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What an earthquake taught me about discernment

Arizona is not known for it’s earthquakes. In fact, Arizona is probably not known for much in terms of natural disasters. However, earlier this month, Arizona had the pleasure of experiencing 3 earthquakes in one night. Typically this isn’t something I’d bring up on this blog. TTR is about Kemeticism and astral tom foolery, not geology. However, as I sat in the dark looking for information on why my house felt like it had just done a small dance, I noticed something really interesting about people’s reactions that made me think about a rather common topic in paganism: people were questioning their discernment.

You see, I bring up the whole “Arizona is not known for earthquakes” because it’s rather relevant for this story. You’d think that an earthquake would be pretty easy to discern even if you’d never experienced one before, right? The ground moves. Everything on the ground moves with it. Sometimes your house makes noise. Sometimes pictures fall off the wall, or chandeliers shake. It’s pretty straightforward, right?

Apparently it’s not straightforward enough, because many Arizonans were questioning what exactly had happened to them- myself included.

twitter_azearthquak

Even though all of us had felt the ground move and knew that earthquakes and little else usually involve the ground moving, we were all scratching our heads going “did I get that right?”

This seems to be how it goes with the Unseen, too. So many times we seem to think that some stuff should be pretty easy to discern. “If I see this sign, then I’ll know for sure that this is real.” “If I experience this, then I’ll know for sure that this is real.”

But how many of us actually operate that way? How many times have we seen something smack us straight in the face, and we still deny it?

“Every single reading I’ve gotten has pointed to X, but I’m still not sure that it’s actually X.” “I had a vision about the thing, and then a dream about the thing, and then a reading about the thing, but I’m still not sold that I’ve got it right.”

It seems that questioning your experiences isn’t really something that only happens in the pagan community. Even for something as blatant as an earthquake, because Arizonans believe that “those things just don’t happen here”, many of us second guessed whether we had actually felt the ground move. The only reason I was looking up information online was because I really had a hard time believing that I had felt the ground move, that I had felt an earthquake happen (even though I know for a fact that they do happen here in the state).

Now imagine what that’s like for something less physical. Something a bit more nebulous and harder to prove one way or the other. It’s really no wonder so many of us have problems with discernment. And while this experience didn’t teach me how to discern better, it did teach me to be a little less hard on myself when trying to figure things out. It’s taught me to question ingrained ideas about what I consider to be “logical” or “within the possibility of being real”. And possibly even more importantly, it taught me that so many others question just like I do. It seems like a lot of people assume that people instantly assume anything they experience is real without a second thought. But as you can see in the screencaps above, that’s apparently not the case- even in mundane matters. So many of us question things that should be pretty obvious. So many of us struggle with discernment.

Discernment isn’t easy (probably for anyone), and this experience has definitely reminded me to be more patient with myself (and others) when I am trying to discern the “truth”out of something. I have to remind myself that questioning everything to death is more normal than most of us assume, and that there reaches a point where questioning is no longer doing anyone any benefit. Now if only discerning stuff from the Unseen was as easy as discerning an earthquake- then we’d be on to something!

For more information on how to fine tune your discernment, check out the FAQ.

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Spirit Work & Mental Illness

Alternate title: Quit romanticizing my illness.
Alternate title #2: Quit demonizing my treatment.

Every so often I will see little flare-ups in the pagan community that center on two fairly unrelated topics: spirit work and mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, these topics can be related, but they aren’t necessarily related, though many people try to make them out to be. I’m sure many of you have seen articles like this and this that go on and on about how we’re killing our spirit workers because they have mental illness and are not handling it “properly”. And if we’d only just learn how to “properly” handle these “gifts” that we’ve been bestowed, we’d suddenly find that our problems would poof out of existence.

Being a spirit worker myself, I read these posts and feel my jaw clench shut as I find rage welling up in my stomach. These posts are so damaging on so many levels, to both spirit workers and the mentally ill (as well as mentally ill spirit workers), and it really bugs me that so many people don’t see what is wrong withposts like this. There are so many flaws with these kinds of posts that it’s almost impossible to know where to start when critiquing them. But here are a few of the main problems that come to mind whenever this sort of stuff shows up on my FB wall or dash:

Your illness is really a gift from the divine!

