Spiritual Growing Pains (AKA Dealing With Your Shit)

If you’ve been on a spiritual path for very long, you know that there’s always baggage. There’s childhood trauma, past relationship pain, self-sabotage, the imposter syndrome, trust issues, betrayals, depression, anxiety, fears, and times you genuinely just fucked up. Despite your best efforts, despite the hours and hours of therapy, despite the meditations and forgiveness practices, despite all the pieces of paper aflame in your burning bowl, you still have shit to deal with.

Sometimes the issues that arise are related to something else going on in your life. There is a trigger that brings all the past pain you thought you had resolved bubbling back up to the surface. You may discover that what you thought was a well-healed scar is actually still a festering wound in need of some serious first aid.

At other times, problems may seem to arise at random (though in my experience, very few are truly random.) You may discover that you are unintentionally blocking something you want to manifest by holding onto a pattern that was in your past, but not what you want in your future. You may discover that healing does not, in fact, have a destination – like many things in the spiritual life, it is a journey, and you may never reach a perfect state of being “healed.”

And that’s okay. Accepting who you are and where you are at in your healing is the first step to moving forward. You have to know how bad the wound is in order to treat it. You may get a cut and think it’s no big deal. However, if you don’t properly wash out the cut, even when the skin has healed back over, there can be infection lurking under the surface.

We are all imperfect, fallible human beings. We can’t fight that, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try the best we can to deal with our issues with grace and compassion – for ourselves and all involved.

Take Care of Yourself

In the mundane world, the best first aid for spiritual growing pains is to take care of yourself. Practice self-compassion. Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Spend time with people that love you. Focus on something you are good at, and do that thing. Exercise. Take your vitamins and prescription medications. Go outside. Do something productive. Lay on the couch for a day, if you need to. Listen to your body. It knows what it needs.

Throw Away the “Shoulds”

When I was going through my most recent spiritual growing pains, a close friend told me to “throw away the shoulds.” I should be feeling this. I should have said that. I shouldn’t do this. Take all of that internal chatter and throw it out the window. Right now.

Because “should” doesn’t really matter. You feel that way you feel. No amount of thinking “I shouldn’t feel this way” is really going to change that. It just puts you in denial, and further from actually dealing with your problems.

We also tend to invalidate our own experiences with “shoulds.” We often use rationalizations to downplay our feelings and reactions. That happened so many years ago – I should be over it by now. My friend didn’t actually mean to hurt me – I shouldn’t be so upset. If a shark bit off your leg, you wouldn’t think “I shouldn’t feel pain because the shark didn’t actually mean to hurt me – it was just trying to survive.”

With shoulds, you are effectively doing the same thing with your feelings. My mother thought she was raising a strong, independent daughter when she told me not to cry in front of anyone. She thought she was doing what was best for me. Does it still hurt that I couldn’t share my emotions with her when I was growing up? Of course! Her intentions, however good, don’t negate my feelings.

Feel Your Feelings. All of Them.

Part of taking care of yourself also involves expressing the emotions you are feeling. Give yourself permission to feel them all, and feel them fully – just make sure you have a safe space to do this in. (Therapy is great for this.) Cry. Let out your body-wracking sobs laced with pain and hurt. Yell (somewhere the neighbors won’t call the police on you, and don’t yell at anyone, even the person who hurt you.) Throw a tantrum like a 2-year-old when you are alone in your room. Let it all out. Feel where the emotion is in your body and concentrate on it, going totally into the feeling.

Find some way to healthily express that emotion. Find a song that encapsulates that feeling and sing or dance to it. Paint. Write. Talk with a friend (just make sure you don’t inadvertently take that emotion out on said friend.) Run until your legs give out. Cuss like a sailor at your microwave. Find a punching bag. Take a martial arts class. Express the emotion through your body. Let it flow through you and out of you.

