Quoting John Beckett:
Tests can confirm your commitment to the Gods. My experience with the Gods – or at least, with the handful I’m familiar with – has been very straightforward. They ask people They think can help Them to do the things They want done. Show you can handle that and They’ll keep giving you more. Tell them “no” and They’ll move on to someone else. Tell them “yes” and then don’t keep your word and things will get unpleasant. But in all this, I’ve never been told “first prove you’re worthy.”
I have been thinking about this topic lately. Some years ago, maybe about 6 or so, I decided to take my polytheism more seriously. I had daily impromptu prayers and regular rituals, and by way of magic attempted to incorporate the Gods more actively in my daily life. I gave worshipful oblations to various Deities of my “pantheon”, including the Allfather, and told Them I wanted to serve. I asked: what is it You would have me do?
I did not get an answer.
I decided that this problem was due to my inexperience and lack of “listening skills”. I thought that perhaps I was rushing forward too much (especially after a couple attempts at more complex rituals resulted in bad luck and poor omens). I decided to focus not just on my skill set, but on developing a closer devotional relationship to the Gods. This meant regular practice of pure worship, acts with no purpose but to honor the glory of the Gods, and an attempt to sharpen the clarity of Their messages. I also learned new styles of divination, including taking some “formal” training, specifically to channel Their voice. Sometimes, perhaps twice a year, I would petition Them again: I want to serve. What is it you would have me do?
I got an answer now. It was the same answer every time I asked. It stayed the same for many years. It was: “Not now. Maybe later.”
I tried not to be disappointed with this answer, and it’s perfectly reasonable to think in retrospect that the Gods could see I was headed for a rough patch of life in terms of my health, my finances, and certain future-altering decision (like my return to college). I kept going anyway, partly because I felt it was the right thing to do, partly because their answers said I should keep going and be patient, but also because it seemed to be a test. I needed to prove my dedication to Them, my reliability, before They would trust me with anything more. If I put in the leg work to get close to Them, then They would, one day, give me direction in life.
(You can maybe picture me gritting my teeth here, though.)
I began to languish. It is near impossible to continue to do work while feeling isolated and alone. I do not really have a Heathen group I can go to during the fallow times, or whatever it is else that other folks have which sustains them. But more importantly, I did not feel wanted or needed by the Gods. I wasn’t asking for any special boon, but I just wanted to feel Them, to know They are there for me. Why do we worship Them if They do not offer us this emotional refuge? It’s the same as desiring recognition for your work as opposed to expecting reward for it. How can a person work day after day without any end in sight, and not even warrant a “thank you”? If I was willing to serve for so long, trying to hone my patience for Them, how was it that I had not yet “passed the test”? It means either I had failed, or was unwanted. You cannot stay in a relationship without love. My worship just wasn’t good enough.
As I stagnated, I began to get slightly different divinatory readings, which should have energized me perhaps, but they just lead to frustration. I even consulted with outside diviners for second opinion. They essentially seemed to say that I no longer should continue on with the same repetition of the last few years, and should instead do…something. Someone wanted me to do something. So I asked Who. I asked What. I asked How. I asked to be pointed in some kind of direction, anything, just so I could know what it was to do next.
None of these questions were ever answered. Even the other diviners only got glimmers of this Someone wanting Something.
Then I had a vision.
Campfire at night. I couldn’t find who made this image, apologies.
I’m going to break the narrative here a moment, because I want to caution my gentle readers: this story doesn’t end how you might be thinking. Actually, it doesn’t even end at all. I feel like this should all be leading to some tidy wrap-up, some pious lesson, or mystical revelation, or a kind of warning, or at least a “wow relatable!” kind of post. But really, I’m just documenting this series of events so that maybe someone somewhere will make some sense of it and give me some insight. Because there is no cherry on top, poisoned or otherwise.
As I mentioned a post or two ago (I think?) my spiritual practice really died off over the last year. Some of it was due to health and mundane matters, but my frustration with “no answers and no help” extended to Gods and mortals alike. If the Gods really just wanted basic, respectful worship out of me for the rest of my life, and nothing more, that would be fine — if They said so. But I got nothing, nothing, nothing for years, and when I finally did, it came with no reassurances, no direction, no assistance, no support. I thought I didn’t believe the Gods gave “tests”, but I also couldn’t see how it could possibly be Them “mistreating” me. So I blamed myself.
Now I’m supposed to put the lesson here, something about self-compassion, or about trust. Or something. I don’t have that lesson, sorry.
