There are many fascinating Christian holdovers in Pagan spirituality. In the United States, we are so immersed in Christianity, even when raised by a family that does not practice that particular faith, that we tend to pick up Christian ideas and norms without realizing it. One of those ideas is that of a primary God to serve. Monotheism is a very strong cultural brew to steep in. We are inundated with the concept that we must be in service to, praying to, an omniscient Being of some sort. The thing is, the idea that you must serve some sort of temperamental Divine Being in order to be a Pagan is just….bullshit.
That whole morass is given strength by the fact that there are plenty of Pagans of all stripes who practice henotheism – serving one or two particular god/desses out of a pantheon – sometimes to the point that from the outside, especially to a new witch on the Path, it can look a damn sight like monotheism. Along with that tendency toward henotheism, those of us with dedicant practices (being in service to a Deity) are frequently vocal about it, and can give the impression that doing so is Ye Correcte Waye to Wytche.
I’ve seen entirely too many dedicants get a little snarky about Pagans who do not have some sort of Voices In Their Heads situation going on. This is where some of another Christian holdover comes in – that there’s a Right and a Wrong way to witch. The Winding Path takes many forms. And you don’t need to hear voices to walk the woods.
Paganism, at its core, is about recognizing the connectedness of all Beings, and coming into a cocreative, cooperative relationship with the forces that make up our world. Sometimes that means honoring the sacred nature of the Earth herself. Sometimes it means establishing a friendship with the local Land Spirits. Sometimes it means serving the Gods. Most importantly, and fundamentally, it means recognizing your Self as a sacred being and coming into Right Relationship with your spirit.
Orion Foxwood tells a great story about his mother explaining her trips out to the woods by herself with ‘I need to go where I can hear my soul, and y’all are just too loud.’ It’s a charming story, of course, but the core at the center of it also rings with truth. Your soul, your spirit – the divine, eternal part of your Self – has a very soft voice. It gets drowned out by distractions, and holy shit does our culture have some distractions going on.
The constant parade of input and stimuli we receive means that by the time we begin to feel the agitated, ‘something isn’t right’ emotions bubble up, we’re frequently out of alignment to an extraordinary degree. So, what’s the fix?
You’re going to hate this answer
Contemplation practices. Quiet ones.
There’s a reason contemplative, meditative, prayerful practices are a mainstay of every large faith path. Until you learn to deal with the hamster wheel of thoughts, tasks and ego-driven chatter that fills your mind, you won’t have a chance to recognize your own soul’s voice, much less the voice of Anything Else that turns up (Gods, Spirits, Ancestors, etc).
Here’s the good news – there are dozens of forms of meditation. You may be thinking about how much you hate sitting still and trying to settle your mind – I do too. I’ve never been very good at holding still. So, I tend to gravitate toward forms of meditation that allow my body to continue to move. It’s part of why I make and use malas – strings of 108 beads. I love labyrinth walks and yoga – both types of movement meditation when approached a certain way. Here’s a great link that goes over, in detail, 23 different forms of meditation.
There are also some excellent apps available now. I love Insight Meditation Timer, and a very dear friend is now on over 200 days straight with Headspace. Many of those apps have step-by-step, progressive instructions for developing a meditation practice from the very beginning.
We’re at the start of a new month. We’re moving toward the Spring Equinox, and every day we can feel the light growing. Along with your spring cleaning, what if….this year….you implemented a little mental reorganization too? Start with five minutes. That’s all. The space of a bathroom break. Hell, meditate IN the bathroom if it will help you make the space for it.
Here’s the beautiful thing: once you learn to recognize your surface chatter, you begin to recognize when something comes from that deeper, quieter place – your soul. And then, once you learn to recognize THAT voice (and listen to it!), you develop the ability to recognize when thoughts or emotions that arise in you do not come from you. Knowing the sound of your own voice is absolutely vital.
I don’t think I can overemphasize the importance of contemplation practice here. One of the things that Cranky Auld Wytches like me tend to notice is that folks with dedicant paths frequently relay directives from their Gods that seem ego-driven. Now, I do keep an open mind here – how the hell do I know what Sekhmet is into these days? I don’t. But, those very same folks whose Gods are telling them to abandon their responsibilities/hurt others/spend outside their budget tend to be the folks who do not have a contemplation practice. At all. They could be hearing divine guidance, of course. They could also be dealing with impulses they’ve been repressing that have put on a Demeter mask for a while.
So if you’re kicking yourself about not hearing the voice of a God/dess, maybe take the boot off. Get into alignment with your Self first – your soul/higher self/spirit/whatever word you want to use – has its own needs and agenda. It has a clear vision for your Path. It can tell you not only when you’re out of alignment, but how to get back into it. Thing is, to hear that voice, we have to get quiet first. And learning to be in alignment with your soul? Well, that’s about the most badass magickal, witchy thing you can do.
So let’s be badasses, yes?