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Hearing the Call

In a comment to the last post on my experience of the Goddess Danu, Lilia asked:

how does one know when a God/dess is calling them? Certainly, I have a couple who interest me, but I don’t really know what to listen for from them.

My first thought was “if you have to ask, she probably isn’t.”  There is some truth to that – when deities call they tend to be blatant or persistent or both.  Still, that gut-level response isn’t entirely accurate, nor is it a helpful way to answer an honest question.

The best answer I can give is my own experiences.  I gave the short version of how I was called by Danu in the last post – she showed up in a vision, and then another, and another, and another.  She told me I needed to be a priest, and that I would be her priest.

In August I wrote about my experiences with Morrigan.  That post was written in the context of “how do I find a god or goddess?”  I found Morrigan gradually, then one day in meditation I heard her say “I want something from you.”  The experience was unmistakable and it began two and a half years of service to the Lady of Sovereignty.

Hearing the call of Cernunnos is a much longer story.  I first met him deep in the woods when I was a small child who thought there was only one god.  I didn’t know who he was and I certainly didn’t know what he was.  He was just there… and his presence made a stressful childhood far more pleasant.  When I got older I stopped seeing him, but I never lost my love of the forest.

When I first began my Druid studies I expected I would work with Lugh.  I’m no Master of All Arts, but I do have a wide range of interests and Lugh seemed like a perfect fit.  Then a good friend went to England – I gave her a $20 bill and asked her to bring me a t-shirt.  She felt moved to buy this pendant instead.  At first we didn’t know who it was, but eventually we discovered it is Cernunnos.  I started meditating on him, and the connection came back to me.

While Morrigan was very specific (do this, write that, lead these rituals), Cernunnos’ call has been more personal than the others:  become a Druid, become a priest, become his priest.  Until I began working on what would become the Cernunnos Ritual, I don’t think he ever asked for anything for himself.

These are my stories.  I have others, but they’re similar to these.  My encounters reflect the nature of religious experience:  they are spiritual, emotional, and highly subjective.  As such, they’re open to a wide variety of interpretations.  My interpretations are based on my understanding of polytheism:  I trust the gods, but I also trust my own true will.

What general conclusions can we draw from these experiences that might be helpful to other Pagans who are wondering if a goddess or god is calling to them?

Again, deities who are calling tend to be blatant or persistent or both.  Cernunnos was persistent – he appeared long ago when I wasn’t ready to hear a god.  He left me alone when I needed to be alone, and he came back when I was ready to hear him.  Danu and Morrigan were blatant – both of them popped into my meditations loud and clear.

I had to be ready to hear them.  If Cernunnos had told me he was the Forest God when I was ten years old, I imagine I would have run away screaming.  If Morrigan had come to me when I was first exploring Paganism, I would have assumed she was a message from The Goddess and not a goddess, the Lady of Sovereignty – I would not have been able to do what she wanted me to do.

This is why my gut-level response to Lilia’s question is mostly wrong – if you’re on the cusp of being ready to hear, you may not know what to listen for.  You may be inclined to interpret a religious experience in a non-religious manner.  It’s also one of the reasons I write and speak:  to introduce people to the old gods and goddesses so that when they call, people will recognize them.

The vast majority of my messages from deities come in meditation and prayer.  Not Eastern-style “empty your mind” meditation (though that practice is also valuable) but a contemplative meditation focused on the image and essence of a particular deity.  That process puts me in the proper frame of mind to hear with other-than-physical ears.  Even if I don’t experience something in a particular meditation, I often find that openness remains for hours or even days and I see omens and signs in the natural world I would otherwise overlook.

If you think a deity is calling you, ask why.  What is he or she calling you for?  There is an idea floating around that every Pagan should have his or her own patron deity.  This is a nice thought, but it doesn’t align with what our ancient ancestors believed nor with the experience of many contemporary polytheists.  The gods have their own areas of interest and responsibility – being your guardian and guide may not be at the top of their priority lists.

On the other hand, Cernunnos has been very patient with me, at times even nurturing.  I know I’m not the only one.  While divine patronage was uncommon in the ancient past, many contemporary Pagans do have patron deities.  But not all.  Don’t assume that any contact is an offer to be your patron, or even that you should have a patron.  People and gods are all unique – no two relationships are identical.

If a goddess or god is calling you, odds are good she or he wants you to do something:  make an offering, tell a story, do something to help his or her work, or do something to make yourself ready to do something bigger at some point in the future.  Be prepared to respond with action.

That something may or may not include priestly work.  Priesthood is a special calling and is not to be taken lightly.  Priests and priestesses are people who have taken special obligations to perform special services for an extended period of time.  For all I have done for and with Morrigan, she has not called me to be her priest.  But that hasn’t stopped her from asking me to do things for her.  As with the question of patronage, don’t assume you should be a priest or priestess.

