Deities and our relationships with Them to attribute to Them actions or words that They did not choose or consent to, even if we say nothing to anyone else about it. Again–this doesn’t mean the experience had no value to the individual who had it, doesn’t mean it was “fake,” and doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.

If these experiences matter no matter what, why is it important to discern at all?

First, because of what I said before about respecting Deities and other Spirits as the independent entities with personal agency that I believe they are. If you do not share this belief, this obviously isn’t going to hold water with you as a reason.

Second, out of respect for the audience you are sharing these experiences with, who may develop incorrect or unrealistic ideas or expectations about both the spiritual life and whatever entities you name, if you are not making the origin of the experience clear (or in the very least, making your true level of certainty about it clear.)

Third, because even if you choose not to share your experience with anyone else, it will still color and influence the relationships you already have with whatever entities you think were involved. You will not come to a true knowledge of the Deity or Spirit involved if you assume They’ve done and said things that aren’t actually consistent with who They are or with the relationship They either have or want to have with you. It could also lead to deeply hurtful misunderstandings further down the road where the Deity later appears to be contradicting Themselves.

In my view, failure to discern the ideas that our experiences give us about the entities involved is a big culprit in Deities and other Spirits then being distorted into two-dimensional caricatures or stereotypes of Themselves by well-meaning devotees. It’s not the only culprit out there, but it’s a significant one and completely preventable by simply taking the time to discern rather than making assumptions.

Questions to Consider

Discerning communications and experiences involving Deities and other Spirits are slightly different in the questions that you will want to examine, so I’m separating them into two lists for your consideration. These are intended as starting points and inspiration as you figure out what discernment means for you and your path, not a comprehensive list or some kind of dogma.

When it comes to Spirit communication, you will want to consider:

  1. Who or what is the origin of this message/sign/omen?
  2. If the origin is an entity other than me, does this entity have any knowledge or awareness that this message/sign/omen happened?
  3. Are They willing to acknowledge that They sent the message/sign/omen?
  4. Have I received the message/sign/omen accurately? Am I understanding it as it was intended by its Author to be understood?
  5. What does this message/sign/omen tell me? What can I take away from this?

For other types of spiritual experiences, such as dreams, visions, journeying:

  1. Where did this experience take place?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. Do those involved know They were involved?
  4. Do those involved claim ownership of the behavior/words/actions I have attributed to Them?
  5. Am I understanding what happened in this experience correctly? For example, if I think a Deity came to me and asked me to stop wearing shoes, was this a literal request, a command, a metaphor for something else?
  6. What did the content of this experience tell me, and what is the value of that content to me personally?

For both: how does this communication or experience compare based on communications and experiences I’ve already discerned? Is it contradicting them? Supporting them? Fleshing out my prior understanding, or challenging it?

Please notice that the questions about value and what you can take away from these experiences or messages is a SEPARATE question in each type of situation. It doesn’t matter in terms of value whether it came from Deity or your household ghost or you alone. It could have still taught you something, given you something, or inspired you somehow…as a start. And that is NOT less “valid” or meaningful than if Freya chose to appear in your dream.

How to Answer the Questions

You now have an idea of the kinds of questions to think about when discerning, but how do you come to some sort of answer? Is certainty even possible when we are talking about things that may have taken place entirely inside your head?

I personally don’t think absolute certainty is possible in this life when it comes to matters of spirit. What we can strive for, and operate on, is a reasonable degree of certainty. There is always room for error, for misunderstanding, for imperfection, for alternate explanations for the exact same messages or occurrences. Those things will always be there because neither we, nor the Deities and Spirits we are devoted to, are perfect.

We are all individuals with strengths and weaknesses, and communication isn’t e/Everyone’s strong suit. It’s possible to practice excellent discernment and at the end of the day, or month, or decade, find out you were mistaken on some point, or many points. The spiritual life is a learning experience and a lifelong process, not a one-and-done or something you can tick off a checklist and be sure you’ve successfully accomplished it.

