Encountering Pagan Deities
At the same time, for me and for many others I know, within this society getting involved deeply with deities makes life very complex. If a person has a family, a traditional career, and so on, he or she might choose not to pursue this dimension of the sacred, and be wise in doing so. Unless a deity decides to make their existence unmistakable, such a person can be quite content to leave well enough alone. They may not consider themselves atheists, but they will not be drawn to encounter the Gods. After all, our traditions do not claim the need for or to be the route to "salvation."
One of the wonderful things about our religion is that we do not care very much what a person believes. If they come and join us in what we do because for whatever reason it speaks to them, that is enough to make them one of us. Intellectually I cannot understand "Christopagans." But there are many such and when push comes to shove, their theology, if they have one, is between themselves and their Gods. Do they love the earth? Do they celebrate the cycles of the seasons? The phases of the moon and what it symbolizes? Do they honor the Divine Feminine and Masculine in some way harmonious with my approach? Is the chemistry between us good? If so, we can circle together amicably. The same holds true for those who do not believe in "the Gods" at all.
But the Gods do exist, and some who have not experienced them would like to do so. What follows is for them to consider.
Encouraging Close Encounters
If you have not encountered a deity, or even an entity from the spirit world, ones that by contemporary secular standards cannot exist, how might you?
My initial encounters and most of my strongest encounters with deities have all been in ritual settings where they have been deliberately invoked. These have been public Sabbats, intimate Esbats, or at a Buddhist temple. In my experience this suggests to me that even if the sacred is everywhere, ritual space is a way to concentrate that energy or make it easier to manifest to us through the mental static of our daily lives and concerns. A ritual within an established tradition can tune in to the sacred as it manifests within that tradition.
In addition, doing ritual with others has been a constant in my experience of the strongest encounters with deities. I have encountered deities when alone, but not as strong and not until after having made an initial encounter within a formal, ritual space with a group of like-minded people.
To be sure, I have had encounters alone, including one deeply transformative one, as well as a classical mystical experience of the "Godhead." But my most powerful encounters with specific deities have always been in rituals where they were explicitly invoked. This is not to say I have not had meaningful and powerful encounters alone, just for whatever reason, not as overwhelmingly strong. (Encounters with what I call "Powers," which manifest more impersonally, is another matter.)
A third point seems important. The strongest encounters were always unexpected. That is, while they were invoked, either it was my first time and I was expecting nothing, or later it was in rituals where they had been invoked in the past with little indication of their making themselves present to me. (They could have been quite present to someone else.)
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.