Seekers and Guides: Divine Wisdom, Mortal Filters


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Mysticism is an important experiential practice for many people.  In several Pagan traditions we believe that we can communicate directly with the Divine.  We have different beliefs about the nature and origin of these Powers, and the information we receive varies.  Heathen völva breathe the fumes of wormwood and mugwort and speak the words of Wyrd.  Druid ovates sink into trances and speak the guidance of the ancient gods.  Many Greek pantheists incubate dreams or seek the wisdom of Apollo.  Shamanic traditions both ancient and modern use drumming, dancing and entheogens to travel the spirit realm and bring out its insights or heal the body and spirit.  And modern Witches and Wiccan/ates draw down the moon and the sun so that we can talk directly to our deities.  There is a firmly divided camp between the skeptics and the believers.  What is this phenomenon?  Where does it come from?  How much does it have in common with the mystical experiences of St. John of the Cross and Hildegard of Bingen, Mohammed, or even the trance channeling of Jane Roberts?

A Question of Theology

Literal Gods

Some Pagans believe that we are communicating directly with actual, tangible deities.  To them, these beings are as real as you or I, with clearly-defined roles, powers, and personalities.  In their belief, drawing down Hecate and serving as a cheval for Erzuli means that they are speaking and interacting directly with a personality that is independent and separate from us.  These Pagans choose to serve individual gods or goddesses directly.  They have consciously chosen to aspire to Valhalla or be remembered in Hades.  To accept this belief accepts the literal existence of other deities and beings as well.  Perhaps St. John really was talking to Jehovah and Joan of Arc really did hear the voices of angels; or perhaps not, as many Pagans who hold this view seem to believe that any religion that holds to some sort of “Overgod” who is greater than all other gods is false, but all the different cultural pantheons are true and real.

The Pagans who believe in literal gods can be strangely inconsistent when it comes to New Age matters.  Some believe in the existence of the entity “Seth” or “Abraham” and the ghosts of their ancestors; some don’t, and those who don’t tend to be divided as to whether or not malicious entities who claim to be these beings are deluding us, or whether those who channel them are crazy or outright charlatans.  Often for these Pagans, there is a literal Truth.  For example, there is only one proper way to worship Hecate, and portraying Her differently in ritual or an image is “wrong.”


Some Pagans believe that we are speaking with egregors.  An egregor is a thought-form, given a semblance of life and identity by the power of belief.  Herne exists because we believe He does, and He has certain powers and qualities because we believe that He does.  In this way, we create the gods as much as They create us.

By extension, we may also create elementals to do our will.  Angels and demons also exist because we believe they do, and so to many (but not all!) who hold this belief, they can only affect us if we believe they can.  Thus, the Christian God exists because so many people believe in Him.  This is why it’s so hard to affect the Christian status quo with magick.

Those who believe this often trust that to the channelers, “Seth” and “Abraham” are quite real; but they might question the existence of ghosts and ancestor-spirits, believing them to be the constructs of memory rather than the actual spirits of the departed.


Some Pagans take a view that is colored by modern Jungian psychology, and they believe that the deities are archetypes.  That is, gods are symbolic constructs that ultimately come from the human psyche, drawn from either the universal human experience or from a particular cultural experience.  The deities, then, are names and personifications given to these symbols so that people can interact with Them on a human level.  Aphrodite, for example, becomes a personification of Love, Sex and Relationships; Kali becomes a personification of the powers of Creation and Destruction.  From the point of view of these Pagans, channeled New Age entities are either silly or a sign of schizophrenia, and ghosts are wistful thinking.

Manifestations of the Psyche

Some Pagans believe that the gods are merely aspects of ourselves.  In the same way that archetypes are personifications of ideas and themes, we give personalities to internal feelings and thoughts, so that we can interact with them in a construct.  They differ from those who belief in archetypes in that archetypes might be manifestations of a shared human consciousness; while these Pagans believe that the gods are entirely created in our own individual imaginations.  Therefore, if we want to believe in SpongeBob Squarepants, for us, SpongeBob Squarepants becomes a useful internal construct that delivers messages we need from our own subconscious minds.  Channeled entities, then, have just as much “reality” as any other manifestation of the psyche, and ghosts are constructs we use to remember our loved ones and come to terms with our grief.

