A Pagan's Blog

Some interesting comments about my “Drawing Down the Moon”
piece in “12 Things…” have prompted me to offer a longer discussion, based mostly on
my personal experience. 

Are the Gods in us or outside us?  So much depends on what we mean by “us.”  I became Wiccan after I encountered the
Goddess, and She was most definitely outside me, a separate personality.  I was a guest at my first Sabbat, not
in a particularly open frame of mind (I was compulsively punctual and this was
an example of Pagan Standard Time at its worst) and was standing far from the
center of the action.  Her arrival
came immediately after She was invoked. 
Like flicking a light switch.

I encountered the Goddess that time when She was being drawn
down into the priestess.  The
experience had every dimension of encountering Someone quite different from
myself: wiser, more loving, more powerful, more beautiful – and all to many
orders of magnitude.  We had enough
in common that I could recognize those qualities as perfections of what I
carried as seeds or small shoots.

Much later the same being, or so She seems to me, made a
shorter but more personal contact when She was drawn down into a high priestess
in a Esbat.  There was one other
time of strong contact and a few others not so strong, almost entirely
unexpected and sometimes separate from ritual of any sort.  In none of them was She ‘in’ me in the
way She would be in a Priestess drawing down the moon.

When the God was drawn down on me,
my experience was of a being very different from me – imagine masculinity minus
any fears, insecurities, desires to control, etc., etc – that I was changed by
the encounter.  My teacher in these
matters describes these experiences as a “tuning” where our vibrations,
so to speak, are drawn into greater harmony with the Gods – a bit by bit
process to be sure, but one that fits my experience.

Again, speaking from my
experience, the gods do not come equally strongly to everyone or to any one all
the time.  They appear to have
their own agendas.  They can appear
unexpectedly and fail to appear when expected.  But almost always they appear in ritual space.

Last February I was on a panel at
Pantheacon.  We were asked to discuss the nature of
the Gods.  One thing that a great
many of us agreed about – and no one challenged – was that an encounter with
deity was an encounter with something that seemed more real than we were or
this world was.  Thos was not a
denigration on our part of either the world or ourselves but rather an
acknowledgement of the extraordinary qualities of deities.

This can only plausibly be a “Thou art Goddess Thou art God”
kind of experience from a monistic perspective – we contact what lies at our
deepest core – and while I happen to be a monist, using the same reasoning, you
are me and I am you.  I think there
is a sense where that is true, importantly true – but there is an important
sense where it misses the point. 
To live in this world I need to differentiate between you and me, and
similarly, I need to differentiate between myself and a God.

Other Traditions

My view is strengthened by the long existence of other Pagan
traditions centered on incorporating deities and spirits into humans during
ritual time.

I will never forget the first time I was a guest at a
Brazilian Umbanda drumming ceremony. 
I sat in the back because I was unsure what was going on, and wanted
simply to watch.  As the drumming
got stronger I found my body was twitching.  “Energy releases” I thought, and tried to sit still.  They got stronger, until the man in
charge, who was in trance with a Caboclo, a kind of Indian spirit, suddenly
stopped the drumming, and wordlessly motioned for me to come forward.

I got up and walked up to where he was, completely convinced
that I was considered disruptive and would be asked to leave. Instead, he
touched my forehead and the nape of my neck, and motioned for the drummers to
begin again.  When they did, my
feet started dancing – but I was not involved.  I had the impression that with great will I could probably
stop, but was too amazed and fascinated to do that.  I went along with it, dancing alone in front of a crowd who
I scarcely knew.  This was about as
out of character as it could be.  I was an still am far too shy (as well as being a mediocre dancer) for that kinds thing.

The guy in charge knew what was likely to happen, I had
absolutely no idea.  At that point
no one else had entered into possessory trance.  No words were exchanged between us.  I ended up working closely with him for
6 years, but that’s another story.

In the Brazilian traditions, and African Diasporic
traditions generally, different spirits are associated with all manner of
things.  The same is true for
traditions in Asia, the Americas, and elsewhere.  Some are Gods and Goddesses, some were human, some are
powers of nature, some seems mixes of these qualities.  But while some of their behavior seems
clearly tailored for the tradition of which they are a part, the basic
phenomena encountered in trance do not seem to be simply parts of our inner

I do not want to carry this discussion into too much depth
and sublety because we are discussing concepts which themselves have no settled
meaning.  What is our inner psyche,
our inner self, consciousness, and so on. 
But I experience these beings as quite independent of myself, and see
little experiential evidence that they are part of me, unless I assume my
psyche/self/spirit has firm boundaries, and that awareness cannot exist outside
of what we consider a physical body. 
I think both of these assumptions are mistaken.

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