This post is about the unique spiritual challenges of depression, and how I modified my practice to overcome those challenges. I am not a Psychiatrist. I do not have the letters MD after my name in any way shape or form, but I wanted to take some time to share what helped me, and how this experience impacted my practice.
Backstory: about a year and a half ago, I underwent fertility treatments. It triggered a depressive episode which lasted for the better part of a year. Depression has many different factors which contribute to it. As a person who suffered from major depression in childhood, I already had the predisposition. Apparently pummeling my endocrine system with mega-doses of synthetic hormones wasn’t the best thing for my overall well being.
Depression is not just feeling “down” or “sad” about something. I experienced it as a pervasive exhaustion, a low level body ache that sapped me of my will to do things. It is numbness that dulls emotional reactions and ambitions. It causes difficulties concentrating. It makes you forgetful. It feels like your thoughts are covered in molasses. Things you usually enjoy bring no happiness, beauty is less beautiful, colors are less colorful, pleasure is less pleasurable.
When you are in crisis, it’s the absolute worst time to get cut off from your spiritual source of strength. At that time, you need your gods more than ever (provided that you believe in gods that care about you), and if you are a magician like I am, you need magic to smooth things over until you are better. However, depression can destroy your self-confidence. It can make you feel unworthy of love, or even of help. In short, it can make magick and mysticism difficult.
Because it must be said: part of what I am going to discuss in this post is alternative and magical treatments for depression. If you suffer from depression, or if you suffer from any mental illness, do not stop working with mental health professionals. Depression kills. Especially when people are just starting to feel better, they can become suicidal. Work with your doctors, even if you are pursuing alternative treatments at the same time. Do not discontinue medication except under the care of a professional.
Realizing That It’s Depression
When depression follows an illness, or a course of medical treatments that make you feel ill, it can be hard to discern between “I’m sick” and “I’m depressed.”
That’s because illness provokes a response from your immune system. Immune response can come in many forms, but a very common one is inflammation. When you are sick, or when you have inflammation for other reasons, such as injury, the main thing your body wants you to do is lie still and heal. If you are feeling your usual bouncy self, that’s unlikely to happen. So instead, your body slows down. You feel lethargic and miserable. You want to stay put. And that is exactly what depression can feel like, minus the broken leg or runny nose.
If you feel like you are coming down with a cold, but there is no cold, and it goes on for months, you might be suffering from depression. Likewise, if your feeling of “being sick” persists long after the Doctors tell you that your illness has cleared up, you might be suffering from depression. If your whole body aches and your Doctors can’t find a cause, if you are sleeping longer and waking up tired, there is a good chance that you are suffering from depression. If you’re having persistent chest pains, and your Cardiologist gives you a clean bill of health, that, too, might be depression.
Go see a Psychiatrist. A good Psychiatrist will take an exhaustive inventory of your mental and physical symptoms, and will not diagnose you with something you don’t have.
Getting Over Your Fear of Psychiatric Medicine
Articles about bad doctors, big pharma, and medication-related conspiracy theories are the clickiest. Particularly in the Pagan community, it’s easy to find memes to indicate that psych meds will destroy your magical soul, and an equal amount of “pull yourself by your own boot straps” rhetoric.
When you are suffering from major depression, you might have no bootstraps to pull yourself up by.
Doctors are not monsters, and depression is not different from any other kind of physical ailment. So, rather than waiting for the sky to open and for a choir of angels to descend and miraculously cure me, I went to go see a Doctor. And yes, I took psych meds. They were certainly not the complete solution for me, but they did give me some bootstraps to pull on.
Going on medication for depression did not in any way negatively impact my psychic senses. It did not make me less creative, or less sensitive. If your medication causes you to feel like this, talk to you doctor. Psychiatrists now understand that spirituality has a neurological basis, and you can, in broad terms, say that you feel “less spiritual” or you can say that you feel less imaginative, and they will very often be willing to guide you to a medicine which will impact you less.
