Godtouched: Chosen or Choice?

Godtouched: Chosen or Choice? April 9, 2018

a close-up of a black dog's face, one brown eye staring directly at the camera

I have been struggling with the concept of “chosen” for a few weeks now; it’s been in my drafts folder, staring at me. It’s a complex topic, fraught with the potential for misunderstandings or defensiveness. Even so, I can’t shake the feeling that I’d like to address it—primarily within the scope of what it means to me, and to folx like me that may feel intimidated by the whole thing.

In short, I’d like to talk about Hekate. Or, more precisely, Hekate and those like her (Chauntea, Torm…) that are said to bestow the calling to witchcraft (divinity, magic…) to a witch (cleric, paladin…).

…Yes, I’m a D&D player, how can you tell?

Anyway, the thing is this:

I never understood the concept of a calling of the deific sort. Which is to say, I’ve never experienced being chosen by any sort of divine process. In fact, I can barely even imagine what it must be like.

When playing D&D, I shy away from clerics or paladins. Rangers and sorcerers have long been my favorites (my absolute loved of all time being an ugly, tough, scarred mountain elf ranger whose primary enemy was goddamn giants, come at me bruh); note there is no divine calling in either class. I honestly had no idea what being chosen by a god was supposed to look like. What does it do? How does it proceed? What am I supposed to feel? See, or hear? How does it work?

I felt utterly blank; one of very few subjects on which I have zero sense of grounding.

Some background: I work for the publishing industry—or rather, in the publishing industry. As a full time author of science fiction and fantasy, I’ve met my share of gatekeepers. They are often bigoted white men, or women cultured by the patriarchal industry to believe that genders must be written within gendered lines to be successful. Or worse, they are well-meaning professionals who offer guidance that ultimately ends up being exclusionary.

Hey. Is Kace comparing the calling of a god to the gatekeeping of assholes and ignorance?

Yes and no. Here’s why:

Because of the culture of toxic masculinity we have all grown up in, the best of intentions often lead to the concept of Club Members Only. You either can, or you can’t. You either are, or you are not. You have what it takes or you just don’t; so do what you can but you can’t come in here.

I was not raised within the circle of witchcraft or magick, yet like most religions, there is a lot of talk about being “touched”, chosen, worked through by a deity. Being “raised” in the publishing industry, there is often talk of getting lucky, favored or “chosen” by publishing houses…

When one is a struggling author, a publisher is one’s god. And a god that does not bless one with the same intensity and focus said god blesses another, no matter how hard and long and often one works for it, leads to a sense that one is not worthy of the club.

In essence: the gate has been shut.

Are the two worlds apples and oranges? Absolutely. 

But they’re both fruit, so bear with me. We all work from within frames we begin in.

Blessed by the Divine: Chosen and Answered

Over at Keeping Her Keys, Dr. Cyndi Brannen writes:

Many devotees of Hekate talk about experiencing intense spontaneous communication from her. These messages can come in many forms, including:

  • hearing Hekate speak to you, either through a voice or seeing a written message in your mind’s eye
  • having a vision of Hekate
  • unexpectedly seeing one of Hekate’s symbols
  • our interpretation of events
  • a knowing

Meanwhile, at Under the Ancient Oaks, John Beckett says:

Shortly afterwards, I had my first ecstatic experience of Cernunnos. His being, His essence, merged with mine, at least to some degree. I was still aware of what was going on, but the presence of Another in me was strong and undeniable. Afterwards, one of the people in the ritual said she saw antlers coming out of my head.

On the one hand, I really do enjoy reading about these things. It seems like such an otherworldly experience!

On the other… I can’t imagine what that feels like. To be blessed, to see, to experience. It’s a giant vacuum inside my head—how strange it is to not even be able to imagine something! To me, it’s like hearing that fire is hot, but never experiencing the heat of it myself. What is a fire’s “hot”? Is it like a summer day? Is it like a fever? Is it like acid? Or an abrasion?

Of course fire is a unique experience. Fire burns like fire. Without knowing the touch of it, one may never have anything to compare it to. One may guess or rationalize… but one knows it when one feels it.

a girl in a blue jacket stands in the middle of a crowded train, but everything else is grungy shades of brown; an image of isolation
pixabay/CC0

In a different article (When Hekate Calls: A Practical Guide for Answering), Dr. Brannen wrote:

I’ve always been intrigued by others stories of being summoned by Hekate. In these stories, the calling usually comes exactly when we need it the most, even if we don’t realize it at the time. These encounters are usually spontaneous, and have clear imagery associated with Hekate (like torches, keys, dogs). Often, this calling comes to someone who had little (like me) or no existing knowledge of Her at the time. Sometimes, the imagery is not mental but an actual out-of-the-blue event. Once during a ritual, a big black dog came bounding out of the woods, jumped up on one of the participants and planted a big, wet kiss of her lips. I knew what I had witnessed.

First, how freaking awesome is that?? Just imagining the woman’s face at that moment makes me howl with laughter. So bemused! Startled, maybe? Or perhaps somehow already in tune… And also? Goosebumps!

