Meeting the Shining Ones: How to Make Contact with the Gods and Goddesses.(OBOD Discuss Druidry Forum Seminar for June 2008, by Eilthireach)Author’s Note
The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids welcomes the followers of all religions and spiritual paths. The Order does not propose the worship of certain deities, as this would stand against our universal approach. Nevertheless, many people following the path of Druidry and other Celtic inspired spiritual traditions try to build their spirituality around the gods and goddesses. It is for them that this article is written.
I kindly ask those OBODies and friends who don't believe in the gods or prefer not to personify the Divine, to look at this article as an expression of personal belief, to which we in the OBOD feel everybody is entitled.Prologue
When I first started out to meet the Shining Ones I was quite alone. I had nobody to ask and the number of recommendable books in this field is still surprisingly small. Of course there are many books containing lists of gods and goddesses, but only a few authors invite their readers to step beyond intellectual understanding and experience the deities. „Experience is the most important form of spiritual growth.“
(Farrar, Bone: Progressive Witchcraft p. 54)
There are many ways to make personal experience possible and many people go through years of study and practice to find the right methods. I will try to introduce some of the more common ways to meet the gods and goddesses, for the benefit of other seekers who try to „see the luminous countenance of the Eternal in the beautiful forms of the gods.“
(Dion Fortune, The Sea Priestess, p.174) What are the gods?
In most pagan circles there are lengthy discussions about the nature of the gods. Are they personifications of natural forces? Projections of aspects of our unconscious self? Manifestations from the Collective Unconscious, or indeed powerful higher beings? It is a very interesting topic, but it won’t be discussed in this essay. Why not? I think it is in the end all speculation. It is part of human nature that we are unable to fully understand the true nature of the gods. But we can at least say with Dion Fortune (ibid.): „(...) what are the gods? God knows, but we know that by doing certain things we get certain results.“
Yes! One big advantage of setting out to meet the gods and goddesses in person is that many a doubt will be dispersed.
I remember the first time I met Odin. I had read a lot about him, but was still hesitating to invoke him because he was described as such a powerful, even terrible god. He took the initiative and chose to introduce himself to me during a journey to the Otherworld. I came around a corner and he was standing there, smiling and welcoming me. He was completely different from what I expected, and the visualization was of unworldly clarity and detail.
After meetings like this, the question „do the gods exist?“ will lose importance for you, and you will see a lot clearer about the nature and being of the respective deity. You have reached a point where no theoretical discussion and no intellectual masterwork can ever take you. Experiences gathered in this way will shape your path and stay with you all of your life. Choose or get chosen
There are many ways and reasons to choose a deity. Many practitioners feel especially drawn to a god or goddess and elect him/her as their patron deity. It is usually a deity to whom you feel related because s/he has something in common with you. For example, a poet could feel drawn to a god of poetic inspiration, speech or writing (Ogma, Odin, Thoth...), while people following a warrior path might feel close to a warrior deity (Lugh, Scathach, Odin, Tyr...).
You can also choose a deity because she or he has a feature that you want to acquire, for example wisdom, patience, knowledge of magic, compassion, healing powers...
A patron deity can help with your general aim, but does usually not cover all aspects of life. For special concerns you will have to address other gods and goddesses. This takes nothing away from your patron.
You can also choose a deity for a specific magical or spiritual purpose, who seems able to help you with a specific goal or task, or in times of need.
When in doubt, it is not a mistake to follow your intuition and decide by sympathy.
The gods and goddesses are also known to elect their own followers. This is something that just happens, you can neither provoke nor prevent it. Pantheons
It is advisable, especially for beginners, to stick to one pantheon. Over the years the one or other deity from another pantheon will almost inevitably introduce him- or herself to you and you are by no means required to refuse that outstretched hand.
But for beginners it is usually not helpful to mix. Each pantheon has its own cultural background you need to get acquainted with, and each pantheon also has its own manners and preferences of communication.
Moreover, a pantheon usually contains more goddesses and gods that you can ever build a deep and stable relationship with. It is usually better to know many deities from one pantheon than a few deities from many pantheons. The Irish and Welsh (Gaelic and Briton) pantheons are usually summarized under ‚Celtic‘ and not considered as different pantheons. This may be debatable, but I leave it at that for this essay. Getting to know your deity
Once the choice has been made, the next task would be to get to know your deity.
Read all about him or her. Check the internet. Try to get your hands on some mythology books and find out what the role of your deity in the specific pantheon is.
You will visualize your deity a lot in inner work. Try to see as many images as possible, no matter in which historical period they were made. Doing this, always keep in mind that these images are artistic expressions and your deity may choose to manifest completely different.