The same is true of your relationships with Deities and Spirits; like any other relationships, these will change, grow, evolve, and your understandings of e/Each other will change, grow and evolve along with them. Something may have been true once, but isn’t anymore, whether it’s about you or the Other. Something may have been misunderstood, but was not corrected quickly enough to avoid changing the perception of you or the Other. And etc.

Further complicating matters is that there can be a certain culture clash between Deities/Spirits and humans, depending on just Who you’re talking about (or to).

So when you are discerning the above questions, it’s important to keep certain things in mind.

First, as I said, absolute certainty isn’t possible, nor is it required. Don’t drive yourself (and your Deities) crazy with the need to be “absolutely sure,” because it’s never going to happen, or on the off-chance that it does, it won’t last. There will always be more discernment to do, and more questions and potential doubts as time goes on. If you’ve taken the time to carefully consider the above points, maybe consulted the runes or your oracle deck or whatever your divination method is if the situation calls for it, and the conclusions you’ve reached are making sense to you in the context of your life and path, then it’s enough to accept the results and move forward, mission accomplished. Sometimes a second opinion may be warranted in very serious, life-changing situations (see below), but you don’t need a hundred different opinions, and more often than not, your own judgment, paired with self honesty, is more than sufficient.

Second, keep an open mind, no matter what you think you already know about the Other(s) you think are involved or about what’s going on in general. Let the message or experience speak for itself, not ideas you’ve picked up from outside of them or from other people’s experiences.

Third, keep yourself in mind. Your own baggage, your own feelings, your own hopes and fears. Discernment is an impossible task if you don’t know yourself. You need to be able to tell your voice from someone else’s, and how can you do that if you don’t know yourself? You can’t recognize when your fears are cropping up and adopting the Face you most dread them wearing if you don’t know what it is you’re scared of. So be brutally honest with yourself. What are you hoping the answer is this question or that one? What are you afraid the answers will be? Keep THOSE answers in mind, too, as you work through it.

Sometimes, the things we hope or fear really do happen outside of our heads, as it were. But many times, we unwittingly try to sabotage or delude ourselves, depending on just what your baggage is. Knowing you have this baggage, or that trigger, or this anxiety, or that hope can help you sort out what’s coming from you and what isn’t, and whether you’re viewing even those things not coming from you with a clear head.

Consulting with the Other

Many of the questions I propose center around the other Persons involved in the experience or communication.

Spirit communication can be a tricky subject, as there are a lot of opinions and a lot of proposed methods out there. I’ve written my own take on it at length before, although that post is no longer featured on this site. I may bring it back at some point. In the meantime, I would like to present a brief rundown of ways you can attempt to verify a Deity or Spirit’s participation. This isn’t total and comprehensive, but they are basic methods anyone can use.

  1. Ask Them. Pretty straightforward. Your specific path or faith tradition will advise you best on how you go about doing this and what kind of ritual may be involved to seek Their counsel.
  2. Divination. You can do your own, and I recommend trying that first. As devotional Polytheists, I think divination should be a serious tool in our arsenal. It is well worth the effort to commit to learning as well as possible at least one method–this is such common advice, I wouldn’t even know who to credit, but suffice it to say, I’m not the only one to think so! If the message or experience you receive seriously influences your perception or understanding of the entities involved or your relationships with them, or if it has life-altering implications (such as a Deity making major requests of you like divorcing a spouse, moving, quitting a job, etc.), I strongly recommend ALSO consulting a professional diviner who views divination as a serious spiritual practice AND who is not personally involved with the exact same entities you are involved with (as this can influence their objectivity). Hat tip to Beth for that good advice, which I’ve never regretted following. For a REALLY BIG request/demand, or if the “second opinion” is at complete odds with your own knowledge of the Deity/situation (or just plain “feels off”), you may want to seek two independent opinions, both of which should be sought in addition to your own divination. Remember that even diviners are fallible, and although “double checking” in some situations is entirely reasonable, MOST of the time this will NOT be the ordinary, necessary course of events. I’m referring to exceptional circumstances here.
  3. Request a sign to confirm whatever you are seeking verification about. Do so respectfully, it should go without saying, and be very careful about the possibility of confirmation bias if you go this route. Like any other part of discernment, this requires ruthless honesty on your own part. There is a very good article by Thenea about this topic here, I won’t try to reinvent the wheel! She also doesn’t blather as much as I do, so go read it.
  4. Wait and see what happens next. This one may surprise you a bit and it’s certainly not the most immediately gratifying of your options, but my experience has been that if a Deity is trying to tell you something and knows you’re listening, you will usually observe some synchronicities in your life or receive other signs that back up what They are trying to tell you or that verify They were a part of whatever you experienced. So keep your eyes open, pay attention, and be patient. The phenomenon of the “clue-by-four” is notorious for good reason. The same warning about confirmation bias still applies, though.