Yes, And

As I wrote about in a previous column, one of the beautiful things about Paganism is that we don’t have to choose.  Contradictory truths can be equally true.  Most of the Pagans I know hold combinations of these beliefs; though I have rarely seen the literalists and the psychology advocates intersect.  If you haven’t done so before, you might want to consider these differing points of view and decide for yourself where it is that you fall.  For instance, I believe in egregors, formed from our collective archetypical consciousness, which then have real manifestations who can interact with us and each other.  We create the gods, so that They can create us.  They are beyond the limits of space and time because we believe that They are, and so They can do what we cannot – and They really can do it!  But just because this is what I believe, doesn’t mean that it is more or less valid than any other belief; it just works for me.

Implications of Faith

What you believe about the nature of the gods has a direct bearing on your interaction with Them.  How seriously do you take Them?  When someone claims to be interacting with the Divine, through a vision, through intuitive insight or through possession-trance, when do you believe Them, and when do you doubt?  If you had a dream that Cerridwen came to you and warned you not to go to work the next day, how likely are you to stay home?  If a Voodoo Mambo is being ridden by Erzuli and Erzuli tells you that She wants you to quit your job and become a witch doctor, how likely are you to accept that as a vocation?  Have you ever seen what you believe to be a god who looked as solid and real as you or I?  (I have!)   How do you react?

Using Our Discernment

The Gods Have Ulterior Motives

Above all, I think it important to keep in mind a few things about the gods, regardless of your belief in Their natures and origins.

Let’s say that the gods really are literal beings who actually exist.  Let’s say that They choose us specifically for holy tasks.  Why have you, specifically, been chosen?  Is it because you are special and wonderful and unique? (Of course you are, just like everyone else!)  Or is it because They, having personalities as we do, have realized that you and They share a common interest?

I have felt this kind of hand on my life only a few times.  One is what led me to take my name – I am a daughter of Diana, Queen of the Witches, Who answered my prayer when I was a little girl and gave me a goddess to believe in and who aided my magick and my self-empowerment.  In return She asked me to teach Witchcraft to the masses and liberate the oppressed.  I am glad to do this.  I share Her goals.  And I think She knew it when She first came to me as I prayed to the moon at the age of ten; though of course, I didn’t know it at the time.

Some people call that “synchronicity,” or “guidance from your Higher Self.”  They say that things fall into place when you follow it.  But understand it for what it is.  The gods, like us, probably have ulterior motives.  Sometimes, They have a sense of humor.  They want us to do these things because it’s something They are interested in.  They might be willing to sacrifice you to the Greater Good.  Remember, one of Odin’s epithets is “betrayer of warriors” because if you are a great warrior, He is likely to take you for Valhalla when you least expect it.  By all means if you believe in a cause and wish to make that choice because you believe it is good, do so!  But go into it with your eyes open.  Blind faith and self-sacrifice is usually a Christian ethic.  You should be getting something out of the relationship too, be it empowerment, love, or comfort.

The Gods Have No Bodies

Another thing to keep in mind, especially when you ask the gods for help, especially in magick, is that real or not, the gods are not physical.  They do not have bodies.  Generally, that means They do not understand that you have to eat, you have to have a roof over your head, and you have limited time in which to accomplish things because you are mortal.  They do not understand these limitations, and unless you have developed a co-creative relationship with Them, you may find it difficult to negotiate.  Because I know that They don’t understand, I think it’s perfectly okay to tell Them “No!” if They ask you to do something you’re just not capable of.  And I think it’s okay to ask Them to hurry things along as well if the need is great.  It’s not sacrilegious to parley.

The Gods Have to Use Your Language to Be Understood

I once read a book that was highly recommended to me by a friend of mine in the New Age movement.  The author had channeled Gaia and was writing what she had channeled.  I picked it up with interest.  Gaia is a goddess (well, titan, actually) that I know; I’ve worked with Her before.  Much of it was exactly what we, as Pagans, would believe were the words of Gaia.  But then there was a whole section about Atlantis, and the Mayan calendar, and a lot of other things I associate with the New Age that I don’t personally take seriously.

How should we regard these sorts of situations?  Most Pagans I know would immediately dismiss the whole book as garbage and the author as a nut or a liar.  But I don’t think so.

See, our gods are not physical.  They are beyond space and time.  They are also beyond language.  If They are speaking through somebody in a divine communion, a drawing down or a possession trance, They have to use the hardware and the software provided.  In other words, whether you believe the gods come from without or within, all such words spoken by the gods must go through a mortal filter first.