As a next step, immerse yourself in the deity. Draw or paint images by yourself. Sing songs, write poems, prayers, invocations. If you’re a dancer, develop a special dance for your deity. If you’re a cook, design a special meal. If you’re a gardener, set aside a corner of your garden and plant something that you think your deity will like and that will invite his or her presence. Be creative. Do everything that helps to create a mental image of your deity and anchor it deep in your inner self.
Speaking about images, I have always considered it unnecessary to have an actual image of the deity on my altar, relying completely on the visualization powers of my mind. Recent experiments showed me that an image can make a difference and facilitate contact, especially if the deity is ‚new‘ for you. Other possible benefits are suggested: „Let there be an image of the Deity; first because in meditation there is mindfulness induced thereby; and second because a certain power enters and inhabits it by virtue of the ceremonies; or so it is said, and We deny it not. Let this image be the most beautiful and perfect which the devotee is able to procure; or if he be able to paint or to carve the same, it is all the better. As for Deities with whose nature no Image is compatible, let them be worshipped in an empty shrine.“
(Aleister Crowley, #4‚ Astarte vel Liber Berylli sub figura CLXXV)
As always, try for yourself and find out what suits you best.
Once you feel that you have a good knowledge of your deity, it is time to start with: Formal work Prayer
The simplest thing that you can do to establish contact with your deity is to speak a prayer.
It need not be a formal thing. Just gather your thoughts and bring in front of the deity what moves you: questions, requests, thanks, thoughts...
Some authors let prayer appear as an art form, and some readers are afraid they are unable to learn it. I try to see the gods and goddesses as my friends. Would it be difficult to talk to a friend? Why not? What keeps you from applying the same kind of relationship when you talk to a god? Altar
Many practitioners build altars for their deity, many have several altars for several deities. An altar doesn’t need to be big, a corner on a bookshelf may be sufficient. An altar can contain an image of the deity, a candle, offerings, items that you find typical for the deity or that you just find nice. Once your altar is consecrated it is self-understanding that it should be taken care of, cleared from dust, old perishable offerings and the likes. An altar is the external manifestation of your devotion to the deity and you don’t want your devotion to look bad. Altar, prepared for a Germanic rite. The drinking horn is used for a ritual communion with the gods.(Photo: Eilthireach) Offering
Offering is a time-honoured approach to the deities that is practised through all cultures and ages. We know of the Celts that they deposited all kinds of objects like weapons, jewellery, pottery and most likely also foodstuff in lakes and rivers, moorlands, shafts dug into the earth and other locations. Some of the offerings were also burned in special fire offering places. Of the Germanic tribes the ritual of the Blót is tradited, which is both an offering ceremony and a ritual communion with the gods. In many of today’s Buddhist countries, offerings form part of the way of life and Catholics make offerings of candles and flowers to Jesus, St. Mary and the Saints.
Offering can be a daily practice or be limited to special occasions like the seasonal festivals, visits of sacred sites or special rituals. What is being offered is totally up to you. Ideally it would be something that has either a connection to the deity or to the special reason (if existing) why you are offering. What counts is the intention, not the monetary value of the gift, although there are situations where a ‚sacrifice‘ may be appropriate.
When in doubt, ask the deity. The question „what would you like as offering?“ is one that the deities don’t hear too often nowadays and one that has sometimes instantly opened the lines of communication.
There is no need to limit oneself to physical offerings. In my opinion a poem written to a deity or some extra hours devoted to the study of mythology make excellent offerings. Time is a very precious good that we have to offer.
Repeated offering to a deity will establish a bond. It shows your devotion and pleases the deity, thus building a stable ground for what is hopefully to come: a strong, friendly and lasting relationship.
It is in theory possible to make offerings on the inner planes. You can for example visualize an altar in your inner grove and place offerings upon it. I believe that such offerings are accepted, but on the long run physical offerings make a deeper impact on your relationship with the deity. They bring your worship down to the material plane, making it more ‚hands on‘. Ritual
Besides making an offering, there is the whole spectrum of ritual at your hands. You can chant, offer praise and thanksgiving in every form, enact ritual plays, hold vigils etc. etc.
It is good to remind oneself from time to time that ritual should be the outer expression of an inner attitude. Even the most enchanting ritual will remain a hollow shell if it is not accompanied by corresponding inner work.
More formal rituals addressing the deities will almost always contain an Invocation
The next step is to invoke your deity in a ritual setting. Invocation means ‚to call into the circle‘, to ask the deity for his or her presence.
The purpose of a good invocation is basically to create a clear and vivid image of the deity before your inner eye, so that you can interact with this image in the later course of the ritual. Invocations therefore usually contain a poetic description of the deity’s typical attributes, character features, mythical deeds and such.
The length and style of an invocation depends on the personal taste of the practitioner. There are very short, almost casual invocations of a few lines and very poetic, sometimes bombastic texts going over several pages.