I would like to add to all of the above that NOT ONE of these requires having special superpowers or being the next High Priest(ess) of the holy Whatzit. They are options that anyone can avail themselves of at need, no special wiring required…which brings me to the final point of this post.

What if I Have Nothing to Discern?

If there is anything that shreds my heart, it’s hearing from people who do their best to honor their Gods, but they feel like their Gods are not talking to them, not walking with them, not interested. They think they need some kind of special ability or talent in order to be able to hear their Deities, or worse, that their Gods just don’t care enough to bother.

There are many Gods, and I would not even dare to speak for my Own, never mind any of the Others. But I simply don’t believe that anyone for whom devotion to their Gods is a priority in their lives–whatever that might look like for you, as an individual, in your own life and circumstances–is being ignored, overlooked, or denied having any form of communion by the Deities they honor.

I do think, however, that it is entirely possible, and in fact highly probable, that the experiences they ARE having, the communications they ARE receiving, are not being recognized for what they are, either because the devotee in question has very rigid ideas about what constitutes Spirit communication/experiences, or because they simply have no idea that Deity X also does Y, or because the Deities they are reaching out to aren’t the same ones who are answering them (which has happened to me, so yes indeed, I can verify that happens too!) Thus they miss the signs of these attempts, or misinterpret them as being something else, or overlook them entirely.

There is always the temptation to compare oneself to others and others’ experiences as well. Again, I’ve written about this previously, but there are few practices more self destructive and toxic than self comparison. No matter what happened to this blogger or that friend, THEY ARE NOT YOU, and you are not them. Your path is not their path, and their path is not yours.

Look. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it because somebody’s sure got to. You don’t need to be a spirit worker or shaman or High Priest(ess) of Whatzit to develop a relationship with your Deities. There are as many ways to communicate with Them, and They with you, as there are people and Deities put together. You may not hear words, receive impressions, see visions. You may get a strange taste in your mouth when your Goddess is near, or smell something no one else can, or see a flower that never blooms in April in full blossom by your bus stop one morning. You may find yourself suddenly reminded of your God by something that it never occurred to you before would be associated with Him, or find a song unexpectedly caught in your head that you eventually realize is an amazingly apt reply to the one you sang at His shrine. You may find yourself in tears “for no reason” when you go to light Their candle; you may find yourself laughing “for no reason” when you’re trying to pray.

These kinds of messages and experiences are no less valid and meaningful and worthwhile than any mystic’s visions. They are holy, they are sacred, they are real…and they don’t require special wiring, or being the chosen one of whoever, or dedicating 24/7 to nothing but religious observance. If the Gods weren’t interested in humanity, They would not be known to humanity.