Some Pagans and Polytheists do avoid mental health professionals because they fear that they will be medicated just to change their belief system. Few Psychiatrists have any interest in delving into your beliefs or personal life. You get 15 minutes. You relate your symptoms. They make a recommendation for this drug and that therapy. If your Gastroenterologist suggests that Jesus will cure your IBS, get a new Gastroenterologist. If your Cardiologist recommends Synagogue instead of beta-blockers, fire them. If your Psychiatrist brings up the topic of religion? Run. They are a quack.
Lastly, yes, you can get care even if you have no money and no insurance. Here is a resource list. Especially useful is this service which can help you get free or cheap medication even without insurance.
Adapting Daily Practice
My usual practice is highly Ceremonial. There are purifications, and invocations, and glyphs and tech and more tech, and procedures and, and, and…
For a while, I withdrew from my practice because I just did not have the spoons. Then, I started to feel badly about myself because I had withdrawn from my practice.
Something I learned early on in my practice was that little actions done consistently added up to more than the occasional monumental effort. So I asked myself: what can I do everyday?
When you are full of energy and activity, and pouring a little wine out for your gods is no big deal, you might have to do a little more than that you express how you feel for them. When the process of locating a clean glass and a corkscrew is a monumental effort, it means more.
To restore connection, and confidence, I started a practice of silent bedtime prayers. These were informal.
“Hey, I’m thinking about you. I haven’t forgotten you. I feel overwhelmed and tired a lot right now. I really wish I had more to say. I love you. I hope you are okay.”
“How was your day? If you get a chance, you can stop by and maybe tell me about it. I like hearing about your adventures.”
“I’m going to daydream a bit before sleeping. Want to join me?”
“I’m not in the mood to talk. But come sit with me?”
Taking your medication can also be a sacrament — and you ought to be doing that daily.
Adapting Group Practice
Somehow, I managed to still run group rituals. I’m not sure how. Looking back on it, it seems like nothing short of a miracle. I chalk it up to falling into a weekly routine, delegation, and actually finding the rituals we did to be beneficial. There are a host of things that you can do to modify group ritual to prevent making your depression worse, and some things that you can do to maybe make it a little better. It can sometimes be just enough to help you break even on your spoons. And really, none of them are actually that weird.
Drumming and chanting has been shown to have a measurable, chemical effect on depression.
Libations are an important part of Polytheist practice, but be careful with what you drink, because some choices can make your symptoms worse. Alcohol is a depressant. It may temporarily make you feel better, but alcohol will, in the long term, worsen your depression. Likewise, sugar can make depression worse, so cool it on the fruit juice. Artificial sweeteners are not great for depression , either. Instead, try a nice anti-inflammatory turmeric tea, or maybe coffee, if that works for you.
Gratitude can help ease the symptoms of depression. It actually boosts serotonin in the brain (increasing serotonin is one of the major way drugs help patients with depression and anxiety). If you make giving thanks a major feature of group ritual, everyone is going to feel better — especially those who suffer from depression or anxiety. Also, the gods really seem to like it when you spend time recognizing the good things they do.
Integrating motion into your rituals can release endorphins, and can give your mood a boost. What that looks like will depend upon the individual people involved, but Greeks love processions, and many people are big fans of ecstatic dance, which can be modified for mobility issues and different fitness levels.
None of these things is going to cure you. They are not a replacement for conventional psychiatric care, but every little bit helps.
Taking Stock of the Wreckage
Depression and anxiety lie to you. They tell you that you are worthless, and that no one wants you around. This can impact your filter.
What is filter? Filter is your internal algorithm for interpreting social cues, behavior and language. Filter is shaped by your beliefs about the world. Things that align with your filter are easier to see, and things which do not align with your filter are harder to see. Culture is a major player, but so are your previous experiences, and even your mood. When you are suffering from anxiety or depression, you may feel worthless, and it may be next to impossible for affirming messages of any kind, whether from deities or humans, to get through. Even if you hear them, they don’t feel real.
This does not mean that every person suffering from anxiety or depression is going to be a terrible medium. It is possible to be pro-active in taking stock of your personal biases, and to frequently ask yourself if your beliefs are justified — but this takes spoons. In my case, I had to start feeling better before I could tackle the problem.