In my experience, the gods and goddesses are in most cases willing to interact with people who call on them. It may sound a bit disrespectful, but many deities love attention and are likely to react to it.
There are however situations when an invocation just doesn’t work and the deity does not appear.
First of all, ask yourself if you deliver the invocation with emotion and under will. If you are bored to tears while reading down the text, or your thoughts are wandering elsewhere, you lack emotion. Emotion is the fuel of any magical and spiritual act, this is also true for theurgic magic.
In many modern pagan books, the gods and goddesses are referred to as archetypes, energies or factors. For an invocation it may not be helpful to view the deites as mere psychological or energetical concepts. How do you invoke a factor? For a powerful invocation, I recommend to look at the deities as living persons able to act and communicate out of their own will.
Try it again several times. If still nothing is happening, take a break and re-think. Was the chosen deity right for you and your purpose? If you have general problems with visualization, maybe you should watch for other manifestations of the deity, like sound or sensation. If you call a wind god and the leaves of the trees suddenly starte to rustle, would we not think that this is a response?
Or, seen from the side of the deity, is it thinkable that the deity doesn’t want to communicate with you at the moment? Because he or she has other plans? Because the time, place, mood, purpose or any other parameter was not right?
Now is a good time to ask your inner guides and helpers. Gather all facts, advice and opinions. Reevaluate and continue from there.
I have experienced one goddess who made it unmistakeably clear that she does not want to communicate with me. I tried again later with the same result. I finally had to accept this and continue without having ‚met‘ her. We cannot ‚force‘ the gods, and it wouldn’t make any sense if we could.
In all your contacts with the gods and goddesses, stay yourself and keep your common sense. Many things in the inner worlds function in the same way as in the world of appearances.
The gods are not too keen to be commanded around by you. Stay polite and always give your thanks for what you receive. At the same time there is usually no need to throw yourself into the dust before the gods. „The magician approaches a deity with respectful honesty, not as a servant but as a partner, a lover, a friend and companion.“
(Jan Fries, Cauldron of the Gods, A Manual of Celtic Magic p. 214) Assuming the God-Form
This technique is recommended only for advanced practitioners with several years of experience in inner work and astral travel. It should only be practised if you are healthy, free of any bigger problems and in a state of mental equilibrium (=not angry, depressed etc.). Assuming the god-form is not dangerous, but it sets free a great amount of energy. You need a certain mental stability to prevent being thrown off your balance.
It is a classical method borrowed from Ceremonial Magic. It seems to have fallen from grace in recent years, which I think is a pity, because it enables a very immediate contact with a deity. A number of different techniques are in circulation, of which I will briefly describe one that I have tried myself. If you want to use this approach for yourself, thorough research is necessary.
You first create your own astral body and visualize the astral image of the deity in front of you. If both visualizations are really strong and stable, you move your awareness from your physical body to your astral body and separate it from your physical body. Ask the deity for permission, and then melt your astral body with that of the deity. You are then inside the astral body of the god or goddess, and should be able to catch a glimpse of his or her being. In traditional magic this was also the time when the practitioner could deliver a speech „as the deity“, especially interesting for group rituals.
Please take a strong note that you melt with the astral image (god-form) of the deity, not with the deity him- or herself. The astral image is created by yourself and will therefore contain some elements of your self, and some elements of the deity. This makes the technique relatively safe. You are not melting into the deity, you just incorporate some of his/her elements that come to you through the ‚channel‘ of the astral image.
Assuming the god-form is not one of those forms of interaction where a deity takes possession of the practitioner (‚magical obsession‘).
When your work is done, it is imporant to clearly separate your astral body from the body of the deity, lead it back to your physical body, return into your physical body, finish the ritual and then properly ground and center yourself. By not grounding you are running a risk to walk around as Lugh or Cerridwen for a couple of hours afterwards, which can lead to embarrassing situations especially when interacting with uninitiated people.
If you have problems to switch back to your own consciousness after the work is done, you may consider the use of a mask or costume. Take off the mask and you are back. You can also use keywords or special body movements to mark your ‚return‘. Possible Problems Time Issues
I have hopefully made it clear that getting to know a deity is a serious business requiring lots of time and effort, depending on how much you already know. If you start with a completely unknown deity it can take you several months until you really ‚know‘ this deity.
Since this is not the only kind of inner work that you can or want to do all year long, it is usually practised only with carefully selected deities. The work is not finished once you have set up a line of communication. To keep the path open, it needs to be walked often. „Spiritual health, that which enables us to maintain a strong connection to the Gods, must be an ongoing practice.“
(Galina Krasskova, Exploring the Northern Tradition, p. 173) The Question of Imagination
Approaching the deities will result in the appearance of manifestations, images, visions and the likes. A common question is „what if this is just a product of my imagination?“ Of course the mind is very powerful and if you really want to see a goddess, it is possible that the mind just makes it happen.