Your Gods and Spirits do not need to be making divination-worthy demands of you to be interested in you and your life, or to be accepting of your devotion. Different things are asked of each of us, and each of us walks our own unique path. You are not less because your Gods want you to wake up in the morning and make it through another day and celebrate with you that you did with a little extra smoke when you light the evening incense. That is not small. That is not poor. That is glorious. That IS the devotional life. It is a relationship lived in the trenches of the mundane. It is trudging through mud when only your heart can be in the stars.

For those of us with chronic health conditions and disabilities, this may be our holy Work. This may be our greatest offering. The God who would not accept it is not a God who is worthy of you, not the other way around. Don’t ever let yourself think that you are less, that your devotion is less, that your Gods aren’t listening, that They aren’t answering just because it isn’t in perceptible words or some particular type of experience. No.

Even those who have no such health concerns will not necessarily be called to some sort of priesthood, beyond what they practice for themselves, or to doing some great and impressive Work, and this is not inferior, not poor, not overlooked. The life you’re living? The devotion you give? The time you make for your Gods? Those are the things that matter. Those are the matter of devotion. Those are a great Work.

No matter who you are, no matter what road you are walking, you are sacred, your life is sacred, your devotion is sacred. Don’t treat yourself and your life and your devotion like garbage, but like the holy things they are. Your Gods are seeing you, hearing you, and yes, answering you, even if it is not in a voice, an omen, a vision.

And whatever else you do, do not make the mistake of confusing apparent silence with rejection or indifference. Sometimes, just as the eyes can say more than the lips could ever conjure, silence holds more meaning than words could ever convey. Invite your Gods to speak, then listen. If you can’t hear, then look; if you can’t look, then feel; if you can’t feel, then be.

Discernment isn’t easy, but the rewards–honest knowledge of both yourself and your Deities, stronger relationships with Them, better awareness of the ways They DO speak and act in your life–are abundant.

Your own insights, suggestions and questions are most welcome in the comments (please be patient with me in posting them, I moderate my comments & life’s been busy!)

New Polytheist Series #2: Taboos

Taboos: a prohibition or interdiction of anything; exclusion from use or practice.

-Dictionary.com

New Polytheist Series #2:
Taboos

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First, I think it’s important to establish what I mean by a “taboo.” I’m not referring to the taboos espoused by particular cultures or by certain (usually closed) traditions, both types of which are usually binding to all members or adherents. I am speaking specifically about the kind of taboo that is given from a Deity or Spirit to Their devotee, which may not be applicable to anyone other than the individual it has been given to.

By “taboo,” I’m also not referring to “something that a particular Deity doesn’t like, suggests you don’t do, and would prefer if you didn’t do.” I mean “something that if you do it, there will be serious consequences, and probably not in some hand-wavey future time and place, but in the here and now.”

I’m sure there are other definitions out there, and I understand that my specific definition may push some buttons for those of us from monotheistic backgrounds. Taboos, framed like that, sound a heck of a lot like “break this seemingly arbitrary rule and get punished for it.” My Patron explained it to me as being more a matter of consequence than punishment. Everything we do has consequences, but we do not consider most of those natural consequences to be “punishments,” even if we don’t like them. If you throw a rock, it might hit a window, but the window breaking is not “punishment” for throwing the rock. It’s just what happens when a rock meets glass with enough force.

Someone who has made a serious commitment to follow a particular Deity, Spirit or Pantheon may end up at some point receiving one or more taboos that they will be asked to heed, but this is in respect of that serious commitment, and the consequences of breaking those taboos could very well be the reason why they were issued in the first place: to spare the devotee from rendering themselves useless thanks to a lot of broken glass. Thus the taboo can serve to protect the one it was given to, and this has always been the case in my own experience (I can’t speak for anyone else’s.)

There can be as many reasons behind taboos as there are Deities and Spirits, but ultimately, if something is important enough to be given “taboo” status, there is probably a serious reason for it. It could be anything from “this Relationship can’t continue if you do/keep doing X” to “it is dangerous for this devotee personally to engage in X because of Y” to “this particular action or thing is anathema to this particular Deity or Spirit, and They can’t work closely with those who won’t take that seriously.”

