Skepticism is absolutely critical to the successful practice of magick and mysticism, from a polytheistic perspective. Nowhere is this more evident than when we are dealing with messages from our gods. Whether in the height of ritual, when you are in an altered state or consciousness, when waking up from a dream, or talking to a person who is “drawing down,” it is very important to have rock solid criteria for evaluating messages that purportedly come from a deity.
In the Hellenic Polytheistic paradigm, the personhood, will and agency of the deity is paramount. There is a world of difference between a Hermes-shaped thought form empowered with Mercurial energy and the actual god, Hermes. The latter is a holy personality. The former is artwork.
To a ritual magician, there is also a world of difference between some thought form a magician created and filled with divine energy and a divine intelligence. The former is filled with whatever stupid ideas its creator had at the time of its creation. The latter possesses genuine wisdom beyond normal human ken.
As a species whose power chronically outstrips our wisdom, and whose power (especially technological power) grows daily, the thing we need the most is communion with fully present beings of wisdom who can show us how to appropriately use that power.
So, the important question becomes: how do we know if we are talking to the deity we mean to be talking to?
I will start by stating the painfully obvious: if deities were not spiritually superior to us, we would not bother worshipping them.
We call deities for spiritual guidance. We call them for insight. We call them when we are unsure what the best way to solve a given problem truly is. The implicit assumptions are:
- Deities are better at gracefully overcoming difficulties than we are.
- Deities have some superior insight into what spirituality is.
- Deities are wise enough to know what is good for us — or we wouldn’t bother asking.
- Deities have specific domain knowledge
- Deities have had specific historical experiences which have enhanced their wisdom
If we called a plumber, we have the understanding that they will know how to fix a clogged drain. If a person shows up at your house in a plumber’s uniform and a wrench in hand, but doesn’t know the first thing about fixing a clogged drain, then they are not actually a plumber. If we call a deity, and they can’t do the deity thing, then whatever showed up was not the deity we called.
Here, I have compiled a short list of things that should set of klaxons in your head.
Warning: Shoots Flaming Balls
1. The entity freaks out when questioned about theology. When I was a teenager, I spoke to the minister of my church, and asked, “If good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, what does God do when a good person’s idea of hell is being without a particular sinner?” The minister became first confused, then upset, then repeated church dogma, and lastly, when I pressed, started yelling about fire and brimstone. At the time, I thought Christianity was just a stupid religion. In retrospect, I realize that I had simply had a really terrible minister. At this point, though, it doesn’t matter. My stint with Christianity is done.That’s the sort of damage theological mishaps can cause.
Deities know this. They got many of their followers because of this. Questioning and wrestling with one’s religion is a normal thing that intelligent people of faith do. Deities do not want to turn away all intelligent people from their faith. Also, yelling about fire and brimstone and punishment is what people do when they are out of answers, and feel both threatened and scared. Consequently, if you have a entity who starts yelling and flipping out about being questioned, it probably feels threatened, scared, and out of its depth. Ask yourself: “Is ‘easily overwhelmed’ a quality that the deity I called should have?”
2. The entity yells at, insults, or unduly favors particular mortals. Look, sometimes, an undercover Christian proselytizer shows up and attends the circle where you are being horsed by a deity. At those times, it is appropriate for the deity to address that person with unkind words.
Usually, however, at any circle, in any religious community, everyone who shows up is there to love and honor the gods in their own way, and on their own level. Maybe it is obvious to you that they have other stuff going on, and maybe you feel irritated by that, but deities are aware that not everyone is baggage-free. Most of the reason for going to a ritual of worship is to help move those psychological distractions out of the way. If they have a plurality of problems of which you do not then they probably need to be at that ritual and in the presence of the deity more than you do. Therefore, ask yourself: would the deity really want to drive them off?
Yelling and insulting are generally what people do when they have no intelligent answers to a problem. Now, I’m not talking about pointing out a painful truth in a tactless way. I’m talking about saying contentless mean things like, “you do not please me,” or “you do not have the relationship with me that you think you have,” or “I find you tedious” or, “you are nothing to me.” Making people feel bad about their relationship with the deity isn’t constructive. It doesn’t help to build a community. It makes the problems that plague the gods worse. Ask yourself: “Is this response helping the deity to build a community of followers, or hurting? Would a deity hurt their own chances of having a healthy community of followers?”