There are two potential safeguards against it. There are no guarantees, but so far these are the best ideas I had.
First, if you are experienced in Otherworld travel you will usually know when you have crossed the threshold and are ‚there‘. The Otherworld feels different. If you miss that different feeling, something might be not in order.
Second, any spiritual entity that behaves exactly as you want it, is ‚suspicious‘. Manifestations should develop a life of their own and bring forth own ideas, even surprise you.
In the context of this kind of inner work, the risk that your mind fools you and shows you something that is not really happening is lower than some people think. One reason for this is that the gods are usually willing to reach out and communicate. Inner Work
Above, I have described more or less ritualized forms of communication with the deities. They are designed to establish a framework and basis to enable and facilitate inner work, that part which takes place in your heart and mind. „Concerning the chief place of devotion. This is the Heart of the Devotee (...)“
(Aleister Crowley, #3‚ Astarte vel Liber Berylli sub figura CLXXV)
Inner work (meditation, contemplation, spirit journey etc.) is highly personal, depends on many factors and has innumerable forms. By going through the catalogue of formal work step by step, the range of viable methods at your command will increase and eventually the emphasis will shift more and more from the outer to the inner realms. Epilogue
Spirituality is in the end always the attempt to contact the Divine. The Divine has innumerable manifestations and everybody is invited to find his or her own personal access. „There are so many ways to God as there are people.“
(Cardinal Ratzinger in an interview in 1996)
To integrate the powerful images of the Celtic gods and goddesses into your personal spiritual path may be only one out of many other possible approaches. It is nevertheless a path that is dear to many druids, and a wonderful and time-honoured way to connect with the Divine, with our Ancestors and with Celtic culture in general.
I wish you every blessing on your path!
This essay is respectfully dedicated to my brothers and sisters of the OBOD and to our worldwide friends.
A special „go raibh maith agat!“ goes out to Beith who has initiated this new seminar series!
Bealtainne 2008 Bibliography
-> Practical Solitary Magic, by Nancy B. Watson
This book stands in the tradition of classical ritual magic. The author is inspired by Murry Hope and Dion Fortune. It contains a very good and highly practicable chapter on how to approach the deities. The rest of the book contains a beginner’s course in magic in several steps, including practical exercises, correspondance tables and a chapter on high magic.
-> Magic Of The Celtic Gods And Goddesses: A Guide To Their Spiritual Power, Healing Energies, And Mystical Joy, by Carl McColman and Kathryn Hinds
It is hard to believe how popular the Celtic gods and goddesses are and how very few decent books about them have been written. This is one such book. It is not especially voluminous and not especially scholarly (beginners level), but it provides a safe and sound approach to the most popular Celtic deities. The gods and goddesses are introduced, their role in mythology is explained, and there are lots of practical hints how to open up communication. I would have wished for a bit more depth (=more deities, more advanced practices), but summa summarum this is the book I long have waited for. This is a neo-pagan book, not a book on Celtic mythology.
-> Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire
This is a collection of the most important insular Celtic myths and tales, and some more. Written in the beginning of the 20th century (this book is a reprint), this book is lacking much of the romanticism of younger collections of Celtic myths. It rather shows something like the raw, basic, indigenous form of those familiar legends. Readers accustomed to laughing flower fairies dancing on moon-lit meadows will be disappointed. In this book, blood is flowing, humans are sacrificed and the gods and goddesses show not always a friendly face to their followers.
This book shows how life, death and worship in Celtic times could really have been. It is also available online: https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cml/index.htm
This is a book on Celtic mythology, not a neo-pagan book.
-> Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses by R.J. Stewart
This book is usually recommended in OBOD circles. R.J. Stewart is associated with the OBOD and a respected scholar in all things Celtic. The book shall be mentioned here even if it didn‘t meet my personal taste.
This is the famous ‚Invocation of Thoth‘ by Allan Bennett, later reworked by Aleister Crowley. It was inspired by texts in the ‚Egyptian Book of the Dead‘. It is a classical invocation in several steps. Please note that it contains a switch of consciousness at #8 of the text („Behold, He is in me, and I in Him!“), when the reciter takes the viewpoint of the invoked god and speaks as Thoth.
A commentary by Crowley to this text exists in "Magick - Part 3; Magick in Theory and Practice; Chapter II - The Formulae of the Elemental Weapons“. viewtopic.php?f=122&t=25873
A humble Invocation of the Idises written by myself. (URL opens only for registered users.) http://www.hermetic.com/stavish/rituals/godform.html
A recommendable text speaking in Golden Dawn terminology about the assumption of god-forms. It also contains information on the psychological background. It is only of interest if you really want to try this technique.
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