Encountering Pagan Deities
In other words, there is a wide range of deities and the sacred manifesting, and they seem to do so in different ways to different people. Different traditions do so in different ways, although with overlap. But I long believed one consistent difference between Pagan and Abrahamic paths was that we did not have to wonder whether our deities existed. Nothing seemed more a waste of time than trying to 'prove' the Gods were real.
Then I discovered to my surprise that many of us have not had similar experiences.
What did that mean?
Where Are the Gods?
I certainly did not feel uniquely "spiritually advanced" compared to many other people I knew. I did not for a moment think I had great insights as a guru or anything of the sort. Sometimes I think I am so hard-headed that it took personal encounters to get my attention where less difficult people who were more open in their hearts did not need such an effort on their behalf. I did not even feel competent to start a coven until about twenty years after my initial initiation. And in my life there have been hurdles enough at times that in the absence of such experiences I doubt I would have found the strength to continue.
But still, why do they manifest to some of us and not to all of us?
The answer is and likely will remain a mystery, but I can think of several possibilities, some flattering to the person having the experience, and some not.
One thing I am pretty sure of: those of us to whom deities and spirits manifest are not necessarily more advanced spiritually. Or if they are, they do not always maintain any noticeable advancement, and get caught up in personal power seeking. At the Umbanda temple I attended for many years, incorporative trance is more central than even in Gardnerian Wicca. Even so some people sought an encounter yet never had one, while others did. Eventual success often took months, or even years. Yet I could find no correlation between these experiences and the person's spiritual or moral qualities.
Following a spiritual path, growing in wisdom, and encountering deities seem to be different phenomena.
Over the past few years I discovered that not only had many Pagans not had such experiences, some even called themselves "atheists." In Christian terms perhaps we are all "atheists" because we do not believe in the reality of their deity as the lord and creator of everything. But some meant the term more generally, in part at least because they had never had an encounter with a deity.
For them honoring and celebrating the world as the center of more-than-human value and beauty was enough to become a part of the Pagan community. It is certainly enough for me to regard them as my equal within our community. And yet, it's perplexing that experiences so powerful and relatively common to others and myself are unknown to others who practice broadly the same path we do.
It seems to me there are two ways to be a Pagan atheist, both understandable and worthy of respect by those of us who are not. Honoring the world, seeking to live in harmony with it, delighting in its beauty, exulting in the ecstasy of sexuality and the unspeakable intensity of a loving connection are enough to give a person a rich and meaningful life. Our traditions and celebrations fit wonderfully well within such an approach, and provide a way for people to live in this fashion in community with others. If a person is sensitive enough to these dimensions of life, in a sense the Gods are not needed.
Gus diZerega is a Gardnerian Elder with over 25 years practice, including six years close study with a Brazilian shaman. He has been active in interfaith work off and on for most of those 25 years as well. He has conducted workshops and given presentations on healing, shamanism, ecology and politics at Pagan gatherings in the United States and Canada. Follow Gus on Facebook.
Gus blogs at Pointedly Pagan.