This post is part of a sporadic series on Working with Spirits. The first post in this series was Making Friends with the Genius Loci, providing an introduction to the nature and variety of spirits and how to begin forming a relationship with the spirits of the land. The second post, Death Midwifery, explored what the work of a Death Midwife entails and some of my personal experience in this role. The third and previous post was Acknowledging the Spirits in your Home. It looked at the problematic view within the magickal community of removing all spirits from a new home, as well as how to build and maintain a relationship with the spirits already present within your home. In this post, we’ll take a look at how to begin building a personal relationship with a Deity through respectful interaction and why the plug-and-play approach to “working” with Deities is disrespectful, inherently flawed, and ineffective within a religious witchcraft framework.
There are few relationships that can have as transformative an effect on your life as that with a Deity. More than any other spirit, the bonds that are forged between you and a God or Goddess touch most, if not all, aspects of your life, and spur profound changes within you.
That said, the presence and, even, the acceptance of the existence of Deities is not required to practice witchcraft. At its core, witchcraft is flexible and secular -hence why it can be and is practiced within a variety of religious and areligious contexts. The equation of witchcraft as being a religion encompassing the worship of a heteronormative God and Goddess is entirely modern and due entirely to the misinformation promulgated regarding Wicca -one of many varieties of religious witchcraft, itself entirely modern.
With that in mind, this article focuses on better forming a relationship with Deities. It is written with the witch in mind, though this approach is appropriate also for the Pagan or polytheist (although you may disagree or even find problematic some aspects of the framing of this article, however, the basic points and approach should still serve you well.)
The Nature of the Gods
In the first post in this series, we discussed how there is a spectrum of spirits, varying in complexity and sentience. At one end of that spectrum, there are spirits that are largely mechanical in their existence, searching out sources of energy upon which to feed. As we move toward the other end of the spectrum, we encounter spirits of greater personal awareness and autonomy, with the spirits of the dead -both animal and human- occupying this middle section, along with a variety of spirit beings that have never been corporeal. And at the other end of the spectrum, we have the Gods, spiritual beings of significant power and might, so much so that They are able to influence beings and situations within the physical realm without any blatant evidence of having done so. They are not archetypes nor types of energy to “attune” yourself to, but actual beings with Their own tendencies, preferences, opinions, and motives.
Of course, this does raise the question of whether the Gods are gods due to an intrinsic part of Their nature or because it is a position of status (i.e. through our honor and worship, we have elevated Them to that place of power and rank.) From a practical standpoint, the answer to this question is irrelevant: the Gods exist and They are distinct entities of considerable power. They can and will affect matters in our lives -for good or bad*. Should we choose to follow in the steps of humanity for longer than we have record of -forming relationships with Them, honoring Their presence in our lives, and listening for Their whispered guidance- there are a few things to keep in mind to facilitate the process.
The Gods are not Correspondences
It has become nauseatingly common within the magickal community to treat the Gods as if They exist merely for the aid of humans. You see this in spells or rituals that say to “invoke”** a particular Deity because of some perceived relation of that Deity to the purpose of that spell or ritual. For example, Hermes -being the messenger of the Gods- may be advised for magick to strengthen communication or Bridgid -Who watches over women in childbirth- will be advised for magick to encourage conception. In both instances, the vague similarity between the foci of the magick and the roles of those Deities is clear but it is just that -a vague similarity. This approach is incredibly flawed for a number of reasons.***
From a purely magickal perspective, this approach is just sloppy. And this only leads to ineffective magick. This approach doesn’t work because the Gods are not objects that can be used when we need Them, in the way we need Them, however we want to use Them. Remember, the Gods may be energetic Beings, but They are not energy that you can access and manipulate. They are people, like you and me, that merely exist in a purely energetic state yet are bound to the physical world and wield considerable power and might over it.
The Gods do not have correspondences. They are not flavors of energy that we can tap into based upon perceived similarities between what we think we know of Them and the purpose of our magick. Not all Goddesses have associations with motherhood and women’s fertility. Not all Gods are protectors and warriors. Your assumptions will fail you if you invoke Mother Morrigan to aid your spell to help you feel more sexually attractive.+
Yet the Gods can and do play an active role in our lives.++ And we are able to build relationships with Them through which They become more active in our lives and create changes that far exceed our own range of ability to change.
You wouldn’t go up to a complete stranger and ask them to lend you money, yet this is essentially what you do when you call a God into your workspace and ask for Their aid in the magickal working without having ever worked to build a relationship with that Deity.
The Gods owe us nothing.
This may be a difficult thing to accept, but the Gods do not owe us Their help. They do not owe us Their attention; They do not owe us a response because we cast a circle, lit a million candles, and chanted Their names. They do not have to come when called and They absolutely can choose to ignore us regardless of how put together our altars may be.