In one of my now-rather-rare big rituals, I laid out a welcome offering, inviting the Gods to join me in hospitality, and sat down to do some meditation, as part of my (now lax) skill building of sensing Their presence. I had one of the more vivid visions I’ve experienced, one where I felt I was being lead, as opposed to just intentionally visualizing (i.e. imagining) stuff. A God — I’m still not sure if it’s the original God in question — met me by a crackling nighttime campfire, wrapped in cloaks and skins. Surrounding us in the blackness swirled a violent, impenetrable snow storm. He told me, if I needed Him, I could come to the fire at any time. I actually wept with happiness. That was all I wanted in the first place.
But, after that, it never happened again. I could not go back.
After multiple attempts, the excitement from this one event was not enough to get me to keep trying to obtain it again. Ephemeral. If I ask about practical mundane matters I still get extremely accurate tarot results, as I always did. But I continue to get the same vague answers when I ask about anything related to the Gods or spiritual matters.
I don’t know how to feel or what to do. Part of me feels like I’ve been lied to. A small part of me reminds me of the possibility that the Gods aren’t even real and this is all some convoluted self-trickery. But part of me blames myself for not trying hard enough and failing. I have the tendency to presume most readers would do so as well (if not to my face, then to themselves). After all, most people’s spiritual failures are generally their own fault, right? I gave up when the going got tough, right? And yet I demand the Gods just give me stuff, even after I have the gall to consider blaming Them? I’m an uppity bigmouth, or something. Whatever.
Worship feels very hollow right now. I gaze at it from afar, feeling the same longing, wishing I could participate. But the Gods are on pause for now.
Beckett’s quote at the top of the article struck me today, because while I agreed with it, it’s very clear that I’ve felt I was being “tested” by Them for many, many years. In my defense, I did try to shift this perspective, to believe the Gods weren’t testing but were rather pushing me to deepen my practice and develop my skills, for my benefit. But unfortunately, I’ve also never believed in power-for-power’s-sake, and so I suppose I defaulted to “it’s a test”. But Beckett’s experience here also causes me a deep disquiet, because this entire time, I was never really given a yes/no choice because I was never given a Task in the first place. I always had to make up tasks myself. And when I would ask for something — not even asking for a task, but simply a hint of direction to go in — I was given answers that sounded an awful lot like being tested. “Be patient” is a test. Because if you can’t be patient, well, the Gods don’t want you.
It didn’t occur to me to blame my mundane problems on my lack of worship, because I’d actually been quite good/regular just prior to the latest health spiral. I can certainly see how others might view it as “punishment” though. I don’t believe in divine punishment like that, only in cause-and-effect. But without any positive response or regard from Them, when the going go tough in the mundane, I no longer had the emotional resources to continue all alone.
Der Eremit (The Hermit) by German artist Reinhard Schmid. I’m still considering dressing like this every day, btw.
So what’s the conclusion to all this gibberish? Well, I don’t know. I continue to scratch my beard and dabble in my many plans and devotional projects — the written prayers, the art pieces, the articles and posts, the shrine decorations, the divination sessions, the devotional collections (ha!). I work on them because I maintain the sliver of hope that I’ll again feel the Divine Touch and find the inspiration to continue. I keep working because the work interests me. But, part of me struggles to justify the energy spent, both physical and emotional, on something that seems useless to both me and the Gods, especially when I have so little energy left to spend.
If I ever complete anything, after the Gods, my ever-patient readers with be the next to know.
I’m probably going to make another attempt at daily meditation again; I already do zazen most days as well as a basic yoga routine. I would like to do a nighttime show of hospitality to the Gods (and the ancestors and wights). But I don’t really know what else to do, since “continue plodding on” hasn’t really been working for me for, like, ages. I’d be grateful if anyone has any suggestions for connecting to and understanding Them.
A general note on mundane matters: some of my most pressing financial issues have been temporarily taken care of by my generous family. My health, both physical and mental, are in the continued (and frequent) care of professionals, so hopefully those will continue to make headway. My various infections are gone and I’m back to being as functional as I ever was. Due to my high GPA and good record, the school situation is resolving much better than anticipated, and I am still enrolled and pressing on. I am still extremely busy with appointments and chores and paperwork and job-searching and everything. The fact that I could even make this post is small evidence that at least some aspects of my situation have improved a bit. May the Gods protect me from more mishaps and misfortunes.
Thank you to my readers for your sincere prayers and kind words.