Warning: Devoid of Content
3. The entity responds to spiritual quandaries with unhelpful, or unintelligible, answers. “You know what to do,” or “The answer will be revealed in time,” or “the universe will provide what you need.” Ok, thought experiment. Would *you* rush across the roiling gauntlets of reality and train a priestess or priest to accurately channel you so that you could say pointless nonsense like that? Ask yourself: “Would a deity really travel all the way from Olympos to say this?”
4. Ignores the mortals present. The entire premise of Hellenic Paganism, on a very basic level, is that human actions, human gifts, human respect and human worship are in some way meaningful to the gods. You do what you do to please the gods, because, you assume, they in some way give a crap about your existence. Obviously, you aren’t going to run into a situation where an actual god or goddess is called into a ritual against their will. If he or she is there, he or she is there because he or she chose to come. If he or she speaks to no one, or runs off without saying a word, then the implication is that the god or goddess has come to pointedly ignore their followers. Ask yourself: “Is there a just cause for a deity pointedly ignoring those present? Have we done something offensive? What is going on that it makes more sense to run off without a word, rather than to tell us what the offense was, so that we shouldn’t repeat it?” If the answers are, in this order, “no,” “I don’t think so,” and, “I can’t think of anything,” then the entity being called isn’t all that good at doing the deity thing. Be suspicious.
Warning: Failure Imminent.
5. Evidences an obvious lack of domain knowledge, or is out of character. Hermes shows up and is clumsy with speech. Dionysos shows up, and displays ignorance about cooking or theater. Apollon shows an allergy to brutal honesty, and can’t logic his way out of a paper bag. I’m sorry. No question to ask. You’ve simply got the wrong number. Athena hits on people? Aphrodite Pandemos is haughty and looks down on mortals because of their appearance? Try again.
6. The entity makes some lame excuse about not being able to access any wisdom or knowledge not in the seer’s or the channel’s head. A likely story! Nothing that isn’t in the channel’s head? How about your vast cosmic insight? Oh, that is somehow getting through? Mmm Hmm…
If we suspect that it isn’t a deity, what should we do?
Step 1: Be tactful with whatever humans are involved.
Channeling is easy, but channeling well is hard. It is like, zip up your skirt while driving on the freeway hard. Often, the person invoking is also the person channeling, and maintaining the circle. That is like zipping your skirt, texting your bestie and driving your car going 70 while looking for the next exit. As a consequence, boundaries flicker and deities experience lag, during which time the clergy-person, or anything, really, can screw with reception by putting their own two cents in.
Sometimes, in the process of visualizing and raising energy and raising energy and visualizing, we can inadvertently create a thought form which is nothing more than a culmination of our collective expectations. This can happen no matter how strong or well-kept the boundary is. The resulting manifestation will be no smarter than we are. This is why is it particularly important to release the energies after any rite. Not because the deity needs releasing, but because you might have inadvertently created something, and the energies need to go back to wherever they came from.
Keep in mind that most people organize rituals for the sake of their deities. The same person calling down and holding the boundary will probably also wind up sweeping the floor after you leave. Therefore, the very last thing you want to do is to criticize that person. If you create a culture of criticizing the only people doing anything in your community, no one will ever do anything.
At the end of the day, the worst outcome is a neutral one: you got no helpful insight, maybe you were a little annoyed by this, but you got to hang out with your friends, eat snacks and do a fun identity-reinforcing thing.
If you are at home, by yourself, meditating, and you are getting warning signs that you have a bum manifestation, go easy on yourself. Tearing down your self esteem isn’t going to help you to do a better job, and chances are, it isn’t really your fault.
Step 2: Try to fix it.
If you’ve got a bum manifestation, and you are by yourself, this is the easiest thing in the world to deal with. Just get up, incense and khernips (asperge) the room, cast a boundary and call the deity formally a second time (or the first time, if this was a casual conversation that went sour). If this is take two, use different epithets than last time. Or use more of them.
