What Does a Relationship with the Pagan Gods Look Like?

In the past, I’ve written about connecting with deities and have made a few videos of general tips about how to find a connection with a deity. But I keep getting questions along the same theme, and these questions come from people who are new to paganism, people who are beginner or baby witches, and even judgmental non-polytheists who insist that paganism is an exercise of fantasy. Those questions all essentially boil down to: What does it mean to have a relationship with a deity at all? 

Early in the path or during the phase of exploration, eople want to know what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to have a “patron.” They want to know specifics. Do you pray? Can you hear the gods, or see them? Do they come to you in dreams? Do they perform magical spells in your life? Just how suprasensory is this relationship, and just how grounded in reality is it – or is it not? 

To be truthful, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I’m sure every person who is pagan or simply religious will describe their relationship with their god or gods in a different way. But what I can do is explain what my relationships look like, how they differ between gods.

What’s different about the pagan gods from monotheism?

Many people who approach polytheism come from an Abrahamic upbringing. The majority, at east in the American context, are Protestant Christians and a few are Catholics. Leaving these religions for a pagan path doesn’t have to mean a complete rejection of the spiritual value or ultimate reality of those entities. For me, Judaism and the god of the Jews is still very real to me, even though I consider myself a pagan. I still observe, to some extent, Shabbat, read Torah, and feel a sense of reverence for Hashem. But my relationship to that god and the Jewish tradition in general is much more about feeling a connection to my ancestors, my people and my culture. It’s about acknowledging that these are the teachings and ways of life that enabled us to survive these centuries and have given us our distinct ethnic and spiritual identity. Hashem as a god is, to me, the inspiration and divine source of my people. I don’t feel a personal relationship with Hashem, not in the way that I hear Christians describe their relationship to figures like Jesus or Mother Mary. The Torah teaches us that Hashem is a mysterious god, one who we wrestle with throughout our lives, disagree with, contemplate, and seek to understand. What I imagine when I picture Hashem in my mind is the Big Bang and Hubble telescope photos of strange nebulae.  

But my relationships with pagan deities are deeply personal, sitting somewhere between worship, friendship, and mentorship. The pagan gods are more relatable to me as a human being because they are so intimately personified through their mythology, artwork, and connections with the natural world that I myself can observe. Pagan deities feel much closer to my lived experience as a homo sapien in this planetary sphere, whereas Hashem, the Jewish god, relates more to my contemplation of this planetary sphere whizzing through the vast reaches of spacetime. 

So, what constitutes a personal relationship to a patron deity?

Now, what does my personal relationship to my patron deities look like? Well, it’s a little different for each one. I work with or worship a variety of deities from a few traditions, such as Celtic, Baltic, Canaanite, Norse, and Kemetic. Depending on what pantheon the deity in question is from, my practice shifts a little. I try to incorporate as much of the traditional or ancient ways in which a deity was worshipped while still appealing to my modern sensibilities. 

One example is my worship of Kemetic deities like Bast, Isis, or Nephthys. These goddesses are representative to me of personalities and traits that I would like to inherit in myself, so spending time with them is key in growing more like them. When I feel righteous anger or rage, I lean on Bast; I might light fragrant incense, put oils on my skin, and sit in a dark space illuminated by candlelight and let myself slip into a trance with Bast as my guide. She helps me explore that anger and find a suitable, healthy outlet for it. Isis is the ultimate woman and divine mother, a devoted lover who embodies the throne upon which the royal line sits. I find inspiration from Isis particularly in my professional life, allowing her to teach me to be more confident, forthright, and daring in my workplace. I would pray to her to give me the words to ask for a raise or speak to an intimidating client. I would also lean on her when I feel that I haven’t been engaging my husband with romance, and I might try to embody her mentally in expressing seduction and love. 

So yes, I do pray to my gods. Many of my prayers take the form of whispers under my breath when I need guidance or inspiration, while other prayers might consist of spending all day working on a poem I read aloud under the full moon before lighting the paper on fire as an offering. I’ve also taken strongly to rewording ancient hymns to suit me and my needs, and enjoy using these on sacred days, special occasions, or with my daughter.

