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.