Continuing in my response to the question “What does God actually look like?” I offer here some examples of my past experiences in meeting with Goddesses and Gods in visions while performing ritual.
More than thirty years ago I was introduced to a particular Goddess for the first time. Having completed a ritual, exhausted from dancing, I was sitting naked in a dark place looking into the coals as they began to die down. The fumes began to settle when that small chamber seemed to be filled with light and I felt a great energy rising up within me. Before me appeared a Lady, a Goddess, dressed in Light, who appeared to be walking down a path through woods towards me. She appeared to me as a young woman, very regal, very refined, with delicate features. A light shown down from atop Her head, as though She wore a crown of stars, the light encompassing Her along the folds of Her gown. As She came before me and halted She then began to unveil Herself, as though removing layers of light, and yet still shining forth, the light coming from within Her. With bared shoulders, Her head uncovered, and Her hair hanging down around Her, She then bent forward to embrace me. I felt as though I was being engulfed in light, and all the energy that had been rising up in me suddenly released upward to Her and my feelings of excitation melded into an overwhelming calm.
She then took me along the path through the woods. The trees grew thicker together, as the trees we passed became larger, older, with every step taken deeper into the wood, their branches hanging lower, and the path narrowed until it seemed more like a tunnel growing dimmer. As we moved further ahead it did become a dark tunnel through which I was crawling. Moist rocks, slippery with moss seemed to be beneath me as I crawled forward still. The air grew thicker, difficult to breath, the rocks beneath me became jagged, cutting into me as I was now crawling on my belly, the tunnel seemed to close in around me and I felt alone as though She had left me there to be buried deep beneath the earth. Unable any longer to see anything, I became frightened, terrified, as I began to sense things moving around me. And then I had the sensation of falling, passing through a place – it was very strange, like floating in among the naked girders of a building, all of these conduits interconnected in a structure that seemed to go on forever, all eerily lit from within by a vivid blue light. And then suddenly I felt like I had fallen into a body of water with a great splash. There was soothing coolness that rushed over me and I felt cleansed somehow.
I found myself in a river in which I was walking rather than swimming. Ahead of me were reeds and a steep bank, beyond which was a great primeval plane of grass and small trees, and in the far distance a blue mountain rose up. I was trying to lift myself onto the bank when the earth began to tremble with a thunderous noise. I fell back as there passed before me on the plane a great herd of aurochs. But that was the thing about this place; it was very primitive, set in the light of twilight. I climbed up onto the plane and strode naked along the way with ease, the mountain looming ever distant ahead of me, as mountains always seem to do. But I did eventually reach the mountain’s foothills, and She was there waiting for me. She showed me a one-room cottage with a fireplace, a very rustic place. Next to it was a country lane that passed beneath arbors unto a garden where She said I might meet with Her again. And She told me this cottage was to be my place. I lingered there only a little while with a great feeling of peace. Eventually though I awoke once more in the little chamber.
Sometimes I would think about this place but seemed unable to return for a visit with the Goddess. Then one night a booming male voice called to me in a vivid dream, leading me once more through an endless structure of blue light to the hillside cottage. My stay was only fleeting and thus I determined to seek it out once more in the throws of ritual. It was October 2006 and I performed a ritual to console Mater Ceres on the loss of Her Daughter. During the litatio, after having thanked the Gods and Goddesses for attending, I stood with my legs apart, knees slightly bent, arms held at a “V” out from my sides, with the fingers closed, the thumb of the left hand closed on the fingers while that of the right thumb held more loosely and slightly out, my face forward and lips puckered. It was difficult for me to stand in one place so long, or to hold my face in such a position as it kept trying to relax. At first nothing seem to be happening as I was trying to keep my position instead of focusing on the rhythm that was playing around me.
Then there was the sudden sensation of vertigo that seemed to center from the back of my neck, and a brilliant light appeared. Off to my right there appeared a jagged hole, a chasm, the earth split open on a gentle slope in a form reminiscent of a vagina. Inside there was a Man of White. He wore a very large white toga draping all about him, not quite in Roman fashion as it gathered up at his feet in folds. He had a staff of white wood. Hair and beard of white like wool. His skin was a very bright white. He spoke to me, though I couldn’t hear what he was saying, beckoning me to come to him. As I did, he turned to stand on my left and put his right arm around my shoulders to lead me along a path.
