Hearing the Gods

Yes, it happens. Colloquially since about 2004, the community has termed this having “a God phone”. I tend to dislike this tongue-in-cheek term for what is often an intense spiritual experience. There’s been a lot of push back from some of the more polluted corners of tumblr specifically (but other areas of the internet too) against this (despite the fact that it is the heart and soul of religious experience, and something that is perfect natural for some people, and also something that has defined the development of traditions since antiquity. 

For the people in general pushing back, I think it’s largely sour grapes that they don’t actually have this capacity. It takes humility, ongoing devotional work, and I am coming to suspect, inborn wiring. Not everyone is going to have the mystical experiences. That’s fine. Sufi poet Rumi wrote that there are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground and that is absolutely true. Some people will experience the Gods most strongly through art, or maybe through how they care for their families, or in some other way. There’s a deep, deep grace to doing devotional work without ever receiving a direct theophany, or doing devotional work when one doesn’t have a “God phone”, much more so than getting the easy feedback of always or quite often having sense of the Gods. Generally, if one has the capacity to hear or sense the Gods directly in some way, that person is probably a specialist of some sort (priest, diviner, spirit worker, shaman)—not always, but quite, quite often. 

Now, here’s the problem.  Way too many people have the capacity to see or hear Gods and spirit but in tandem with that completely lack spiritual direction and any sense of discernment whatsoever. Then there’s the question of those who might be mentally ill. How do you tell if something is a hallucination or an actual theophany? This goes back partly to discernment and partly to having good spiritual direction. This is also to some degree, where lore can be very helpful: is the God behaving in a way that accords with what others have experienced. I will point out that this can be tricky because Gods are not subject to our limitations and Gods may present Themselves however They choose; however, there do seem to be certain common threads so I would look to the tradition itself for confirmation or not. I would look to elders and teachers. I would pray on it. I would also make sure that if one is mentally ill, that one is taking one’s psych meds. Just because someone has a mental imbalance does not mean that one cannot also have a theophany and I feel very deeply for those who have to figure out the difference. One spirit worker I know, who does a good bit of pastoral counseling with those suffering from various mental considerations, offers this: does it make your life better or not? What is the result? That’s a bit too nebulous for me because both in dealing with the Holy Powers and dealing with our mental health, we need to be sure of precisely *what* we’re dealing with. Still, for some, it may be a starting point. For simpler interactions, one can also use divination to confirm whether or not a true engagement occurred. 

This is part of the reason why I start my students off for at least a year with basic exercises to train the mind in the ways of discernment: centering, grounding, shielding, cleansing, prayer (a lot of prayer), and shrine work. I try to instill that there should not be the expectation of direct theophany – if it occurs it’s a grace and blessing. We can develop the capacity through ongoing devotion to sense the Gods in various ways. If it doesn’t, it does not mean that you are less of a devotee. It means you have other ways by which the Gods will fill your life. To rule out theophany though, as I have seen many (usually Hellenic these days, which is just sad) do, is frankly fucking stupid. It rules out that which has guided the development of powerful traditions, that which is at the heart and soul of devotional work, that which we all seek in some way. It also says that the Gods cannot do this thing, which is putting our limitations above Their majesty and is, in effect, impiety. 

The question of mental illness must be considered, but to dismiss direct engagement with the Gods AS mental illness is the height of modern immorality, impiety, and foolishness. It defines the modern mindset and is the greatest poison infecting our traditions today. Rule number 1: avoid the impious. In other words, just ignore these people. They have little love for the Gods and even less for the traditions they purport to practice. In fact, they are consciously attempting to destroy them. 

Now, if one has a mental condition in which hallucinations are possible, one must take responsibility for oneself. Work with your therapist and a pastoral counselor, teacher, or elder, stay on your meds, learn the ways of discernment and don’t assume everything you see or hear is true engagement. But no one should dismiss the possibility.

There’s also a push back against God spouses. This has existed across polytheistic cultures also since antiquity. While this notion has been greatly abused on tumblr, particularly in the Lokean community, that does not mean that godpouses do not exist. They do. It is a calling, a vocation, one that involves carrying the energy of a God in a very direct way. It is not having a divine boyfriend. That some people are again foolish and impious in handling sacred things, does not negate those sacred things and experiences themselves. I will say that I don’t think godspousing is something that should be discussed online overmuch. It is a Mystery, something very sacred and the uninitiated frankly have no business prying into it. 

So, to recap, there is common devotional sense aka discernment, doctrinal guideposts within the traditions, and clear counsel from one’s elders. We also have divination. Should we normalize direct engagement with the Gods? Yes. I think we should otherwise why are we here? This is a religion after all, not a cultural center, not larping. Is that potentially uncomfortable and challenging, also yes. It’s our job as devotionally oriented people to deal with that. 