Healthy boundaries take bandwidth that you may not have.
When I was depressed, I let people interrupt me, talk down to me, cut in front of me, and otherwise de-prioritize me, because I just didn’t have the energy to do otherwise. Imagine my surprise when, as I recovered, I suddenly started to push back on the unfair treatment and the response from these people was outsized — you’d have thought that I was lighting people on fire, for all they were complaining about it!
The same thing can happen with the spirit world. Boundaries and shields are your way of communicating your “no” to the spirit world. In my case, some of these barriers needed to be rebuilt, and I had to put my foot down a second time with some of the lesser spirits that surround me.
Epilogue: I’m ok, now. 🙂
A combination of good medical care, avoiding things that made my symptoms worse, finding a medication that worked for me, eating well, taking my vitamins (D!!) sustainable and affirming spirituality and gradually increasing my activity level all contributed to putting me back on my feet. I am now more or less back to my keyed-up, neurotic, passionate, cantankerous self.
I have also mostly cleaned up the social and psychic mess that this all caused.
If you are suffering from depression, don’t wait to get help. Take care of yourself. Work together with your mental health professionals. Take your meds. Try anything that might help, and if it helps, even a little, then keep doing it.
My Hypothesis: If I Clearly Communicate The Expectations In The Context To All Humans Involved, The Expectations Will Be Respected By Both Humans and Spirits.
I had my community agree to the following community guidelines and rules, shortly after Pantheacon 2016:
Article I. Divine AffiliationsThere are three levels of participation in this contract for spiritual beings. The same levels apply for our dead, the fae, certain spirits of place, spiritual familiars, spirits of various types, dragons, and deities.1. Acquaintance. This means that you are welcome in our working space, but we will not be doing any active spiritual work with you in the context of the group. You may or may not have devotionals hosted for you, and you may or may not receive offerings.2. Friend. Once you have proven that you can be trusted to respect our boundaries, we will start to do active spiritual work with you, provided that you desire this. This may include slightly higher woo devotionals, guided meditations, and rituals to purify our individual and group connections to you. This level of participation may or may not involve trance, if individuals have that sort of relationship with you.3. Patron. Once the group has worked through its filter with you, we will begin to work with you more intensely. This might include private or public trance parties and/or devotionals. If you make it to this level, and you are a Greater Spirit (dragon, deity) we will create an initiation for you, or perhaps several.
Article II. Rules of the Road For Spiritual BeingsEntering into our space implies the following agreement:
- You will not harm anyone in the space
- You will not force anyone into anything. You will not force people into contracts or agreements. You will not force people into altered states that were not planned during the session. You will not forcibly possess anyone. You will not initiate any sort of physical or spiritual intimacy that was not asked for.
- If you are asked to depart from your channel, do so as quickly and gracefully as you can.
- You will obey the terms of short-term contracts that are drafted for the purpose of our workings if you signed them.
- You will not follow anyone home unless they specifically verbally state that they wish for you to do so at the event you attended.
- Don’t make anyone sick. Do not give them headaches unless you are a deity of headaches, or nausea unless you are a deity of puking. Endeavor, to the best of your ability, to prevent and/or fix this sort of thing.
- Do not passive-aggressively tolerate a person’s behavior when they are with us, then maliciously “punish” them later. Use your big kid words instead. We are all adults here.
- Do not consume foods that your channel is allergic to. Respect their dietary restrictions and taboos. Do not drink if you are riding a person who is in recovery. Do not take any sort of prescription or illegal drug unless it is specifically stipulated in your short-term contract with your channel.
- When you are riding a human, you are a guest in their body. You are a guest in our space. Don’t be rude to your hosts. Don’t demean people. Do not reveal embarrassing information about those whom you are riding. Don’t use their body in a way that they do not want it to be used.
- When riding a human, you will not delete the entire contents of their memory for the time that you were present. Please do delete from their memory any private conversations you have with other humans. Likewise, don’t go blurting people’s private business to other humans.