It was a clear path of light soil, strewn with large pebbles, which passed through a dark landscape with fires in the distance. A range of flat-topped hills or mountains were off to the left. He then invited me to take flight with him. I was transformed into a crow, and he into an eagle. He seized me in his talons and carried me off to an aerie where he ripped open my belly and began to eat at my organs, especially, as I recall, at my liver. Then with his beak he rolled me over onto my right side, where at first I became a four-legged animal, I don’t know what kind as I kept getting smaller, and then transformed into a white snake. I could feel myself slithering through a forest floor of dried leaves, passing between sapling trees, until I came upon the Man of White again and coiled up his staff. He cradled me at first in his arms, and then placed me in a basket in which he carried me away.
Setting the basket on the ground, I found myself before a Goddess dressed in dark blue with a trim to Her hem made in a floral-like design of Marengo red. Her white feet were before me and I began to suck on her toes. She lifted me up, holding me out at arm’s length at Her chest’s level. Then I plunged into Her chest, into Her heart, and began to descend downward, to find myself birthed between Her white thighs as a babe covered in blood. She wiped off the blood with Her hands, and then brought me to Her breasts. At first I reached out for Her left breast, but She cradled me over to one side and placed Her right breast to my lips. Thus suckled, she set me down at Her feet and lifted me to my feet, as though a toddler at Her knee, and then pulled on me to the height and form of a boy about Her waist high. Then She sent me off into the woods as a youth.
I was a young hunter, chasing down a buck with a bow and arrow. After dressing him, I placed his bones as an offering upon a fallen tree as though upon an altar. Then I took up his skin, placing his head and antlers on my head, and began to dance. I danced around for quite a while, until the Man of White again appeared at the edge of the forest clearing.
He led me away on another path. I was not happy to leave my forest, as we again walked through the dark landscape with fires seen in the distance. The path on which he led me came to a dead end in another road. There stood another Goddess, of a dark countenance, Her bowed head covered with a dark mantle so that I could not see Her face, even though She was much taller than me. I stood before Her, small, looking down at Her feet, my hands at my side but slightly out from my body, with my palms turned towards Her. She raised my head to look into Her eyes, steely blue, then took my hands into Hers and said, “All is as it should be. All is as it shall be.”
Then the Man of White placed his arm around my shoulders once more, turned me around and led me away. He bent towards me as we walked, whispering in my ear, though I couldn’t hear him, I just knew what he was saying. He spoke about how he had once sat beside the Goddess in a forest clearing, recalling it as though I were he and that She would one day do the same with me again. As we walked on, the dark landscape turned into a fiery red and I came out of trance into a final burst of white light.
Days later, after performing another ritual, I found myself in a deep cut gulley with a shallow creek like one might find in the Western US. Almost an arroyo with the gulley wall cut so steep, and medium sized trees above that offered no shade in the gulley itself. There were flashes of color at first, purple, yellow, ambiguous forms before the gulley appeared to take shape.
At the edge of the creek sat a young woman with long black hair, and wearing a simple, ankle-length, white dress, turned three-quarters away from me before she looked over her shoulder to glance my way. As she rose she smiled and took my hand, leading me barefoot further up the creek. We came upon an overhang where there were two other women, older than the first. They sat me down and began painting my face in some dark hue, and then the three women danced in a circle around me, changing from old women into young women and back again. Over me they waved blankets, engulfing me in the smoke of their fire. One old woman drew a symbol on the ground, something like a crescent moon into which a comet seemed to fly towards its center. It glowed bright yellow, seeming to burn not only into the ground but into me as well. Then the old woman began to paint me again, blowing pigments of yellow, black, and red from her hands onto my face, chest, and arms. The other two women, young once more, lifted me to my feet and led me to the creek, where it was now much wider and deeper. They washed me off, and then whipped me with leafy branches so that I began to dance along with them in a circle. I was again bathed by the women, and fumigated in the same manner as before by the smoke from their fire. Then I was sent to climb up a tree into its upper most branches so that I might look out beyond the gulley, and looked down as well to see the three women dancing about their fire in a circle.
Next I was deep inside the forest. I saw an image of grey green inside a shallow cave. There appeared a human face with shaggy hair and a goat’s nostrils, his skin glistening and translucent like jade. The women had told me to listen to the birds, and this male figure led me deeper into the woods, pointing out what I took to be a woodpecker. And into my mind came the name Silvanus. He pointed forward, urging me deeper into the wood. As I did so, I turned to see him once more, greenish grey skin, shaggy hair and beard, pointing for me to go on deeper and as I did so the session came to an end.