How to have magickal and psychic experiences with your deity

As for the really woo-woo bits, I find it interesting that people who come to paganism are always really preoccupied with whether or not they can expect to have visions, dreams, or clairaudient experiences with their deities. The short answer is no, you should not expect this from a spiritual relationship with a pagan deity. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate that kind of relationship. 

If you’re like me and come from a Biblical background, whether that be Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, you’re probably familiar with stories about Bible characters suddenly experiencing the presence of God. There’s a burst in the heavens, a crack in reality, or an angel suddenly descends. These moments herald major prophetic changes to not only the character’s life, but the world around him or her; and, usually, send the character into a fit of fear or terror. Similarly, these moments can happen in our personal lives and aren’t that uncommon. I had never heard of the Baltic deity Laima or the Norse deity Nanna, but both appeared to me in dreams and announced themselves, their name, and were surrounded by their symbols – things I in no way couldn’t conjured on my own in the dreamspace. These were visions, sent to me by the goddesses themselves. But my relationship to Isis, who I love most dearly, has never had a visual element to it. She speaks to me in subtle ways – she makes her presence known by events in my life, strange objects appearing in my path, and whispers I hear within that I could easily confuse with my own intuition. 

If you crave this suprasensory experience with a deity, don’t try to force it. Instead, focus on improving your own psychic senses so that when a deity decides to reach out to you in this way, you might actually experience it rather than miss out. Simple habits like keeping  a dream journal, practicing meditation, going on silent nature walks, eating or drinking mindfully, getting up early or staying up to stare at the moon – these are all ways you can begin exploring your own psychological and spiritual depths in a manner that will allow you to notice when something is there that isn’t coming from you, but coming from somewhere – or someone – else. 

If you’re not psychically inclined, then don’t think that these experiences are what validate your spiritual practice or your relationship to a diety. If we think back to the ancient world, we know that it was the role of priestesses to help the community communicate with the gods; they acted as mediums, because not everyone can, or is meant to, have that sort of psychospiritual conncetion with other dimensions. Some people have, through occult study and ritual, forced that connection open, and descended into near madness because it simply wasn’t the right thing for them. Be okay with that too. 

Just because some people have these skills doesn’t mean that you’re lacking spiritual skills of your own. Maybe you can’t hear or see your deity, but you have a strong telepathic connection to the animal world. Maybe dream visions don’t come to you, but you have a magickal green thumb that enables you to cure any stricken plant that comes your way. Maybe you’re not a spiritual healer, but you are a physical healer. 

The physical world we live in is just as important as the spiritual one, and both the physical world and spiritual world have multiple dimensions. Deities aren’t the only spiritual entities; there are ghosts, spirits, sprites, nymphs, elves, and all manner of beings that I personally have never connected with. Maybe you do.

We need people with all sorts of talents to help us navigate our spiritual life and our life here on this planetary sphere. So don’t think that your relationship to deity needs to look or feel a certain way just because some teenager on WitchTok thinks her gods appear in her bedroom as literal apparitions to scold her for skipping school.

Find what makes your heart and soul sing, and get good at it. 

12 Goddesses to Honor for Ostara, the Spring Equinox

Ostara is just hours away, and this will be the first sacred day I’ve fully observed in quite a while! My pregnancy had me exhausted, so beyond a little home decoration at Samhain, Yule, and Imbolc, I’ve done nothing else since last July. Most years I chose to welcome Persephone back to this realm at the spring equinox, but this year I wanted to explore something new. I’ll be making an offering to a goddess I’ve never honored before. Who? Don’t know yet, but I’ve got a little time left to come up with something! Now that I’ve transitioned into motherhood I want to open up relationships with more mother goddesses who can, I hope, teach me to be a better parent.

While exploring options for myself, I wanted to share twelve goddesses who are wonderful options for beginner pagans, baby witches, or anyone looking to greet someone new. This list is, of course, not exhaustive. There are many dozens of goddesses from a variety of pantheons one would do well to honor for Ostara. But this list might offer the right amount of inspiration and direction for you as you craft your rituals.

