This is a good question. Most of the hard polytheists I know have a habit of talking about our communication with gods in very literal ways. “Aphrodite asked me to buy her flowers.” “Odin told me I needed to find a new job.” The exact behind-the-scenes mechanics of this vary widely person to person, and I think there is a general sense that the mechanism is not so important. If you are talking to someone who doesn’t believe all this, they want to know precisely what level of implausibility are you claiming, so it is super important to them that you clearly differentiate between, “I had a full-sensory waking vision of Apollo, where I literally heard-with-my-ears him speaking the words, ‘It is time for you to move to Chicago.’ ” and “I have been looking for a new apartment, and when I looked at the listings for Chicago, I strongly felt the hard-to-define feeling that I associate with Apollo, along with a feeling of urgency I had not previously had with regard to this move.” Basically, they want to know whether you are a Grade-A Nutter, or just someone who bizarrely chooses to interpret normal life situations in some kind of weird religious context.
From the standpoint of a hard polytheist, some people have waking visions and some people have subtle hints, and unless there is some other reason to question the validity or accuracy of the message, the means of communication are as irrelevant as whether Susan invited you to her birthday party in person, by email, on Facebook, or mailed you a physical invitation. To ask for clarification of the means is interpreted as questioning the accuracy of the message. In some cases, that question is totally legitimate. If the message is really unusual or potentially dangerous or just seems wildly out of character, then you might ask for clarification and recommend getting a second opinion. But in general, unless the person is a spirit-worker who is advising other people based on their communication with deity, it is seen as a really personal thing.
(Analogy – Just because I mention to someone that Brandon and I have a sexual relationship, doesn’t mean I am comfortable elaborating to them the details of what we do in bed. It is personal. And it is certainly not something I’m interested in sharing with someone who is clearly already grossed out by same-sex relationships and is just asking out of morbid curiosity or a desire to mock me with greater specificity.)
However, this blog is, for me, a safe and non threatening context to get into more detail on such things, so here goes.
I talk to them, sometimes out loud, sometimes silently in my head. I rarely get any kind of clear response, but I feel listened to. Sometimes I get an emotional impression of a response to something I’ve said. For instance, often when I’m angsty and whining to Frey, I have this I get this feeling like he’s gently laughing at me and patting me on the head, like, “Oh, you silly humans, how you fret about things…” (This is a really common one for me. I don’t know how to put across that it doesn’t feel condescending or dismissive. Often it helps me put the problem in a larger perspective.) Sometimes a random thing will catch my eye and symbolically communicate a message to me, like my dog suddenly doing her “happiest dog in the world” dance, or an object I associate with some aspect of the issue at hand.
Occasionally, I’ll get an idea that doesn’t feel like it is my idea, and often it feels much more certain than I generally am about my own ideas. Sometimes I am puzzling over a problem and the answer comes to me suddenly, but the internal monologue doesn’t sound like it is my idea. For instance, years ago I was having trouble with figuring out what was actually meant by “grounding”, and there were two things that really made it clear to me. One was a sudden idea that felt like my own idea. It was the same type of feeling I’d get figuring out any other sort of problem. The other one was more like a voice in my head saying, “Oh for fucks sake, remember this? – cue uncharacteristically vivid memory – It is just like that, but upside down.” And I was left slightly confused, because I wasn’t quite sure what that meant and had to puzzle on it for a little longer before I finally got it. Sometimes there is a sudden idea that isn’t obviously not-mine when taken out of context, but it is about a deity or in response to a direct question to a deity, so I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is from that deity unless there is something suspicious about it. (And by the way, any great ideas that are totally what I wanted to do in the first place are suspicious. So are ideas that benefit me at the expense of others, or get me out of doing something I don’t want to do. So are ideas I have preexisting fears and hangups about.) If there is a serious issue at stake, I’ll ask a spirit-worker who I trust to do divination or to communicate with that deity on my behalf, but for small and inconsequential things, I will trust this.
On two occasions – both related to initiations – I have had vivid dreams about gods. One was like watching a Discovery Channel video and afterwards I remembered it in detail. The other was disorienting, full of disjointed scenes and strong emotions.
On one occasion, I had a direct, unmediated experience of deity, or Aphrodite. I was alone. I was not in any kind of altered state due to drugs, ritual, sleep deprivation, or anything else. It was nothing like anything I had imagined or had ever been told a direct experience of deity would be. The short version is that I was lamenting to myself how much it sucked to have fallen in love, and how inconvenient it was. Then I had a vivid waking-reality perception that was something in my room, roughly person sized, but “invisible”. (Hard to describe – things looked distorted and wiggly in this one specific spot, sort of like heat waves.) And I heard in my head a “voice” that wasn’t words but sounded like tinkly bells and birdsong, and yet somehow communicated meaning to me. At one point, the “presence” grabbed my chest and I couldn’t breath. Then she let go, and left, and the experience was over. This was prior to me believing in any of this, so as you can imagine, I freaked the fuck out. That experience was really what sealed it for convincing me this stuff was for real.
My only other vivid unmediated experience much more recently, more subtle and very brief – I was talking with my partner about how I felt really lost with regard to a certain issue, and how I hated having to find my own way, and how I wanted someone to hold my hand and lead me through it. And I suddenly felt the warm sunny sensation I associate with Frey, and very distinctly heard his voice, saying “I’ll hold your hand.” And I literally held out my hand, and my hand felt all warm and tingly, and I started crying.
I’ve had maybe a half dozen vivid mediated experiences of deity, involving someone being possessed by that deity in a ritual context. I’ve also been to about a dozen other possession rituals where other people were clearly having that experience, and I couldn’t personally discern anything going on at all. (I’m just not very sensitive, in general.)
I’ve also had life coincidences line up very neatly after speaking with a deity, and felt like that was my “response”.
So, on my end, how I talk to the gods is real simple. I just talk to them. How I perceive their responses is kind of confusing, and kind of vague. If I hadn’t had a few really vivid undeniable experiences, all the other experiences combined would not give me sufficient reason to believe that any of it was real. It is definitely below my “plausible deniability” threshold, so it is only by allowing the vague messages to take on meaning that I’ve been able to get any sense of meaningful communication.