One of the first issues that I see popping up with these kinds of articles is the idea that  your mental illness is not actually an illness or a problem, but is really a gift from the gods. And if you’d just learn to accept that, you’d feel all sorts of better! This is also sometimes presented as “if only our society would see the inherent worth and value of your mental illness, you would feel all sorts of better”.

The truth of the matter is, most of the spirit workers I’ve met who are also mentally ill don’t feel like their mental illness is “divine”. I’m here to tell you that I don’t perform as well as a spirit worker when my mental illnesses are flaring up and ruining my life, and it seems like many people feel the same way. Even if society were to somehow make it a-okay to be depressed and anxious all of the time, I would still feel pretty miserable regularly, and wouldn’t be able to operate at maximum capacity.

Mental illness is an energy suck. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you feeling drained, tired, and miserable (most of the time). I can’t imagine how anyone would find this to be divine in nature. Quite honestly, I would expect being tired, drained and miserable would be the opposite of being divine. And no amount of outside support is going to change that my illnesses leave me feeling like crap on the regular. You can’t sunshine and rainbows away mental illness. You simply can’t. And implying that this is a gift is like spitting in the face of every person who has to work really hard to function despite their mental illness/es. Implying that someone with mental health issues doesn’t really know what their illness “actually” is is also ableist. Of course, if you are mentally ill and wish to make it a part of your spirituality, or find that it is a source of power for your spirit work, that’s fine. But it’s one thing to believe that your particular mental illness is a strength for you, and quite another to imply that everyone else who is mentally ill should operate the same way.

I’ve also never understood why so many people believe that mental illness always makes you a spirit worker. I have been depressed and anxious for as long as I can remember, but spirit work wasn’t really a part of my life until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. And truth be told, my mental illness didn’t really play a role in my becoming a spirit worker (and based off of what I’ve read, mental illness was not a common indicator of spirit work in some cultures in the past- physical health was another story, though). If anything, my mental illness often gets in the way of doing what I need to do Over There, and there are many times when I get really frustrated with the constant interruptions that crop up from my brain deciding that it needs to tank my mood right when important work needs to get done.

There are many mentally ill people who are not spirit workers, and who don’t want to be spirit workers. Conversely, I’ve met plenty of non-mentally ill spirit workers. I’m not sure where this idea originally came from, but it’s an idea that needs to stop propagating. You can be mentally ill and a spirit worker, you can be a spirit worker who isn’t mentally ill, and you can be mentally ill and not a spirit worker. None of these things is necessarily related.

Medication is bad, m’kay?

The other factor that I see constantly brought up in these articles is the idea that if you’re using western medicine in any capacity, you’re drugging your abilities away, or ruining the gift that you’ve supposedly been given.

For anyone that has been following me for any amount of time, you know that I have worked on finding ways to medicate myself, and that I’ve had a fair amount of success with it so far. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to go back to pre-medication me. Medication can take all sorts of forms, and since mental illness can’t really be cured, we really have no place to judge what works or doesn’t work for another. So long as you’re being responsible and healthy about your medication choices, that’s really all that matters. The idea that medication is somehow going to ruin you is so damaging, and prevents people from seeking out treatment. It causes people to be miserable because they fear seeking treatment, or they feel like treatment makes them weak as a person.

Everyone really needs to stop implying that medication is inherently bad (you are treating an illness, after all. And if you’d take medicine for a physical illness, you shouldn’t be chastising someone for taking medication for a mental illness). There are so many people I have met (spirit workers and non-spirit workers alike) who have become better and more stable because of their treatments. I have met spirit workers who feel like their medication makes them better spirit workers. Because, wow, you can actually get more work done when your brain isn’t working against you.

Discernment? What discernment?!

Something else I’ve noticed when these kinds of posts are trawled out is that discernment seems to go down the tubes. In many ways, people seem to believe that if you happen to “see” something that “isn’t there”, then it must be a spiritual experience, and can never be a symptom mental illness.