Persephone
Greek. Also known as Kore or Propserina to the Romans, she is the spring maiden and daughter of Demeter. Together they are the central figures of the Eleusinian mysteries. Persephone is the embodiment of youth, abundance, and growth; but she is also the keeper of souls in the Underworld as a dark maiden, where she spends four months of the year with her consort Hades. Though young, she’s skilled in magick, divination, and wise in the philosophies of life and death.

Associations: Pomegranates, earth, red, pink, rose quartz, black tourmaline, seeds, mint, crowns, torches, deer.

Branwen
Welsh. One of the many Celtic goddesses of sovereignty, Branwen is a daughter of the sea and spring. Married to an abusive husband, she ultimately died of a broken heart when her loved ones perished in their attempts to rescue her. She is thus associated with freedom and new beginnings, especially for people seeking to break free of cruel relationships or failed marriages, and can offer a spiritual home for those feeling trapped. Birds represent her, especially starlings. Her name may in fact translate to “white raven.”

Associations: Cups, cauldrons, starlings, birds, aquamarine, rose quartz, standing stones, blossoms, white.

Anath
Canaanite/Mesopotamian. Also written as Anat or Anatu, Anath is a warrior, lover, and virgin often depicted riding a lion with flowers in her fists. She appears in many forms across Mesopotamia and Egypt, but her character as a warrior remains the same. She is as sensual as she is ferocious, a dedicated lover who can bring the dead back to life. She was celebrated at spring and harvest festivals in recognition of her role in fertility of women and the land.

Associations: Weapons, especially bow and arrows, axes, and clubs; flowers, lions, sashes, red, green, calves, sunstone, copper, iron, Mars.

Demeter
Greek. Mother of Persephone, goddess of grains, parenting, and grief. Though more often associated with the harvest, Demeter teaches the acts of both sowing and reaping, making her guidance at Ostara worthwhile for those looking to pursue goals over the Wheel of the Year. She is central to a many myths, mysteries, and forms in the ancient world, making her a deeply complex goddess of both underworld and agrarian magicks. She suffered over the loss of Persephone to the Underworld, symbolized by the loss of vegetation in the barren winter months, making her an excellent teacher of patience, dealing with loss, and finding hope for renewal in the spring.

Associations: Cornucopias, wheat, bread, torches, grain, sheep, flowers, poppies and opium, fruit such as apples, Virgo, horses, green, black.

Juno
Roman. Though she has a reputation for civilized wisdom and counsel, Juno is also a guide for adolescents going through puberty and adults looking for a special someone. For those looking for love in the spring, Juno’s rulership of femininity and romantic bonds is perfect for attracting romance this season. She is symbolized by peacocks, famous for their courting feathers, and guides young women into their adulthood while promising the perfect match at the right time. Her sacred month is June when spring transitions to summer. As a queen, she is decisive and can be unforgiving in her verdicts. As a goddess of marriage, she deeply values fidelity.

Associations: Earth, air, gold, blue, green, wedding rings, thrones, diadems, the Moon, peacocks, books and scholarship

Aurora
Roman. Like the Aurora Borealis that bears her name, Aurora is the goddess of extravagant light and the dawn. She opens the gates of heaven and offers renewal to the masses. As spring marks the beginning of a new agricultural year, Aurora is the perfect goddess for anyone looking to start afresh or embark on a new path. The mother of the constellations and their light, the four winds are also her children.

Associations: Chariots, saffron, poetry (especially erotic and love poems), cicadas, air, water, stars and constellations, all colors and rainbows

Eostre, or Ostara
Germanic/Saxon. The goddess of spring from whom the holiday Ostara takes its name, Eostre’s very name means “spring.” Depicted as a young woman bearing fertility, she was celebrated with painted eggs and sweet foods that are now found in the Christianized version of the holiday as Easter.

Associations: Hares and rabbits, all colors and rainbows, eggs, dawn, quartz, opal, opalite, wildflowers, meadows

Bast
Egyptian. Before she was symbolized by the domestic cat, Bast was a lioness who ruled the fertile power of the sun’s rays on the land. Protector of children and women, Bast grew from a ferocious warrior of anointing into a goddess who also embodied sensuality and love. As a guardian of the home, she is the perfect companion for a deep spring cleaning – both physical and etheric – and will encourage tidiness throughout the season. Honor her with perfumes from flowers, gold, singing, sex, and feasting.