See, I do believe that these practitioners and pagans have 100% felt something, or experienced something. It’s far too sad to err on the side of cynicism and say that all of these stories are made up, and while I may be cynical about so many things, I still believe in things often unexplained. A cynical romantic? A romantic cynic… Whatever I am, it’s p’much all conflicted.

What I do know is that I’ve never experienced anything like this. Nothing stands out. No yokai has crawled out of the woodwork to leer at me, no black cat has crossed my path and left a wake of shadows, no deity has wandered by to ruffle my hair or… well, you get the idea.

Does it mean that I do not belong among the real practitioners?

Call Out the Divine: Choice and Will

There is in this world a new kind of plague; a social and mental plague called FOMO—fear of missing out. Often, it’s this fear that keeps us glued to our social media, just in case something happens among our circles and we miss all the fun. Or drama. Or whatever.

It’s what has us constantly checking in on work or going out to socialize even though we are exhausted. Why we feel jealous or abandoned when we are not invited to parties or to That One Slack or That One FB Group.

And when fury or determination or hunger isn’t the cause, FOMO is responsible for the desperate desire to get through a gate that bars us.

Let me be honest: I do feel that the concept of a calling by the divine is a gate. I feel that should I never experience this, I am only pretending to be a witch—hell, perhaps I can’t even do that much. Is it possible that I simply don’t deserve to be chosen by deity or entity or energy? Is it that I must spend years and years striving to be worthy of one?

… Just as I am spending years and years striving to be worthy of the title “author”?

If I never feel that energy, if I never make a bestseller list, do I have any right to call myself witch or author or…? And more importantly… should I never feel the hand of Hekate or hear the pipes of Pan, am I only playing at witch and power and magick? Or is choice, of magick and practice and belief and faith, just as valid as that of divine summons?

Over at Tea Addicted Witch, Scarlet Magdalene writes:

Ask anyone how to get magic, and the answer they will give you is simple and correct: practice.

But anyone who has been this for a while can give you a million analogies as to why this is not the full answer anymore than someone asking how to build muscle and you’re told: lift more. You do all of those squats and before you know it, you have an injury. Why? Because while you were lifting more, you weren’t lifting correctly.

Magic isn’t all that dissimilar.

This is not new ground for me, at least. To compare that apple to my orange, ask any one of us how to get published, and we will say: write.

Be, Change, Become: Practice it takes.

And like Scarlet says regarding magick, so is it true in writing. Often, our first few books are terrible. Even if they become published, they may become something of a cringe-worthy addition to our back list, simply because of how much we may have done wrong. But writing is practice, and so… practice, practice, practice. We learn, we get better, we write more and better books.

Yet as we are all aware, even badly written books can sometimes still get published. And badly practiced magick, I assume, can still (sometimes?) work. Does a bit of success without Hekate’s or publisher’s focused brand make us witches and authors? Or… just lucky?

Once again, in a different article at Under the Ancient Oaks, John Beckett reminds us:

Damh points out how experience leads to belief, as we try to make sense of our experiences and place them in a wider context. Or it can go the other way, with belief leading to experience. Experience, belief, and practice form a virtuous circle, and that circle can go in either direction.

So is choice just as valid as divine involvement? And should there be no divine touch at all—should belief simply lead to a more earthly form of practice, which then bestows experiences of magick and cause and effect—would that also be valid? Or is it that, such as the no-doubt surprised woman and the large black dog, one may call themselves a witch and find themselves called by an entity long after they choose the role? …And must all witches wait for this before they are considered a member of the inner sanctum, as it were?

Ultimately, and inevitably, I suspect there is no one answer. No two answers. … Possibly there is an answer or three for every witch and bard and priestess (and cleric and paladin and templar and…ahem) there is. I suspect the answer is both yes and no; if, then, that or else. Yet in my case, all I have is what I have experienced. And have not experienced.

Among them, there is no calling. No hand upon my forehead or horns or even dreams. (My dreams, tho… one day, we’ll talk about those. Goddamn.)

But also, I can’t help but wonder: does all this really matter to the whole concept of being a witch? Is there a divide between those chosen by the divine and those not? And if one never feels the touch of a deity, yet still remains successful at their practice, does it make any sense at all to question this?

I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts, whether you count yourself among the chosen or among those who have not felt a god or goddess within (or around) you. What are your experiences? Do you feel chosen? Do you care?

 

About K. C. Alexander
K. C. Alexander is an SF/F author and very proud of smearing her bloody fingers all over the lines. She writes aggressive transhumanist sci-fi, co-wrote Mass Effect: Andromeda: Nexus Uprising, and may or may not be a witch. Like what she does? Want to see more? Check out her tarot reads and behind the scenes glimpses of her new projects. Every offer goes to support an author hard at work. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • K.C., much gratitude to you for honestly exploring your thoughts about being “chosen.” First, the woman in my story was quite surprised, but those of us familiar with Hekate were not at all. It’s was kind of like a “yawn…do you want want to go for coffee?” moment. Seriously, Seeing these sorts of things happen is still super cool. I agree with you that for those of us who have had a conversion experience we sincerely felt something profound. The way we make sense of it is, of course, filtered through our experiences, personality and something mysterious. One phenomenon I’ve noticed is that some people have an “aha moment” years after the conversion takes place. Maybe that’s you. In my course on Modern Hekatean Witchcraft, students do an exercise where they develop a practice of looking for Hekate’s signs. It teaches observation which is a very important witch skill to develop, plus you never know, there might actually be a message there. So, look under rocks, in dark corners and under the bed. I enjoy your writing so much!