(And generally, if Someone asks you not to do something and you’re not sure whether it was just a request or a taboo, it probably isn’t a taboo. Taboos are serious enough that I can’t imagine there being room left for doubt that This Is Very Important and There Will Be Consequences If You Ignore It, but because it IS a serious subject, it is also one of those things where I would suggest seeking the assistance of a professional diviner if you have questions and can’t clear it up on your own.)

Before we go any further, not every devotee will ever receive any taboos, no matter how serious their commitment is. This is worth saying twice. Not everyone will ever have to think about this, and there’s nothing wrong with you or your Relationships if you never do. It doesn’t mean you’re not just as serious as other devotees. Devotees who receive taboos are not superior to those who don’t, and those who do receive them are not “worse” somehow than those who don’t receive them. Unless we are talking about very particular traditions or specific entities who have very specific requirements for anyone who follows them—which we are not, in this post—taboos in devotional Relationships are an individual matter between the devotee and the Deity. Not everyone needs them, not every Relationship or Spirit demands them, and you’re not more special OR more fucked up than everyone else if you do. Period. This is not a status thing. It is an individual thing, and even devotees of the same Spirit who are given the same taboos might have entirely different consequences if they break them.

So I repeat: not a status thing. Not a better-than-thou thing.

But sometimes, it does happen, and because it’s not talked about very much, this can equal a lot of flailing if it happens to you.

When it happened to me, the only thing I could find even mentioning it in passing was written by experienced spirit workers and people engaging in shamanic practices. Pretty much as far as you could get from “baby Pagan, NOS” territory. I wasn’t sure what, if any of it, even applied to me. My Patron very patiently walked me through it, for which I’m grateful, but it was a very lonely period of “wtf is wrong with me? Where is this coming from? Is this even a polytheist thing??” (because “polytheist” was the only label I was absolutely sure that I identified with at the time.) I mean, I certainly knew of other, more experienced Polytheists by that time, but I was legit afraid to either look crazy or look nosey by asking. It seemed really OUT THERE to me. So I kept my trap shut and suffered until I worked out what it meant for me.

But for the rest of you, the answer I reached is yes, it evidently is a polytheist thing 😉 It’s just not a universal polytheist thing, which can really be said about a whole lot. And whether it happens or not, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Nor do you have to be a spirit worker or belong to a particular tradition if it does happen, so breathe with me now. AHHHH.

At the time, I didn’t understand “why” certain things were suddenly taboo for me, but I learned in time that it really was for my own protection when I didn’t even know back then that I needed any protecting. And yes, I’m sure my Patron could have found a way to spell it all out for me without using the t-word or without flat-out telling me not to do X, but in all honesty, I was nowhere near ready to understand it at the time. I can admit that (now, anyway 😛 )

There is a certain kind of person who will take it very badly if anyone tells them not to do something, regardless of who the “anyone” is. Taboos can very well end up being the breaking point of a Relationship when this is the case. Still, the entity issuing the taboo must have some position of authority in your spiritual life to be making these kinds of demands (and if They are not, that is a whole ‘nother problem and a whole ‘nother post!) If They do have the gravitas in your life to be making such demands, then you must think They’re worth listening to, right?

Rather than rail against it, I suggest first asking Them why. You may be told. You may not. But it is always worth it to hear the other party out rather than jumping to conclusions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe the Gods are People. But I also don’t believe for a second that They’re human. Sometimes, the things that are obvious to Them are not obvious to us, and the things that are important to Them do not immediately make sense or have the same importance to us. And They do not always seem aware of this disconnect unless you are communicating with Them about it. 

Lastly, in addition to being potentially protective, taboos can also serve as an invitation to understanding the Deity in question a little better than you would have otherwise. They illustrate where the Deity’s priorities and concerns are far more clearly than a list of correspondences on a website. What concerns Them about you tells you more than you may be ready to hear about yourself.

