What Does it Mean to be Called By a God?

What Does it Mean to be Called By a God? February 24, 2022

What does it mean to be called by a God? What does it look like, sound like, feel like? How do you know if it’s a God calling you or if you’re just imagining the whole thing?

Last week I wrote Paganism: No Calls Required to answer a question I received. That question was in response to someone saying “you must ‘hear a call’ to be involved in anything Pagan, polytheist, or Wiccan.” As the title of my post indicates, I don’t think much of that statement. At best it’s a misunderstanding – more likely it’s someone playing gatekeeper to make themselves feel special.

One of the reasons I say that statement is wrong is that it’s not anything I’ve ever heard anyone say who’s heard a call from a God. That’s not how people who hear calls tend to react. They react more like CarysBirch, who left a comment saying:

I had a call. A literal, honest to god, terrifying, left me crying and shaking call. I struggle to describe it even now. It is not all it’s cracked up to be. I spent the next several years going the OPPOSITE DIRECTION afterward. I started gently easing toward Paganism over the next five years, but I stayed super far away from the origin of the call. I still struggle to connect with the deity in question because that experience was TOO MUCH.

Calls from Gods are real, they’re serious, and they’re sacred. They aren’t all so overwhelming. But some are. None of them make you feel special. They make you feel busy, like you’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. They’re experiences of holy powers that leave you with no doubt that while we are persons of inherent worth and dignity, the Gods are far, far more.

In 2018 I wrote How Do I Know If A God Is Calling Me? That’s now the #3 most widely-read post of all time on Under the Ancient Oaks. I would say pretty much the same things today and I encourage you to read it (especially if you think you might be hearing a call) but today I want to directly answer the question at hand:

What does it mean to be called by a God?

Two meanings of “called”

As I explained in last week’s post, “called” has two meanings. There’s the call that’s the intersection between what’s known about a God or a tradition and the interests of the person in question. Something sparks your interest, you investigate, and the further you go the stronger the connection gets. I talk about being called to Druidry – others were called to Wicca or witchcraft or the worship of the Olympian Gods. This is an ordinary call, and it’s absolutely valid.

But in this post, I’m talking about the second kind of call. This is when a deity reaches out to you and calls you into Their service. What you see and hear and feel is more than an interest – it’s an invitation. You may have never heard of that God before. You may only know a little about Them. Or you may have known Them and even worshipped Them for years, and then you hear Them saying “I have something I want you to do.”

This is a mystical call, an experiential call. It’s not common and it’s certainly not required to be a Pagan or a polytheist or anything else. But it does happen.

Signs you’re being called

There are three main signs that a God is calling you.

Recurring imagery. A deity or Their symbols show up in your dreams. You encounter Their animals out in the world – and you encounter them in ways that aren’t ordinary animal behavior. Yes, crows often accompany the Morrigan and Odin. But crows are native to most of North America and Europe – most times a crow is just a crow doing crow things. It’s important to be familiar with ordinary animal behavior so you can recognize extraordinary behavior.

A persistent presence. This is a voice in your head, except it’s behind your head, not in it. It’s thoughts that aren’t yours that tell you things you have no way of knowing. It’s the presence of Another, just at the edge of your peripheral vision. And it happens over and over again. To paraphrase author Ian Fleming, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time Someone is calling you.

An invitation with the presumption of acceptance. I don’t want to give anyone the expectation that Zeus is going to appear bodily before you and speak audibly to you. That simply doesn’t happen (or at least, it’s never happened to me, or to any of my co-religionists). But a call usually happens when that persistent presence makes it clear there’s something They want you to do – and They expect that you’re going to do it. It may feel less like an invitation and more like a direct order.

Responding to a call

So what do you do if you think you’re being called? You may want to confirm the call with divination, or in consultation with a priest or devotee of the deity in question. Or both. There’s no need to rush. But eventually, the invitation demands a response.

You can say yes and begin your work. You can negotiate terms and conditions – something I highly recommend. You can ask for an extension: “I’m overloaded in the ordinary world at the moment – can you come back in the Spring?”

You can say no. Our Gods are looking for enthusiastic followers, not reluctant servants. Most times if you say no – or if you wait too long to respond – the offer will be withdrawn and They’ll move on to someone else. You will have missed an amazing opportunity, but you’re responsible for your life and if you think turning down the offer is the right decision, then that’s what you should do.

But some people can’t say no.