Just to be clear:  modern Paganism generally takes a very Protestant approach to priesthood.  All Pagans are priests in that you don’t need a specialist or other intermediary to approach the gods.  Those who are called to priesthood – those who I would call priest or priestess – are servants of a particular deity or deities with an obligation to do their work in this world.  Or they are servants and leaders of a particular group – they are clergy.  See Jason Mankey’s excellent piece Becoming a High Priestess for more on what that looks like.

Even when you hear a call, the cold hard truth is that you can never be sure it’s a goddess or god calling you.  Maybe it’s an ancestor or a Nature spirit.  Maybe it’s your own higher self.  Maybe it’s your ego, trying to drown out the call of the gods.  That’s the nature of religious experience – certainty is not possible.

So ask yourself if what you’re hearing is consistent with what’s known about this particular deity.  Is it “in character” for him or her?  If Cernunnos tells you to plant trees, it’s probably him.  If the message is to buy a Hummer, it’s probably not.  And if you can’t answer that question, it’s time for more research – read the ancient stories of that god and talk to his contemporary followers.

Ask yourself if what you’re hearing is challenging you to do something different – to change the way you worship, the way you live, the way you think, the way you relate to the rest of the Universe.  The gods are busy and they don’t need idle followers.  They need people who will be their hands in this world.

Finally, ask yourself if you’re ready to hear the call of the gods.  While you can and should retain your sovereignty even when dealing with the gods, what is heard cannot be unheard and what is promised cannot be undone.

I hope this piece has been helpful to Lilia and to others who are wondering if that odd feeling, that strange sighting, that thought that won’t go away, is the call of a goddess or god.  In the end, all I can say is that this is what I’ve heard, this is what I’ve experienced, and this is what I’ve done.

And I’m very glad I did.

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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • Dave Scriven

    I can’t thank you enough for this, really. As a newish pagan I have come to the moment of lack where I truly feel the absence of a Deity or a higher connection and have been sort of aimlessly wondering who or what or where I might serve, wondering to choose or just wait for a call I may or may not know how to hear, your message was timely and helpful, thank you for taking the time to share.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Thanks for the kinds words, Dave. I’m glad it was timely.

  • thelettuceman

    Wonderful piece, thank you.

    I would also like to put in that a gut instinct isn’t enough for me, personally. I try to find alternate verification, external validation of my instinct, by diviners that I know and trust. Or I do it myself. Sometimes, especially with “newish” Pagans, there are so many desires to feel Something, whether that Something is a God or Goddess or some higher order entity or whatever, that our mind and our belief can play tricks on us. When we seek something so badly we usually have ways of rationalizing that we have found it and, for a lot of Pagans, that thing is often getting Someone’s attention.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      That’s a very good point. Over the years I’ve gotten more confident in my ability to recognize Sources, but I still prefer to correlate the messages I hear with what others are hearing.

  • synjanne

    I have been devoted to the Devine Mother for almost 15 years, and I have never had any ‘real’ encounter with her in any aspect. About 3 weeks ago I was laying on the table getting acupuncture and discussing an issue with my practitioner – and Bastet appeared above me and she was PISSED. Not at me, but I think at what is occurring with my daughter at her dads house. She then came to me again the following week while riding my bike – she was on the side of the road, in front of the trees, and still unhappy. She then did a quick peek-a-boo almost a week later while I was laying in bed. Now all is silent and I am at a loss as to where to go, what to do, what am I suppose to be hearing????
    This is the first time a specific Goddess has visited me like this, and I know its for a very specific reason – yet I am at a blank. I did buy a small Bastet statue and matching Bastet pendants for my daughter and I.
    I have tried getting information on her, but all I can find is the same basic information. Maybe if I get the ‘nitty gritty’ on her, I might be able to decipher her silent message.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I’ve had interactions with some of the Egyptian deities, but never with Bastet – I wouldn’t dream of trying to interpret that. I’d recommend you find one of her devotees, or a Kemetic group either near you or online.

      • synjanne

        thank you, though I’m not sure where to find any of her devotees and I have never heard of “Kemetic” before – but will do my research :)
        thank you again for your time – and please feel free to post anything else that may cross your mind :)

    • Cat lover

      Hi. I worship Bast, but I’ve never had direct experience of her. She is known as a protector of women and children, so if you are concerned about your daughter’s safety at her dad’s, I bet Bast is prompting you to do something. Best of luck.

