This past weekend, Glasreo and I attended an informal pagan discussion hosted by the Fellowship Beyond the Star, on the topic of discernment. It was a very fruitful discussion, starting with general definitions and then branching off into individual stories of encounters and omens and general spirit work and work with deities. It was fun to hear other people’s stories, and helpful for all of us to have others’ insight into our experiences. In general, the discussion of discernment hinged on a couple of key points:
- Ruling out mundane causes. This is a big one. Sometimes a flock of crows is just a flock of crows, sometimes candles fall over, sometimes your air vents cause incense smoke to move a certain way. Chances are, if it’s something pretty normal or totally plausible, it’s not a sign of something more. It’s a good idea to learn as much about the science of whatever you’re working with as possible, and to get to know your environment. Seeing a heron isn’t unusual if you’re near a body of water – but you might think it is unusual if you don’t know that there’s water nearby! However, it’s important to know that you can’t ever rule out mundane causes 100%. What you should aim to do is figure out whether what you’ve witnessed is unusual or common. Unusual things may just be an omen! This also applies to trancework: if you’re doing journeywork or astral travelling or something like that, and you aren’t sure whether what you’re experiencing is something you made up or insight you’re receiving, ask yourself whether the patterns are unusual or common. If you were going to daydream about the topic, is this what you would probably come up with? Does everything seem expected, do you feel like it’s all something you’ve already known? Then you’re likely to still be inside your imagination. If something unexpected occurs or doesn’t go the way you’re trying to create it, that’s probably coming from somewhere outside yourself.
- Trusting one’s intuition. At some point after you’ve examined the possibility of mundane causes, you need to think about how you feel, in general. Sometimes a very common thing can be an omen anyway because it’s what you needed, or because the timing was exactly perfect. If you feel strongly that it’s an omen, or that you’re receiving insight from outside yourself, and it’s not just wishful thinking, you probably are. Learning to tell wishful thinking from truth requires a lot of practice evaluating your own thoughts and that can be hard, but the self-awareness that comes with that struggle is very much worth the end result. You’ll learn to trust your intuition and in doing so, trust yourself and your experiences. It can really deepen your practice to not be second-guessing yourself constantly.
- Using lore as a guideline. Lore is really useful if you’re getting messages from deities or other lore-known spirits. You can look up their animal associations, get a sense of their looks or personality, or other things and check those details against the information you’re getting. Lining up 100% isn’t required for you to be correct, but nothing should be huge and glaringly contradictory. Blonde vs brunette is probably fine; mountain associations instead of lake associations might be a bit too far.
- Using divination to double check the message. If you can, it’s always a good idea to do divination or to ask someone else to do divination for you and ask “Am I seeing things clearly?” or “Is the message coming from X deity?” or, “Am I really supposed to do Y thing?” to double check that you’re getting the message from who you think you are, and that it’s trying to tell you what you think it is. Divination can also be helpful if the message is clear but vague: you can ask how or when, and get more information. Be careful if you’re divining for yourself, though, that you’re not falling victim to wishful thinking (yep, there’s that little gremlin again).
- Asking for further signs or repetition. One of the best ways to figure out if you’re really getting messages from spirits when they’re jumbled and unclear is to ask for some kind of unusual, specific sign. Don’t make it something impossible, but make sure that it really is something unusual, that you’ll notice and pick up on. You can ask for a certain number of something like birds, or ask to see a specific animal on your drive to work, or something like that. It might be a good idea to give it a deadline, too, so that you’re not waiting forever and wondering if the answer is just “no”. Repetition, whether you asked for it or not, can also be an indication that something is really a message. Maybe there’s a cardinal nesting near your house, so seeing that one isn’t unusual, but throughout the day you see another 5 or 6 cardinals all over the city and there are pictures of cardinals indoors as well – if you feel like you’re being stalked by something, it may very well be a sign!
- Journaling. One of the best things you can do when you receive a message or something you think might be a message or just witness something really unusual is to write it down! Maybe it was a message, but it will only make sense after the fact. Maybe the message is in the repetition, but until you write it down you don’t realize that you only really ever see crows on Wednesdays. Even if you are sure it’s a message and you know who it’s from and what it means, it’s still a good idea to record it, since a lot of the messages will make even more sense with time. That was you can also keep track of how different spirits and deities usually approach you with new messages, too, and it can help you figure out if things are messages or not much more quickly!
Hopefully this all makes sense to you, and maybe it’ll even help some of you – it certainly helped me to discuss it and write it all out!