The one vision seemed to be a kind of initiation, with my viscera eaten and replaced before I was introduced to a Goddess who birthed me anew. And then in the second vision three Junones purified me before sending me on to visit with a God. But that session seemed to have ended too soon. Days later, in November by then, I therefore determined to perform another ritual which incorporated dance and rhythm to achieve what I hoped would be another instructive vision. I determined to ask for instruction this time, on a specific ritual I might perform. I was not disappointed.
As might be expected, the sensation behind my neck felt much more powerful this time. It began low in my spine, jumping like a bolt of lightning to jerk back my neck. I held a difficult stance and yet felt totally relaxed in that moment. There then came an even more powerful sensation of energy pour forth from the top of my head. I became rather warm at that point, the warmth radiating downward from the nerve center at the back of the neck into my shoulders and spine. The rush of energy flowing forth from me made my body begin to quiver, and I felt as though I was falling backward into a deep dark hole.
At first I found myself at the foot of steep stone steps leading up to a temple of tall Ionic columns. Outside the temple it was dark, and the only light was an orange and yellow glow coming from within the temple. All around me was a crowd of people chanting, drumming, playing flutes, clashing cymbals, and shoving as they wished to enter the temple. But I then found myself climbing the steps alone and entered the temple. There were yet more people inside, hidden in the dark behind columns, playing music and chanting in this magnificently colored temple. I was greeted by five priests robed in white who led me through the temple, past many columns, down steps to a chamber below. There was a large throne on which sat a colossus of a woman, who at first I thought was a statue until She began to move. She directed the priests to lead me on further. We then ascended a flight of stairs at the far end of this chamber that led to a terrace overlooking the plaza of the city lighted by fires.
At a distance beyond the city was a copse upon a hill. I was projected, rather than flew, into the wood where a festival was being held. Throughout the woods, young men and women walked in procession bearing torches. Three old women, their skin dark, their hair white, naked to the waste, stood in a circle chanting and bobbing around a fire. Their chant was the name of a Goddess, spoken in the rhythm played by musicians who surrounded them. This was the most vivid portion of the experience, the three old women as they bobbed up and down, bending at the waste, chanting wildly. A young priestess then took me by the hand and led me to a familiar place beneath a tree next to a body of water. There she showed me how to perform a ritual for Carmena as I had requested.
These spiritual journeys result from the formal side of Roman tradition. I have found that techniques intended to induce trace states do not work well outside of ritual. And also I have found that formal ritual is rather empty without using it as intended to communicate with the Gods and Goddesses. This is what Numa Pompilius did and what he invites us to do today through his example. These ritual sessions that I have shared here also informed me on something of the Goddesses and Gods I came upon. The Goddess dressed in Light had a sexual energy to Her like a Venus. The Goddess dressed in a dark blue whom rebirth me was similar to Proserpina who accepts us at death into Her loving embrace before we are reborn. The three Junones were an epiphany of a purifying Goddess. And the young priestess who demonstrated a ritual of Carmena to me acted as though she were my own Egeria. That is my explanation for I saw for I can only explain the experiences in terms of my own religious tradition. It would be easy for some to dismiss visions of the Gods as mere dreams. But these were vivid dreams, unlike those that come to you in your sleep. The Goddesses and Gods appear to us in visions as impressions on our souls like the shadows of film appear on a movie screen. The images are not how They would actually appear, since our minds are incapable of comprehending Their divine Being. They appear to us instead in a manner that we can comprehend and can relate to, more in what we intuit than in anything we might see in a vision.
So when I am asked what a God may actually look like, or how a Goddess might actually appear, there are images I have received in visions that I could relate as those above. But I recognize that the sublime face of a Goddess appearing to me as a vision of loveliness is really only an impression of the divine projecting the image onto my mind. It is a symbol at best, and in anthropomorphic form it is actually less descriptive of a deity than a complex mathematical formula. There is more to be learned about the Gods in the laws of physics than in the imagination of a poet or an artist. Yes, I have seen the appearance of Goddesses, and of Gods at times, in visions brought on by ritual. But I have also experienced Them in the impressions They leave in Nature, in mathematical equations, in the music they inspire, in the insightful discoveries of science. I have come upon Them on the battlefield. I have experienced Their beauty in places of desperate poverty, in desolate places, in desserts, on windswept mountains, and in the crashing ocean waves on moonlit nights, and of course in the endless depth of the sky and in all the stars climbing into the Heavens. I have found Them in moments of sullenness and in times of euphoria, in the exertion of labor, dance and athletics, and in the moment of complete relaxation. I have been lifted up by Gods and peered into the eyes of Goddesses. But I cannot say, as no one can comprehend, what the face of a Goddess actually looks like.