All these romanticized imaginings were probably as silly as the God/dess Fandom I found difficult to take seriously in others. I've heard it suggested by other Pagans that the expectation of intimate, personal relationship with deity is merely a unshakable bad habit of a Christian childhood and that it was better to move on, finding other ways to be meaningfully "religious." Yet there were also women and men who seemed to "get it," whose relationships with the gods seemed not only real but deeply meaningful and beautiful, and I knew that this yearning for an aesthetic sense of beauty and poise in muddy, misty, earth-centered ritual was a vital aspect of sacredness for me. If I was going to work with gods, they would need to be Gods, with the same kind of presence and awe and ecstasy in them that I was able to find already in poetry, or in a woods that was alive and enchanted without seeming full of deity. Still, "deity" to the polytheist is something different in kind from what "deity" means to the monotheist. And having once lost faith in the simple Bearded-Sky-Man version of the latter, I was skeptical of ever being able to step into a belief in the former by a sheer act of will. I could not very well invent my conviction out of nothing, and yet the woods and the night and the sunrise seemed to need no gods behind them to be enough for me.
Then a year ago, at the very beginning of February, I discovered almost by accident that I might find the gods swimming in the flux of particulars, like dust motes transformed into tiny jewels in the wash of illumination stirred up against the dark. And without even realizing it, I began to give myself permission to imagine, to indulge in a kind of deep play in my practical work, and it was as though, still uncertain as I was, I had lit a candle in my heart and begun to shine its light in the right direction to catch the sight of dust stirring.
Deity & Practice
It was not long after I had "revamped" my meditation altar and begun daily ritual work that things began to change — and rapidly. Longing for that sense of sacred earth shot through with thriving divinity, I began pouring daily libations at a simple altar dedicated to the three realms, following that same intuition that spoke to me voicelessly on the tops of mountains overlooking the sea. I held the water in a tiny white porcelain pitcher cupped between my two hands, breathing gently over it, infusing it with my energy, my hope, and my longing. When the pitcher's cool sides seemed to be thrumming with warmth and the water humming with an inner life of its own, I raised the pitcher away from me, just for a moment, to catch the flickering light of the candle nestled in its hand-thrown sun-etched jar. And then, I poured the water in a single, slow cascade over the small pile of smoothed river stones, collected from the local stream and built into a cairn resting in the round base of a flowerpot dish. In the silence, I listened to the sound of trickling water working its way over rock. I watched the stones grow dark and glistening with that lingering touch of moisture soaking deeply into their speckled skins. I felt heart-aching, peace-singing gratitude, and I gave that gratitude to the stones themselves, and to the waters running from between my hands, and to the tiny candle with its hungry flame.
This was not idolatry exactly, at least not as the Christians would understand it. I did not offer gratitude to the stones as Gods or Spirits, or imagine them to be the home, the physical dwelling place of something Supernaturally Other. I did not petition the stones for blessings or guidance, except perhaps in a secret prayer so silent even I could not hear it, one which begged them only to continue being stones, to continue offering that kind of presence that only river stones, unobtrusive and full of round gravity, can offer to the eye and to the ear, to the fingertips and palms. I sat simply with the stones themselves, with the pitcher of water and the candle in its jar, and allowed the sacred act of ritual to frame and raise them, to sharpen my focus to this moment, to the movement and relationship that existed uniquely and powerfully in this space. I turned my attention to these things, allowing my imagination to settle in among their ways of being as I might in a poem or a piece of art — not taking or mistaking them for mere symbols, but seeking something, some inner quality, or rather yearning to slough away all that was between us, all the associations and assumptions and agendas until I was touching the uninterrupted, uninterpreted truth and meaning of stone being stone.
