aka the “Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar” post.
Today I wanted to talk about discernment– that elusive thing that most all of us yearn for. The most popular of questions: “How do I know that I’m actually hearing the gods?” “How do I know that I’m not just listening to myself?” Certainly, these questions are important- for we don’t want to think of all of our actions as merely pleasing some head goblin or mischievous netjeri. Yet, despite these fears, many people don’t seem to question if what they are listening to is actually the gods.
And it’s perfectly understandable as well. When you first get into your practice, everything is new and shiny and overwhelming. There is a lot to take in, a lot to consider- and I think many people get in over their heads when they first arrive on the Pagan/polytheism scene. Even when I first started, I am quite sure I spent a good amount of time listening to myself as opposed to Set. But, there is even more to consider than just the gods- many people don’t consider discernment when they come across omens or symbols in their day to day life, either (which may or may not be ascribed to X deity that you are working with). To quote from Tumblr:
In the spiritual world omens are everywhere and there are no such thing as coincidences. You can use signs around you to guide your life and your workings if you only know how to interpret them.
On some levels, I agree. Life, gods, spirits and guides often give us clues about what they need from us, where we should be going, things we should be doing, etc. I have always felt that if you are trying to live within Ma’at, things will generally work out for you- long term. However, I think it needs to be said that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. For example:
That’s right. Crickets. There are tons of them around my house right now. About two months ago, I suddenly had crickets everywhere. In my kitchen. My closet. My living room- all over the place. Screeching all night long. Annoying the crap out of me. Not long ago, I had to travel some distance to a river to do a rite. At the river, the place where I chose to sit down and do my rite I found a small cricket running around. So I ask you- is this some divine symbol? Or could it just be that this is prime season for crickets?
Another example would be birds of prey. Many Kemetic deities have associations with birds of prey. But, I live in the desert. Does that mean Horus is trying to get my attention?
Or how about hearing the gods through the radio? That top 40 song that keeps on popping up? How can you tell if it’s actually the gods, or just that darned popular?
The answer, my friends, is discernment.
Well that’s all fine and dandy- but how does one discern deity from head goblin/netjeri?
That is a difficult question to answer, unfortunately. Citing the above examples, it is a good time for crickets- so it could very easily be that I just happen to have an infestation, or I picked an uncanny area near the river. Or in regards to the hawks, I live in the desert- which is a prime location for them. The fact that I see 1, or even 5 hawks may not even mean that Horus is tailing me- could just be that I live next to a field with lots of mice and food in it. However, I do think it’s possible to sort through events that occur and discern whether you might actually have a message that is trying to be delivered. In short form, here are some methods to help figure out if what you’re seeing/feeling is “legit”:
- Multiples of said sign
- Sources from antiquity
- Divination from a third party source/someone who is trusted
- Unlikely circumstances
The multiples is a tricky one. The crickets is an example- how many crickets do I need to see before I actually read it as a sign or omen? The songs on the radio could be another example- for a period of time, I had “Poker Face” playing every. single. time. I got in the car. And even on a 5-10 minute drive somewhere, I’d hear it multiple times. It’s like every single station decided they wanted to play it at the same time. After about a month of this, I felt that perhaps Set was trying to tell me something- but it took nearly a month of it occurring before I finally even remotely considered the idea (and to this day, I’m still not entirely sure what he was trying to say- if anything). Another example for multiples would be feathers- feathers are pretty common to find. However, if you find that you are finding feathers in an odd location every day, or multiple times per day- perhaps you should consider if someone is trying to get a hold of you.
Another consideration for multiples is if the request doesn’t leave. I have ignored Set before- or I tried. But the longer I tried, the more obnoxious the requesting got. It got so bad that I couldn’t concentrate, and I became overly cranky (and when I finally did perform his request, I got further confirmation that I ‘did good’, and the annoying noise in my head went away). Normally, if I get an odd request, or I’m not sure if I’m hearing correctly, I will wait and see what happens if I ignore said request. Usually, if the request is ‘legit’, I will keep getting pestered until I listen. Or, I will receive other signs that confirm that I need to do something. It is possible to go to the gods and say “Hey, I think I’m seeing some signs that are telling me you want something. Is it possible for you give me some other signs so that I know it’s you”. Worst they can do is tell you to shove off (usually this doesn’t happen- in my experience).
I list sources from antiquity, because I think it’s very important. One of the first visions I ever received from Aset was her symbol on a loaf of bread. I thought it odd until I discovered that bread was a common offering in Egypt, and that Aset has some special ties to bread (this was when I was literally just starting out- hadn’t even read a book yet). Nothing can feel as validating (in my opinion) as having a vision or request repeated in history. To me, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re likely being tapped by someone if you can track down the request or symbolism to a time in the deity’s past.
Another method of testing requests is to get outside input. Ask people who are unbiased and can give you straight answers. If you are able, ask a group of people to do some divination for you- and see how well the outcomes line up for you. If you ask 3 or 4 different people to look into something for you- and they all say the same thing, it’s quite likely that someone is trying to tell you something.
Unlikely circumstances is another thing to consider. If you see a bird or animal that is entirely foreign to your location- that would be something to pay attention to. Finding a feather that belongs to a bird that lives nowhere near you, for example. A common situation I have is that I will “lose” stones that I own- even though I haven’t touched them. I will sometimes also find stones in my rock box that I never purchased. Another example would be seeing an animal with very odd markings- a black coyote, or a raven with white spots on it.
And above all, I think that any symbol or omen that you are seeing needs to be considered heavily every time it occurs. Because we never know if what appears to be simple and straight forward might actually be complex and mean something entirely different than what it appears on the surface.
But why do I need this? Why would what I am experiencing be “not legit”?
This also comes with many reasons. A lot of times, humans get into the habit of feeding into their own egos (myself included). We often times see what we want to see. Especially in stressful situations- we will look for anything to comfort us or tell us that it’s alright. During my long period of unemployment, I looked for signs everywhere (ironically, this was the same time with the “Poker Face” reference above, as well as Set’s request that I ignored). I would see things and tell myself that this was a sure sign that things were going to get better. I’d even ask my mother to ask her pendulum to confirm things- which ironically didn’t pan out. Turns out my mother was just as biased about me getting a job as I was. It’s very important that we do our best to maintain an unbiased and open view about our circumstances. To give into our own prejudices and leanings cuts us off from growth and from hearing the things that we need to hear in order to move to the next phases in our lives. The best way to be unbiased is to practice discernment to the best of our abilities.
And if all that fails, you can ask Helms his opinion on discernment:
If it makes sense, you’re probably imagining it. “What the hell is THAT supposed to mean?” is probably a sure-fire sign.
- How do you know it’s the gods you’re listening to?
- Hearing the Gods
- In Defense of Judgement
- Polytheism While Dealing with Mental Illness