I would note that having a theophany doesn’t mean that one is “special” (Gods forbid. Let us all be good socialists without any excellence or individuality in anything. *sarcasm*). The Gods are capable of granting this grace to anyone. Some people are just more wired for it as a matter of course, a matter of nature, who knows why? Some people are more comfortable moving in the vulnerable spiritual and emotional state that this creates (or perhaps that is necessary for it to occur). Some have had better devotional training and guidance. There are numerous reasons why it happens to some and not others. What is important is that we realize the agency here rests with the Gods. I also think that more people are capable of recognizing or experiencing this than we might realize, but for a number of reasons (including the conditioning of modernity, fears of being “crazy”, insecurity, stress, illness, etc) don’t allow themselves to hit the right headspace. Basically, we don’t see what’s right in front of us. 

Do we need to challenge ourselves when these experiences occur? Yes, I think examination of oneself and one’s experiences is healthy and absolutely necessary to clean practice. Examination does not mean dismissal of the possibility however, and if one wants a religion where such direct engagement of the Gods does not occur, why not just become an atheist and call it a day, because THAT is what these naysayers are preaching. What we should be discussing instead, is how to do good, clean, ongoing spiritual discernment.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on September 2, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Very well said and I agree. When people come to me and say they want to have this connection with the Gods I always tell them that is up to the Gods and not me. However there are ways we can train ourselves to listen and I also encourage connection with spirits – their ancestors in particular and the spirits of the land they live on. Anyone can connect with them and through training some can talk to and even see them which is more than any of us can expect or ask for.

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  2. With my brain injury, I have to put into place protocols to discern what is the brain being the brain and what is an actual God. For me, I do the rule of four – it has to happen four times outside of my head such as going to a gas station and seeing a dolphin statue. (Really did happen) Therefore noting it is from Neptune.

    When your head is on fire, you really have to have discipline to keep your feet on the ground.

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  3. I have severe PTSD, and hallucinations are part of that. My internal voices can be particularly vicious in regards to myself (the whole ‘you’re fucking worthless, you’re useless to your Patron, etc), so yes, I have gone through a few existential crisis regarding the whole ‘is it my head or is it my Patron/other Deities I work with?’ My environment isn’t the best, and that contributes to it, but I make do the best I’m able. I have learned to recognize the difference over the last six years (it became brutal just a couple of years after I was medically discharged from the military – I was going through hell trying to understand what the fuck happened to me and why I was no longer able to live life as I had) after my Patron made his presence known in such a way I could *not* argue it was all in my head.

    I like to think of the woods as a second home. I hiked a lot (I admit I don’t hike as much now, because menopause and living in the South sucks, so I walk my neighborhood instead when it’s too hot), and had various trails I preferred. I was walking one of these trails, just being in the moment, and he showed up. It was very disorienting; I could see him walking toward me but he was actually behind me. Until then, I’d never gotten a really good look at him – just glimpses here and there. I said aloud that I saw him, and – of all the details that day, this one remains crystal-clear – he gave me this smug smirk and said “good.” Then he was gone.

    That was my big wake-up call. That is the first and *only* time I have ever had an experience like that – as I said, my previous interactions had just been glimpses here and there and in trance state, *not* hiking. A year later, I was seated on a huge boulder I like to think of as my rock and a stag appeared from nowhere. We do not have deer like this where I live. White tail, yes, but this was definitely not a white tail buck. He was darker and far larger, and when he was level with where I sat, he turned and looked dead at me – and held my gaze for several long moments.

    I immersed myself in learning what was Deity and what was not. I know the crows belong to the Air Deity I work with, and the owls can either be the other Air Deity or the Fire. Water is still a little tough; that particular Deity never speaks and likes to give me riddles to unravel – which I’m not great with, lol. He’s patient, though.

    As to God spousing, I agree with you. This is something sacred that needs to be kept quiet, I think. It’s definitely not something that someone chooses to do, and it’s a hell of a lot more intense than just being a devotee/priest/priestess/etc., I feel. Someone else wrote on this some years back, and I remember her saying very plainly that it wasn’t like a human marriage – it was a lifetime commitment that you couldn’t walk away from because you were bored or wanted something new. I have enough responsibility as it is – and I still struggle at times. I think if a Deity were to approach me with this, I’d wonder what the hell they were thinking, lol. I’m definitely *not* God spouse material!

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  4. I think a big problem with the “God Phone” is it evokes an image of picking up your iPhone and having regular one-on-one conversations. Mother Teresa had a vision of Christ in her 20s, then (IIRC) went the rest of her life without hearing another word from God. In many, perhaps most, cases, those direct visions are a rare or even a one-time occurrence.

    Feeling nudges of encouragement or twinges that tell you “don’t do this” is far more common and something almost everyone can achieve. That requires consistent piety and a respectful approach toward the Divine. Most believers experience this and find it a great comfort and invaluable guide.

    The problem with the modern Pagan scene is they want St. Francis of Assisi visions but they don’t want to sell everything they own and roll around in briars. In the Catholic and Orthodox mystical traditions, visions are some

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  5. something you welcome, but absolutely not something you seek out. (In fact, most Orthodox or Catholic mystics would warn that seeking out visions and apparitions is a good way to wind up spirit-ridden or insane — and given the history of most our Tumblr mystics I’m inclined to think they are on to something).

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