Associations: Red, green, gold, silver, perfumes, incense, domestic cats, lions, sistrum and music, weapons, beer, carnelian, lapis lazuli, the Sun and the Moon

Atargatis
Phoenician/Syrian. Also spelled Ataratheh, she was protectress of the city Hierapolis near modern Aleppo in northern Syria. Known as the mermaid goddess due to her association with iconography found at Ascalon, Atargatis is a teacher of the advancements that come with civilization: improved agricultural and food systems, social structures and contracts, and inventions. Herself a force of nature, she brings fertility, moisture, and abundance. As vegetation returns with the spring, so do her blessings.

Associations: Doves, fish, whales, seashells, salt water, sand, lions, the crescent moon, red, blue, green, veils, scepters, eggs

Pomona
Roman. Pomona is one of many agricultural goddesses in the Roman pantheon. She offers fertility to orchards, nut and fruit trees. Apples are particularly sacred to her. The ideal goddess for the springtime gardener, she teaches proper care and communication with fruiting and blossoming plants. Pomona is also considered a wood nymph rather than a goddess, and is associated with Demeter in the Greek pantheon.

Associations: Pruning knife, cornucopia, fruits, fruit platters, blossoms, groves and orchards, nuts, green, orange, red, moss agate, fairy stone, malachite.

Idunn
Norse. A great healer and the bestower of immortality, Idunn is the keeper of apples that offer eternal youth and it is she who sustains the everlasting life of the gods. Goddess of youth, she lends her strength to the sick and rules the springtime.

Associations: Fae magick, apples, natural springs, green, red, water, earth, herbal medicine, apples.

Yaoji
Chinese. For the outdoorsy and green-thumb pagans, Yaoji offers lessons in herblore, magical brews, and navigating the wilderness of the mountains. If you’re hoping to spend more time this spring in wildlife reserves and parklands, Yaoji can help you learn to identify herbs, fungi, stones, and other natural artefacts on your hiking trails. Her specialty is the love potion.

Associations: Wild herbs, mountains, waterfalls, mist, fog, cauldrons, axes, dusk, dreamwork, visions, red, green, jade, quartz, rain.

Lessons in Eternity from Japanese Kami

A divine life-force energy permeates the natural world. In some cultures this is called chi, others prana or awen; in ancient Japan, that energy was given definition with kami.

The indigenous faith of Japan, Shinto, is not unlike other shamanic traditions found among human cultures. Expression of faith typically takes the form of showing honor and reverence for ancestors as familial and individual guardians, as well as showing deep respect for the abundance of kami, or gods, that occupy the islands.

Modern paganism typically tries to fit kami into the concept of the pantheon that has been defined by classical studies rather than a spiritual experience. Kami are often described by scholars as having been derived by nature. I would argue that kami are emergent rather than derivative; they are a natural phenomenon resulting from the cosmic mix of this sphere in the same way the Gulf Stream or glaciers are. Kami are found within all elements of nature, which includes human beings. Philosophy in the modern world places the Human being below the gods and above the natural world; in Shinto philosophy, much like most animistic systems around the globe, the Human being occupies the same definition of nature that the sea, a rock, or a flower does.

Kami may be worshiped anywhere at any time and with any intention and prayer, or lack of one. Many people choose to make a pilgrimage to large, sacred Shinto shrines while others may not. Worship is characterized by an act of cleansing the body, mind, and soul. This is often done through washing the hands and mouth at the entrance to a shrine, bathing before paying homage to ancestors at a home shrine, or showing general respect for cleanliness and tidiness. The emphasis on cleansing permeates into the expected character of a person, where honesty and purity are regarded as virtues of the most value.

So, where did kami and Shinto come from? The answer is, quite fittingly, lost to a time unreachable to our contemporary lenses. There is no founder nor origin of Shinto, nor are there any specifically divine texts, dogmas, or doctrines. Shinto, the way of the kami, is a legacy of how the ancient Japanese experienced the natural world of their lands, and the kami that emerged from those natural forces.