The truth is that many spirit workers who have mental illness will tell you that there is a definite difference between the symptoms of their illness, and what they experience as a spirit worker. I have met people who have told me that their hallucinations have a very different look and feel in comparison to their astral visions and travels. I’ve met others who tell me that the non-existent things that they hear sound different than when a spirit is talking to them. I’ve met others who tell me that their medication has shifted their experiences (sometimes good, sometimes bad) and that once they took a closer look at their experiences, they could tell what was more induced via medication, and what was genuine.

However, when these posts start throwing the baby out with the bath water, and assume that all visions are the same- regardless of your “gift” of a mental illness, then we stop focusing on discernment and learning how mental illness and spirit work actually play together. Because they can play together, and there are distinct differences between the two for most of us who live with both. When discernment goes out the window, you’re creating a recipe for disaster, because discernment is key to staying safe while working with not only the Unseen, but within our community itself.

Why I consider this to be dangerous.

I personally believe that these sorts of ideas are not only incorrect and damaging, but I personally believe them to be entirely dangerous. They are dangerous because they don’t create an atmosphere where people who are mentally ill can actually seek out treatment that works well for them. The notion that all Western medicine is inherently bad and will completely screw you up often demotivates people to consider all possible treatment methods, and may cause people to skip over a particular treatment type that works for them. It may also be a strong enough argument to convince someone to stop treatment, even if it is working for them. And when people who are mentally ill don’t receive proper treatment, we often run into other problems that causes a decline in our quality of life. Buying into narratives that perpetuate this will cause people to get hurt in very real ways. I have met people who believed that they could spirit work their mental illness away, and let me tell you that the results were often not pretty, and in many ways, produced the exact opposite effect of what they desired.

This is also damaging to the spirit worker community and the wider pagan community as a whole. It causes people to feel inadequate in some ways, and gives people power that they wield poorly in others. The idea that all mentally ill people must be spirit workers creates a rift within the community, as those who are mentally ill, but not spirit workers may feel like they’re doing something wrong. “If all mentally ill people are supposed to be special, but I’m not getting anywhere, then I must be a screw-up, right?”  And if you happen to be a mentally ill spirit worker who is undergoing therapy or treatment, you may suddenly question if you’re also doing it wrong, because apparently these things will prohibit you from being as “good” of a spirit worker as you could be. Not to mention that it makes the spirit workers who are not mentally ill feel ostracized in a community that is already pretty small, niche, and hard to get into.

It sets up this expectation that most people will not meet, and that people shouldn’t have to meet, and yet people continue to push this narrative as if it’s 110% absolute truth. These ideas hurt those who are already vulnerable (mentally ill people) and inadvertently sets them up for a very likely failure. It takes the conversation off of important topics that could actually benefit mentally ill spirit workers (topics such as: how do I tell the difference between a spiritual experience and my mental illness, how do I tell the difference between the astral and a hallucination, how do I work around these crippling symptoms I am experiencing from my illness, how do you manage spirit work and mental illness, etc.) and puts the conversation onto a useless topic of “your medication is bad and everything would get better if you’d just become a spirit worker”.

Yes, it is true that our society doesn’t handle mental illness well. Yes, it is true that we would all benefit from having a society that accepts mental illness and treats it like the illness that it is. But I still don’t believe that spirit work is the cure for all mental illness (quite the opposite, really). I don’t believe that spirit work will make every single mentally ill person feel better (I’m still mentally ill), in the same way that I don’t believe that every mentally ill person is meant to be a spirit worker, or is even necessarily having a spiritual/Unseen experience (many of my symptoms have been exactly that- symptoms, not genuine spiritual experiences). In many ways, mental illness and spiritual experiences can have some overlap, but they aren’t inherently the same thing and it’s better for everyone that this becomes a more recognized and understood thing. I would love to see more discussion on their differences and similarities than the constant “they are all the same” that you seem to get in the posts linked above as it would actually help the mentally ill people that everyone is so intent on discussing.

 

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Discernment

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:

Crickets.

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.

Relevant Posts:

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Kemeticism, Rambles

 

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