Pagan Paths

A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.

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Stop Talking to Yourself

Stop Talking to Yourself

The Importance of Listening and Responding

As a polytheist spirit-worker who engages full-time in mystic, ritual, and devotional Work, I spend a lot of time talking to gods, spirits, dead people, and living humans -- all very real and external from myself. Communication is a pretty key point in all of this Work.

A whole lot of time, energy, and words have been put, over the years, into discussing the topic of "discerning messages from spirits" or "god-phoning" it with various deities, or navigating between true externally-originating intelligent communication (e.g. mediumship) versus talking to the "sock-puppets" in your head. People are regularly writing to ask spirit-workers "How do you know when a god is talking to you?", or "What is it like?", or "How do you discern if what you're being told is true or right?" These are important questions. However, in my experience, it is very important to push pause on the entire "spirit transmission" and deity level context of these questions, and have people -- even professional adults with high-paying jobs and in theory some level of training or education under their belts -- go back to the basics of just mundane human-to-human communication. Because basically most of us suck at that pretty seriously, and that doesn't lend itself to having a "finely tuned" machine or skill-set for speaking to deities or spirits or cosmic forces that are even less likely to speak in clearly understood fashion. This is why a whole lot of training needs to be done around discerning messages from spirit, but that's an aside. Here, I am going to discuss the most fearsome of all undertakings:talking with humans.

In my experience of speaking with other humans, it is a rare thing when two persons actually communicate what they mean to one another, and even rarer when they hear what the other person is saying. There is an expression in Ifa which I wish more people could learn to abide: "Call red red, and black black". In other words, say what you mean, and mean what you say. All too often we get caught up in our own words not reflecting our true meanings or intended messages, whether due to a hardwired desire to be "politically correct" or because we've not been taught to critically communicate our own needs, boundaries, thoughts, or inclinations clearly. Then, when hearing statements from others, we frequently insert our own inferences atop what they may actually be saying, to the extent that we don't even hear the literal words that come from their mouths. We hear what we want to hear, or what we're afraid we might hear, rather than what the other person actually stated.

It is said that a dishonest person will always be suspicious of others, and perceive dishonesty in all of those that they meet. Thieves will suspect others of theft, and so on. To behave with suspect behavior or motive is to attune oneself to suspicions or assumptions that everyone must behave the same way, whether they (or you) mean to or not. If most people communicate by stating things other than what they really mean -- for whatever reason -- they will similarly assume that everyone is doing this. At this point, it no longer really matters what anyone is saying, as all meaning (intentional and otherwise) is lost to a web of random misunderstanding, misconception, erroneous inference.

Group conflicts and systemic breakdowns, whether in a family, a large national movement, a religious group, a local ritual group, or a single set of romantic relations, are frequently caused by an issue in basic communication. This failure to communicate what one means -- whether it is an issue of defining words and ideas, or actually stating honest experience or motive -- leaves a certain level of "guessing game" antics to unfold, wherein people are not communicating with one another, but with their own internalized impressions of one another. They're no longer responding to the words or intentions of the other parties, but their own internal script of what the assumed meaning may be. We're no longer speaking with each other, but with our projected ideas of each other, and the various archetypal roles that we can recast everybody in for the sake of dancing around having to look at our own selves. There is a sort of unspoken social contract these days that nobody actually means what they say, and in this presumed double-speak, everyone's words are suspect. Is it any wonder that we have giant conflicts come out in our circles, our homesteads, our blog-platforms or ritual collectives?

There is a whole lot of cultural wounding, confusion, and patterning around this and related communication issues. Whole generations or regions of people have been "taught" (or shamed into following odd, vague ideas of) what not to say, rather than taught how to speak (and think, and feel!) in a critically engaged way. More energy is put into coaching people through slightly dishonest attempts at the idea (or perception) of politeness, instead of focusing upon honest, respectful communication. As emotions collide and compete and a perception of scarcity and threat and shame abounds, people often behave in communication from a place of flailing, frantic reactivity. I have found that people are less comfortable discussing the mechanics of communication (and the subject of "meaning") than they are discussing psychology or behavioral pathology. It is a sad state when a culture has more comfort discussing "clinical diagnosis and illness" than it has discussing "what a person really means" when they say, or think, or feel a certain thing. I was recently accused of psychoanalyzing a person for using terms from the field of communication (and mediation) to draw personal boundaries in a hostile discussion, and point out when those boundaries were being disregarded. In my experience, the only thing that people struggle more with than drawing their own boundaries is being introduced to authentic and reasonable boundaries communicated with integrity by others.

