by Christopher Penczak, Edited by Tina Whittle
Who Speaks for the Gods? No one. End of story. My shortest article yet! Though this is not entirely true.
I have been to amazing oracular rituals where priestesses and priests who were overshadowed, invoked, or possessed by the gods and spirits have said some amazing things. I’ve been invoked and been told I gave helpful messages, though I have no memory of them. Are we speaking for the gods, or are the gods speaking through us? That is the mystery.
Anyone who has experienced this, be it in Witchcraft or ritual Magick or through channeling and spiritualism, knows that the vessel, the invoked, is like the lens through which the message passes, taking on qualities of the lens. It’s like a filter. Some of this is obvious. While sound, tone, rhythm, and inflection can change from their day-to-day speaking voice, it doesn’t always. And no matter the change, it is still passing through their voice box, framed by their tongue and lips. But this occurs in consciousness as well as biology. While there are greater and lesser degrees of the host “getting out of the way,” some portion of their mental and emotional body is there and can tint the process. Those who do this as a service learn to purify the body, mind, and heart before becoming a vessel for the gods and spirits. My good friend and fellow practitioner Chris Giroux often says, “You can pass the purest water through a dirty sieve and you get dirty water.” You have to be careful not just when offering yourself as a vessel, but the listeners have to be very careful as well. We have to be discerning. Just because one is speaking for the gods, one might not be speaking clearly for the gods.
Because when it works, one is not speaking for the gods at all—the gods are speaking through the invoked. It’s a big difference.
The problem comes when people do speak for the gods, often with the most noble intention to illustrate ideals and values that should be encouraged. Invoking the god’s name as your justification can reduce both the ideal and the god.
From the magickal perspective, the gods are mysteries. One can seek the minds of the gods, but not hope to know them entirely. They might be eternal, but their expressions change over time and place. They gain new titles and symbols. Some gods seem to absorb others or divide from themselves into multiple beings. Their stories are contradictory, filled with cruelty, kindness, and confusion. Their myths might be coding a historic event half remembered, deify an ancient ancestor, describe astrology, explain cosmology, teach a moral truth for that society, explain our inner psychic anatomy, give the origin for a ritual or festival, or hide a mystery teaching. We often don’t know which of these things are going on in a myth. So when we reference them in explaining a god’s will or desire for us, we can be very wrong. When someone else’s experience or interpretation differs, you are invalidating their living experience in favor of your own interpretation.
Any communication you get telling you otherwise is through your filter. It is best for you. When you apply it to others, we start to dangerously approach the territory of Christian moralists telling you to do or not do something because “God” said so, pointing to either a famously mistranslated book or what they feel is self-evident from what they believe about God.
This—along with proselytization and hard dogma—were the things I was always taught to avoid as a Witch, as a Pagan, and as a magician. These were the evils of monotheism, or at least institutional Christianity. As Paganism grows its temples, these are what must be avoided. We cannot tell another what their divine will and actions should be, beyond the basic levels of societal safety. In a secular society, institutional changes occur in secular channels. Our mythos of sacred sovereigns is to awaken those forces with each individual, our own interior kingdom, rather than impose rule on another.
Not that long ago, someone invoked Hecate’s name in a community conflict, arguing that I was not embodying the ideals of Hecate by not agreeing with them in how to go about something. I was not questioning the intention, but the motive and execution in terms of our teachings, in terms of fundamental occult paradigm. In essence, their argument was akin to WWHD, mirroring the famous WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?): What would Hecate do? Well, a viable option with all that we know about the many forms of Hecate is to poison you. Or curse you at the crossroads. Should I poison or curse those coming to me in disagreement and conflict? If we are following the example of Hecate and her ancient followers, it would be an option. But of course not. That is not a worthy notion here and now, in this context of community. These conflicts require no bodily harm to resolve. Perhaps the larger conflicts of life and death might, but Neopagan community conflict does not.
But the concept of WWHD isn’t appropriate for Witches. Hecate was never human and didn’t give commandments; she “only” inspired myths, stories, art, folklore, and perhaps techniques. The work of the Witch is to figure it out by exploring her mystery using those connections, not browbeat others into agreement. We find what she is for each of us when we seek her. She isn’t the template for everyone to follow, but one of many powers of the cosmos for us to know. Even if she were human, the point of our magick is that we cannot replicate the true will of another, but must find our own. There is no formula that fits everyone. In such cases, replace the divine chastisement of Hecate or any Pagan deity with “Our savior Jesus Christ ” and tell me if that suits you? That little switch often shows the problems to Pagans who have no problem invoking Pagan gods in their righteousness, but would abhor the same from a Christian god. No matter the god, it is essentially the same thing.
One can agree with your ideals, divine or not, and disagree with your execution and communication. I can think your ideas are poorly thought out, that they do not take into consideration the vast complexities involved in trying to change people, groups, or institutions. But if the Witch’s response is to invoke a goddess or any gods to get agreement through shame or fear, you have lost the Witchcraft and magick in this process. You are following a model of Christian righteousness that leads to some very bad places. Modern Paganism has enough problems without repatterning ourselves with the problems of Christianity just because they are familiar. Otherwise we are getting into pissing contests invoking our vision of the gods for all. It might be about justice, but it can easily be about ritual orthodoxy. If you accept it about one, then the other is not far away. That then leads to religious dogma and violations of dogma that become heresy. Then where are we?!? Yet we easily slip into, “Odin wants this!” “No, Odin wants that!” In reality Odin is a mysterious and crafty non-human being whose motives are complex and who often doesn’t care that much about humanity at all. He might care about specific humans and those that are useful to him. I wouldn’t hazard a guess to what he really wants, let alone use it in a conversation to tell another human what to do or not do. But he tends to be something cool people like to identify with to empower themselves, or justify themselves and poor behavior, and he’ll take the veneration and worship as most gods would in these tough times. And of course one must ask, which Odin? On what level? In what context?
We make the mistake of thinking our personal relationships with gods translate into something for the rest of society, or grants us special status in the world. The Morrighan has my back, so if you enter into a conflict with me, she will kick your ass. That is ridiculous. She is not a personal bodyguard, but a divine power we can engage with, and she doesn’t care who is calling me names. If a magickal line is crossed, wards and protection magick can activate, often involving the Morrighan as a power set in advance through our relationship, but those are spells and not personal and divine vendettas by a god. Our gods may help keep us on a path or grant us safety because we are working with them in a pattern, and they do not want that pattern disrupted, but they are mysteries, not best friends even when we feel a personal closeness. They are the paradox of being both the personal and transpersonal. They can appear human, but we can’t forget they are not.
Teachers of magick of the craft should help create the conditions where you as a seeker or student can speak with your gods, as well as your own soul. They should educate, yes, but never dictate or demand their interpretation of a divine will upon another practitioner. Learn the techniques to make communion. Learn the long and often convoluted context of the gods and tradition, but don’t accept a “sermon” as your truth. Someone’s experience and perspective are valid, but let those inspire your own. Don’t let them dictate your own experience and perspective under the guise of what the gods want from you. This becomes mystical delusion on the part of the teacher, mentor, or leader.
Invoke the gods in your rituals. Invoke the gods bodily for oracular rites. Call to them in meditations and divinations. But beware them creeping into your conversations, conflicts, projections, and justifications, as that might not be the full mystery of the god at all, but simply your opinion wearing the guise of a god. Speak with the gods, but don’t speak for the gods.