A good trance channel, shaman, witch or cheval does his or her best to be a good conduit.  We try to make our bodies and our minds into fiber-optic cables, carrying the messages of Divinity as clearly and as undistorted as possible.  But the fact is that there is always resistance to the signal.  There’s always our own dross to deal with.  So the moment a word is spoken, even if the Morrigan Herself is animating the mouth, the message is corrupted.  It’s like trying to interpret an omen.  We do the best we can, but inevitably, even the best-intentioned message suffers in the translation.  Often, our own agendas and feelings confuse the issue.

If you are the one drawing down, don’t make the mistake of confusing yourself with the Goddess.  You are a phone line or a DSL cable, not the chosen avatar of Inanna.  You are merely the messenger.  Do your best to get out of your own way and let divine words come through you, uncensored and unedited.  Try not to let fear, ego, judgment or pride distort the signal, but understand that no matter what, it always will.  Be as open to different interpretations as anyone else.

When your High Priestess draws down the moon, listen with love and respect to the Goddess, but use your own discernment in your understanding of the message.  However, don’t discount everything she says just because some of it doesn’t ring true to you.  Like everything in Paganism, take from it what is of value to you, even if you don’t like it.  Even a complete jerk or a complete moron can be divinely inspired.  Don’t discount the message just because you don’t like or don’t respect the person.

I heard a joke (or perhaps a parable) once that the Goddess decided that it was time to bring Her wisdom back into the world.  She looked all over for women to be Her prophets – and realized that the world was so poisoned with patriarchy and male privilege that appointing women to the task would be impossible.  So She chose men, but because She resented having to do so, She chose the weirdest, most arrogant men She could find.  Well, we all know the founders of modern Wicca were hardly exemplary in their behavior, but the result was the resurgence of Paganism.

Next column: The Doers and the Don’ters

Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

About Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is also a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiated Wiccan priestess in the Star Sapphire tradition. She makes her living doing psychic and Tarot readings, writing, and teaching workshops, and she is also a speculative fiction writer and a musician. Sable is the author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft" (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2014). She continues to write "Seekers and Guides" at her new blog Between the Shadows here at Patheos Pagan, and she also writes a column called "49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives" at PaganSquare. For further information, please visit her website

  • JasonMankey

    “And modern Witches and Wiccan/ates draw down the moon and the sun so that we can talk directly to our deities.” I hate the word Wiccanate, but otherwise a great article. You’ve been on fire lately (in a good way!).

    • Sable Aradia

      Thank you Jason. This means a lot to me!

  • Vincent Russo

    I agree with Jason – I thought the article was great but I hate the word Wiccanate. :-) Very well thought out.

    • Sable Aradia

      I am not fond of the word either, but this is the word we have currently collectively decided to use, I guess. I wrote about it at my Witches & Pagans column a while ago: Thank you for your kind words.

      • JasonMankey

        You will never see me use it! Of course I don’t use Neo-Pagan either. I’m crabby like that.

    • PhoebeBoebe

      do you also hate words like ‘cisgender’, ‘heterosexual’, and ‘Abrahamic’? in comparison to the intent of a word to ‘de-normalise’ and remove the notion of an inherently ‘default’ version of pagan religion to which all other religions under the umbrella are deviant, ‘Wiccanate neopaganism’ essentially has the same intent as ‘heterosexual’ to ‘bisexual’ and ‘homosexual’, as ‘cisgender’ to ‘transgender’ and as ‘Abrahamic’ to ‘Dharmic religions’, ‘pagan religions’ and other major religious categories.

      • Vincent Russo

        Not at all and if you knew me, you’d realize what a silly question that is. I find those other words accurate, descriptive, and informative. I find “wiccanate” far less so on all 3 of those counts. I wrote a blog about it here: I think that there could be other words far more accurate meaningful that could be used instead. But rather than derail THIS excellent blog post with righteous indignation over the use of the word “wiccanate”, how about we stick to the topic?

        • PhoebeBoebe

          if you object to derailment, then what purpose did you intend to serve by pointing out how much you hate the word you find to be derailing the convo now? either you think it is worth discussing here, or you do not and if you do not, then bringing it up in the first place is an odd way to express that opinion.