So if that day comes…or if it has already come…listen.

And if you, too, are in the position of occasionally having to look dodgy because you avoid certain things most others don’t think twice about, know you aren’t alone, you aren’t crazy (well, you might be, but not because of this ; ) ), yes this is a thing that happens, and no it doesn’t mean you’re the reincarnated high priest of Whoville. It’s ok, you’re in good company. (And if you just got a certain Christmas song stuck in your head…you’re welcome!)

New Polytheist Series #1: Data Mining & Personal Privacy

I was just sitting here thinking about how far I’ve come in the past couple of years, and I realized that there were a lot of things I wish I would have known or seen discussed sooner. These topics may not be of very wide and general interest, because not everyone has the same experiences or has them on the same timeline, but I feel moved to talk about them anyway in hopes of helping others who are flailing about the same things I flailed about. 😉

I will preface this whole series with my usual disclaimer that the posts you will see are about my own experiences, from my own perspective; they are not intended to be universally applicable or The Last Word on whatever the topic is, or the Only Right Answer for the questions addressed. They are the understandings I’ve come to and nothing more. If they help you figure out what’s going on with your own path, great. If they don’t, don’t be troubled. Keep asking the questions, and keep looking!

New Polytheist Series #1: Data Mining & Personal Privacy

bird-flowers-and-key

The first thing that popped up in my mind on the list of “things I wish I would have known about sooner” is the epidemic in the online Pagan community sometimes called “data mining.” When I first began my blog, I had no idea this even existed, let alone that it was as prevalent as it is. Perhaps due to the much lower importance placed on personal experiences in my former faith tradition, it’s nothing I had ever come across before.

Data mining, in this context, is when someone “mines” another person’s blog, message forum posts, etc. for information about their spiritual lives and practices so they can use this information for their own blog posts, etc. It can also refer to when folks specifically ask probing questions about your spiritual path for the same purpose.

In my own experience, however, it was the former that happened. I was very trusting and open in my early posts here, so there was no need to ask for details. My experiences were an open book for anyone to take from. Data mining of the kind that happened to me is rarely blatant; it wouldn’t be very successful if it was. People who resort to this tactic are usually smart enough to rephrase or summarize entire blog posts in their own words to avoid being easily discovered or accused of plagarism.

Because of the understandable reticence in the larger Pagan community of questioning others too closely about the veracity of their spiritual experiences, a person who suspects their content has been stolen has very little ground to work from without looking like a total asshat themselves. Moreover, similar spiritual experiences and insights can honestly and innocently happen to multiple people, so someone else writing about having an experience “like yours” is not an automatic red flag. It is also the nature of online discourse that people will read others’ work and be inspired to write their own thoughts about it, and this isn’t data mining, either. It can make it difficult to tell what’s tilting at a windmill and what’s theft.

In my own case, I caught on because it kept happening: the miner was tapping the same vein of ore too much, so to speak. Once or twice could be a coincidence, but the “borrowed” details became increasingly egregious as time went on, and “borrowed” material started appearing more and more often.

I can’t say with confidence that this is always the pattern. If you suspect your work is being “mined” by someone else, continuing to keep an eye on their work might be the only way you ever know for sure. Don’t assume that people must be talking publicly about the suspect’s bad behavior, because if they have any kind of reputation or following of their own, people won’t. Failure to find other people side-eying them doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I was fortunate enough to find someone else who knew the person involved and could confirm for me that I wasn’t out of my mind, but that may not always be possible, particularly if you’re the new kid in town.