But there are steps that we can take to better ensure that the Gods hear us and respond -even if it is just to tell us They won’t help with a particular bit of magick. This requires building a relationship with Them, one that is founded on respect and a lack of expectation. That lack of expectation can be difficult, as we rarely form relationships with each other without having a goal in mind (i.e. friendship, sex, an extra shot of espresso in our morning coffee free of charge, etc.) Yet forming that relationship, strengthening it and better feeling that Deity’s presence in our lives is the best we can hope for as the Gods can see through our intentions to the truth of our motives. And if our motives do not match Their own motives and values to which They hold, They may very well choose to pass us by. As autonomous beings, the Gods ability to choose should always be kept at the forefront of our minds.
There is also so much more that the Gods have to offer us than a boost to a love spell or some fast acting prosperity magick. Through doing the work to build a relationship with Them -to know and honor Them because of our love for Them- we can see Them more active within our lives, helping us with our goals, and shifting the odds in our favor even when we don’t explicitly ask Them to. Because of our love and attention, in serving Them without expectation, They, in turn, offer us Their own care and undeserving patience. This is worth more than a magickal assist ever could be.
So, how do we begin forming a relationship with a God or Goddess?
Acting from that place of no expectations, introduce yourself to that God. It is helpful to first create a space that is warm and welcoming to that God. While the Gods may not have correspondences, They do each have things that They personally like and that are associated with Them, such as honey, red meat, grains, mead, incense, music, dancing, and fire. Gather as many things as you can that They like or are associated with Them based upon Their myths and the ways in which They were worshipped by ancient peoples. You can also add glasses of clean water (water is a psychic condenser and natural portal, it aids in manifestation and is also a staple to all life), wine, food such as pastries and sweets, any iconography for that Deity (such as statues or even artwork that you may have printed off the internet), and candles (fire serves as a beacon and aid to manifestation, good for calling any spirits.)
Creating a comforting environment for that Deity not only better ensures that They will want to appear, but it also helps you to enter the proper state of consciousness so that, should They appear, you can better hear Their words. This can be particularly helpful if you’re not experienced in spirit communication and are still working on strengthening your intuition.
From there, introduce yourself and make an offering to Them. This doesn’t need to be lengthy, poetic, and certainly not complicated. Just state your name, why you’ve called Them, and pour Them a drink as you would any guest (e.g. “Hello Deity X! My name is Althaea. Please accept this offering of sweet red wine as a token of my respect. I ask for nothing but to feel Your presence more strongly and to know You better!”)
Building and Strengthening Relationships
Once you’ve introduced yourself to that Deity, you’ve taken the first step to building a relationship with Them. But that preliminary work of the introduction must be continued. This isn’t a once and you’re done thing. A relationship with a Deity (or other spirit) is much the same as any relationship you would cultivate: it requires constancy. And that constancy is founded upon respect, persistence, and an openness to Their presence and words in your life. That openness is especially important as much as some Gods and Goddesses will freely welcome your devotion, you may very well encounter Deities Who want little or nothing to do with you, your service, or your worship. Some Gods just won’t want anything to do with you -and that’s okay. It happens. And it is a sign that there is anything wrong with you. Rather, it serves as a reminder that the Gods are people, too, and They have Their own preferences, needs, and plans. And just because one Deity may not want anything to do with you, that doesn’t mean that there are a handful of other Deities Who wouldn’t gladly welcome your service and lovingly assist you in your life and with your magick. While this article focused more strongly on things not to do (and reasons why not to) remember that, although the Gods are well within Their rights to ignore and dismiss our requests, more often They answer. More often than we deserve, They talk with us, explain things, and offer guidance on more effective means to get what we want, often through our own devices entirely. The Gods have that ability to choose, but often They choose yes.
*Good and bad are entirely subjective. Those events and situations that tear our lives apart, destroying all semblance of normalcy and calm, and break us down into sobbing messes can actually be very good for us -even if they hurt like hell to go through.
**They should say evoke. When you an invoke a Deity, you are asking Them to possess you. You are literally inviting Them into your body to see through your eyes and speak through your lips. Of course, there are different levels to possession and how “in” that Deity is. But, the word evoke means to call a Deity (or spirit) to you -yet outside of you. Words matter, because what you say can override your “intent.”
***Another reason why this approach breeds ineffective magick: wrong tactics -the magickal means do not support the goal.
+Hint: The Morrighan has nothing to do with motherhood or sex, yet both of these are things now being associated with Her despite there being no suggestion of such in Her stories.
++Even a Deity with Whom you’ve never honored may choose to have a hand in things for you. The reasons for this are varied and, given that the Gods are independent and autonomous, any possible explanations would be pure conjecture.
Hugest of thanks to Rebecca, Mel, Jacob, Pearl, Amber, Jen, Ing, Rachel, Kathleen, Caytlin, and Esme for your continued support and encouragement!!
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Throwing the Bones
Whether you're struggling with something spiritually or in everyday life, bone divination can highlight areas where focus is needed and identify alternative ways forward.