          • Vincent Russo

            When I mentioned it in my comment, it was to point out that it was the only thing that I didn’t like out of the entire blog so it WAS appropriate. However, to banter with you regarding the worth of that term is a fruitless derailment as the blog is far more than just that one word and was not even the focus of the post. This post is about “Divine
            Wisdom, Mortal Filters”, not about the “wiccanate debate”. I think that the “wiccanate debate” it is worth discussing – in its own place and in its own time which is not in response to this post. If you want a fight, find someone else.

            • PhoebeBoebe

              considering that you do not even seem aware of what a post you linked to was actually about, why should one trust your assertion that it was ‘appropriate’, and somehow not derailment, to pointlessly assert that you dislike a single word that Ms Aradia used, and only barely so? your comprehension has already been demonstrated to be faulty.

        • PhoebeBoebe

          oh, and the post you linked to? it does not actually explain how ‘Wiccanate’ is inaccurate –you simply explain that events which purport to be ‘inclusive [of all]‘ somehow are not obligated to actually be inclusive. you might as well be saying that a Black History Month event can get away with only white presenters if the organisers do not actually know any Black people to invite to present and no actual African Americans volunteer to be the only one at an otherwise all-white Black History event.

          events that claim to be inclusive are obligated to do the necessary outreach to actually be inclusive. if you or anyone else wants to volunteer time and effort to help ‘inclusive’ events actually become inclusive are great, and i hope you get the recognition you deserve for it, but you did not organise the event, nor were you the one to proclaim its ‘inclusiveness’, so logically, it is not your obligation, nor that of anyone who is not behind the event, to make the event inclusive. the organisers obligated themselves to inclusiveness by promoting the event as such, it is their job to make it so.

          • Vincent Russo

            If you want to talk about what I wrote elsewhere, then you should have the respect to reply there and not threadjack someone else’s blog for your own selfish agenda. Sometimes, having the last word doesn’t mean that you were right. It often means others got tired of you.

          • Guest

            I know what the post I liked to is about. I wrote it. If you want to discuss it, discuss it there. You’re being quite disrespectful to push your own agenda.

            • PhoebeBoebe

              you apparently do not know what that post is about. you implied here that the post was about the alleged inaccuracy about the word ‘Wiccanate’ and when i went to read it, well, that is not what you wrote about! if you think it is, i gotta ask what agenda _you’re_ pushing.

              • Vincent Russo

                I wrote it, I know what it’s about. Sorry if it doesn’t meet your expectations but I didn’t write it for you. I have no agenda. YOU are the one who came in here with a chip on your shoulder looking for a fight. Just for the record, that’s not the way to influence people to your side.
                P.S. In other words, if you want to know what I think about the term Wiccanate, be respectful and ask over there instead of here.

                • PhoebeBoebe

                  well, i’m sorry you feel that way.

                  • Vincent Russo


          • Vincent Russo

            Sorry, I accidently deleted my response when trying to correct my spelling from “liked” to “linked”.

            • PhoebeBoebe


              • Vincent Russo

                So? I was simply clarifying why I deleted a post and that it was an accident that it was deleted instead of being corrected. I thought it would be odd if a response of mine went missing with no explanation. Clarification and transparency, don’t ya know.

                • PhoebeBoebe

                  and no-one said anything about it, so why bring unnecessary attention to it?

                  • Vincent Russo

                    I KNOW no-one said anything, I JUST did it. I posted it as a pre-emptive clarification should someone wonder why it was gone.

                    • PhoebeBoebe

                      so you just wanted attention?

                    • Vincent Russo

                      No, I get plenty of attention in real life, I don’t have to beg for it on the internet. As I said, I posted it for clarification.

                    • PhoebeBoebe

                      really? cos you’re calling undue attention to ‘deleted’ comments that still exist:


                      …if that’s not a cry for attention…

                    • PhoebeBoebe

                      and actually, the post is still here:

                      your name has been stripped from it, but it still exists. so… you wanted to call attention to a ‘non-existent’ post that’s still there? you’re a strange person.

                    • Vincent Russo

                      Well, I can’t see it any my browser says it was deleted. That is why I posted about deleting it. Why you have this odd fascination with me is a tad worrying.

