I had an interest in Pagan gods going back a long way. I started in childhood with the family cyclopedia looking up Greek mythology pretty much every chance I got. I had a serious interest in the gods as real. I wanted them to be real, and I wanted to understand their stories and how to worship them. Even as a child I wanted the gods to be there, and in my day dreams they were.
In my teens I was mesmerized by the figure of Pan, and I would go on little pilgrimages to museums and art galleries to gaze at statues, paintings or ornaments that showed Pan, or satyr figures that might have been Pan. I would go and search these out like secret shrines.
The first book I got on occultism proper was “Magic: an occult primer” by David Conway when I was 15 years old. The sense of the gods here was quite distant and lofty, but far from unreachable. The gods were too powerful to apprehend directly, but through ritual we could have congress with their planetary spirits and the angels, and reach a union with the essential energy of the gods safely and in a controlled fashion. I never did do those “master rituals” of the book, but it was part of my education. Later reading of books by Israel Regardie and Aleister Crowley continued some of the same drift.
Looking back, my first experience of sustained deity contact came in 1976, when I was 17. A friend had lent me “What Witches Do” by Stewart Farrar, and that book had an enormous impact on me. It brought about a healing and integration, and I wanted very much to be a Witch. However, at this time, you couldn’t just become a Witch on your own. The common received wisdom was that “it took a Witch to make a Witch”, so I wasn’t a Witch, and becoming a Witch wasn’t a viable option at the time. All the same, I just kept on and did stuff anyway, on my own, as I suspect many people did.
I felt called to Witchcraft, and to a magical and devotional relationship to the gods of Witchcraft. I painted pictures, I made talismans, I lit candles and incense, I prayed, I visualized and dreamed, I sought out magical times and places. I listened inwardly. I talked to my gods and listened. My life had previously been a chaos of something opening up inwardly, since I was 16 anyway. A jumble, a cacophony, random discharges of energy running up and down my body, a plethora of uncertain voices. An uncanny world which however lacked trust and anchoring. It was nuts.
During my experience of Witchcraft all this changed. Peace returned, depth of feeling returned, inward quiet returned, the sensory world flooded with natural colour and texture and mutual responsiveness. Communication from the other world became trustworthy, and led to integration and stability. I felt a union with Nature, and my heart was lightened. The summer of 1976 was a beautiful time. It drew to a close with the communications saying “that was it” basically, they were withdrawing for now and I should find my own life in the outer world.
I went on to explore and experience a lot of other things in my spiritual journeying, but when I came back to Paganism properly in 2000 to 2001 I got the chance to talk with a lot of other Pagans online (mainly people younger than myself) and I found that this same experience of deity contact was a kind of lingua franca amongst many different Pagans who had worked on their own, as well as among those that had worked in groups. It was a deeply personal and meaningful experience which many worked with. It wasn’t flashy, there was little to show, no performance to speak of, no “credibility points” and no esoteric brownie awards. When it came to it, this seemed to be the simplest common denominator of a household spirituality, highly individual yet amenable to sharing. Sharing with other Pagans got me slowly taking my own experiences more seriously.
There are lots of questions as to how the gods actually are, and how they can be in relation to us. Are the gods too powerful and distant to be apprehended personally, or are they open to direct, seemingly personal relationships with their devotees?
There is no question for me that the gods are powerful, and I do believe that an unfiltered experience of their unveiled natures is not something that we are generally designed to cope with in our incarnate state. But that still leaves a great deal of leeway for genuine relationship.
A beautiful illustration of this is a passage in the Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna asks Krishna to reveal to him his real nature. The vision that Krishna grants his devotee is completely beyond the human, and terrifying in its scope and scale, though Arjuna is given safe passage through the experience of his lord.
A more tragic illustration of the gulf between god and mortal is the story of Zeus and Semele, where she is blasted by the revelation of his nature, though in this instance the request comes from doubt and suspicion, prompted by a jealous Hera, rather than faith. Maybe there is something in that, because the demand comes from the machinations of Semele’s mind apparently.
So how closely can we touch the gods, and how intimately can they enter our lives?
If we turn inwards, I believe an enormous amount is possible, and the key I believe is the heart. When we are able to have a genuinely devotional relationship to a deity then the capacity for direct experience opens, and a deity that is amenable to us seems to meld from their end into that experience in ways which are appropriate for us. Devotion is not the only way, but it is a way with many safeguards, and a stable pattern of unfolding.
It is fruitless to talk about the gods as if we were talking about objective, material experience, which is the stuff of the most superficial part of our consciousness. The more seemingly objective we try to make this discussion by reaching authoritative consensus, as if the gods were X, and X is like this in all cases, the further are we from the truth of experience of deity, which is immensely personal.
There is a saying that Witches live between the worlds, and I think that phrase says a lot about the challenges and liberating virtue of Witchcraft. It is so simple that a child might grasp it naturally, and the place where we can do this naturally is that place I call “the heart”. This is one reason why love and intuition are central to my own interpretation of Witchcraft.
In my experience, the gods are very interested in us, which is to say the gods that are right for you. These are the gods of your heart. Indeed, I feel that if you truly love a god, then that god’s love for you may have come first.