I’ve been mulling over some discussions I’ve come across on a few different sites and various groups the last few days. There’ve been several people who are expressing dismay and frustration at the lack of “hearing” or experiencing the gods directly, and one or two people seem to be questioning whether or not this means they should give up on heathenry. Of course, as someone who has experienced more than my fair share of direct communication, I feel compelled to weigh in. I know what it’s like to make offerings and pray and wait for a sign or a word or some inkling of being noticed by the powers that be. I understand the frustration at wondering if I’m a “good” heathen, if I’m doing things right, if there’s a reason I’m being ignored by the gods I call to. I’ve been heathen for most of my 37-year-long life; raised heathen-lite, I didn’t actually begin to devote energy into the gifting cycle until I was 17/18. There was a 4 year span as a teen when I gave Catholicism a go because I was feeling rebellious while simultaneously wanting to fit in with my parochial school peers. In the first 16ish years of active practice, I rarely received communication from the gods, and when I did, it was pretty much only in meditative trance state when I was actively seeking guidance for major choices.
What I write about in this blog — the chatter with Loki and Sigyn, being more aware and more connected to their presence and commentary — is pretty recent. It’s only been happening for a few years, and it started with Loki’s proposition when he broke through in a dramatic fashion after a 3 hour long blot. It happens because my practice has evolved into being the absolute center of everything in my life. That’s a choice I’ve made, and an inevitable choice given my genuine desire to become a nun during my conversion to Catholicism. A life devoted to service to deity and building an all-encompassing relationship with a god or gods has been one of my deepest desires since I was 14 years old.
It’s taken nearly a lifetime of hard work and intense devotion to develop the kind of relationship I have with my God Squad and to have open lines of communication. There’s perhaps a bit of natural openness to the spiritual realm, too: when I was a child, I picked up on different energy patterns and signatures, as it were (and was alarmed when I converted to Catholicism and those energies vanished as if I’d been dropped into a vacuum). When I began actively working with the gods after graduating Catholic school, those energies returned, and in time I was able to differentiate between them, know who was around or who was paying attention or simply passing by. It should perhaps be noted that I’m an only child who grew up overseas, so most of my life I’ve had an overabundance of solitary time. I’m so accustomed to the silence of solitude that it helps me to notice and focus on things like energy signatures, and allows for a lot of time spent in meditative thought. Certainly a contributing factor.
That said, even with the years and years of active practice and building relationships, oathing myself to be so closely bound to one twerp in particular and dedicating my energy and deeds to him, I’m not constantly in his presence or being bombarded with running commentary from any of them. One of the points mentioned in response to someone feeling inadequate because they’d never had such direct communication is important to bear in mind: what people post and share online in social forums and blogs tend to be the “highlight reel” of daily life. When something interesting or exciting happens, you want to talk about it and share it. And that presents a skewed perspective about what it’s like to follow a religious or spiritual path. I’m guilty of it here – I’ve written so much about feeling Loki and Sigyn on a regular basis, have shared snippets of what they’ve “said” and what they’ve conveyed. But they’re not constant presences. Regular, yes, noticable, yes. Round the clock every day? Hell no. They’re not stalkers, and I can’t even stand being around myself all the time! I just share the interesting encounters and tidbits because they’re better material than all of the times I spend hours looking at memes and perusing the Am I the Asshole subreddit. And definitely more enjoyable to write about than the bullshit I encounter at work.
Not having any mystical experiences or direct dialogue from on high doesn’t make you any less of a heathen than those who do have two-way communication. It doesn’t make you any less valid or any less worthy, it doesn’t mean the gods are ignoring you. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re just having different experiences, and that’s okay. What matters most is that you’re exploring and adopting philosophies and world views that resonate with you, and you honor gods and goddesses that inspire you. Heathenry is more than deities: it’s about community, and caring for the people and the world around you. And the more involved you get with your community and help others, the more you grow as a spiritual being, and the stronger your bonds become with the gods. And while I usually mean “other heathens” when I talk about community on this blog, it doesn’t exclude the larger community in which I live and work. My community also consists of coworkers and the patrons at work, other funeral directors and clergy of all stripes and faiths, people I smile at and chat with when out and about doing errands, my Christian and atheist and everything-in-between friends. Community is the world you live in. And living heathen in a diverse community is still service to the gods and ancestors: hospitality, integrity, fighting hatred and destructive ideologies, helping others, building bonds of frith to strengthen the abilities of everyone as a whole. These things matter, and this is what it’s all about.