      • synjanne

        thank you Cat lover :)

        I am doing what I can – but my hands are tied in many aspects. When she first came to me – the impression I got was that Bast is very pissed at what is going on with my daughter (she is not being physically abused – its more her dad is a manwhore and has yet another strange woman and her kids moved into the house – and he is choosing them over her type of stuff) and it was almost like she was saying – “im going to make sure he trips over his own appendage because I have had enough”. I know she is the protector of women and children – but I also know there is so much more to her and I feel driven to find out those ‘little known facts’ about her.
        Thanks again :)

  • Lilia

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience. This is quite helpful and gives me much to think about. My question was inspired by some reading I’ve been doing that suggested making lists of affinities, which somehow didn’t feel right to me. I think that’s probably great for finding a direction to research, but I simply can’t see establishing a relationship with deity as being akin to ordering a pizza (à la “I’ll take some poetic inspiration, protection of animals and healing on a Celtic crust” and get it here in 30 minutes or my next order’s free!). What you say about being inclined to interpret in a non-religious manner really resonates with me. As someone who is new to this path, sincere and also cautious by nature, I don’t think I fully trust my ability to discern, precisely because (as another reader already suggested) sometimes what we so fervently wish to see as “signs” are really a product of wishful thinking more closely related to our own wants and preferences than any manifestation of the divine. I suppose the answer (as inspecific as it is) really is to recognize that it is a journey, not a race and to be open, listen and trust that what is meant to be will become clear in time. Thanks again for endeavoring to answer my question!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Being cautious and even skeptical is good – it keeps you from being pushed into things you don’t really want to do. Keep one foot on the ground… but don’t be afraid to stick that other foot through the Veil…

  • Bronte412

    I was “called” by Zeus. It took me a long time to be comfortable with it – I was far more interested in the “nicer” Greek gods like Athena and Apollo. Zeus had too much of a bad reputation with women, and I had a bad experience in college that made me not want to even consider dealing with him. However, he has sent me enough visions over the last few years, and I have read enough non-Bulfinch sources about him :-) to be very glad that he did. However, I am still having a hard time with exactly what he wants me to do – I have a plan to build a temple to all of the gods when I buy land for my house, and I know he wants me to do a better job with my daily rituals, which get forgotten because my job is exhausting and I travel for work so I don’t have a permanent altar set up, and I just end up rushing around to go to work, then coming home and going to bed… I know he wants me to take leadership roles, which is completely outside my character and I don’t know that I can even DO. But there is very little concrete and specific that he has asked of me. It has been a little frustrating.

  • Indigo Enaid Shaw

    I came across this particular post about a week ago, as it had been shared on FB by a friend. I want to mention that I’ve been walking with Lleu and Brighidd for many, many years, long before I began walking the Pagan path. As a child, I found that I had a talent for many things, even with no prior knowledge of them and very little practice. And I always wanted to be a healer.

    Now, walking the path I am currently on, I have recognized that Lleu and Brighidd have always been with me. It was only over the summer–during a public ritual–that I recognized my Lady, and even more recently that I recognized my Lord. Since recognizing them, however, I have been visited several times by them. I welcome them into my home, since they are like long-time friends that I have known most of my life.

    Each recognition was different. Brighidd made Herself known to me through the words our Grove uses during invocations. Lleu was a little more subtle, using stories and angel names to guide me to Him. I admit that I haven’t done enough meditation on what they would like from me, but I get a very strong sense that I am to do healing work; I am about to graduate massage therapy school and begin my own journey in healing through my hands.

  • Rebecca

    I want to say that I have found most of your writings profoundly helpful, after stumbling onto your blog a few days ago. I am a newish pagan, and frankly this question could have popped right out of my head. Not having a community or even a firm path yet has me wondering “Am I doing/interpreting/understanding this correctly?”. My general feeling is that the gods and the universe are having a good chuckle over my fumbling. Me attempting any form of ritual is (no matter how well-intentioned), in all likelihood, an occasion for supernatural beings to gather round, make some popcorn and enjoy the show, much in the way of “The Three Stooges.” Wicca not being ‘for’ me has led me to explore Celtic/Druidic paths and the more I read about Druidry and the writings of you and other Druids the more interested I am becoming. In order to not offend anyone I will worship a “God” and “Goddess” as best I can until I learn, or it is revealed to me, just who my Gods and Goddesses might be….or not be as the case may be.

    I have been given the impression, mostly from the books I have read, that once you have read about a path and its practice you should be able to jump right in and start, having been given all the tools you would ever need. Not the case. If you have never meditated, cast a circle, done any sort of energy work or even SEEN any of this actually being done….well you can imagine the feeling of frustration and confusion. When there is no guidance (except from blogs such as yours, and well meaning forum members) new pagans like me can be left wondering if they will ever actually progress any further than loving nature, recycling, lighting candles and praying that one day you will be put in contact with a grove, coven, tribe…something, anything or anyone that will allow you to learn. I wonder how many new pagans have been lost to isolation? I keep going because I know I am being called, to what I don’t know.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Getting good at anything takes lots of practice. Keep working. You never know when the need will arise and you’ll be glad you prepared.

      • Rebecca

        That’s what keeps me going! I am finding that I have periods of dormancy, followed by periods of “all-the-things-all-at-once”. These past few weeks seem to be one of those periods as Druidry and a Celtic Goddess path both keep popping into my world, in the strangest ways. I’m not sure if I am supposed to follow one, or both, but I am sure it will be made clear as I keep exploring both. Thank goodness I am a voracious and incredibly efficient reader!


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