                    • PhoebeBoebe

                      who has an odd fascination, now? i certainly am not the one who feels compelled to object to a single word, sparsely used, and then show others posts, allegedly about said word’s ‘inaccuracy’, but which are actually about how one wants to blame minorities for not being included at ‘all-inclusive’ events.

                      if it wasn’t you being the odd one, it’d be someone else –please check your ego at the door. lol

                    • Vincent Russo

                      Wow, way to put words in someone’s mouth and project your own issues and intentions. It’s obvious that I’m only feeding the trolls by continuing to respond to you so I’ll stop. Sorry to Sable Aradia for the derail.

                    • PhoebeBoebe

                      i’m not the one who wrote the post about how it’s the fault of non-Wiccanate pagans if they aren’t included in ‘all-inclusive’ pagan events –i don’t see how you’d think it appropriate to allege that that’s ‘projecting [one's] own issues’ unless maybe you realise that my summary bears a bit of truth? why would that be my issue? you know nothing about me but if you know what you wrote as well as you claim to, you’d know it’s not about what you clearly claimed it to be.

      • JasonMankey

        What’s wrong with saying things like “Wiccan-like” or “Wiccan-style rituals?”

        • PhoebeBoebe

          considering that ‘Wiccanate’ means the same thing, what’s your problem with it? and what end does it serve to _constantly_ point out (as you do) that you hate the term? i’ve never seen a nay-sayer to ‘Wiccanate neopaganism’, such as yourself, ever put forth a concise, factual argument against the term that either a) didn’t ultimately endorse presenting Wiccanate practices as ultimately a ‘normal’ or ‘generic default’ form of pagan religions and that all other paths under the umbrella are thus implicitly deviant from this ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ form of paganism or b) didn’t boil down to ‘new words are teh skerry!!!!’

          i’m sure there was a time when you didn’t know the words ‘pagan’, ‘Wicca’ or ‘druid’….

          (edited slightly)

      • Christine Kraemer

        It’s an important principle within advocacy groups for marginalized people that we call people by the terms and labels they themselves have chosen. When people invent new terms and apply them to groups that they have incomplete knowledge of, inevitably individuals’ and groups’ right to self-identify as they see fit is eroded. “Wiccanate” has been and is still being applied to groups that don’t fit the intended definition, and previously used terms for those groups (such as “eclectic Neo-Pagan” or “Craft,” which are not the same thing as each other) are being ignored, basically because those applying the term “Wiccanate” didn’t bother to find out about the diversity within the groups they wanted to talk about first. It’s similar to “cisgender” in the LGBT movement, where the term is often applied in a bullying way to genderqueer people who aren’t obviously queer enough for the speaker.

        Self-identity is the gold standard. It’s not appropriate or polite to apply a term to an individual or group if they’ve told you it’s inaccurate. If someone tells you they’re not trans*, it doesn’t matter what you think of their gender identity, you shouldn’t go around calling them trans*. Similarly, “Wiccanate” — if someone tells you the word is misleading and they don’t want it applied to themselves, there is no legitimate argument.

        • PhoebeBoebe

          It’s similar to “cisgender” in the LGBT movement, where the term is
          often applied in a bullying way to genderqueer people who aren’t
          obviously queer enough for the speaker.

          false equivalence.

          basically, that would be true if GQ people were a dominant majority in the TG community [and if that were the case, it wouldn't technically be 'bullying', but i digress], but that’s not at all true [unless the hipsters with 'trans envy' are more common than i currently know of --not to be confused witb actual GQ, etc... sorts, but still...], because the Wiccanate are a very clear dominant presence _and_ majority in the pagan community. thus the word ‘Wiccanate’ has a peculiar position as a word used by a relative tiny portion of a minority community to describe the _majority population and dominant presence_ in that minority community — ‘cisgender’ doesn’t even have that distinction, just because a handful of the TS’s with their heads up their bums, with TS’s being the _majority_ within the TG community, use ‘cisgender’ _improperly_ to bully a tiny minority of the TG community, when in fact the word was coined to describe those who identify with the gender they were assigned [as a note, Julia Serrano, i believe, has coined 'cissexual' to refer to the _non-transitioning_ within the TG community, and it's not without its problems, but it makes more sense if one considers that the TG community already uses 'transsexual' as the most-common word to denote those seeking or in-transition, physically].

          your argument just isn’t a very good one to discourage use of ‘Wiccanate neopaganism’, because it’s a word used _by a minority_ to describe a majority –you know, like the _proper use_ of ‘cisgender’.

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