Yesterday I awoke to a great pair of comments from a new reader, Daydreamer, who recounted their own experiences with a good jug of ‘shine and shared their reflections on the use of direct, blunt language. This comment was pursued by the following question:
December 11, 2013 at 3:17:05 AM
Pardon my asking what I am about to here, though I do not think you will mind if I have understood correctly what I have been reading of your posts on the W&P site. I ask it here because I do not follow nor belong to the site and I doubt that I will begin to.
I am paraphrasing, but when you say that the gods contacted you without, well without consent really, and turned your world upside down. How was this done? And more importantly really, as to what I am asking, how did you figure out who it is making the various types of contact?
Not that I think you will believe so, I am not trying to step on toes, start a debate, or show disrespect in any form. I would just very much like a brutally honest and straight to the point answer and think from what I have been reading you might be the person to ask. If not, I do most sincerely apologize. Thank you.
I began typing my response in the comments section, but realized that it was possibly better suited as a blog post in and of itself. So here goes, the expanded version:
This is a good, but more challenging than you may realize (or intend) question. With regard to how my gods contacted me, “How was it done?”, and “how did I figure out who it was?” are complex questions which, for those without the experience (or study of and exposure to the experience) can be challenging to answer “directly”. It is kind of like asking “How did find out who your mother is?”, or “How did oxygen first contact you?”
The second part of this is easier to answer than the first. For some people the “who is it?” is very fucking straight forward; for me it was not. I spent years not knowing Them by names. But I was also not bothered by this. Knowing their names came later, and it was a sacred and powerful and transformative revelatory (in the apocalyptic sense of the word) experience. We rely too heavily, as a culture today, on labels and “names”, as if categorizing things in such a way will make them “more real” or “easier” or “manageable”, as if it is a requirement for something to be considered at all. I didn’t have any fucking names for Them. They were my gods. When I found Their names, I had names– it deepened the relationship, as all learning does, but the relationship was already years-founded by that time, and built upon a foundation of experience and engagement.
When I encountered the name of a particularly important one of my gods for the first time, it was in a book, by accident. I wasn’t searching, wasn’t eagerly pouring through dusty tomes hoping to find it; it came up by accident, while I was attending to something else, in an altogether inconvenient location for such. The moment that I read Her name, which was the first time I’d knowingly done so, I was struck as if by lightning and a cold wind at once, and thrown back from my chair and against a metal radiator mounted to the wall some distance behind. My chair broke. Attention was drawn. My head was bleeding. Profound, life-changing, literal experience of being lifted off of the ground through a wooden chair and set on fire with the sheer power of that sacred knowledge, which was felt, confirmed, known, and embodied all in one painful, glorious, sacred fucking instant.
I once found myself having growing, human-ish questions about my relationship with my god Sabazios. I wasn’t doubting HIM, per se, I was questioning my relationship to him: it was more self-doubt than deity-doubt. I needed confirmation, but I knew better than to ask for it. I got it anyway, by way of damage to my ulnar nerve during a sacred ritual process, which was a complete accident. The damage caused my right hand to paralyze.
Hand of Sabazios:
My hand is functional again after a few months of self-managed physical therapy (I bought text books, as they’re cheaper than going to PT) but at certain points of my devotional year, and in certain ritual contexts, it locks up again, and that is one way that He makes His presence known.
But the problem with your question (sorry if that sounds judgmental, not intended!) is that it assumes there is a “to the point”, “direct” way to answer. There isn’t. Dealing with Deities is a lot like dealing with firearms, in some cases, in the sense that it can be dangerous, it can be deadly, it can be challenging, there can be problems, and so on. But it is not at all like dealing with firearms when it comes to explaining the “how”. There’s no “and the hammer hits the chambered round, and this causes a combustion which propels…” explanation for direct “contact” with deities, as there is no single mechanical process by which this happens. Sometimes it involves all five senses, sometimes it involves no senses at all, other times it happens in entirely other worlds, and still other times it happens right here in this one through very physical means. Sometimes those means are driven by invisible force or circumstance — the Will of the gods, and all that! — while other times it is driven by a god literally possessing a dumb fuck and slamming steel into your forehead to make a point, like this:
For each person who has direct experience of the gods or spirits, it can be entirely different. Some of us are writers or crafters or makers, and we met our gods through that process; a mystical union wherein our own will is either joined or displaced sideways to the whole thing in order to allow Their Will to come through, as inspired workings. For these it may have been a sudden storm which was unmistakable as deity, clearly differentiated from other creative (or ecstatic) process or consciousness. For others it was gradual. The deities and spirits are capable of both, and everything in between.