- Don’t ride the people responsible for monitoring the channel or the energy of the space.We reserve the right to suspend rules under certain circumstances, but this can only occur if all present agree to it by a unanimous vote. This can happen quickly, if need be.If you are invited into our space and subsequently fail to follow these rules, we will investigate whether or not you were responsible, or whether the group or individual filter might be at fault. If you are found to be guilty, or if this happens more than three times, you will not be invited back into the group setting.There are no acceptable circumstances for violating these rules without discussing it with us. If you have reason to request a suspension of the rules, please signal us by “muppeting” (scream and flail). This will alert us to a problem, and we can listen in more detail. If it’s not important enough to warrant screaming and flailing, it is DEFINITELY not important enough to ask us to break the rules for.
Article III. Rules of the Road For HumansThe humans in the group are also responsible to one another.
- Respect no. If, for any reason, a person says no to participating in a ritual, having a particular experience, being touched, or consuming any substance, that “no” will be respected.
- Respect yes. We are not here to second-guess each other’s life choices or spiritual paths. If a person is in a consensual relationship with any sort of entity, we must respect that choice.
- Be honest. If you are non-amnesiac during full possession, please disclose that to the group. If you are not sure who you are channeling, or whether you are actually channeling, please let us know. We are here to help each other with that sort of thing. If you anticipate a problem with an activity or exercise, tell us. If you are having strong emotions and think they might be coloring your perceptions, tell us.
Article IV. SIGNS OF DISTRESS
- If, during a trance session, the body scratches its left wrist with the first two fingers of the right hand, that means that whatever is riding them needs to leave.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed by energy and need help grounding, raise your hand.
Results: Problems Extinguished… Unless We Had Guests
For a number of months, we had a stable group with no additions and no subtractions, and we had no problems.
The very first time we added someone new, she began to experience a spirit being pushy about carrying. I scolded the spirit, saying, “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know. But that is how you get yourself banned from this group. Back off, or I might get curious about your identity, and add you to the no-fly list.”
Whoever it was backed off immediately and without hesitation. I had the new person read the contract, and we rolled along without any incident.
Until more new people came in. This time, one of the old-time members was feeling some unidentified spirit push to be carried.
“No.” I told the spirit, “This is not trance mediumship time. We ban people for violating our boundaries.” Again, whoever it was backed off. And so we shared the contact with our guests, too, and the problem, again, ceased.
In other words, when new people brought their old expectations in, it generated problems such as we see elsewhere in the community. The problem is cultural.
In future, we plan to simply read the terms of service to people right after they walk in the door.
Conclusion 1: Spiritual entities try to ride humans to get attention and forge relationships. If it is made clear that the group has no qualms about putting spirits, deities and powers on the “no fly” list for certain behaviors, those behaviors will not be evident in the context.
Conclusion 2: **Whether or not the humans have been made aware of the rules for spiritual beings mattered. New deities did not need the rules read for them so long as there were no new people. New people brought a change in the way spiritual entities manifested. Acculturating the humans profoundly changes the apparent behavior of deities, powers, and other spiritual beings.** IE, this rape culture nonsense is definitely filter.
I call to Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, patroness of King Cadmus, Goddess of Serpents, exiled dragon of Olympus, draw near, incline to my prayer, hear the words of your humble supplicant:
On a bed of shame and pride were you conceived, where Aphrodite defiantly lay with her love in the presence of her owner, whom Zeus promised her without asking.
All the gods gathered round, and heaped up scorn. Apollon cruelly laughed.
You set her free, and her bride price was returned, assuring freedom to the mighty goddess of love.
For nine months she carried you, pregnant belly unashamed, and when she delivered you — the king saw only a problem.
In your infancy, Zeus promised you, little understanding what you were, and sold you away. With you, the hope of the gods — for on that day, Peace Herself left, and darkness descended in the high mountain. A mortal you married, a mortal you became, and died a mortal’s death.
Heaven and Earth, Sea and Fire, Life and Death had no reconciler. Snakes slithered aimlessly, and the crops ripened out of their season.