Some are afraid to speak with intention around a boundary that they need to draw for themselves, and so they wind up over-committing or involved in activities or exchanges that violate their own internal values or limitations. Sometimes this is because they were culturally, domestically, or institutionally taught that their own needs, values, limitations or so on did not matter or warrant consideration. Other times it is further than this, and attempts to have their boundaries acknowledged and respect led to very real harm befalling them, or a further loss of freedom or personal autonomy. In my experience, this has happened to everyone, in some instance, at some point. We are poorly taught how to establish our own boundaries, and therefore we have a great cultural difficulty respecting and acknowledging the boundaries of others. Woe to anyone who has the courage of heart to establish their own in a good, or even merely experimental way: these are generally met with crushing resistance and hostile response from others.

Communication is not a passive thing. It is a frighteningly war-like thing. It is filled with fears, perceptions of affront and very real attack, concern around a loss of freedom and cases of very literal attack upon one's autonomous expression of self. Communication is so terrifying that many people fail to even coherently communicate with themselves, let alone with with other humans…

Which brings us back to speaking with gods, and with spirits, and so on. Mediumship, possession, divination, oracular trance, are all examples of forms of communication with the other-than-human external forces of creation and otherwise. But even the most mechanical of these (e.g. those which utilize the manipulation and interpretation of physical tools or items to divine the messages of the divine) carry the risk of our own unexamined "crap" coming up into the lenses through which we view these messages. For all the people who espouse faux-Jungian terminology around "shadow work" and doing their "inner work", very few actually seem to have done so in measured, field-tested form. Who amongst us can confidently answer questions about the contents of our own hearts? Not peace-loving fluffy, comfortable ideas, or Eastern-appropriated ideas of disentanglement from the material considerations of the world, but real and genuine expressions of our own needs, desires, fears, limitations, values, edges, or motives? This is work that is never done, never complete, because we ourselves are never done and never complete and instead are constantly upon and within a grand and damned spectrum and continuum of change, growth, relapse, regression, failure, fault, and fear and forgiveness for all of it, pitted against guilt-shame-denial-repression-borne compensatory-reactions against ourselves and anything and everyone that would dare to come between us and that which we refuse to see within ourselves.

And yet our gods are here to guide us toward traditions and techniques and processes of illumination. 

So there is no message here, lest I inevitably be accused of drawing exclusive and elitist lines in the proverbial sands, that only "some" people should be "allowed" to talk to the gods or to the spirits or the dead or to the land or to the damned and blessed stones beneath us all. But rather, that our first attentions in all of this work -- each of us -- should be to turn to those forces far bigger than we in order to be illuminated, cleansed, washed, purified, and anointed (when the time is right) to step toward the outer work of service and elevation. To truly be elevated, progressed, and enlivened by the touch of immortal grace from our beloved gods and blessed dead, we must first gain an awareness of what we are elevating away from, that we might have some hope of contextualizing the place that we are lifted to by their holy might. One cannot move ahead in any meaningful way if they have not gained an awareness of the space around them where they are, and for many of us, we must first look backward and inward to see how we got to where we are (or were) inside of us, when we first reached toward the heavens (or hells) for deeper answer to the call to connect with those forces that exist outside of us.

So stop talking to yourself, when you're claiming to be talking to other people, or to the gods. 

Or better yet? 

Start talking to yourself, before you decide to take it upon yourself to wipe the insides of your unclean unconscious and unexamined stuff all over other people -- or onto the gods themselves. 

Learn to call your blood red and your fears black, for we've all got plenty of both, and they spill out in equal portions and stain deepest of all those who stand closest by

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A temple priest, shaman, and spirit-worker in the Thracian tradition, Anomalous Thracian lives in a van in the Northeast United States, with a crazed raven from Africa. He teaches foundational spiritual principles and results-oriented mysticism, with a focus on anchoring ancient nomadic wisdoms and values in contemporary reality. A Thracian mystic reconstructionist, he leads an initiatory tradition and facilitates rituals, traditional rites of passage, various methods of divination and temple functions appropriate to the needs of the community. In all of his doings, he attempts to honor the ancestors, the gods, and his living relations in this world and the rest of them, while focusing also on further understanding and addressing contemporary issues of race, gender, and sexuality.


  • Laura P
    Laura P Thursday, 10 October 2013

    Thank you for this. Communication is the crux of any relationship be it internal or external with humans and with the Gods and the ancestors. If we cannot communicate we cannot hope to understand and acknowledge our own motivations and fears let alone the motivations and needs and wants of others and then nothing is clean and nothing is clear. Ase!

  • Sharon Knight
    Sharon Knight Thursday, 10 October 2013

    My, what a poetic soul you are!

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