Talking About Our Experiences

04 234 KnowthI was quite surprised with the reaction to last week’s post The Otherworld is Bleeding Through. I expected a typical readership – maybe a little less since it was posted just before a weekend. Instead, it’s already the second most widely read post of the year.

There haven’t been as many comments as when I write about something controversial, but there have been far more than average, and most of them have been quite good. Apparently the snarky crowd paid attention to the warning, because I haven’t had to delete the first one. There was one misunderstanding: a couple of people on Facebook thought I was saying my experience was something that hadn’t happened in anyone’s lifetime. I explained that while these things happen all the time (my experience is not unique, although it is for me), they’re increasing in number and intensity, and it’s not a random increase but a significant shift in reality.

Most of the comments, though, expressed gratitude and solidarity.

“This comes at a good time, and thank you for speaking out.” – Cynthia Hodges

“I have been saying the same thing for a while, hearing similar stories from others.” – Donna Donovan

“Thank you for confirming so much of what I have been experiencing.” – idigapony

“I’m glad I’m not the only one noticing stranger-than-normal things.” – Hekschild

There were many others saying similar things, quite a few of them offering their own interpretation of these events and the wider trend. What to make of this, what it means, and how we can best respond is a conversation that will be on-going for years. The key point is that we’re having the conversation.

These things happen all the time. I saw a glowing green bird that couldn’t exist, but it did. Other people have seen similar things, they’ve had prophetic dreams and waking visions, and they’ve received messages from the Gods and ancestors. But for the most part, they haven’t talked about them.

Our mainstream world says these things are impossible. So we do like I started to do right after I saw the glowing green bird – we look for any possible “rational” explanation. They must be tricks of light, deficient eyesight, hallucinations, or overactive imaginations. Even if we’re certain of what we saw or heard or felt, we keep it to ourselves – we don’t want to open ourselves to ridicule, particularly from family, co-workers, and other people whose opinions we value and whose good will we need to keep our jobs and families in order.

These experiences happen to people across the entire spectrum of society. In Episode 15 of the Rune Soup podcast, Gordon White and Dr. Jeffrey Kripal discuss academics who present their work in strictly atheist terms, but then privately discuss the mystical experiences they had but are afraid to talk about for fear of killing their careers. Dr. Kripal calls them “closeted mystics.”

What we have here is the reverse of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Instead of claiming to see something that isn’t there so everyone will think we’re good and righteous folks, we pretend we don’t see or hear or feel things our senses tell us are there, so everyone will think we’re rational, educated, and sophisticated. Like the little boy who cried out “but the Emperor has no clothes!” we occasionally need someone to stand up and say “I saw something that does not belong in this world, but there it was.”

I’ve been doing this long enough and I’m comfortable enough to write a post on religious experience for general audiences. I write regularly about hearing messages from Gods and spirits. But I’m not sure I would have written The Otherworld is Bleeding Through if Morgan Daimler hadn’t posted something to that effect on her Facebook page a few days earlier. Oh, I would have talked about it, but only to people I knew would understand. And an opportunity for conversation would have been missed.

This is why we need to talk about our religious, spiritual, and magical experiences.

One of my favorite aspects of Pagan retreats and conferences are the side conversations you just can’t have anywhere else. Not everybody at an OBOD retreat is a polytheist, but I know I can talk about the Gods without people looking at me like I have two heads. It’s safe space. Go to these events, whether they’re large national conventions, regional retreats, or local Pagan Pride days. Have the conversations you can’t have anywhere else.

There is no safe space on the internet. While some sites are curated and moderated, that doesn’t stop people with a strong dissenting opinion from blasting you on their own blogs and on Facebook. Some of us have a higher tolerance for internet attacks than others, and some of us are more vulnerable in the ordinary world than others. But if you can, talk about your experiences.

Remember, while it’s only one post from one blogger, the response to The Otherworld is Bleeding Through has been overwhelmingly positive.

ADF Texas Imbolc 2016 58 600x300

I believe what I and others like me have experienced indicates a shift in reality. I expect to see more and more “impossible” things in this world, and many of them will not be as benign as a glowing green bird. We cannot deal effectively with what we will not accept as real, and many of us will not accept as real things we’ve always been told aren’t real. We need to talk about these things. We need to support each other.

Yes, some people really do hallucinate or make things up. Yes, some people use magical experiences to stake a claim to some kind of rank or importance. Yes, some people’s interpretations of their experiences are fanciful, influenced by fiction and pop culture, and highly unlikely.

But many more are just as real as the glowing green bird. If you’ve got the least bit of experience yourself, and if you’re the most basic judge of character, you can tell the difference.

So talk about your experiences. Listen when others tell you about theirs. Let’s start creating a new consensus reality, one that has room for our most meaningful and powerful religious, spiritual, and magical experiences.

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