Hated, bitter hatred, brewed in the hearts of men, and they fell away, harboring love for an alien god, a god of destruction, a god of annihilation, a god who called up rivers of blood. And it was the blood of the devout, Harmonia, the blood of those dear to all who dwelt on high Olympos.
Dear goddess, your exile was their exile. Your exile was our exile. Your exile was the exile of every righteous soul, every pious man or woman who still honored the gods in their hearts.
Thus did Hermes descend to Erebus, seeking you, but he found no one.
“She has not been through my door,” Persephone told him. “Not Cadmus, either. And I know not what became of them.”
And up to Helios went Hermes, asking if the sun’s all-seeing eyes had spied where Harmonia had gone.
“I saw her die,” Helios replied. “My eyes see only what is upon the Earth. The spirit realm I cannot perceive, though the Sibyls of their people spied dragons, a winged serpent of grey and one of various hues flying over the citadels.”
Hermes disguised himself as an old man, and going in that guise, approached the Sybils.
“Tell me, young ladies — a coin for your troubles! — Can you tell me what became of Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, the mother of Semele, that Grandmother of the wine god, after she died?”
“What you ask is beyond our ken, clever messenger, son of Zeus.”
And Hermes unveiled, revealing his true self.
“If even those sharp eyes have not seen, there is no one left to ask!”
“Not so,” the Sibyl answered Hermes. “For there is an oracle greater than us who dwells in Cyprus, and she knows the coming and going of all souls, and even sees those who escape the halls of the dead and the eyes of the psychopomp.”
Thus Hermes set off for Cyprus, looking for this oracle.
In Cyprus, finding her, he posed his question again — the woman, stark and aged, with skin like leather and hair like a pile of down feathers answered:
“Blood has fallen, Argeiphontes, ” answered she, “And more blood will surely fall until Zeus shall bow his head and rest his crown upon the altar of Harmonia.
If it is the goddess of peace whom you desire: you cannot command peace, nor force peace, nor own peace, nor even find peace in death. You must devote yourself, body and soul to the work of peace. Then, and only then, peace will come to you.”
Hermes tipped his hat to the oracle, and set off on a long journey, into the kingdom of the god of annihilation, and in his court made peace. And he devoted himself to peace.
For many long years, Harmonia, did the messenger of gods lay up offerings at your altar. For many long years did he seek you, in the recesses of his heart, and took up your sacraments.
And he calls still, Harmonia. Hear this, the call of the god of diplomacy. Hear this, the call of the god of peace. Hear this, the psychopomp’s earnest prayer:
Holy Harmonia, daughter of love and war, come. Drink this wine. Hear this supplicant’s call. Be present among men and gods once more. Release the bound, free the oppressed, return dead hope to the living gods, and be welcome once more upon the very heights of Olympos.
Answer, and to you I will sing another song.
Deity: You seem to be in a good situation, with respect to your household. Which of your gods set you up?
Me: I… Actually you can’t credit my gods with this one. Every last one of them told me to stay away from him. I married him anyway. So that’s all me.
I got to thinking about where I’d be today if I had obeyed the gods on this issue.
I never would have finished college. I’d be living in a place isolated from any sort of suitable pagan community. I never would have learned Kabalah, or Ceremonial Magic. I would have been unable to bring those exegetical techniques to Hellenismos.
I would be struggling with poverty. I might not have access to suitable doctors to manage my health conditions. I would be in pain most of the time, and possibly not even know why.
A core tenet of Consent Culture is that each individual knows their own needs best. The gods may be wise with respect to the world, but they do not know me as I know myself. They don’t suffer what I suffer, they don’t live in my body, or drink my water or breathe my air.
It’s clear to me why they didn’t want me with my current mortal husband: he’s in the way of their aims. In order to spend my time or money on any spiritual undertaking, I need to negotiate with him. He’s an obstruction to them.
I must balance what he costs them with what a lack of him would cost me. When I made the decision to stay with him, I did, in point of fact, ask Hermes what he thought. Though every other deity said my disobedience was hubris, Hermes said, “No. If you think this is right, do it.”