There are a few kami of particular importance. Izanagi and Izanami who birthed the islands of Japan are well known, but Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and Inari are likely the most widely worshiped. Amaterasu’s shrine, Ise-Jingu, is a must for any pilgrim. She is the thread that unites the Human world with the kami as an ancestor of the Japanese people, the royal lineage, and the one who bestowed grain cultivation to the people. Then, it is Inari who keeps watch over agriculture. Shrines to Inari are dotted throughout the landscape, on mountaintops, edges of rice fields, or alleyways in the city.

Like Loki or Set, a kami that often plays a trickster or even antagonistic role in Shinto folklore is Susano’o, kami of the seas. As anyone living near a body of water knows, those natural forces from which kami are emerged are not committed to keeping human comfort on this planet in mind. Nature is severe. Tides rise, rivers flood and destroy crops, lightning sets ablaze a sun-baked forest. Even nature’s creatures, from small insects to wolves, can cause havoc to our homes and livestock, devastate our crops, or bring illness to our families. While the Human being is meant to strive for purity and honesty, they’re also meant to seek the blessing of kami in control of nature, as well as tolerate the hardships they might bring.

Much like the druids of Celtic lands, the ancient Japanese would gather in sacred spaces deep in nature to commune with the kami and seek these blessings of safety, bountiful harvest, and prosperity. These spaces could be a sacred river or waterfall, a boulder, or an ancient tree. Today, of Japan’s 80,000 shrines are surrounded by woodland. While visiting, you may notice a few boulders or tree stumps roped off in the gravel pathways. These are relics of power spots or places where the kami themselves descended. Holding your hands out to the aura of these objects – but not touching them physically – is a common method to directly connect with the power of kami and sacred space.

Of all the elements that make up the folklore and power of kami, what I have found the most interesting is the relationship Shinto has with wood. The islands of Japan are thick with forest, so it isn’t hard to see why, in a practical sense, this renewable and sustainable resource became a favorite for both Human civilization and creation of sacred shrines. The architecture is a stark contrast to what is typically associated with ancient religious belief, where stonework and grand megalithic structures come to mind. In Japan, it is wood; and that wood is thoughtfully and routinely replaced, beam for beam when it ages. Why?

Because, in modern terms, wood is sustainable. The trees that are selected to create the beams of Ise-Jingu are renewable; this is, in essence, an expression of the eternity that the kami symbolize. Permanence has never been a staple of Shinto, or even Eastern, philosophy. Though the design of Ise-Jingu is the same with each passing generation, the physical wood witnessed has changed, signifying the passing of things within a grander scale of eternal time.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson that we in contemporary times can take from the kami. We build cities and extract resources with such ferocity, such speed and disregard for the future, that we’ve severed our connection to eternal time. Rather than participating in the natural sphere of eternal time, we’ve removed ourselves from it; by considering ourselves outside of nature, we’ve not doomed nature – but doomed ourselves.

Nature will find a way. Life will always grow. But if we are going to be the ancestors of tomorrow, we need to earn that through working with the flow of kami, of awen, to create it.

The Unexpected Alleys on the Divine Path

My plans for pilgrimage have crumbled. I’ve booked a trip to somewhere other than I had planned – again.

In six weeks, I’ll be boarding a plane bound for the United Kingdom. I’ve never been to Europe nor the British Isles, and the opportunity to go has come about through a complicated web of fates at work. It’s interesting to me that I have been journaling and planning for a visit to the United Kingdom in 2019 for years, but was unable to make it happen myself. The plan was to apply for graduate school in Scotland, spend as much of the year as possible in the Highlands, and return home. Unfortunately, other things worked against me that made this dream, this goal, crumble away. Yet, a month ago at the height of summer, I was given an opportunity to visit the United Kingdom for work and extend my trip to travel freely. That, to me, felt like a blessing of the Goddess – or that I had written down autumn 2019 as my first time to Europe so many times that the universe was compelled to make it true.

I have a very romantic view of ancestry. I’m Jew-ish and Scott-ish on my mother’s side and have felt a great pull to the landscape that fed the human beings whose lives ultimately created mine. Beyond a love for classic English literature, Welsh folklore, and Irish poetry, I’ve never been particularly invested in the idea of traveling to any country; my aim with the Isles has always been Scotland’s Highlands where my grandfather claimed heritage.

