One of the things I love about my job is that I get the weird questions. By the time someone has booked a session with a professional divinator and witch, they’ve already tried all the standard solutions. We’re the last resort, or at the very least pretty far down on the list. Since most mundane problems have mundane solutions, the rarefied issues that tumble onto my casting cloth are anything but mundane. Many of them are fascinating. And, as in so many areas of life, repeating patterns emerge. The latest pattern? How to interpret messages from gods and spirits.
Being a mystic is kind of a pain in the butt sometimes. Along with wrestling the entire “is this real or am I crazy?” question, there are infinite shades of gray around mystical perception. Mystics translate spiritual information into the physical world. To do so, that information gets processed – turned into words/images/sounds by the mystic’s brain. And this is where things can get a little weird.
Our brains are incredible and our scientific understanding of them continues to grow – there’s still a lot to learn about thought, perception, emotion, and communication. Our brains are also incredibly busy places. Along with messages from the Powers That Be, our brains experience other voices – various internal narrators (most of us have more than one), shadows that like to play dress-up, the “ghosts” of our upbringing that like to shame us…there’s a lot going on in there.
I find allegories useful for understanding the world around me, and my favorite one to remember when trying to relay a message from a spirit involves a field trip. When I was a tweeny, my school took a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. It was rainy, so our class group rushed from the buses into the rotunda of the Museum of Natural History. If you haven’t been before, the rotunda is a big, open, echoey room. There’s a lot of marble, lots of hard surfaces for sound to bounce off. Now, imagine 80 shrieking 12-year-olds running into that room to escape the rain, every noise they make bouncing around and reverberating.
Chaos is an understatement. Our teachers and chaperones tried yelling to get our attention, but it only made the problem worse. It probably took around 5 minutes to get our group settled enough to hear the words of our field trip leaders.
When a message from a spirit gets processed, it’s helpful to remember that the message is being translated in an environment that bears some similarity to the busy rotunda even if it doesn’t feel like it. The other voices and activity happening around the message can distort it. A loud enough voice can drown out parts of the message. A shame-voice from childhood can get in the middle of the translating and interpret the message from a place of hurt. A manager voice can try to rush through the translation in order to get back to work. An obsessed voice can force the message to serve the object of obsession.
And then there are our shadows. Ohhhhh, our shadows. Such sneaky little geniuses. Our shadow is the collective body of repressed, hidden, and destructive parts of the psyche. Our refusal to deal with and integrate our shadow doesn’t stop that shadow from trying to get resolution. Instead, shadows will latch on to other kinds of messages and twist them to serve their purposes in order to find relief.
You’ll notice that the mystics in the world who are both talented and stable have something in common: meditative practices. When it comes to spirit messages, the practice of meditation allows us to quiet the voices in the rotunda. Meditative practice also teaches us to recognize the different voices that are part of our normal internal dialogue. This way, if a shadow starts shouting over a message from, say, Demeter, we don’t mistake the combined message for a blazon from a deity.
I’ve been glad to see more mystical practice within the Pagan community. For a long time, being someone who heard the voices of the gods and spirits meant running into a lot of resistance and rolled eyes. The thing is, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction now. I’m seeing a lot of clients who are receiving messages, but those messages are often distorted, and applying discernment to the messages we receive hasn’t yet become common practice.
Gods are variable in disposition, so there are exceptions to this, but most of that shining company don’t give a damn who you’re dating, what you wear, or what other people think of you. They tend to care a lot about the Work they want done in the world and the rituals and offerings that support them. Everything else? We’re talking about immortals whose perception and experience of reality is quite different than ours. They’re just not that interested in the minutiae of human lives.
So, when I sit and help a client unpack the feeling that their sex drive is being taken over by a spirit, we figure out that what they have is shame and changing sexual needs, and the shadow around that is intruding on their active spiritual practice.
Or when a client feels their deity has deserted them because they’re just not good enough, we figure out that their depression and the abandonment issues from childhood are drowning out the message.
Or when a client feels that the earth is mad at them, we figure out that their own worry, fear, and anger is turning “Help me, I love you” into “Help me, I hate you.”