Processing

Once you’ve felt the depths of your emotions and expressed it in some way, you need to process what happened and why you are feeling what you are feeling. Therapy is also great for this, and you have a trained professional to help you. Talking things out with a wise friend is wonderful. Writing can be an excellent self-reflection tool.

Start with the facts – just what objectively happened and nothing more. Then layer on your interpretations of these facts. What motives did you assume the other person had? Why were you in this situation in the first place? How did you feel about what was happening? Learn to separate the facts from your experience. None of this means that your experience wasn’t real. On the contrary – it was very real for you, and that means it deserves respect. Being able to separate the facts from your experience just allows you to be a bit more objective so that you can learn whatever lessons the experience has to teach you.

Healing

The process of healing has already begun. Don’t be surprised if it takes some detours, loops back around to different steps again and again, or doesn’t go in a traditional straight line upward trend. The healing process is as unique as each person and each experience.

I know I’ve already touted the benefits of therapy in this post and others, but if you notice that your emotions are exceptionally intense or last for an extended period of time, PLEASE seek professional help. Therapists are specifically trained to help you through this process. Some therapists are better at it than others, and if you aren’t getting the help you need, look for a new therapist. That said, before you go looking around, make sure you are doing your part of the work, too.

Healing takes place over time at different levels. The particular issue I’m working through at the moment was from events that happened almost ten years ago. I’ve gone through several different levels of “I’m over it” and “No, really, I’m definitely over it now!” throughout the years. I was not over it. I am not over it. Not completely, anyway. As annoying as that is, I can still see the growth I’ve made since it first happened, and that gives me hope.

Spiritual First Aid

None of this process has to be done in a spiritual vacuum! I encourage you to actively make your spirituality a part of your healing process. Pray to your Goddesses and Gods. Light candles. Make offerings. Do magick. Perform energy work. Use crystals. Balance your chakras. Burn that shit away. Grow plants. Make charms. Cook delicious food with magickal herbs. Meditate. Sit in sacred space. Take a salt bath. Go for a hike. Plunge in the ocean. Sing songs of worship. Enjoy sacred movement. Make the Divine a part of your daily life.

And, above all, know that you are not alone.

What We Label Ourselves

In writing this blog, I’ve necessarily had to label my posts. These labels (called “tags” in blogging) help search engines to pick up on key themes in my posts that, in turn, help readers to find my blog. I’ve had to wrestle with which words best describe my content, what categories people may search for that are relevant to my blog, and what the nuances are between religious terms that individuals may define very differently. It is an interesting microcosm for something we all have to do in our daily lives: label ourselves.

What Is A Label?

For the purposes of this post, I define a label as “a word or phrase that describes key attributes about a person.” Labels serve many purposes – chief among them is the act of classification. If you have a background in science, you know that classification is vital to understanding the world around us. This is a plant and that is an animal. This plant is a grass and that plant is a tree. This tree is a red maple and that tree is a white oak. And so on…

Classification, and the labels with which we classify things, forms our basic understanding of the world. This is just as true for language as it is for how we process information. It’s how we know to call a stove a “stove” and a microwave a “microwave.” Though they may serve similar functions, they are categorically different, and you would definitely get some weird looks if you put a pot to boil on the “microwave” or said you were going to “stove” your leftovers. Labels are an important part of how we navigate the world.

And yet…

Labels can also be detrimental. The labels we assign to others or others assign to us can have devastating consequences. Most of this harm comes from the value judgement we place on each label. Alone, labels are just a form of classification. Labels with value judgements result in prejudice, misinformation, and hatred. And, as much as we like to think we are open-minded spiritual beings, a certain amount of value judgement is inescapable. The best we can do is learn to recognize it, and consciously know that it is influencing our thinking and decision-making.

