No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, whether you are newly walking the Pagan path or if you have been wandering in the woods for a while, we all experience spiritual doubt. Some doubt is completely normal (and can even be a good thing), but sometimes it can undermine our confidence and get in the way of the spiritual experiences that we want to have. How you deal with and process spiritual doubt can strengthen your spirituality, your connection with the Divine, and your spiritual self-confidence.
I still experience spiritual doubt. I’ve been walking the Pagan path in some form or another for over 15 years. I definitely experience less doubt these days than I did when I was first starting out, but there are still those nights where I wonder if this is all in my head or if I’m making things up because they sound cool. Sometimes there is the quiet, creeping doubt that wonders if any of this is real. There are times when I have a spiritual experience so impossible that it is hard to believe. Then, there are times when imposter syndrome catches up with me and I question “Who am I to be doing this work?”
Some Doubt Is Good – Keeping Things in Perspective
A little bit of doubt is a healthy thing. It keeps us grounded. It keeps us from getting too stuck in our views and becoming dogmatic. Doubt enables us to open our minds to new possibilities and to be adaptive in our beliefs and how we practice them.
Doubt helps us to keep things in perspective. Not everything is a sign from the Gods. Seeing a swan doesn’t necessarily mean it is a message from Aphrodite – You might just live near a body of water. Sometimes events have perfectly normal explanations.
You know there is something more out there, that is just as real as anything you can touch with your physical hands. Sometimes, it is mysterious. Sometimes, it is unexplainable. Sometimes, it defies all logic. And yet… it is there. The Divine. Magick. The Otherworld. Spirits. Energy. These things are all real.
Some doubt is healthy, but sometimes that dubious voice in the back of your mind needs to shut up and get out of the way for you to develop the spiritual connections you want.
Here is how I deal with spiritual doubt, in whatever form it may take:
Personal Spiritual Experiences
Most of what would fall into this category would generally be labeled as “Unverified Personal Gnosis” or UPG. UPG is my direct experience of the Divine. It may or may not match the experience of others or accounts of the Divine in lore or mythology (that’s the Unverified part). It is extremely personal to me, and I experience it with both my this-world senses and my other-world senses (Personal). And a lot of it is just a type of inner knowing, even if I can’t prove exactly why (Gnosis). UPG is unique to each person.
Personally, I think UPG is essential for our ancient Pagan religions to grow and evolve with the complexities of modern life. I have a much deeper relationship with my spirituality because of my UPG experiences. However, the importance of UPG is not the point of this post, so perhaps I will discuss that another time.
Sometimes my UPG experiences happen in ritual, sometimes in meditation, and sometimes spontaneously. It is never something I can predict. I’ve had Aphrodite randomly tackle me during the quiet relaxation period at the end of a yoga class. I’ve been on an intentional journey where Aphrodite took my hand and we waltzed through a meadow with red and white flowers blooming at our feet wherever we stepped. I’ve meditated and felt Her presence with me. I’ve heard Her voice in my head. I’ve had Her words flow through me during ritual. I’ve gone to Her and felt Her hold me as I sobbed into Her chest. I’ve felt Her magnetism wash over me as I languidly and luxuriously enjoyed sumptuous food. I’ve felt Her write through me, compose a song through me, and cry through me. I’ve felt Her power in the waves of the ocean and in a dancing flame. And it is all real.
Often, spontaneous spiritual experiences are the most powerful for me – Where nothing external or internal could have prompted that particular interaction with Aphrodite (or Cerridwyn, or any other deity I might be working with). Hearing messages that I am not expecting (and especially those I do not want to hear) also help to combat my doubt. If I was actually making all of this up in my head, it would have been a lot nicer (in the case of some of my “tough love” messages from Aphrodite) or it would have made a lot more sense (in the case of seemingly random messages that only fit together after some time has passed).
Also in this category, I would put the sheer number of spiritual experiences I have had. Aphrodite has been a nearly constant presence in my life for years now. Eventually, if you’ve had enough spiritual experiences, the questioning element shifts from “Did this actually happen?” to “Am I interpreting this correctly?” If you are a relatively new Pagan, you may not yet have enough spiritual experiences to draw on for this shift to happen, and that’s okay! That part takes time.
My personal experiences with the Divine form the foundation of my spirituality. I believe in and honor the Deities I do because of my personal experiences with them. With some Deities, those experiences are numerous and fairly obvious, like with my relationship with Aphrodite. With others, it is mysterious and nuanced, like with Cerridwyn. And there are sometimes where I have no idea what is going on, like with Hermes.
Every Deity is different, and every person’s relationship with that Deity is unique. My experience of Aphrodite may not be your experience of Aphrodite – and that’s okay! I believe that Deities appear to us and speak to us in a way that we can understand (at least most of the time). Someone who needs love and light may not see Aphrodite’s rougher, darker side. Sometimes, the Divine will be able to speak to you through intuitive nudges, and other times you may need a smack on the head from the Cosmic Two-by-Four.
Every Divine relationship is unique, and that relationship may also change over time. For a long time, I could only communicate with Cerridwyn if I went through an elaborate, trance-inducing ritual when I made a specific kind of soup as an offering. Now, I can reach out to Her through meditation and other means. When I was first pursuing a relationship with Aphrodite, my spiritual experiences with Her did not occur with nearly the frequency or intensity that they do now. And sometimes the frequency and intensity ebbs and flows, depending on what’s going on in my life or many other factors.
I would like to conclude with this:
If you haven’t had a personal experience with the Divine, that does not mean that all hope is lost or that the Deity you’re trying to talk to does not exist. Personal spiritual experiences require a special combination of dedication, psychological and spiritual receptivity, and Divine intervention. Communication styles differ from person to person and Deity to Deity.
(I had started writing a few tips on how to facilitate a personal spiritual experience, and quickly realized that it was long enough for its own post, which will hopefully be published soon.)
There is a certain amount of work you can put in to help encourage personal spiritual experiences, and the foremost among this work is dedication. Don’t give up. Keep reaching out to the Divine. Experiment with different methods. Try connecting with different Deities if the one you are calling to doesn’t seem to be answering. Gods have their own agency, and sometimes the Deity you want to work with or think you are supposed to work with isn’t the best fit. (I know that from personal experience.)
Sometimes a Deity will seek you out, and sometimes you have to pursue them. A Deity may appear for a certain season of your life and gradually fade into the background, or They may stick around. Certain Deities may call to you at certain times of year, and not at others. You may be given a name for that Deity, or you may be left with some syllables of what you can only describe as the closest approximation. You may see Them, or hear Them, or simply feel Their presence.
To me, it’s all a part of the wonderful Divine mystery.
This is Part One in a series on Dealing with Spiritual Doubt as a Pagan. Part Two coming soon!