Through this practice, returning again and again to a place of receptivity and contemplation before ordinary objects that I loved, without imagining them to be anything more (or anything less) than ordinary and beautiful, I learned the art of attending. When I longed for the mountains rising up out of the sea, when I longed for warm sunlight beating down on my shoulders, I let that longing be the uninterrupted, uninterpreted truth and meaning of being who I am, and this is what I gave to the water, to the candle, and to the pile of rock that seemed, at those times, to resonate with similar memories and to respond with a kind of kinship to my desire. It was memory, then, that became my prayer. The activity of imagination gave us — the stones, the flame, the water, and me — a shared life, a life of offering and exchange. These objects became for me an open doorway into immediate, embodied presence; yet it seemed they entered into me, as well, into my memory and thought as that space in which they might touch in some way the things which they had been, and those things they would become. I wonder now if it is the ability to attend — to be present, to listen, and to serve — that is the first real step towards a relationship with deity, and so with the divinity of the Many. For within the solid, wet-granite reality of that still pile of stones, there was something shining opalescent on the edge of perception, something that reached out to me in the same breath that I was reaching, too.
But this was still far from believing in the polytheist's gods in any literal sense, or even believing in them as useful archetypes or metaphorical energies. A stone I could hold in my hand, even if I could not adequately describe the experience of its vital presence, but the gods seemed less substantial, more elusive, perhaps not even real — and the fact that no one seemed able to describe the experience of such a deity either, let alone how to effectively seek one out, didn't help. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and challenged by the idea. Something prompted me to get in touch with a fellow Druid blogger who, from his posts and guided meditations, I judged to have more experience in "finding" these deities and establishing a connection with them. I had tried guided meditations before, but the beings I encountered always struck me as so obviously part of my own psyche, I still wasn't convinced. For the sake of an experimental and open mind, I asked him to be my mentor for time.
Soon afterwards, two things happened. First, he began to confide in me that a new deity had recently begun to appear in his meditations, one that he had very little experience with before and that seemed, according to Her own communications, to be tied closely to me. "Brigid," he told me, "has something in store." This was not news I was particularly receptive to. Incredulous, in fact, is probably the word I would use. Being told such a thing, even earnestly and a bit shyly, feels very much like having someone constantly glancing past your shoulder, insisting you have a large, invisible rabbit named Harvey following you around. Still, our mentor-student relationship continued, and when prompted I took his suggestion to experiment with creative writing again, having largely set aside my poetry and short-story writing since graduating college. It was just past the snow-melting, sun-hinting days of Imbolc and the year was rounding quickly towards Alban Eiler, the spring equinox. In the local landscape, the streams were waking up from the dark slumber, the mud was seething and the crocuses and snowdrops were pushing their way towards the light. I wrote the story of Yewberry and her journey through death back into life. And then I wrote a poem.
So it begins:
the heavy slips of white,
the dip of moon, suspended,
cool as dusk, and just as still,
the lingering chill of listless death
each perfect round and dimpled budding breath,
like fog, like mist
that's drifting in from aging night.
So we begin.
So we begin,
and sewing deep,
the dark and ground,
comes aching, breaking open
at our rough and clumsy feet,
turned over, crumbling moist
and new between our hands,
and going under now, this weaving,
fearless dreaming that we do,
that has us hovering just a petal's width
beyond our gentle paling skin.
Let it begin.
Let it begin this way
the same as past, the sudden
spirit rising, sip of wind and gasp,
the lips of every blossom turning loose
and sweet and singing, parting, self-forgetting,
kneeling to the urge of season, to the spring
and warming, to the summoning of pulsing blood
and gathering waters flowing, to the sun
that slides so slowly with his long and searching fingers,
pacing dawn at the horizon, to the trembling earth
that shivers, waiting, wet and rolling like a sea,
anticipating fire, anticipating green,
to the thrumming of her edges,
to her secret silent longing, humming,
sound and energy,
let it begin.
Let it begin, this re-learning,
this unfurling of our bodies, the utter music
of our skin, our muscles tightly strung, our tongues
unknowing instruments, wandering blind,
our histories unwinding, all before us slipping
clear and quick over streambeds rumpled, low and welcoming,
disappearing, turning over, we are growing, we are going under now,
we are following it down, we are blurring into beauty, we are losing definition,
we are sliding, tossing, taking, writhing, waking, climbing, blooming, sunning, shining,
we are swept along the surface and then pinned against the sky,
we are frightened we are naked we are cunning sharp and sly,
we are humming we are humming we are humming life becoming,
we are hanging among starlight
praising everything that's coming.
And then, the second thing happened: we fell in love.