Was he completely pleased? No. But he always defers to my sense of what is best for my situation. That is love: a commitment to do right by the beloved. And for this, I will honor him until I die with the highest of honors.
A core tenet of Rape Culture is that those with power have the right to inflict their will on others. If I was an adherent of rape culture, I would be very comfortable saying that what I need means nothing, and that the gods may do what they like with me, to my detriment or not, because they are gods and I am mortal. It would be no more complicated than that. I would accept that saying no to them invites a risk of violence against my person. If it is what men do to women who say no, I should certainly expect no less from my deities. I should be quieter. I should be less noticeable, if I don’t want this sort of treatment. I should make my offerings when they are due, and never when they are not. I should be no more and no less pure than anyone else around me so I don’t stand out. If pursued, I should demure, give unclear and indistinct answers to avoid their rage at being told no.
THIS. IS. RAPE. CULTURE.
And nothing about it is sacred to me.
Instead, I look out for myself. I take care of myself. Instead of living in poverty, I am financially stable. I have the best medical care money can afford. I live where Pantheacon happens. I have access to large spaces for classes and ritual. I have money to give other Pagans and Polytheists a hand up when they need it. I have vitality and energy, and most importantly of all, time, to do their work. Because the god who loves me committed to working with me, rather than establishing his dominance over me by working against me.
If I had obeyed them, I would have done them no service. Hermes knew enough to trust my sense of myself. But, then again, he has and –I believe– will always go to bat for me. And that investment he made in my personal sovereignty and my right to self determination has paid off for him and his entire pantheon a hundred fold.
The gods have profited because of his commitment to consent culture. They have profited because I disobeyed them.
Remember that the next time someone says, “We don’t have the right to say no.” We always have the right to say no to power. Sometimes, saying no to the gods and following through actually helps them in the long run. Sometimes, resisting the government benefits the entire country in the long run.
Disobedience is sacred.
Who fucked you?
It wasn’t me.
Why then, this cursed jewel?
Who wronged you?
Was it my mother?
It was he who sold you a lie
That Passion would wear chains
That Heart could be kept indoors
She was drawn, my mother, from the sea
But she is a raging conflagration
Place her in your prison
And she will burn it to the ground
As surely things fall when dropped
The one who told you that Love
Could be bought and sold
It was he, he who wronged you
We both know who I am talking about
Why then, this robe, dipped in crime?
I am Peace.
Do you wish to War with me?
I am Harmonia.
Would you send me away from the gods?
I am Concord
Between gods and men
Between you and your own broken heart
Know this, uncle of mine:
I never stay where I am not wanted
I know what Zeus was thinking
As he watched me work the forge
If such a fire could be contained
So could She
Yes, she did
She burned my house down
And my heart
My dignity, too
But Zeus didn’t wrong me
He couldn’t have known better
What does he know of fire?
His lightning was a gift
A purchased bauble
But I knew.
I burned myself.
Against my better judgement.
I knew what I was looking at.
But in that moment
I chose to be a moth.
That jewel’s not cursed
That robe’s not dipped in crime
It’s just imbued with your divinity
Gentle Harmonia, your Godhead
– Thrashes –
They who use power to oppress
Until there is nothing left
But tears and bleeding
Smoking ash and rubble
Rent garments and cautionary tales
And your descendants
This morning, while brushing my teeth, I heard the following dialogue.
Spirit: (at me) “God, I really hate you.”
Hermes: ?! “Who the hell are you?”
Spirit: “I’m Hebe.”
Hermes: “Uh, no. I’m pretty sure that you aren’t.”
Spirit: “Isn’t it a matter of opinion? To some people, I’m Hebe.”
Hermes: “I’m Hermes. I know Hebe. And you, little one, are not Hebe.”
Spirit: “How do I know that you are Hermes? What evidence do you have?”
Hermes: “If you were Hebe, you’d know for certain whether I was or not.”
Spirit: “I think not.”
Hermes: “Welp. You know what they say. Shoot ’em all and let Persephone sort ’em out. Down we go!”
