I don’t know about you, but when I read or listen to people talk about their experiences with their gods, I get very curious about what their experience really looks like. Particularly in the Pagan and Polytheist community, but I think perhaps in religious communities as a whole, there seems to be a fair bit of shorthand used when describing communion with deity. It can be hard to tell whether the person actually sees and hears full-blown corporeal presences or voices, or if a feather fell in a certain way at their feet and they had this gut feeling that they associate with Odin and so they came to the conclusion that he was saying… you get my drift.
Despite being a pantheist and an agnostic, I do spent a fair bit of time thinking, talking, and writing like a polytheist. I talk about the Morrígan as if she is a real, conscious entity. I talk about Odin as if he is a person – albeit quite a mysterious one – who is attempting to make contact with me. I use this language because it is quicker, easier, and metaphorically accurate. But perhaps I should also spend some time talking about my experience of deity as it actually happens.
For the most part, I’m going to refer to my experiences with the Morrígan, because She is the deity with whom I have the most history, the most experience, and the best rapport. But most of what is true for her is true for other deities with whom I work, too – such as Odin, Ganesh, Cailleach, Brigid, and to some extent Gaia.
I experience the Morrígan in several different ways, through several different facets of my consciousness. It’s difficult to narrow down and label all of these, but they include: mythologically, creatively, imaginatively, archetypally, and in nature.
Mythological and creative connection
This level of my connection with the Morrígan is the most intellectual, and the most logical. This is the level on which I connect with Her as a story, as a myth. Her stories strike a deep chord with me – and in turn, they inspire me to create my own artwork or stories in Her honour.
This kind of response requires absolutely no faith or belief in divinity of any kind. You can certainly apply a mystical interpretation onto your response to a deity’s myths – but it’s not required to have that strong response in the first place.
I grew up to a soundtrack of Irish folklore and mythology, and so when I finally came to the Morrígan’s stories as a Pagan, She was already in my bones. But this kind of mythological connection is mostly mundane. Her stories resonated with my personality, with my experience of life, and most of all with the folkloric backdrop of my upbringing. The stories are where I encountered Her symbolism.
From that mythological connection arises the creative one. Because the symbolism of Her mythology is so potent for me, it inspires vivid imagery, and creative ideas. The Morrígan is, in many ways, my Muse – because Her image is so strong and vivid in my mind. Again, this kind of creative connection and creative expression of the Morrígan feels strongly devotional to me, but it exists whether or not you want to put a mystical framework over it.
I have called this an “imaginative” connection because for the most part, this is what I believe is happening. As such, this is very closely connected with my creative connection with Her. Here, I am referring to my experiences with Her while doing active imagination, or pathworking.
As a skeptic and a rationalist, my logical and objective mind sees these experiences as simply a wandering of my imagination. I enter a meditative state, close my eyes, and allow visions to come. Sometimes I deliberately ask to see Her. Most often, I move about an imaginative landscape and come across Her in it.
Mostly, when She appears, She is very clearly just a product of my conscious mind. This often results in a predictable appearance, predictable speech or behaviour, and a general lack of movement. But sometimes, and usually when I’m not really so certain who or what I’m talking to, She appears in stranger forms. She shape shifts, moves about erratically, says strange or cryptic things, and most often appears as a hag. At these times, I assume that I have gone a level deeper – something a little more unconscious within me is bubbling up. I have much less conscious control in this case.
It might sound exciting, and when I remember particularly visceral experiences it thrills me, too. But honestly, when it’s happening in the moment, it usually doesn’t feel very grand. The visions are generally no clearer than anything I can usually conjure in my mind’s eye – certainly nothing approaching the vividness of a dream or lucid dream. I feel as though my conscious mind is in the driver’s seat, and I take everything I glean from these pathworkings with a grain of salt. I always assume in the first instance that the only person I’m talking to is me, my ego, in a dressed-up form.
With this theory, I am straying somewhat from objective reality into the realm of subjective experience. Jung’s theory of the archetype comes closest to defining this feeling, but while this is a respected psychological theory, it is by no means scientifically proven or even provably.
Mythology is creative expression of archetypes – and through the mythology and folklore, we receive a particular symbolic system or image of an archetype. But the archetype itself is more overarching and runs much deeper in the psyche than the projected image ever can.
The archetypal theory of deity also suggests that the deity we meet – through all the ways I have outlined thus far – is a projection of a part of ourselves. We each contain all of the archetypes within our own psyches. In some ways, they are symbolic structures, a means of understanding the world we live in. But personified archetypes can also represent or speak through certain aspects of our selves and our personalities – often suppressed aspects of our psyche.
This is the primary way I understand the Morrígan to operate. I assume that when I engage with the mythology, when I am creatively inspired by Her, when I meet her in my imagination, I am tapping into some hidden aspects of my own being.
But for me, the Morrígan also exists outside of my Self, outside of my mind. I sometimes extrapolate on the ways in which She might exist beyond my or other people’s psyches – as a connection to the All or to God – but also, I see Her literally embodied in the landscape.
The Morrígan’s myths (and most other deities) can be read as a description of a historical figure, or a mythical anthropomorphic figure or archetype. However, they can also be read as a personification of natural forces or events in nature and the landscape.
For me, She is both. Her archetype is reflected as a personhood within our psyches; and as natural occurrences and tendencies in the natural world. I see her, particularly, in wilderness and in the wild and wet weather of coastal Ireland. While Irish weather is rarely extreme, we frequently experience combinations of gusting wind with rain, and a stormy turbulent sea. Parts of the West coast, in particular, are a juxtaposition of fertile farming land and fishing waters, and a wild and treacherous ocean. I see her in the life-death-life cycles of the earth, in carrion birds, in rain, in storms, in the poignancy of a misty day or a single open flower.
When I say that I experience the Morrígan in these places and times, I simply mean that these experiences in nature remind me of Her, or conjure a similar emotional response as her imagery, symbolism, and mythology. Sometimes I will feel that something has been conveyed to me through nature, a message of sorts from Her. I understand this to be the Morrígan archetype within my psyche interpreting patterns so as to express itself.
All of these means of connection to the Morrígan can be understood from a logical, objective perspective. And for the most part, there is nothing to compel me to understand it any differently. When I say that I feel the Morrígan has asked something of me, or that something that has come into my life is a gift from Her, what I am factually referring to is either something that came to me through my imagination, or just a niggling feeling from a part of me that I associate with Her. There are no trumpets and fanfares.
But I choose to use the polytheistic language that I do because sometimes when I think of Her, when I have an experience of communion in any of the ways outlined above, I briefly touch the numinous. Sometime there is something Other in that moment, a kiss from God Herself.
I originally expected that these moments of mystical connection would increase over time – so far, they haven’t. I still expect that my relationship with Her will continue to change and flux over time. But while I get a lot out of using personified language and treating Her as a god, I also sometimes feel the need to keep it real, to be really honest about just how mundane my experiences really are.
But this is what I have learned so far about spirituality. The transcendental moments are few and far between. For the most part, it is an exercise in finding the sacred in the mundane.