And remember, not everyone who has direct communication from the gods will have the same kind of interaction. There’s been a few wild articles making the rounds on Facebook about how some people have internal monologues while others think in shapes and associations, and it’s blowing everyone’s collective mind. As someone whose thoughts are narrated, it makes sense that I end up “hearing” them by way of distinct thoughts in a different “voice” that isn’t mine. I never “see” any of the gods unless I’ve reached a certain point in meditative trance (save the one time I slipped into trance without consciously doing so), and even then they’re not solid in appearance but rather tend to have shifting features. Others may have direct communication by way of omens, animal sightings, dreams, a bizarre series of coincidences. The gods may make themselves known in a random rush of euphoria, or an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder at something, or an unexpected emotional gut punch upon hearing a certain song lyric or riff.
Yes, I have regular interactions with Loki and Sigyn, and have had runs of interactions with Freyja and Odhinn, and rare moments with other gods and goddesses. Sometimes I seek them out when I do my daily devotions and/or offerings. Sometimes they’re popping by out of curiosity about what’s going on around me. It’s certainly not all day every day, and it’s usually just impressions of their mood or curiosity/nosiness rather than verbal commentary. I’ve always paid attention to the energies around me, which is a significant part of why Christianity was such a failed experiment for me – I hated feeling cut off from wherever those energies came from, and I felt like a fool talking into the void when I’d pray. When I reverted back to my father’s beliefs and my grandfather’s faith, that feeling of connectedness came rushing back, and I was so relieved to be able to feel again that I started the work of active practice and offerings and working with and for the gods. And I assure you, it’s hard work. It requires considerable time and effort, and I had to devote a not inconsiderate amount of my own energy into it. After experiencing a few years feeling “cut off,” I was (and remain) determined to never again feel like I exist in a vacuum.
I’m 37 years old. All but 4 of those years have been spent as some flavor of Norse heathen. And it’s only been in the last 2 years that I’ve had regular, distinct communication from the gods outside of meditative trance work. It’s a relationship that takes time and dedication. It’s a relationship I’ve given my whole self to, to the point of being the closest thing heathens have to nuns. It’s an all day, every day conscious devotion, by choice. It’s hard work, consistent work, and demanding work, but it’s worth it to me. The payoff is, in addition to being a stronger, better, more capable and confident member of my communities (heathen and mundane), is being very attuned to the deities with whom I’ve worked the most and the longest.
Long story short: everyone experiences the gods differently. It can take a long time and a lot of devoted effort to “hear” or notice the presence of the gods in your life. So you read a blog or a forum thread about someone’s mystical experience and wonder why you’ve never had that kind of contact with the divine? Maybe you’re not at that point in your spiritual development yet, or maybe the way the gods reach out to you is a vastly different method – you’re waiting for a phone call while they’ve been trying to send carrier pigeons (carrier corvids?). It doesn’t make you any less valid or worthy or heathen just because you haven’t experienced the same. Don’t give up on yourself or your path if heathenry provides a worldview that moves you to become a better version of yourself. Just because you don’t necessarily notice the gods in the mundane world doesn’t mean they don’t notice you. They see you. They’re watching you grow. And they’re glad for the good you do and offer. If you want to hear them, then listen and give it time. Be patient, these things don’t often happen overnight. Keep building the relationships, because you get back what you put in. There’s a reason “a gift for a gift” is such a cliche statement in our religion. Put in the time, dedicate your energy, and pay attention. Eventually you’ll notice how much you’ve grown as a person, how integral you are to your community, and then you’ll absolutely recognize the influence of the gods in your life.
Most importantly, don’t get yourself down. Take care of yourself. And always remember your worth and value to the community, to the ancestors, and to the gods.