My own engagement was not through creative process; I have always known the spirits (and later the gods) around me as real and truly as I know the people around me. I’d known Them, or some of them, for years prior to that, though namelessly. I knew more spirits than gods, and again, I interacted with these as regularly and normally as I would interact with a material person. This was true for my entire life. Often they were visible to me, othertimes I could hear them, sometimes I could smell them, sometimes all of these, and frequently there was the impossible sensation of touch even though they were immaterial in our physics-minded definitions. I KNEW them, however, which is the deepest of all the senses, and the least discussed, and always before that I could FEEL them. The gods are, to begin, as real and practical and far more important as the corporeal; sometimes heard, often seen, always felt and soul-shatteringly known.
When my gods claimed me, They did so through a literal physical death. I was a corpse. Then I was in a coma. Throughout it all, I was absent from this world; I was Elsewhere.
My story in this world fucking stops at the time that I died (and I became a hunk of meat and a part of other people’s story; the story of those who found me, the story of those who transported me, the story of those who found a heartbeat, the story of the hospital, the story of whoever gave me sexy coma sponge baths), and a different story began OUTSIDE of this world. A holy Power with a mighty spear opened the way for me to leave this place through the side of a mountain — not a mythical mountain or a figurative mountain, but a literal geographically near topographically noteworthy cartographically discernable *mountain* — and He held the way for me. I later knew His name to be Sabazios, and I knew that He’d been with me a long time before that (though I hadn’t known it to be Him, at the time). From this world I went someplace else, which I later learned the name of: but that telling is a private, sacred telling, and is not for this space.
It wasn’t about “contact” with deities, in the sense that a voice in my head said “Oh hey there human, I am a god, do you want to work with me? I really like you.” My “contact” was always there, as present as breath, and familiar as gravity. My CONTRACT began with a tangible event, with nothing abstract about it.
One of the reasons why people with these experiences (and the requisite years of subsequent responsibilities, and training, and continued discipline-building devotion-testing lives and ordeals) dislike talking about them with people of a more humanistic persuasion is that most of the people “outside” of this realm approach with what they consider to be a “healthy skepticism”. However, even in the fields of social science (psychology, in its non-medical regard, sociology, and especially cultural anthropology), the best and brightest visionaries of these academic pursuits suspend their own skepticism for the sake of understanding the experience of others. A person is not to be described as “believing that they were chosen by spirits“, but rather instead that they “were chosen by the spirits”. This language shift is important because the first one (the “skeptical” wording), implies a condescending under-the-microscope “wrongness” of of the experience. It silently and politely suggests a faux-rational concept of “absolute rightness” (frequently leaned on devout followers of the religion of science) as if there is such a thing. The idea of “belief of experience” is lobbed about as a bubble-wrap for those absent belief of those experiences in order to discuss the realities of other people, without the fucking nagging nuisance of needing to assign reality-level-consideration or any fucking real respect to them. This practice is meant to be similar in the way that the U.S. court of law is supposed to encourage an “innocent until proven guilty” tone (e.g. “the accused” and “the alleged crime”, etc), crafting “neutral” language so as to not imply judgment. However, we all fucking know that judgment is always implied, in one damn direction or another: people are dicks. That’s just the rub of it.
We (mystically engaged, spirit-experiencing polytheists and animist and polytheanimists and so forth) frequently feel not only pathologized by the faux-science faux-netural faux-humanist language levied against us, but also very literally “put on trial“. It is as if we are needing to justify our experiences — “our beliefs in our experiences”, as the Johnny Humanist would say, just to politely remind that he doesn’t fucking believe or respect any damn one of us. We are not sharing our experiences with a grand jury to be decided on as credible or not. We are not standing to give testimony in somebody else’s trial against the heavens or the hells (as that bullshit is between them and the denizens of those realms!).
We share our experiences to inspire those who will be inspired by them, to educate those who will learn from them, to collaborate and connect with those who have similar (though never identical!) experiences, and to give voice to those who (for whatever reason) do not, at least insofar as we can from our own experiences and stances.
We advocate for a place in “this great debate” that respects what we do and uses the right language to discuss it because, outside of the fact that humanistic progressive thought SAYS we have this right, it is of vital importance that we be permitted to do so.
Because right now there is somebody, somewhere, having an experience like ours, but who has no context for it.
No language. No names. No words. No structures. No colleagues, community, collectives or peers; no elders. No guides. No guardians, to oversee them through their process of transformation or vulnerable ordeal, nobody to protect their incubation period after initiation and nobody to tell them it is okay when they wake up screaming and sweating and pissing in fright in the night or the day or the blessed spaces between.
