The voice of God

I wanted to be a polytheist. It’s not an easy confession to make, because despite my best efforts at various times in my life, I have never had any coherent experience of deity. Only shadows and suggestions, and odd moments in dreams. I’ve encountered enough words from true polytheists to know that personal gnosis is a big part of how they experience the world. My failure to have any kind of serious firsthand experience informed a lot of writing When a Pagan Prays. It’s not a book for people who have comfortable exchanges with their deities – more for anyone else out there who does not get what they went looking for, or is not easy with believing.

I had a bit of a lightbulb moment last week. I realised that I’ve been so busy angsting over my failure to experience deity, that I really haven’t given enough thought or attention to what I do experience. There are other things in my life, and it’s subtle, it seldom comes with a side-order of words, (although I talk to everything) and it occurs to me that this is, for me at least, the most important stuff.

Here’s an example. My computer is at the window, if I raise my gaze I can see trees, and sky. On any given day I will at some point raise my head at just the right moment to see buzzards, a heron, woodpeckers, nuthatches, flocks of little birds, comedy squirrel activity, rainbow light, tiny whirwinds… It’s the same when I go walking – I always see something. If I walk the hills I’ll find fossils, or limestone quartz. It’s easy not to notice, because it is normal for me. I’m very open to what’s around me, and had got into the habit of considering it all fairly mundane.

On the Five Valley’s Walk we saw a lizard and a deer. 1700 people walking the 21 mile route – hardly an invitation to wild things to show up. I watched half a dozen other people walk right past the lizard, not seeing it, but I had been drawn to it at once. I knew it was there. I see kingfishers and little grebes, I hear owls. I do not experience these as messages from the divine or the otherworld, just nature doing its thing and me noticing. I do not read what I see for omens or symbols, but I do feel blessed.

Even as I try and square up to the idea that this could be something really precious and important, I am conscious of my own reluctance to put any big names on it. Knowing when to turn my head to see the deer is just being present. It’s not the voice of gods or the voice of spirit, it’s just me in a wood and everything else in the wood. Would someone else construct a different narrative? Would someone else feel the need to turn, and in turning, see something beautiful, and understand that as the presence of deity?

I’ve spent about twenty years stumbling around, feeling lost and that on a very fundamental level, I wasn’t a very good Pagan at all. It may be that I just do not default to the language of deity when making sense of experience. I don’t see the horned god in the deer, I don’t see goddess in the flash of kingfisher wings. I see the deer and the kingfisher. Perhaps that isn’t a failing. Perhaps I am not as shut out of mystery, as incapable of experiencing it as I had feared myself to be. It may have been the case that I’ve been so busy being enchanted by one tree at a time that I did not grasp that I’d been in the forest all along. I don’t know. Not knowing is pretty fundamental to how I interact with the world. My not knowing has shifted in tone a tad, opening up new possibilities.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

11 responses to “The voice of God

  • Norman Andrews

    Thank you I spent years thinking I was a bad pagan , until standing on a hill early one morning , I realised everything I needed was there.


  • Rhyd Wildermuth

    Do remember: many people cannot see the kingfisher at all, nor the deer.

    Seeing those is a primary divine work in itself, as is helping others to see them.

    A goddess dancing in the light of the kingfisher’s wing cannot be seen if we’ve no more kingfishers.

  • caelesti

    I’ve struggled with belief as well (especially while depressed!) I’ve come to the place where I’m ok with uncertainty. I enjoy mythology, ritual, nature. I think of religion/spirituality as a sort of art form. Whether it is all literally “real” or true doesn’t make it good art. It is up to the individual what type of music, poetry, dance, visual art speaks to them and is beautiful and meaningful. I think you need to just live life and let experiences happen, and don’t worry about whether they have a Profound Meaning or not, but just enjoy them as they are.

    • Nimue Brown

      What a wonderful, helpful and inspiring way of approaching all of this! Many thanks for sharing. I need to spend some time sitting with that, but reading your words was a lot like having a light come on, for me.

  • Donna Donovan

    “I’m not in search of sanctity, sacredness, purity; these things are found a, not in this life; but in this life I search to be completely human: to feel, to give, to take, to laugh, to get lost, to be found, to dance, to love and to lust, to be so human.”— C. JoyBell C.

    Kudos to you for being completely human in this life!

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I do not have communication with deities, or do I seem to have visions. But I a comfortable with the idea that I could be wrong about what I thought of deities. Meanwhile things happen that are odd, I have had far more effect on more people than I would expect by my personal traits and abilities. I did tell the deities they could make use of me and sometimes I think that they do from odd things that happen. So not all of us are going to have day to day talks with the gods. So be it. There were probably a lot of us in the ancient times as well.

  • tek2way

    Since I made the choice to walk my own path, I’ve struggled with the idea that I’m not doing something right. I have suffered quite a bit of self-doubt and crises of faith, simply because many of those I know claim to “talk” to their gods. I always thought, “well, if they can, and I can’t, does that mean I’m doing something wrong? Am I not getting their attention the way they want me to?”

    Reading your post and the other comments has reminded me that maybe I’m not so wrong in what I do. Like you, I find moments in time spiritual, such as napping by an open window with a gentle breeze blowing in on a cloudy day, or sitting outside early in the morning, sipping my coffee or tea and reveling in the feel of the ice cold earth under my bare feet, or stepping out into the bone-chilling cold in the middle of the night, just to stare at the stars.

    I just never stopped to consider what that could mean, above and beyond the moment. I never examined what that feeling was, or from where it came. After all, I wasn’t being spoken to, so clearly I wasn’t experiencing deity.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. While some of my closest friends have tried to tell me the same thing, most of them are also the ones who claim to hear deity. It’s small consolation for the lizard for the kingfisher to say that not everyone can fly.

    Thank you for reminding me the sun shines on kingfisher and lizard alike.

  • lornasmithers

    I think we’re all wired to communicate and get on with different parts of nature differently. I’m alright with gods but admit to struggling with trees and birds.

    Although I can sense more recently certain birds have been trying to push through that barrier. Gulls on drafts of wind, a redwing whistling in a hawthorn, jackdaws on Glastonbury Tor. What are they trying to say? I don’t know. In some ways it’s like trying to communicate through snow or treacle in another langauge. Yet they’re there and speaking clearly. Maybe I’m listening too much for human-like communcation (which I do get from most/some gods/spirits) instead of to what’s there…

    And I’ve never seen a kingfisher 😦

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