(I’m going to apologize for being long-winded before I even begin. I’ll try to at least break this into manageable chunks, but I know there are some points I want to make and it may take some time to get to them).
One of the more interesting, and possibly distressing, aspects of following an alternative spiritual path is the possibility of interacting with deities or other entities that are decidedly not human. Interactions during our dream-times may come and go without causing too much concern or worry. After all, dreams are filled with all sorts of strange and usual stuff – the laws of physics are suspended, the dead walk and talk, and anything that we can conceive of becomes not just possible but probable.
Hearing voices in our heads while wide awake and fully conscious is another matter entirely. To find ourselves no longer alone in our own heads during waking hours can be disconcerting at best. Most of us have some form of constant internal dialogue that runs through our brains, but what happens when someone else shows up and tries to engage us in our own heads? Do we ignore the voice? Do we mentally shout “Go away!”? Do we phone our therapists in tears and beg for medication to make it stop? Do we open ourselves to having a dialogue with something unknown?
I should state, before I continue, that I am not an expert – in either interacting with non-humans or in the mental health field. What follows are just the random thoughts and observations of someone who’s been around this particular block a couple of times.
The Question of Sanity
Let’s face reality for a moment. In Western society, ‘hearing voices’ is, to understate the matter, frowned upon. So much so that claiming to hear voices used to be your admission ticket to the nearest mental institution. Progress is being made toward more acceptance of this experience as a legitimate part of reality, rather than a pathology to be cured. Science and society are slowly catching up to what a lot of us already knew – hearing voices is not simply a hallmark of mental illness, but a legitimate experience that can happen to anyone at any time.
That said, it’s never wise to automatically dismiss mental health issues when experiencing voices in your head, particularly if it’s a new experience to you. In any instance where the voices are suggesting that harm be done, either to self or to others, it’s a good idea to seek out the assistance of a qualified medical professional. Depression, schizophrenia, and other illnesses can cause their sufferers to hear things that are potentially destructive. You can’t continue skipping down a spiritual path if you’ve self-destructed, so take care and always do a mundane reality check when these things happen.
Who are you and what do you want?
When a stranger starts striking up a conversation (whether in your head or in person), it’s perfectly within your right to question who they are and what their motives might be. Never assume that everyone who talks to you is benevolent or interested in your well-being. Know that there are tricksters, grifters, and con-artists out there who would happily manipulate you to gain their own profit (I’m looking at you, Loki Liesmith). Know also that there are beings out there who think, like so many of our well-intentioned relatives, that they know what’s better for you than you do.
If in doubt, ask questions. If the voice refuses to identify itself, you are free to walk away. Repeat after me… you are free to walk away from anyone who refuses to tell you who they are or what they want. You are not under obligation to respond to any voice nor are you under obligation to continue a conversation if you feel uncomfortable or threatened by it. You are well within your bounds to tell anyone who invades your own headspace to go away. It doesn’t matter if the voice belongs to a deity, a ghost, or if it’s just you talking to yourself. If it feels threatening or if it refuses to be forthright with you, you are under no obligation to continue conversing.
What’s being said?
In the event that you do decide to proceed with a conversation, it’s important to listen to what is being said as well as who is saying it. Voices that promote harm are to be treated with care and seriousness (do I need to reiterate that it would be wise to check with a qualified professional in these cases?). Even the most benevolent of voices need to be subjected to as much critical consideration and fact-checking as possible for your own protection. It’s easy to mistake either our own desires or those of a trickster as being genuine.
Deities are not ‘yes men’ and they do not generally take an interest in the daily minutiae of human existence. If the voices in your head are telling you exactly what you were hoping to hear or are cheer-leading you to do the things that you most want to do, it’s time to take a step back and consider whether you may be simply giving voice to your own desires. This applies doubly so if you believe that voice belongs to a deity who is not known for gentle or subtle approaches. Alternatively, you may be hearing a trickster who’s having a little fun with you.
Fact-checking should be a priority whenever possible. It doesn’t matter who claims to be the owner of the voice, what’s being said and how it is said should line up with what it known about that particular being. While you can’t predict what the gods are going to say, a little background check is going to tell you that Odin isn’t likely to extoll the virtues of pacifism nor is Artemis going to go on an anti-hunting tirade. If in doubt, check with other people who are familiar with the deity in question. They can give you some insight about how the deity communicates and what would be typical for that deity.
Discomfort versus Danger
Fact-checking and seeking outside confirmation are good ways to protect yourself from harm or deception. If you believe that you’re being deceived or put in harm’s way, you have the right, and I’d argue an obligation to yourself, to walk away. Know this, though- interacting with others (deity or otherwise) can be disturbing and uncomfortable at times. I can honestly say that most of my interactions with deity have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, if for no other reason than the knowledge that I’m talking to something a heck of a lot more powerful than myself (and yes, I admit that power dichotomies make me uncomfortable under any circumstances).
Discomfort does not necessarily equal danger however. I’ve known people who have severed contact because they were not comfortable with what the voice had to say. It’s a legitimate option, of course, but for me, I find that growth does not happen when I solidly inside of my comfort zone, which is a quiet place in my own headspace where I am the only voice and my voice sounds like an Enya song (hey, I can dream). I don’t grow or challenge myself in that space. I relax there, I retreat there, I regress there to being centered on self. That’s alright for a while, but eventually, I need to challenge myself a bit. YMMV of course and it may be that you’ve found ways to grow within your comfort zone, or that growth is not one of your goals. So be it, that’s the beauty of forging your own path.
I’m Special Because a Deity Talks to Me
In a word, no, just no. I’m sure there will be a whole lot of people who will not be pleased with me for saying this, but hearing voices – either deities, spirits, or whatever- does not make you special. A part of me wants to shout that it should have just the opposite effect, that it should humble you into remembering that you are just a small part of a very large picture. Since I believe that everyone has the capacity to open ourselves to direct communication with deity (or spirits or any thing else that’s out there that wants to talk), I have some difficulty with folks who claim that conversing with the voices in their heads makes them somehow superior or special.
It’s just too easy to get carried away on a wave of excitement and exuberance if you know that you’ve been in contact with something extraordinary. And it is exciting, isn’t it? I mean, this is one of those things that attracts people to a pagan path, the opportunity for direct interaction, particularly with deity. Try not to get so excited that you’re shouting from the proverbial rooftops about your experience because…
Not everyone wants or needs to know
I said at the beginning that Western society, at best, frowns upon those who claim to hear voices. In the time it’s taken me to type this post, that fact has not changed. No matter how exciting, disturbing, or simply interesting the voices in your head might be, it’s always advisable to use a bit of discretion when sharing information. I’m not saying don’t talk about it, but rather use some judgement when deciding when and where that you do. Even in a circle of people for whom it is a common experience, it’s still possible to over-share. Realize that not everyone is comfortable hearing about something that is very intensely intimate and personal. Be aware that there are situations when this kind of disclosure is more trouble than it’s worth – for example, in your workplace. As in all things, engaging the brain before opening the mouth will prove good advice.
Well, I feel like I’ve rambled long enough for one day. There was a point to all of this, I think, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it was now.