If you’re like me, perhaps you grew up with a certain distaste for labels. Maybe you were called an unkind name in school, were grouped by your peers with people you’d rather not associate, or felt too confined by a label that didn’t accurately describe your essence. Maybe you experienced prejudice from a label and the value judgement the others around you made about it. Maybe you’ve endured discrimination because of a self-proclaimed label – one which you were proud of, but the value judgements of others ranked you as “undeserving of respect.” These are all very real experiences, and show us the harm that labeling (and subsequent value judgements) by others can bring.

However, I believe that there are some very good motivations for labelling yourself (without any attached value judgements). Labelling yourself serves two main purposes: 1) It allows you to solidify your personal and spiritual identity, and 2) It allows you to communicate this identity to others. Labelling ourselves helps us to know ourselves better, and to find a community of similar people with which to share our experiences.

I am a Pagan

I started calling myself a Pagan around age eleven or twelve. Ever since I learned that there was a group of people who believed that nature was sacred, and it was a real religion, I wanted to be one. I knew I was Pagan in my soul, and once I discovered Paganism, there was no turning back. It felt wonderfully new and old all at the same time.

These days, I identify as Pagan as my main religious/spiritual descriptor – Partly because my particular flavor of Paganism doesn’t have any other nice short words to describe it, but mostly because it is the widest term for a spiritual community with which I have a deep connection. There are so many different aspects of Paganism that we could talk about (I particularly like John Beckett’s Four Centers within the Big Tent of Paganism), but when I say Pagan, I most generally mean:

Pagan – Someone who has a nature-based spirituality

I am a Witch

I’ve identified myself as a witch (with varying degrees of seriousness) since I first learned about witches and magick. A witch was my go-to Halloween costume for most of my childhood, and once I hit puberty and started to discover what “witch” means in a Pagan context, I embraced the label even more.

My interpretation of the essence of a witch has evolved over time. Obviously, my six-year-old conception of a witch was completely different than my current idea of witchhood.  There’s so much to being a witch, but if I had to distill it to one sentence, I would define it thus:

Witch – Someone who works magick with intention and in harmony with nature and the elements

I am a Polytheist

I adopted this label a bit more recently – perhaps late 2016/early 2017. I knew I believed in feminine and masculine aspects of Deity, but my belief of distinct Goddesses and Gods came from my direct experience with them around that time. I lean towards the harder end of polytheism. (I’m sure there’s a sex joke in there somewhere…) I formerly ascribed to the “diamond” philosophy of soft polytheism: that all Goddesses are facets of one Goddess and all Gods are facets of one God. Direct experience with different deities revealed that no, they are not all the same.

Right now, I think I’m more in the “star cluster” philosophy: that there are certain essences of Divinity that expressed themselves differently and by different names across different cultures, but embody the same ideals. Even this, I am a little wishy-washy about. I definitely know that Aphrodite and Cerridwyn are not the same essense of Divinity, but I also know that, while they are similar, Aphrodite and Venus are not the same Goddess. Could they still be the same essence of Divinity, even though they aren’t the same Goddess? I don’t know. I do know that they manifest very differently, and want different things.

Polytheist – Someone who believes in the existence of many Goddesses and Gods

I am Devotional

Devotion to my Goddesses and Gods is a cornerstone of my Paganism. I believe the Divine, and manifestations of the Divine, are worthy of honor, celebration, and worship. My version of worship does not entail debasing myself as unworthy before a superior Divine being. Worship, to me, is the honor and reverence freely given to a Divinity because of your unique relationship with them. I view us as being co-creators with Divinity, and we always retain our own agency (unless you consciously voluntarily surrender it).  

For me, being devotional means expressing honor to my Goddesses and Gods in my daily actions. It’s thinking of them often. It’s making offerings. It’s praying frequently and maintaining an open channel of communication with them. It’s celebrating them every day. It’s all the actions done in love and in loyalty to the Divine. It’s everything that makes my connection to Divinity stronger.

Devotional – Participating in actions done in love to honor, celebrate, and worship a Deity

I am a Priestess

This label made it to the title of my blog. The main reasoning behind this was to put something at the forefront of my blog that would be easily recognizable to serious spiritual seekers of Aphrodite. I have taken a formal oath of service to Her that includes helping others to connect with Her, or on their spiritual path in general.