How to Protect Yourself

  1. Don’t assume that you aren’t big enough to be worth it. This was the big mistake I made early on, and one of the reasons it took me as long as it did to finally stop second-guessing myself and accept what was going on. My blog is small, and I have few followers. In “the community,” no matter which community you’re referring to, I’m basically a nobody. Why would anyone bother with me? But the answer was right there all along: stealing from a nobody is a lot less likely to be noticed by anyone than if a “big name Pagan” was chosen for the same treatment. In fact, the more obscure you are, the better a target you are!
  2. Don’t post anything publicly that would upset you if you saw it attributed to someone else. I actually thought I was already doing this. I’m a writer for fun and for money; I’m not naive. Any written work out there for public consumption is vulnerable to plagarism and copyright infringement, period. I knew this. It wasn’t until a particularly personal experience with my Deity was “mined” that I realized that even with all the things I was choosing to keep private, I was still being much too vulnerable in the details I shared. If you also think you’re already being careful, look over your most recent posts and ask yourself honestly, “if I stumbled across this on another person’s blog, would I feel hurt or violated, like something I valued had been stolen out of my own house?” If the answer is yes, see #3. If no, then you’re doing fine. Keep up the good work!
  3. Mask vulnerability-creating details, or else keep personal details private. A wise soul advised me that it’s up to me what to put out there for other people to see. He suggested that I keep private things private, either by not publishing them at all or by setting my privacy settings so that only I see that post (or blog), or else I should modify the concerning details until they no longer have the power to hurt me if they are “borrowed.” It turns out that it is actually surprisingly common for people who write about their spiritual practices & experiences online to change specific details to protect their privacy. It also serves as a very handy data mining detector; if the falsified details pop up elsewhere, then there’s no need to wonder and second-guess yourself about whether you’re being targeted. Anyone who honestly had the same experience as you would have known the conflicting details. (To be clear, #3 is all advice I received, not my own ideas! But it has been very useful to me, and I hope it will help you, too.)
  4. Know your intent in posting. This is still more advice I got that I am passing along to you, and once again this bit was a case of “I thought I was doing that already,” but it deserves restating. WHY are you sharing what you’re sharing? Just asking yourself that question before you hit “post” can help you determine what to share and what to keep private, thus minimizing data mining opportunities for others and helping you protect what’s sacred to you.

I hope sharing these tips will help prevent this experience from happening to others. I don’t mean to foster paranoia or scare anybody out of sharing their experiences, but the sad fact is, not everyone can be trusted, and when a blog is public, that is exactly what you are doing: trusting everyone with whatever you’re putting out there. It can be hard to know who or when to trust when you are new to a particular community, but it is well worth taking your time and getting to know others on their own blogs or online spaces before sharing too much on yours.

So that is my final tip: take your time in publishing what you write. It’s hard to keep it slow when you miss having a sense of community, particularly if you have no like-minded friends offline, which was my situation when I first started blogging. And absolutely do write about all the things on your path that inspire you, move you, upset you, frustrate you, and make you flail, even if they start out being set to “Private” or end up never being shared. You won’t regret having that record of your journey to look back on.

Just be careful what you publish for everyone to see.

A Banishment Working (I)

candle-in-the-wind

In the dark, I take my rest
I exorcise my ghosts.
Go far from me, all you who dwell
Among the broken stones.
Be gone from here, all you whose hell
Have swallowed up my own.

In the dark, I make my peace
With hearts long since gone cold.
Go far from me, those who abide
Among cords frayed and old.
Be gone from here, all those who hide
In all the lies you’ve told.

In the dark, I hold my own
With strength forged from my pain.
Go far from me, all you who steal
And reassign the blame.
Be gone from here, all you who kneel
At shrines to your own name.

What’s done in dark will show in light
May the dawn seal the work of night.
So it is, so shall it be,
What I have willed, my eyes will see.


Copyright Info: written by me, free to distribute and adapt as you see fit. Link back would be nice if you are posting to a blog, but not required.

Suggested Correspondences:
Candle: black
Moon phase: waning or dark
Moon sign: Scorpio
Herbs/resins: agrimony, slippery elm, cloves. I prefer to use banishing herbs in conjunction with a protective one, like dragon’s blood resin (which will also add extra oomph to your working, if you are so inclined).