Spirit: (Begins screeching)
Hermes: “Yeah, that? That never works. Come along.”
He extends his chlamys, raising the golden wand, and they both vanish
The following struck me about this brief interchange:
“God, I hate you.” — Hate, as I like to say, generally boils down to fear. Even when it boils down to envy, envy is a manifestation of insecurity. Insecurity, in turn, is fear that a person isn’t good enough. Spirits who are consumed by hate are generally bottom feeders.
“Isn’t it a matter of opinion?” — Well, isn’t it? We certainly treat it like it is. We have no community standards for manifestation that we can agree upon, really. If they drain you and you suffer as a result, some will call that Shaman Sickness, so having their own energy isn’t a universal criteria. If they are cruel, some will say that mythology supports an interpretation of cruel gods, so they don’t really need to be spiritually evolved, and they don’t need to have dealt with their own shit. If they fail to give us blessings, some will say that the gods aren’t obligated to help us, so they don’t really need to be able to wield the forces they claim to rule over. If they create spiritual problems, or set us back spiritually, some will say that “the gods aren’t safe.” So they don’t really need to possess any particular wisdom, or know anything about building relationships with humans.
She’s right. It’s a matter of opinion. Any spirit whatsoever can pass themselves off as a deity in our current environment. It will be valid to someone. And just one or two someones is all a spirit needs, really.
“Uh, no.” — Hellenic gods, on the other hand, never have and never will accept pretenders in their presence. I cannot speak for other pantheons, but I would assume that we could expect something similar, regardless of where we went.
I believe anyway, prayers are always heard by the deities to whom they are addressed. I hardly ever pray to “you.” Excessive use of the deity’s names assures that whatever the working, the deity is at least aware of it. And if there is an interloper, they’ll be dealt with.
“Shoot ’em all and let Persephone sort ’em out” — If you question a manifestation, it’s useful to have a good relationship with some several psychopomps. That way, whatever spirits might be hanging around can be escorted to where they belong.
This really sort of cements my conviction that I don’t want to be doing any mystical work without Hermes and Hekate nearby.
“Yeah, that? That never works.” — Spirits put up a fuss when you try to move them along to the afterlife. Probably, if I am calling Hermes and/or Hekate for this work in particular, I really ought to give them something nicer than if I’m calling them for help with magic or money or something else which doesn’t involve screaming, tantrum-having dead people.
No matter what you do, you are stuck with yourself. You can pack it down, put a mask on it, cast a glamour over it, or lie your face off about it. But at the end of the day, when you climb into your bed, there you are. The farther away from yourself you are, the more wholly miserable your life will be, no matter what else you have. The more you ignore yourself, the less you will understand about yourself. The less you understand about yourself, the less possible it will be for you to understand your motives, control your actions, or to grow as a person.
Despite this, too many spiritual paths teach that destruction or nullification of our sense of self is a good thing. Somehow, being self-effacing and not having our own goals, aims and desires is praiseworthy. Not having opinions, not taking sides, not making any kind of judgements about anything is somehow a more evolved state than the alternative. And I will tell you why.
A Person With No Sense of Self Is Easily Controlled
A person with no sense of self, no opinions, no alignments, no convictions is a person who its easy to control. They have a self, I assure you, buried five layers deep. They have lost touch with their internal compass. They have no plans. All they do is react. They are reluctant to speak out against injustice, because their non-judgment dogma has warped them into thinking that the oppressor’s viewpoint is just as valid as that of the oppressed.
Losing touch with your sense of self means losing touch with empathy. It means losing touch with moral indignation. It means losing touch with everything inside of you with power to plan, to resist, to fight, to succeed.
Without A Sense of Self, Self Becomes A Stranger
When, at last, your long-neglected soul emerges from obscurity, you will not like what you see. To paraphrase Engewook from the Neverending Story: kind people discover that they are really cruel. Brave ones discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most people run away screaming at their image.
At the end of the day, you are the only person capable of growing and developing you. If you can’t see you, you can’t assess what you need in order to grow. No one can do your inner work for you.