Being a priestess is something that I take very seriously (though one could argue that I can’t take it too seriously – I do serve a Goddess of Love and Pleasure, after all). I encourage you to read What Does It Mean To Be A Priestess for a full account of how I define priestesshood. The short version is:

Priestess – A woman who has a committed, profound, and reciprocal relationship with a Deity, and who serves that Deity through worship, embodying their virtues, and sharing experiences of that Deity with others

Deciding What to Label Yourself

The process of trying on and identifying yourself with a label is an introspective and exploratory process. It can be a process of trial and error. There may be times in your life where you feel one label fits and other times when it doesn’t. That’s okay. We are constantly evolving beings. While some labels can evolve with us, or develop new meaning to us over time, we can’t expect them all to do so.

We must also be discerning when we choose labels for ourselves. For example, I’m fluent in the Italian language and I’ve lived in Italy, but I would never identify myself as Italian. Why? Because I lack the family heritage that I feel is part of the label’s essence. I will, however, identify myself as an Italian speaker, because through much study and practice, I feel that I have earned that label.

There was a period in my spiritual journey that I wasn’t totally okay with the label “witch” (though I was still very much a witch). I felt like the label carried too much baggage in the popular usage that I didn’t want to bring into my spiritual identity. I didn’t want others placing value judgements on me – getting caught up in the “hocus pocus” part and being unable to see the serious religion that accompanied the magick.

Obviously, my feelings on this have changed, and I identify as a witch today without any hesitation. Part of this was my own taking back of the label and making the decision of “fuck what other people think!” Part of this was also exploring what “witch” meant to me, and evolving my own definition of the label.

Reluctant Labels

We all have parts of our identity that we aren’t as proud of as others. Some of these may come with labels that technically fit us, but that we don’t really want in our lives.

For example: Other than an extreme dislike of cold and an occasional craving for grits, most of the people who encounter me would never guess that I was born and raised in the American South. I have no discernible accent (I actually trained myself out of it when I was young because I had already encountered the stereotype that “Southerners are uneducated” – a label I desperately did not want to be associated with). I don’t like sweet tea. I don’t eat meat. I don’t hunt or fish. I don’t believe in country clubs (even though I took cotillion etiquette classes when I was younger). I don’t believe we fought the Civil War “for state’s rights.” Most importantly, I don’t believe in the racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of prejudice that are so frequently associated with “being a Southerner.”

But I am a Southerner – for all the good and bad that comes with it. That is something that I have to live with. Is it a label I would necessarily chose for myself? Not really. However, the more people that embrace the label that don’t fit the stereotype can evolve the popular meaning of the label and the value judgements associated with it.

I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It sucks. It made my life very difficult for a long time. But sharing my own mental health story has helped others to feel okay with sharing theirs. The more people are open about mental health, the less stigma will be attached to it. So, I claim the label OCD. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but I’m not ashamed, either.

The Power of Choosing Your Own Labels

What we decide to call ourselves has immense power. In a spiritual sense, it’s the conscious act of putting yourself out there. Saying “I’m Pagan” has power to it.  Saying “ I am a witch” has power to it. The Divine is listening and the Earth can hear – you may be surprised what comes your way when you make a spiritual declaration of this sort.

Labeling yourself also has social power. It forms a connection between you and others who choose that label. It enables you to more easily find a community. You have an identity, or several parts of an identity, around which to rally, swap stories, celebrate, or worship.
At its essence, labeling yourself requires knowing very intimately who you are. This necessitates a huge amount of introspection and exploration. You’ll never know which identities fit unless you try on several to see how they feel.

It is worth saying that no label can ever completely define who you are. And that’s okay. It shouldn’t stop us from trying to get a close approximation. Knowing deeply and truly who you are is essential to a meaningful spiritual practice. You cannot expect to connect with the Divine unless you are able to connect with yourself. Knowing who you are and standing in your power is a beautiful thing. Have fun exploring!

