Encountering Pagan Deities
This leads to my fourth point. They have their own agendas. How we fit into those agendas is something we cannot know. But in my experience these agendas are either ultimately good ones, or they are so removed from human experience as to be unknown.
This means that we are seeking to establish relationships with the sacred. Relationships require connections, and cultivating relationships requires cultivating connections. This takes time and effort.
The various traditions within our community, whatever else they may be, are different approaches toward cultivating connections with different deities. The best of them have proven to be good ways by which people can enter into those relationships. Once established, it seems to me to be between the individual and the deity from then on. The more time and effort, the stronger the relationship I would imagine, as with any other relationship, especially since this involves purely mental energy of some kind. And that means you will have less time for other things.
As I type this I am reminded of something a Sun Dance priest on the Crow Reservation told me after a sweat ceremony: "Gus, if I taught you how to do sweats, there would come a time when you'd change it." I waited for a criticism of white guys not taking Indian teachings seriously enough. Instead he added, "And that's how you make it yours."
After you've learned it, established the relationships, and have some experience with them, it is up to you what you do.
I am not saying solitaries cannot have experiences with the Gods. I would be amazed if none had. But it is an exploration into unknown territory without a guide, and unless the deity or spirit is obviously characterized by kindness or love, an exploration that could turn sour. Even shamanic traditions, where ultimately the shaman is a solitary, involve close work with an elder shaman while learning.
An analogy I use may shed some light here. If you hike in Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills, there are wonderful trails, expansive views of cities, hills, lakes, and beautiful groves, and little danger with a minimum of good sense. There is nothing at all amiss with just hiking in such places and doing other things with your life as well.
You might then be tempted to hike in Yosemite. The views are wilder and grander, the energy of the land stronger because less disrupted, the hikes more adventuresome. Chances of unusual encounters are greater. But there is more knowledge and good sense demanded of the hiker because it is easier to get into trouble.
A veteran Yosemite hiker might then decide to explore Yellowstone. It is wilder still and includes grizzly bears and moose, which are a notch up the potential danger scale from Yosemite's black bears and pumas. A knowledgeable person will have a wonderful time while a less knowledgeable one might not return.
With Yellowstone under their belt perhaps they will want to hike in Tombstone Provincial Park in the Yukon. It's awesome, beautiful. And very wild and very remote with few trails and the grizzlies far less habituated to humans. If you go out and do not come back, I was told no one will go looking. I've hiked alone in Yellowstone, but I would not hike alone in Tombstone. Others, with more experience or less sense, might.
Entering into the wonderful realm of spirits and deities and powers has a lot in common with this little analogy. The deeper you go, the less time for other things, but how deep you go is largely your own decision—unless the agenda of a deity has you in their sights.
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.