Some are claimed

In a few rare instances, there is no offer. A God grabs someone and says “you are mine and you will work for Me.” The human has no choice in the matter. Oh, they can refuse, but that never ends well. Their life is turned upside down until they cooperate. Many times it’s turned upside down even if they do cooperate.

In 2019 I wrote Sometimes The Gods Take What They Want and Sometimes What They Want Is You to address this phenomenon. Mainly, I tried to explore the disconnect that occurs when a God – who by definition is always virtuous – does something that to our eyes appears decidedly unvirtuous. For me, this comes down to the fact that the autonomy of the individual human is not the greatest good, nor is respecting it some sort of divine Prime Directive that must always be observed.

But at the end of the day, the ethics of Gods claiming people is a mystery to me.

This is not common. You are unlikely to experience this.

Just know that some people do.

Cerridwen

No one is “chosen”

“Called” and “claimed” are more than adequate ways to describe the way Gods invite people into Their service. I do not use the word “chosen.” For one thing, it sounds too much like Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For another, it carries an implication of being special, of being unique.

Being called by a God is an honor. But it hardly makes you unique. Gods call many people to worship and work with Them. I can name a couple dozen people who were called by the Morrigan off the top of my head – and those are just the ones I know. Danu is much more quiet, but I’ve met others who were called by Her.

Being called doesn’t give you any sort of rank or privilege. It gives you no authority – especially authority over others. Mainly, it increases your workload.

Relationships with Gods aren’t “Christian baggage”

A few Pagans don’t like the whole idea of being called. To them, it sounds too much like Evangelical Christians talking about a “personal relationship with Jesus.”

I grew up in that kind of religious environment. I understand the uneasiness some Pagans feel about this. But religion – as practiced in most of the world throughout most of history – is primarily about relationships. It’s not about what you believe. It’s about what you do, who you are, and whose you are. It’s about where you belong, who you belong to, and who you belong with.

A religion is a set of “best practices” (I’m not fond of that term, but it works here so I’m using it) for forming and maintaining respectful, reciprocal relationships: with our Gods and ancestors, with our highest values, with the land and the spirits of the land, with each other, and with the world at large.

Like all good relationships, our relationships with our Gods go both ways. We reach out to Them in prayer and mediation, with worship and offerings. And They reach out to us, sometimes with blessings and sometime with calls to greater service.

Why calls?

In ancient times, Gods had people and people had Gods. You were born knowing who your God or Gods were – no call required. In our time, most of those who would have been the people of the Tuatha De Danann or the Olympians or other groups of deities grow up Christian. Increasingly, they’re growing up with no Gods.

We can debate whether or not the Old Gods ever truly went away. What is absolutely clear is that They are active here and now, in our world, in our time.

And with few people born into Their service, it’s no surprise They’re calling people to Themselves.

What does it mean to be called by a God?

And now we’re back to our main question: what does it mean to be called by a God?

It means that out of all the million or so Gods in our world, you now know which one or ones are best for you to worship and work with. You may decide to also worship other deities at some point – our Gods are not jealous Gods. But for now your choice is made.

It means that you now have a set of virtues and values to embody in your life. Our Gods are not insecure – They don’t need a steady steam of worshippers telling Them how great They are. What They want – as I see it, anyway – is for Their virtues and values to be promoted in the wider world. They want us to become more like Them. One way to do that is through worship – as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, what we are worshipping we are becoming. Another way is to do Their work in this world – make our world more virtuous.

It means you have an obligation to do this work, when it’s easy and when it’s hard, when it’s convenient and when it’s not, for as long as you promised to do it. Our Gods want us to take care of ourselves – rest is a necessity, not a luxury. But rest can never degenerate into abandonment of the obligations of our calls.

Beyond that, what it means is an individual matter. For some people, being called by the Morrigan is like being drafted into the army. Here’s your spear, the front lines are that way, good luck. For others, though, it’s like being drafted in the late rounds of a pro sports draft. She knows you aren’t ready to make a major contribution right now, but with focused study and practice you can be ready in a year or three or five.

There are as many different things a call can mean as there are combinations of Gods and humans. Find what it means to you.

And if you’re never called? That’s fine too. Find your call in the first sense of the term – where your interests and needs intersect with the virtues and values of a deity. Being called doesn’t make you special – not being called doesn’t make you inferior.

Do what’s best for you.

And ignore the gatekeepers.


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