They will be marginalized not only by their society and by their immediate social world and neighborhood but by their family and friends and — most damning of all — by their own selves, for they are a product of their family and friends and neighborhood and society. The norms attributed to each of those, which come crushing down upon an “experientially deviant” individual, exist also within that person — and so they will encounter reflectively a period of self-rejection, self-denial, and overwhelming self-doubt. The problem is that in the case of these very real encounters with the divine powers, with the spirits, denial and rejection are *dangerous*.
So back to me-as-a-corpse. Here in this world, the really-real world of material incorporation and all that, I was a cadaver. I don’t have a material story or narrative around all of that, because I wasn’t fucking here anymore. “I” (ain’t that a loaded term?!) was “Elsewhere”. My five senses were replaced with five thousand senses and all of them were jacked the fuck up and I was untethered from this place, and all of the stovepipe limitations it carries with it. A spear-carrying figure opened the way for me through a mountain. He held the way and down that way I went, passing through that space to another.
Suffice it to say, a whole lot of pretty fucking big shit happened — as in literally, causally took place, again not as an abstract or figurative narrative of a death or near-death experience, but actual sequences of events that took place outside of this world and outside of this fucked up mortal roller-coaster-track — and then I was given a choice. Because the gods are real, spirits are real, and the realms and worlds in which they dwell and drink and stalk and pass are absolutely real and of consequence.
And so, yeah, claimed by spirit, contacted and contracted by deities. Death, returning, humbling pathetic mortal-shuffle ordeals in the wintery woods and so forth. Then I got a job and tried to make sense of everything that had ever fucking happened. I’d already been reading psychology textbooks for nine years at that point, and had already been studying abnormal (and analytical, and Jungian, and noetic) psychology for the better part of a decade, before I got snatched up. Self analysis was no small thing, but it came without much resistance: I had to rule out the crazy. I had to rule out the delusional. And I did. But while that was going on, I had to learn my place, because delusion or reality, I was owned, and everything had changed. I found that cooperating with the spirits went a lot more smoothly than not, and in fact seemed to be beneficial not only for me but for those around me. Dismissing them? The opposite. So I fucking did it. And I godsdamn survived, weeks to months and months to years. Until some crazy fuck with a gun started stalking me and trying to kill and/or marry me, and then there were cops and district attorney offices and whoa awkward, and more guns, and more crazy, and then California seemed like a swell fucking plan.
Daydreamer, I believe you when you say that you are asking this question in a place of good integrity and intent. But it is a challenging thing to be asked, not because the question is a threat to the experience (or the explanation of said experience, as some have suggested), but because the asking is often done from a place of separateness-and-central-Othering, with an implied “normative reality” (e.g. the reality and experience of reality accepted by the person asking the question, or at least the statistical mainstream) as the measuring device employed to accurately perceive the precise level of deviation that the mystic is expressing in their “belief of experience”. In a potentially contrary move, I will begin to conclude with a quote from Philip K. Dick, who is quoting some other thing:
“One long-past innocent day, in my prefolly youth, I came upon a statement in an undistinguished textbook on psychiatry that, as when Kant read Hume, woke me forever from my garden-of-eden slumber. “The psychotic does not merely think he sees four blue bivalves with floppy wings wandering up the wall; he does see them. An hallucination is not, strictly speaking, manufactured in the brain; it is received by the brain, like any ‘real’ sense datum, and the patient act in response to this to-him-very-real perception of reality in as logical a way as we do to our sense data. In any way to suppose he only ‘thinks he sees it’ is to misunderstand totally the experience of psychosis.”
Drugs, Hallucinations, and the Quest for Reality” (1964) quoting an unknown psychiatric text, reprinted in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick (1995) Lawrence Sutin, ed.
This should not be at all to suggest a pathological or psychosis-derived view of mystical, divine, gnostic or otherwise spirit-engagement experience, but rather, to draw a parallel between two different marginalized experiences of reality, which are frequently conflated by the mainstream (and Johnny Humanist!) anyway, with regard to how those outside of them reject them through the destructive lens of pathology. The center must hold, and to do so, it must arm itself against and in trending sequence and cycles make torch-and-pitchfork war against that which marks its edges, and that my friends is, and always has been, the mystics, the psychotics, the deviants, the saints, the oracles, the prophets. These are certainly not suggested as one group, but rather, a collection of those whose differences (and strengths, and values to society!) set them apart from society, and therefore paint targets upon them.
So sometimes we get a little jumpy describing or sharing our experiences, when there’s no very good way for a person to confirm to us that they’re not interested in putting us on trial or asking us to justify the reality of our experiences or our gods or our gnosis; no way to communicate clearly that they’re not gonna be a dick about it.
Because people are dicks. That’s just the rub of it.