If you are in somebody else’s ritual, it’s a bit trickier. You don’t want to shame the person running the ritual. If they are being horsed, just shrug it off. It takes time to get the manifestation right, and to truly get both your conscious and unconscious minds out of the deity’s way. They tried. They’ll get better at it. In the meantime, take what the deity says through them with a grain of salt.
Once you are well away from the people in the ritual: Purify and invoke the same deity that you just spoke to. Tell them how you felt about what just happened. Ask them for a coincidence to set your understanding aright.
If there is no horsing, you may actually be able to steer the manifestation, or take a rogue manifestation and gift it to the deity. As Apollon reminds us, it isn’t the costume of the deity that is important, but their intelligence, virtue, wisdom and experiences.
Here is a sample scenario: Let’s say I’ve gone to a ritual for Hermes, and it’s got this very strange manifestation that only seems to like the person running the ritual. This is obviously not Hermes. Hermes likes everyone. If it was actually Hermes, he’d be dashing about the room looking in everyone’s pockets, and getting their contact information. In this scenario, let’s say that I know the manifestation is off, but I don’t actually have any epithets, that I know about.
If I can, I make mental contact with the manifestation. If I can’t, I fix my mind on the physical locus, either the channel or the icon. Next, I speak a silent invocation in my mind.
For example: “Hermes, son of Maia and Zeus, god most gracious and gregarious, swift and clever, god of all people, god of the marketplace, whose omens come in flocks — of birds, of sheep and of people — you speak with many tongues, to all people. Speak now to me, and hear my petition.”
Notice that I focused particularly on Hermes as a deity of the many — many birds, many sheep, many humans, many languages. All of these are traditional aspects.This balances out the manifestation that I perceived, which seemed focused on the few. Also notice that I called out his parentage. An “archetype” doesn’t have parents. A thought form’s only parent is the magician that created it. There’s only one Hermes who is a son of Zeus and Maia. This ensures that I’m not just adding my random thought form to the random thought form that’s already there.
Next, I’ll ask Hermes to come to the ritual, not to replace the original manifestation, but to join it (and if it is an artificial spirit, to guide and direct it).
For example: “To this rite you have been called, and look — a libation offering has been poured — incense burns in your name. Turn your head, incline your ear. Once called, once present. Twice called, twice present. Thrice called, thrice present, and expand your presence here. Add your intellect to this energy that all may know and call the name of Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia.”
If you are running the ritual with others present.
Now, there are a few things you can do to help prevent this sort of thing from happening.
- Casting a solid boundary to keep distracting energies from wafting in
- Having separate people call/lead libations, channel and hold the boundary so that each person can concentrate on his or her respective job
- Making traditional hymns and epithets the centerpiece and foundation of ritual
However, even if you do your very best, and do everything right, you can sometimes get a crappy manifestation. It can happen for any number of reasons.
People who attend your rituals can generate weird manifestations. It takes time for a lofty divine being to pass through the veils of reality and become palpable. If, in the meantime, someone present has ALL THE EMOTIONAL ISSUES OF EVER with that deity, they can instantly summon up a reflection of these issues which, because it is a part of them and consequently very close to manifestation already, will show up first and feel very obvious. Sometimes, no amount of purification can prevent this.
No amount water or smoke can instantly heal a human heart.
Because the manifestation shows up first, others will perceive it, empower it, and possibly miss the subtle, initial signs that the deity that you are calling might be arriving. Don’t get discouraged. If you made sure to connect to the traditional names and stories, the right deity is there. Not only that, but the power in the emotional issues being generated by your distressed attendee can actually be a boon to your ritual, if properly directed.
If you are running the ritual, you have license to repeat a hymn that was already read, chant epithets a second time. Continue to do this until you notice that there are two manifestations. Shortly thereafter, there will be one manifestation again. You are free to assume, at that point in time, that the problem has been sorted.
Through patience and persistence, we can assure that the wise beings with whom we so desperately desire to commune have their chance to speak, and with practice, will be able to trust that their voices will be heard.