Going Deeper – Connecting with Divinity

This is Part Two in a series on Going Deeper with your Pagan Practice. Read Part One here.

You’ve done some great personal introspection, feel pretty confident about your spiritual skills, and you’ve taken a look at the personal considerations in the previous blog post (Going Deeper – Are You Ready to Dive In?). You’ve done your research, and are pretty sure of the deity (or deities) you want to work with. You know about their lore, their traditions, and their holidays. Maybe you’ve even already started to reach out to them. These are all wonderful things! Here are some next steps on how to pursue a deeper relationship with a deity.

1. Pray

I have found that an easy access point to begin a Divine relationship is through prayer. Those of us who were raised in other faiths may be more or less familiar with the idea, and it’s something that most people have at least some experience with. If there is a typical prayer structure in your tradition, try that! If there’s not, invent your own, or find some inspiration on the internet. I’ve always found that spontaneous prayers spoken from the heart are the most connective, but don’t feel like that is your only option.

Written prayers are good for daily devotionals and rituals, and having specific prayers for specific occasions (like before a meal) also have special meaning. You may want to include some of your deity’s epithets in your prayers. This can help further connect you to their various aspects, and can give you a touchstone for when you don’t feel you have much to say.

2. Do a daily devotion

A daily devotional practice to your deity is essential to building a deep relationship. Start small! There are many different ways to do a daily devotion and many practices that you can incorporate into yours. I suggest that you start small, with one action a day, and keep doing that until it becomes a regular habit. Then you can build on that solid foundation with more elaborate practices.

A great way to start a daily devotional practice is with prayer. This can be scripted or spontaneous – something you say right when you wake up, before you go to bed, before a meal, or another time that feels right for your deity. You are more likely to be successful if you connect it to something you already do on a daily basis (which is why I’m a fan of the waking up/going to bed option). This could be something as simple as being mindful while you drink your morning tea and dedicating that time to your deity. Make sure gratitude, joy, and celebration are a part of whatever devotion you do.

3. Make offerings

Making offerings can be a part of your daily devotional practice, but it doesn’t have to be, especially not in the beginning. I do suggest you start making offerings of some variety to your deity, even if it is just once a week, or at the very least, once a moon cycle.

I think of offerings in two categories: physical offerings, and offerings of action. Your deity may have a particular preference (and even preferences within those categories), and it is important that you honor that. The gods and goddesses also know and respect your financial status and ability level. They won’t ask for offerings of gold if you can’t afford it. That being said, sometimes requests that seem like a stretch will be made. This may be a sign of something you need to work towards, and it’s good to open up communication with your deity about these requests to clarify what is really being asked of you.

Physical offerings are just that, physical objects that are given to the deity. This can be food or a libation, incense burned in their honor, flowers or other decorations, or something you have made. This is offered with love and respect for the deity, usually placed on an altar or in another special location, and accompanied by a prayer or expression of gratitude. If your offering is something that will spoil (like food or drink), the offering will generally be placed outside and returned to the Earth after the ritual is finished or after a day or so, if left on an altar. I live in a third-story apartment, so I don’t have access to an outdoor offering space. I also have a cat that will eat pretty much anything (including aluminum foil and staples), so I can’t leave anything out in my apartment. I also risk running into my neighbors and getting looks from dog-walkers if I go downstairs and out to the edge of the woods. There’s a modification for every living situation. My balcony is pretty private and faces the woods, so my solution for perishable offerings is to ceremoniously (though, some might argue unceremoniously, depending on my throwing skills that day) toss them off my balcony into the woods. Luckily, I work with a laughter-loving goddess who doesn’t mind me being a little silly when I make my offerings. You’ll have to come up with a method that works for you and your deity.