So you can imagine my surprise at myself when I, once again, have chosen to go somewhere completely different than my original goal. Last night I booked stays in Brighton, Glastonbury, and London – and that will be all.

I did this before, in 2017. After my two years in Japan came to a close, I shipped all my belongings to America, purchased a backpack, filled it with journaling materials and t-shirts, and planned to stay in a Cambodian village. The idea was that I would have two weeks to write, take a few yoga classes in town, volunteer on a farm, and recover from the drama from my life in Japan before going home.

When I sat down at my computer in my emptied bedroom to book a ticket, my mind and memory is blank. It was as if some unseen force descended on my body, took control and, within a few minutes, I had a nonrefundable one-way ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal. I was beside myself. I knew nothing about Nepal – quite literally – except that Annapurna was there.

Yet that one-way ticket turned into a month-long stay in a village in the valley, where I didn’t take yoga classes nor do all that much in the way of writing. I spent a lot of time with people, volunteering, taking photographs and, most importantly, experiencing the presence of God.

I firmly believe that the reason I was overcome with the intent to go to a country I knew nothing about against all plans was part of a Divine plan. The village I stayed in was actually named for Vishnu and housed the oldest temple in all of South Asia to Him. Vishnu plagued my dreams and I was, at first, afraid. Over the course of a month, I became a new person; that experience with Vishnu’s energy was the defining time that led me on an authentic spiritual path. I guess it could be thought of as my first true, life-altering Spiritual Awakening.

As a polytheist, I’ve done as much research as I possibly can on the pre-Christian religion of the Scottish Highlands in an effort to incorporate the same Divine patronage of my ancestors into my current spiritual life. For anyone familiar with Celtic, Brythonic, and Gaelic paganism, you probably know just how near-impossible this is. I felt a great aversion to settling for the Irish pantheon. Though I knew from a scholastic sense that these Gods and Goddesses were very likely worshiped in Scotland, the general lack of temple proof frustrated me. Though Brigid and the Morrigan felt on some level to be a spiritual match for me, I decided to put off the whole idea until an experience of some sort came through. Well, I have that experience on the horizon. It’s already begun.

There is one reason I booked a stay in Brighton: colorful queer culture.

There is one reason I booked a stay in Glastonbury: I remembered a YouTuber I respect, Kelly-Ann Maddox, mentioning it was her favorite spiritual place in England.

That’s it. I knew nothing else yet felt compelled to go; to skip Stonehenge, to skip Scotland or Wales, to skip London or Manchester or Cornwall. Just Glastonbury. It may not come as new information to others but for me, when I learned that there is an active temple to Brigid there, that Mary Magdalene – one of my favorite Jewish women from history – is said to have lived and died there, that the Earth’s heart chakra Anahata resides there… I was dumbfounded. My journey to Nepal had turned into a sort of cosmic guidance to the arms of Vishnu at the location of Earth’s crown chakra. Now that I think about it, my first experience in Japan was actually a visit to Mt. Fuji – the 9th Gate – with my new host family. That experience, too, was a spur of the moment. I had one month off from school and took out a loan to visit Japan.

I’m starting to wonder if my world travels should simply follow leylines! More curious, though, is the timing of these trips and shifts. Thinking back to my journals and planners filled with the goal of autumn 2019 in Great Britain, my first journey to Japan, or how Japan pushed me out of it with such force that I landed in Nepal…. I wonder if these weren’t manifestations at all, but a kind of foresight of the course of my life. Indeed, if we plan our lives before birth there must be echoes of those decisions dancing within us from the very beginning.

Birthed by Isis – a poem

She carries her pain like flowers.

There are few women whose
grief can hold back the flood;
fearsome to behold, all wait in
bated breath for her to shed the first
tear.

None loved him more than she.
She doesn’t cry at the funeral, nor
in the night as she caresses her
growing belly. The first tears are
reserved for labor, for the first cry
of their child. And they do.
Even still, she does not
grieve.

The pain of Isis seeded into
something
new
something
of magic and wombcraft and cloud walking

She placed him in the arms of her sister

gathered the lillies and the scorpions
and departed for war.