A man with severe anger issues that have caused significant criminal repercussions for himself decides that the reason he has so much anger is because of his past lives. So he seeks out a friend who is a past life guru and they decide to do all of the past life work they can with the belief that once he is done dealing with past life pain his spirit will shine brighter than the sun.
A couple with a history of arguments recognize their fights are getting more and more acute and almost violent. They decide to look for a witch that will help exorcise the demon that they feel is connected to each of them so that they will no longer be angry at each other.
These are only two of the many situations that I’ve seen over the years that clearly demonstrate how someone who focuses on metaphysical work can lose sight of clearly logical explanations for issues within their own lives. It’s something that can be a danger in any religion, really. Anytime someone is claiming that a deity intervened directly because of a specific sin someone committed reeks of lack of discernment. Anyone who tries to claim that they are being attacked or cursed needs to carefully vet the situation as well to ensure that a logical explanation is not the root cause of the issue.
Now the above examples of the man and the couple are extreme cases, and those cases are somewhat rare. Yet the topic of discernment is one that comes up again and again in the pagan community, especially within discussions of Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). For many of us, there are no tangible rules to our spirituality and metaphysical practices. This forces us to look at what others have done (historically and in current practice) and learn what we can from them. Then we rely on ourselves and our personal experiences to fill in the gaps. Some things are easy to accept. For example, Odin liking hot coffee as an offering. That’s a pretty common personal gnosis among those who work with him. Others, like being a God-spouse or God-slave, are a bit harder to personally accept. Harder still to accept are some of the personal, deeper experiences people have had with divinity – solitary rites of passage, ordeals while journeying, even conversations with a Spirit, God or Goddess could be suspect.
If things weren’t complicated enough, looking to the answers to whether something is ‘made up in your head’ or actually happened can be so personal that the answer may not be the same for everyone. I’ll take an example from my own life. When I was a child, I dreamed of my current husband. In one of the vivid dreams I remember of him, he was in a martial arts uniform, taking instruction from his teacher and practicing kicks. In another dream, I saw his house. Did I really dream of my future husband? Romantically I want to say yes, I did, but I couldn’t truly believe it until I verified with my husband details about the dreams. And after those verification conversations that included verifications that he and I both agreed upon, we both believe we dreamed about each other when we were little. Someone else could look at this and say it isn’t possible and it didn’t happen, and that’s fine. However for my husband and I, we believe we did dream of each other, and what others believe about the dreams doesn’t matter.
But where is the line drawn between something that could happen, and something made up in the mind of the individual? This is a question I am butting up against quite a bit, especially when discussing Gods, magic and divinity with other people on social media. Add to this the fact that I do significant amounts of work with a trickster god and that’s a recipe for even more frequent questioning of events, and VERY frequent questioning as to whether or not my personal discernment is good enough!
But as much as I question myself, I don’t seem to see others question their own discernment, which I think is a concern for many of us in the community that do follow more of a magical path. A misguided spell or judgement call can lead to many situations where someone needs to clean up the mess that is made after the misguided event has occurred. At the very least, the person who believes something that is incorrect could become a physical, mental and emotional drain on the people around them.
If you think this is starting to sound like a psychological problem, you are right. Many times the person who is creating events don’t realize why, and those events could be utilized as a ‘mental escape’ from trauma that has occurred (or is still occurring) in their life. They also could be simply young, learning on their own (or simply doing very quick google searches for answers to questions) and are making mistakes when deciphering what they believe are signs and symbols. Or, like in the very first example that I posted in the beginning of this post, the person could simply not be ready to assume the responsibility of the trauma that they caused to their children and their (now ex) wife, and never will be.
A final reason for someone misleading someone else in a UPG situation is that it could be deliberate. As in the case of pastors pushing for more and more money to be given to their church because of the ‘tithing’ belief, or other priests claiming a God requires devotees to have sex with them, there could be ulterior motives for the lies. I wish this didn’t happen often, but it happens enough that it needs to be considered.