Offerings of action are things that you do in your daily life to honor your deity. They could be things you do that are within your deity’s purview, like attending a pole dancing class in honor of Aphrodite, or performing an activity that you enjoy and mindfully doing it for them. For example, I frequently dedicate my yoga practice to Aphrodite. For offerings of action, I refer to the line in the Charge of the Goddess (version by Doreen Valiente) “Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

“All acts of love and pleasure” – that phrase just makes my heart sing. Because the gods want us to be happy. Yes, sometimes we will need to go through hard times in order to further our personal growth, but all with the purpose of developing our joyful, beautiful souls. Almost anything can be an offering, if it is done mindfully and with intention. Some of my favorite offerings of action are: spending time with friends, going for a hike, exercise of pretty much any form, making art, writing, cooking, cleaning (with intention!), singing in the shower, learning another language, studying a new subject, and reading magickal books.

4. Listen deeply

If you want to form a meaningful relationship with a deity, you want it to be two ways, which means you need to listen deeply to what they have to say. When I say listening, I don’t mean in the literal auditory sense (though that can also apply). Communications from the Divine can take many forms, including visions and “just knowing” things. Be mindful to listen as you are praying, making offerings, or doing devotions. Meditation can be a wonderful opportunity to listen, as your mind is quieter than normal, and you are open to different experiences. More on that in the next section.

Communications can also happen anytime the Divinity chooses. I remember having one particularly memorable Divine transmission from Aphrodite while sitting at a stoplight in my car. I’ve also had a quieter goddess go through one of my friends to get me to pay attention when I wasn’t listening to her. While setting up a spiritual context for listening greatly increases the likelihood of meaningful communication, it doesn’t always have to be “spiritual.”

5. Meditate

I’m sure there is no shortage of books or internet articles telling you how important meditation is for spiritual practice (or even just life in general), so I’m not going to bore you with another proselytizing speech here. You can find good research about the other benefits of meditation pretty easily as well. My reasons for including meditation here are mostly rooted in deep listening, but it’s also a pretty essential magickal skill for spellwork and raising energy.

Setting aside at least 10 minutes a day (or every other day – again, start small and work your way up!) to meditate in whatever way feels best to you will open you up to receiving Divine messages. I mentioned a few of my favorite types of meditation in Part One of this post, but choose something that works for you, and do it consistently. You may not hear anything right away. That’s okay. Keep up the practice. You may not hear anything at all. That’s okay, too. Your deity may communicate with you in other ways. If you consistently don’t hear/see/feel anything from a deity you have been trying to work with, you might consider exploring other options and seeing if another deity “clicks” with you better. Your relationship should be a two-way street. You can choose the deity, but the deity also has to choose you.

6. Perform acts of service

Acts of service are similar to offerings of action, but are more themed around doing the deity’s work in the world. This can be a lot of different things, but it is generally related to the deity’s sphere of influence. For me, an act of service for Aphrodite would be helping my friends out when they come to me for advice about romance or sex. For one of my friends who is devoted to Frigg, it can take the form of being an amazing mother.

Acts of service are extremely personal between the deity and their devotee, and it depends on your abilities and resources. Once you begin a relationship with a deity, they may ask you do certain things for them, give you tasks or a mission. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes you will need to seek those things out on your own. Sometimes the opportunities will just appear in front of you. You always have the option of saying no, but if you are trying to build a relationship with this deity and what they are asking for doesn’t conflict with your morals or go beyond your capabilities, I recommend you give it a try. Be honest and upfront about it with your deity, too. That’s what I did with Aphrodite. I told her I would “try out this being-a-priestess” thing, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

What is asked of you may not be easy. It’s okay to struggle, but you need to be honest with yourself and with your deity about why you are struggling (refer back to the “Have you dealt with your personal shit?” section of Part One of this post). Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. If a deity wants you to do their work in the world, they will help you do it, but you also need to put in the effort.