  • Thank you so much in kind!! I am deeply curious about all of this, and I really do love seeing all the stories. And perhaps you are right: that will be me one day! Just as it may be me who one day looks at my author backlist and thinks, “There. That’s where it started to change for me.” It’s a complex and complicated thing I struggle to think through… I will look up your course, too! That sounds fascinating.

  • K.C.,

    This is an excellent reflection. You ask questions that are difficult but necessary.

    I was called by Cernunnos – I was not chosen. To me chosen implies fate and favor, while called implies a free will choice to accept a task and a role. His presence has always been there, but when the time came, I had to choose to accept the call and follow this path… and to continue to follow it, even when the work got hard.

    On the other hand, I pursued the Morrigan.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/07/pursuing-the-gods.html

    Or as you said So is choice just as valid as divine involvement.. I removed your question mark and added a period – the answer is a loud YES! Though I would argue that “divine involvement” can be far more than the ecstatic experience of a deity.

    And I also agree when you say

    Ultimately, and inevitably, I suspect there is no one answer. No two answers….

    Different Gods call different people to honor, work for, and work with Them in different ways. There is no One Right Way, nor is there One Best Way. There are some ways that work well for some human-deity combinations and other ways that work well for others.

    if one never feels the touch of a deity, yet still remains successful at their practice, does it make any sense at all to question this?

    I think questioning it is inevitable. But at the end of the day, are you doing the work you’re called to do? Are you doing it to the best of your ability? Are you making the world a better place?

    I’m not a witch – I can’t judge what makes someone a good witch or a bad witch. But I can say doing what you’re called to do makes you or anyone else a good Pagan.

    I may need to write on this further…

  • Hi, John! Honestly speaking, I’d love to see anything you write on this subject (or, well, most of anything at all; I enjoy your blog 🙂 ). Your answers leave me with things to ponder, and I appreciate your thoughts.

    Your article from 2015 is fascinating and right on point. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Maria Noah

    KC, I have thoughts I’d like to share, but i’m nervous about sharing them here.

  • Maria Noah

    KC, I have thoughts I’d like to share, but i’m nervous about sharing them here.

  • Hi KC, Good piece. I wrote one of those inappropriately long, wall-of-text responses that is better off as its own blogpost. I guess I know what I’m writing this weekend. I’ll linkback to your post.

  • Hi KC, Good piece. I wrote one of those inappropriately long, wall-of-text responses that is better off as its own blogpost. I guess I know what I’m writing this weekend. I’ll linkback to your post.

  • Looking forward to reading it!

  • This is a safe space for me; I will not judge you. 🙂 But also, I understand if you are nervous to do so. There is no pressure!

  • Teresa Reitan

    I don’t know whether I was chosen by Arianrhod or I chose Her, but I remember reading Her story and thinking there was something very wrong here, that She didn’t deserve the bad press She had gotten at the hands of the male monks who had recorded Her story in the Mabinogion. Suddenly I felt this sensation of affection and pure Love, so maybe She did choose me after all.

  • I am so glad you found your way! <3 Sometimes, I think it's that insatiable curiosity that keeps me going, too. Just figuring out which path that gets hard for me… damn this inherent indecisiveness of mine. 😀

  • Very awesome, thank you!!

  • Something I haven’t read yet … Yes you can be a witch and not have what the others you have quoted had/have. If your magic is any bit effective you are tapping into the divine in some manner. Some people tap in by pretending to be, some tap in by emptying themselves allowing the divine to fill them, some tap in only in cases of extreme desperation, some tap in via the various visual symbols. What you need to be mindful of is feeling it, when you know your magic will work feeling. That’s when you have tapped it. Meditate on that feeling. Once you can find it at will draw whatever comes to mind, or write down words or whatever you are given. These clues will help you find your way back to it and over time identify who you are working with…. That’s my $0.02

  • Here’s the follow-up: “Called, Not Chosen – Building an Inclusive Paganism”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2018/04/called-not-chosen-building-an-inclusive-paganism.html

  • Excellent 2 cents, and thank you so much! Lots to think about. I have been rolling the idea of meditation around in my head before… I used to love it. I wonder if I should try it again, but with this particular thing in mind…

  • Maria Noah

    I feel strongly that while everything John said and you said are very much so, it is useful for those who don’t perceive a call or some other divine contact to learn how to perceive such things so that they can be SURE it’s ACTUALLY not there.

    Anyway. It’s just good to learn to NOTICE. That goes a long way toward believing/knowing.

  • I completely agree, and thanks for saying it! Prime among many of the thoughtful responses I’m seeing involve a certain element of mindfulness… Both of being aware AND if being certain of one’s workings.

    I think this is an excellent place to start.

  • I would recommend it.