So what are we supposed to do here? How can we recognize when a UPG situation is verified, and when it is not?
I think the very first thing we have to consider is the state of mind of the individual who had the situation occur in the first place. Is there trauma going on in their lives that they are addressing, or still reeling from? What is the mental age of the person? Someone who has had significant trauma in their life could act younger than what they are in physical years due to the brain’s own methods of protection from trauma and abuse. Does the person think logically on a regular basis, or are what others would call ‘down to earth’ about things, or do they crave being in a spotlight? Has the person been found to have caused situations that could be considered dramatic or drama filled in the past? Those are all things to consider when helping someone vet whether or not a situation is truly divine in nature or is something that the ego has made up.
A second and just as important item to consider is the logic of a situation. Is there a physical explanation for the event? Could the apparition be a shadow cast by the sun, or could something not be sitting as solidly as you thought when it fell over? If I wake up in the middle of the night with red bumps and scratches all over my body, was it a demon torturing me, or did I happen to have windows open in the height of summer with screens that have been ripped up by cat claws, and said cats are using me as turn four in their kittyopolis 400? (Anyone who has cats knows what I’m talking about. For those that don’t have cats, they love to run around at night. A lot.)
Most importantly, the questions I pose here should not just be ones we use to look at others situations and stories. These should be ones that we regularly ask ourselves when we try to verify whether or not something is metaphysical in nature or just happens to be something with a physical cause. If we don’t keep asking these questions of ourselves, we end up committing the greatest error of all, which is to delude ourselves and others into false situations and use false guidance as our personal truths. That is why this issue is so serious.
To bring this subject up and seriously look at the issue and its implications can be hard. Many people will be defensive about it, and that is expected. I’m talking about possibly denying something someone else believed truly happened. In some ways, you are denying someone their belief of a personal truth. They may get mad. They may get defensive. They may not listen.
How do I know that someone would act that way? Because when I was in this very situation where I had my own beliefs challenged, that is exactly how I acted. I went between anger, surprise and disbelief, and uncertainty. It was downright painful too. Here are people that I trusted with my own personal beliefs and yet they were cutting them to pieces right in front of me.
Guess what…They were right.
I’m of course talking about a time over 20 years past, when I was in my teens, JUST starting out on this pagan road on my own. I wasn’t too much of a drama queen, but boy I caused my share. And I had no idea why I was doing it either, until I realized years later that I had trauma that I had to deal with. And it was that trauma which goaded me into thinking what I was hearing and seeing was right. That’s why I recognize now that there is a learning curve here. And not many people are ready to go to those places to understand why they are wrong, because ultimately that will mean dealing with that trauma. Sometimes those issues are just too powerful, and those ideals that we are trying to break down for the person as being false are actually shielding them from that trauma for a reason.
That discernment earning curve can be further influenced by the person who is trying to help show them the issue. Sometimes that person trying to point out those issues does it in a manner that will help, and sometimes that becomes part of the problem too, especially when someone does it just to boost their own ego. Even if there is a PERCEPTION that the discernment push is being done by an ego boost, it can still cause a longer learning curve. That isn’t the fault of either party, it’s just what happens.
Even after all the care, planning and gentleness utilized to try to help explain to someone else that something may not be exactly what they think it is, the whole situation could still turn sour. In those cases, it’s best to let it go. Let each person do what they can in order to take care of their own energy and their own mental and emotional health. Not attack the other, simply let things be as they are. In my own case it took a move away from the coven I was with, a marriage and a divorce before I dealt with the trauma that allowed me to see metaphysical issues more clearly. And that is a much shorter period of time than many take – I was motivated.
I wrote about this because I’m seeing more and more posts where people talk about their own discernment, and I think it’s not enough to simply put out there how someone discerns for themselves their own dealings with divinity. I think we also need to talk about the ‘why’ we have to have discernment, and talk about why it varies between people so much. I hope I’ve given some good things to ponder here, and I hope the conversation continues. And as always, I’d love to hear other’s opinions.
Thanks for reading.