7. Make the Divine a part of your daily life

This is my favorite part of all about “Going Deeper” into a relationship with a deity. My life, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep (and sometimes even in my dreams), is filled with magick, love, and spiritual experiences. No joke. I’ve tried my best to merge my magickal and mundane lives as much as possible, and it has resulted in some pretty great synergy.

I do devotions when I awake and before I go to sleep. I’ve recently started a regular practice of blessing my food, particularly the rose tea I drink for Aphrodite. My purse at any point in time contains a myriad of crystals, charms, quarter calls, a candle, notes for rituals, and an emergency rosewater vial (yes, you read that correctly). My phone has pagan blogs bookmarked, inspirational goddess art, and an app to track the moon phases and astrological signs. My bookshelf is filled with books on witchcraft, paganism, personal development, relationship help, tantra, sex, and love. I have several spaces in my apartment dedicated to different spiritual purposes. Even at work, I have some covert spiritual things. I pray I don’t know how many times a day. I do a cleansing ritual every time I shower. The Divine has permeated my life, and I am so much better for it.

I hope these two posts have served as a good jumping off point for your own spiritual deep dives. I wish you the best of luck in your spiritual endeavors. May the Gods and Goddesses go with you.

Going Deeper – Are You Ready to Dive In?

So you’ve decided that you want to begin a relationship with Aphrodite (or another Divinity that feels right to you). A deep, personal relationship. Maybe you want to become a devotee, dedicant, or priestess (or priest; we are open to all genders here). What do you do next? There are some important considerations to take into account, and then I’ll talk about first steps to connect with your deity in another post.

Important things to consider before embarking on a relationship with any Divinity:

1) Where are you on your spiritual path?

Are you relatively new to Paganism? How long have you been called to this path? “New” can be a relative term, and some people who are relatively “new” to Paganism or Witchcraft are able to hit the ground running with the basics and move on to deeper things more quickly than others. These people have usually had a “calling” for a long time, or finally realized that they were “a witch all along and didn’t know it,” but this isn’t always the case. If you are starting out, I would recommend a MINIMUM of six months of study in various Pagan traditions before moving on to deep personal relationships with deities. Most traditions recommend a year-and-a-day of study before moving on to the next level. Taking some time to study and reflect is essential because: A) You want to have a pretty good idea of what path feels right to you before you start diving deeper, and B) You want to know exactly what you are getting into if you pursue a relationship with a particular deity.

What books have you read? What methods or traditions have you studied? I’m not saying you need to study every single tradition out there before you start going deeper with one particular tradition or Divinity, but it’s a good idea to get a general overview of modern Paganism and see what resonates with you. Even if you end up deciding that your first tradition or deity was the One, at the very least you have a good background with which to participate in the larger conversation of Paganism. Check out the Resources section of my website for some of my recommended books for beginning study and exploration.

2) What is your spiritual skill set?

Do you have a daily meditation practice? Do you have any experience with going into and out of trance states safely? How much are you in touch with your intuition? Do you know basic energy anatomy and how to move and raise energy? Developing a deeper relationship with any deity is going to be difficult if you don’t have some basic spiritual tools.

Having a good meditation practice is essential for a deep spiritual life, as well as for magick and energy work. Now, meditation is different for everyone. I’m not talking about the complete “clear your mind and have no thoughts at all for 20 minutes” (but if you can do that, good for you!) Meditation is mostly about being able to hold an intention, whatever that intention may be.

Some of my favorite ways to mediate are:

  • Dance! (or other movement) – Put on some music you love and get lost in it. Don’t focus too much on your movements, just do what comes naturally.
  • Hiking/Walking Meditation – Focus on observing (without judgement!) everything around you: how the ground feels underneath your feet, what sounds you hear, the colors you see, et cetera. If you find yourself following a train of thought, bring it back to gentle observation.
  • Mantra or Affirmation Meditation – This involves repeating a specific phrase or mantra as the focal point of the meditation. I like using these when I’m feeling down or upset. “I am loved” or some variation of that is one of my favorites.
  • Breathing Meditation – Focus on your breath. You can either think “in… out” with your breaths or count your number of breaths or the duration of your breaths.
  • Focal Point – I don’t do these very often, but lots of people have success with image meditations or mandala meditations. This can involve a real image or one you hold in your mind (though the latter is more difficult). It can also involve any other visual focal point, like a candle flame or water flowing over rocks.

