My Polytheism: A key part of my faith and practice is asking for signs of acceptance. Signs of acceptance are traditionally a Muslim thing — or at least it is from Muslims that I learned of the concept. Many will look for signs in dreams or in nature for acceptance of a Dua (invocation or prayer). Magically inclined Muslims I have known, however, when they introduced me to the concept, were looking for things like autonomously spinning plates and trembling picture frames — and were not shy about doing the ritual over and over again until they got the manifestation they were looking for!
There are plenty of Polytheists who believe in deities that don’t act upon the physical universe. They might believe in deities that exist somewhere other than the physical world we live in. They might be Dualists. Or they might be the Polytheist version of Deists, and simply believe that the gods, while real and powerful, are uninvolved. I fall into none of those categories. I believe that my deities are a part of the world, that they care, and that they have power to act. This is probably the single most important aspect of my faith. Without it, the rest of my belief system does not hold together.
I am as mystical as I am empirical. My faith requires me to reach into the world of the gods. I need, just as much, for them to reach into mine.
Gnosis isn’t always reliable. I work very hard on discretion every day, and have all kinds of techniques for clarifying things, and keeping things clear. Still, at best, it’s maybe 80% reliable.
80% is plenty to get a more or less accurate sense of who the deities you work with are. It’s enough that you’d trust it for minor things, like what kind of libation to pour, what color altar cloth you should use, or whether you should use the bronze dagger or the black hunting knife for a particular ritual aim.
It is not enough when dealing with major spiritual decisions. At least not for me. If you told me that the steering wheel of a car I was thinking about buying had brakes which worked 80% of the time, or a steering wheel with a 20% chance of freezing up, I wouldn’t buy it. No one would.
When I ask for signs of acceptance from my deities, it’s not to make sure they heard me, as it would be in the original practice. Rather, it’s to make sure I heard them. When a message suggests that I need to make a big and important change, I ask for a sign of acceptance. This isn’t a matter of testing the gods. It’s a matter of being sure that I understood them correctly, and that what I heard was actually from the deity and not something else.
Since there is no tradition for exactly how this should work, I simply specify what I am looking for, when I am looking for it, and what the appearance of the sign will mean to me when I see it. I try to choose something that makes sense in terms of their lore. A god of bird omens (Hermes, for example) can bring bird omens. A god of storms (Zeus) can bring storms. I choose something unlikely to happen by chance alone.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The bigger the change being requested, the more likely I am to ask for something difficult. The bigger the change requested, the more it matters to me that I am speaking to a deity and not a spirit.
When I was looking into a godspouse arrangement with Hermes, I wanted to be sure that the request wasn’t entirely in my head. I also wanted to make sure that he didn’t need or want for me to divorce my mortal husband. To confirm all of this, I asked for “a black bird on my balcony, first thing in the morning” if the situation, as I described it, was what he wanted.
Not only did I receive a little black bird on the balcony, first thing in the morning, it was a cowbird. As a brood-parasitic bird, the meaning of the cowbird is much the same as that of a cuckoo. “Yeah, I’m fine with cuckholding.”
The cuckoo, however, isn’t a mostly black bird, and wouldn’t have qualified for the omen I requested, even though both can be found in California.
For me, signs of acceptance, as an ongoing practice, is a really powerful way to take the conversation out of my head (where I also store my anxieties, doubts, and self-delusions) and put it into a place where I can snap a picture with my iPhone. To me, absolutely nothing is more comforting.