A deity can’t change you into something or someone else. You might want them to, because you don’t want to be who you are. They can’t. It doesn’t work that way. There are hundreds of people who tried to “pray the gay away.” No dice. The fact that it doesn’t work has been clinically proven. The damage it does is statistically measurable.
Initiation can’t change you into someone else. No, not even alchemical initiation. That’s not how it works. You don’t do Plant Alchemy to turn bay leaves into a zebra. The Alchemical Process makes bay leaf into the purest distillation of the essence of Bay Leaf.
Apotheosis doesn’t change who you are, either. It just makes you more of what you are already.
Without A Sense of Self, You Cannot Know Your Purpose
The essence of you is not incorrect, or wrong, or in need or erasure, regardless of what the various clergy people, or your family, or your teachers in school led you to believe. Your life’s journey isn’t to become someone else. It’s to become the best version of the person you already are.
You are here for something. You are here to do something that, I believe anyway, you chose. The self that you have is right for that purpose. The hard part is actually just figuring out what the purpose is. You’ll know it when you find it, because your heart will sing, you will feel complete, and no source in Heaven or Earth or Hell could ever separate you from it.
You took with you into this life only what you needed. Who you are and what you can do is tailored to that specific purpose. If you try to ignore your sense of self, you cannot possibly know what you came here for.
Your purpose is not a deity, though sometimes a deity can represent your purpose to you (if their purpose and yours are similar). It is not another person. It is not some particular religion. It is not a job or a career. These are things we tell ourselves because they are easy to latch onto. I’m not saying that they are unimportant. They’re plenty important. They can each, in their own way, be an expression of your purpose. But if your deity up and leaves you forever, or you get divorced, or your children grow up and leave the house, or you lose your job, your life isn’t actually ruined. It’s not time to give up and die.
It’s better to absorb this truth early. If you don’t, you will almost certainly lose each of these things in turn along your spiritual path. And people do. And they call it “resistance” or “karmic acceleration” or “ordeal work.” They falsely believe that it is the suffering that’s important, and teaches the lesson. Au Contraire. What is important is re-connecting with the self, and sometimes, the only thing that our powers can do for us is to take things away until we have nothing left but self, in the hopes that with fewer things to confuse us, we’ll finally take a look in the mirror.
Sometimes, you need to find yourself to find your purpose. Sometimes in finding your purpose, you find yourself. The whole Big Fucking Deal about Knowledge and Conversation with your Holy Guardian Angel is just that. It’s about finding your purpose and yourself.
Without A Sense of Self, We Are Shitty Mediums
I promise you this: you will never achieve true knowledge of what is other until you know what is self. In order to discern what is a deity or spirit talking, you need to be intimately acquainted with your own inner voices, so that when you hear them, you will know that it is not deity, no matter how closely that aspect of yourself may resemble a particular deity.
No, you cannot just erase yourself. Not even temporarily. Certainly not permanently. No, your soul never goes to sleep. No matter how deeply you are in trance, you can never silence your true spiritual essence. You can only perceive what is self, and what is other, and emphasize the expression of self, or other, as needs dictate.
Recall the days of your youth. When you were coming to terms with potty training, you fixed and joked about all things excretia. In adolescence, the changing of your body and sexuality, these things were the “big thing” that you focused on, talked about and processed. Self-absorption is completely inevitable until we fully self-actualize, and come to terms with having a unique and independent self.
Until the understanding of self is achieved, we cannot do anything other than create gods in our own image, since the struggle to self actualize occludes any ability to understand other. The true face of divinity can only be perceived after finding the true face of the self.
And if you hate yourself, if you are trying to get rid off yourself, you have already lost that struggle.
So make peace with yourself. Resolve to accept that you love what you love, care about what you care about, value what you value. Be delighted by what delights you unapologetically. Cling to your ideals with the full force of your being. Pursue those virtues you honestly hold in high esteem with all the zeal and vigor you can muster. Love the heart, mind, and body you have. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are deficient because you aren’t someone else. You do not owe it to anyone to be someone you are not.