There are lots of other ways to meditate, but the important thing is to find a way that works for you. Meditation will allow you to develop focus for magickal and energy work, as well as be able to open up your mind to the Divine.

Trancing is a level up from meditation, and I don’t suggest trying it without a trained teacher or a good book. Trance-portation by Diana Paxson is a good place to start. I have had a number of wonderful and fantastical Divine encounters whilst in trance, but it is not something you want to jump into the deep end with.

Intuition is a very personal thing, so journeys to get in touch with your intuition are going to be as varied as each individual. Most good introductory magickal/spiritual skill set books will have suggestions for this.

Energy is so important! At the very least, you should know your own energy anatomy, and how to raise and control energy within your own body and within a circle. For years I focused on external energy raising, which was all well and good, but it was only when I started working within that I discovered the amazing possibilities of energy. Working with your own energy will also teach you when another (Divine) energy is present or channeling through you.

3) Do you have a pantheon?

If you do, great! Maybe you found a pantheon that resonated with you during your year-and-a-day of study. Awesome! I didn’t. And that’s okay. You don’t have to have a pantheon. (Though there are some Pagans who may tell you otherwise.)

I’m an eclectic witch. Even though I work with a Hellenic divinity, I don’t follow the Hellenic pantheon or Hellenic traditions. The only other Greek deities I work with on occasion (and I mean very occasionally) are Hestia, Hecate, Persephone, Demeter, and Dionysus. And that’s okay. No one has come to smite me yet.

Your path is just that – YOURS. No one else can tell you what is right or wrong for you. (I assume we all can agree with a general “Do no harm, but take no shit” policy at the very least.) When it comes to which deities you worship and how you worship them, your best authority is you.

4) Have you dealt with your personal shit?

Ah, perhaps the biggest question of all! Have you dealt with your personal shit? Have you been on the personal growth path long enough to at least know what your problems are, if you haven’t already dealt with them? This can run the whole gamut, including but not limited to: mental disorders, fears, insecurities, family issues, physical health, romantic relationship issues, energy blockages, resentments, self-esteem, prejudices, addictions, and healthy boundary setting. Do you know what your core values are? What drives you as a human being? You should know yourself, or at least be making an effort to do so, before you begin pursuing a deep relationship with a deity.

I highly recommend therapy. For everyone. It doesn’t matter how well-adjusted you think you might be – none of us escaped childhood or early adulthood without some battle scars (and possibly some festering wounds). It’s also just nice to have an impartial third party to talk about your life issues with who won’t pass judgement on you and is there to support you. You do need to find a good therapist, though, and that may take some time. You need to find someone whom you “click” with, who provides helpful advice, and who is hopefully pagan-friendly (if you want to talk about spiritual stuff with them).

All of this to say: You don’t actually need to wait to pursue a relationship with the Divine. You can start today (and should, if you want to!) These are just some guidelines for that next step, some recommendations that I either had, or wish I had had, when I began my journey to Aphrodite. That being said, The Divine is (for the most part) understanding. If you are just starting on your journey, or are in the beginning phases, don’t be afraid to reach out! Pray, make offerings, sing, dance, meditate! The Divine can, and will, help you in your preparations for deeper connection. Like I said in the beginning, these guidelines are for those wanting to pursue a dedicated, daily relationship with a deity – like that of a devotee or priestess (/priest). And if that deity likes you, they will most certainly give you some guidance along the way.

This is Part One in a series on Going Deeper with your Pagan Practice. Read Part Two here.