It happens easily. We’re just human. And we’re complicated – each of us is an army of selves, shadows, and internalized voices.
So, how do we manage? If we’re getting messages, how do we translate them with the least amount of interference from the field trip of shrieking 12-year-olds?
1) Meditative practice. If you’re a mystic, a dedicant, a speaker-with-spirits, this is absolutely vital and there are literally dozens of types of meditation to choose from. Dancing meditation, walking meditation, sung or chanted meditation…it’s not all sitting quietly on a cushion. Pick one that works with your brain type and make yourself do it. Until you know and can recognize your own collection of voices and shadows, the messages you get will carry their influence. Combine the wrong suppressed personality trait with the wrong message, and it can cause a world of hurt and heartbreak. KNOW THYSELF. There is no shortcut here. Develop a meditation practice.
2) Self-work. Therapy, shadow work, self inquiry and reflection…there are a lot of approaches here. The most important part is to know your own toxic traits and behaviors. We all have them – mental traps that we fall into regularly due to deep roots and piercing thorns within the psyche. We need to know these traits well so we can recognize when one of them is interfering with a message or playing dress-up with a deity mask. I’ll give you some of mine: superhero syndrome is a big one. One of my toxic traits is believing that I’m special and can save the world/any given situation somehow. Another is rage on behalf of people I perceive as oppressed or threatened. Good instincts to a point, but the temper that accompanies them makes it difficult to think clearly and White Knight behavior is unhelpful in most cases. Lastly (although there are others, of course) is one I refer to as Ye Wise Auld Priestx: believing that I know it all because I’ve been around a while. It’s utter nonsense, but an easy trap to fall into. I know to filter out pieces of messages that play into those various thought and behavior patterns.
3) Research. If you work with the same gods and spirits regularly, learn about them. Read their myths and stories. Read contemporary accounts of them from modern-day practitioners. Talk to other people who work with them. Knowing the general character of the deities you interact with will help you determine true messages from inner voice interference. You’ll only know if a message sounds like something Brigid would say if you read up on Brigid. (John Beckett has a great blog that talks about this more in depth)
4) Divination. Pretty good with runes, tarot, ogham, or oracle cards? Great. Dedicate a deck, or set, to spirit communication. This is especially true if you consistently work with the same spirits regularly. Give them their own chat window. Any sortilege-based system will work here, but the more options for expression, the better. In my own practice, divinatory tools dedicated to deities need to have a minimum of 50 different messages they can send. When you get a message, clarify it through your dedicated divination tool.
5) Common sense and sovereignty. Over the years, I’ve had a few beloved friends go a bit strange for a time. When a person says something odd or off-character, we know to pause. Even, or perhaps especially, when that person is one of our nearest and dearest. We need to apply some of that natural skepticism and self-preservation to the messages we receive. Just because a message is telling you to do something dangerous, destructive, or sneaky doesn’t mean you should go ahead and do it. Clarify first. If a friend gave you the same message, how would you react? Filter for bias. Research. Ask more questions. Pause.
6) Peer consultation. Part of why having a mystical community is important is so we can discuss messages. Cultivate connections with your spiritual kin. Find other people and communities who work with some of the same spirits you do. Identify the stable mystics and seek them out if you get a message that seems off or confusing.
It’s wonderful to see the spread of seership, mysticism, oracular work, and dedicant practices within the Pagan world. It’s also worth remembering that the tech – the protective structures and practices – around mystical work in the old world was largely destroyed. Once upon a time, cultures whose religious structures included seers had an entire system for keeping everyone reasonably safe. We’re reconstructing the safety mechanisms from fragments or building them whole cloth right now.
So. Listen, but verify. Listen, but learn. Listen, but filter for bias and bullsh*t. Applying safeguards to communication with the Powers is no insult – it means we’re better practitioners, better allies, and better mystics. And what God trying to stir up some good trouble doesn’t want good people?
So, what techniques do you use to confirm or clarify messages from the spirits? Hit me up in the comments. You never know when your own ideas are exactly what another witch needs to read.
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