13 May 2009

Boundaries, Part II: "I have a message from God..."

In my last essay on Boundaries I discussed emotional boundaries between people. In Part II, I plan to take this concept one step farther and discuss Spiritual Boundaries between people and how to deal with it when you hear a medium convey a message from a god, or even your god.

Religions have long struggled with the question of how to handle people who say "I have a message from the Divine..." Kaldera states of such a position that:

This is the voice of the mystic, and it is secretly or not-so-secretly hated by both the other sides. One reason for that hatred is that it seems dangerous to trust the word of someone who has no credentials except a claim to talk to God, or the Gods, or the spirits, or whatever. [...] Who are you, anyway, that they should believe what you say? You could be delusional, or lying in order to manipulate people, or just earnestly mistranslating the puppets in your head. And, to be fair, those are rational fears; any of those things could be true.

The other reason is that in order to believe in the slim chance that you're telling the truth, they must confront their feelings about the fact that Jesus or Freyja or the ghost of the dead guy is not talking to them.

The question for most of us--including those of us who are spirit workers ourselves--is what to do when someone else conveys a message on the behalf of some entity supposedly outside of ourselves. Should we believe them? Should we automatically reject what they say? Should we go to that deity ourselves and ask? If our own UPG or established Lore™ contradicts what we are being told, does that mean they are wrong or that we are? How should we respond if that's the case?

I will talk about proper boundaries when delivering these messages in a future essay, but for the moment the focus will be on receiving that information.

No matter what the status of your UPG is or the state of the message, you should probably respond to the deliverer the same way and then performing the same sanity check, as Danielle Higgins puts it:

I think the best way to respond to this is with a “Thank you for your concern, I’ll think on that,” and then check with your gods yourself.

Telling them "no, you are wrong!" even if you have radically differing gnosis is generally not a good tactic: it won't go over well with them, and they may earnestly believe what they are conveying to you. They may even be right, no matter how strongly you think "that can't be right" or respond negatively to it. On the other hand: Blindly following the advice, no matter what it is, also is a good way to get badly burned, even if you are 100% confident in the deliverer and that the message is itself genuine.

Thus, regardless of what the message is or who it is coming from--a well respected Shaman of your path, a newbie spirit worker, or a crazy man on the street--the first response should always be the same: Thank your for concern, I'll think on that, Thank you, I’ll ask Him further about that, or some other variation on the theme. Even if the information was delivered via someone acting as a medium or a Horse, the best response is to courteously say Thank you for your concern, I'll think on that.

The next step is to check with the gods/spirits/universe yourself. Even if you have poor signal clarity or are not a spirit worker, performing this check is essential. Even if "all" you do is sit down and meditate or pray for a while and never receive a definitive "answer," this process allows you some space to let your mind process the message properly, and to help separate yourself from it and understand it. It will give you a gut reaction, and--more importantly--give you a chance to understand where that gut reaction is coming from. It gives you a chance to run through a sanity checklist on your own, asking questions along these lines:

What is my gut reaction to what was said and to who delivered it?

Your gut reaction is very important, because it is part of one of your judgement processes. To quote Nathaniel Branden: A clash between mind and emotions is a clash between two assessments, one of which is conscious, the other might not be. It is not invariably the case that the conscious assessment is superior to the subconscious one; that needs to be checked out. So, first question, what is your gut, emotional reaction to the message and to who delivered it.

It is also important to distinguish between these two reactions. To quote Raven Kaldera, in his essay Defining the Conundrum of Academic Research Into Spirit-Work: I know from experience that the Gods and spirits do not choose their targets on the basis of intelligence, competence, sanity, morals, life history, or general goodness. Actually, most spirit-workers (including myself) are completely bewildered as to what criteria the Gods and spirits do base their choices on.

You may love or not be able to stand the person delivering the message. You may find their behaviors vile and revolting, or you may find them to be a paragon of virtue. Either way, you will need to separate out your response to the message from your response to the messenger.

Why is my gut reaction what it is?

Having established what your reaction is to both the message and to who delivered it, the next question becomes why. Why do you react that way?

This is where Mindfulness becomes extremely important. We need to dispassionately exam our emotions and our reactions to and determine what is causing them. Is a past bad experience, a schema, some latent doubt coloring my reaction, or just my subconscious putting together something I can't quite put into words? Regardless, I need to think about it and analyze that subconscious assessment.

No one's gut reaction is perfect. Frequently that reaction is colored by schemata, past experiences which may-or-may-not apply, and current circumstances which may have nothing to do with the advice given.

On the other hand, no one's conscious rational process is perfect. Frequently the rational process--which is conscious--ignores subconscious data that may be lingering just beyond our conscious perception. It may also factor in data that is relevant, but not directly enough so to be included in our conscious process. Either way, they both can be strengthened by applying one to the other.

Regardless of the quality of your own UPG, those are the first things to ask.

Next, you can check out the message itself: check on your own and/or (preferably and) check with someone else to get a "second opinion." If it is really important, the gods have ways of making sure you get the message even if your signal clarity is down, and certainly won't mind you asking. You don't have to follow it--especially without checking it out on your own first--but you also shouldn't dismiss it out of hand simply because it came from an outside source.

There are three basic cases that need to be addressed:

  • You have no UPG on the matter and cannot get any
  • You have agreeing UPG on the matter
  • You have contradictory UPG on the matter

Some thoughts on this topic and all three of these cases will be part of a future essay on boundaries. For the moment, the key questions are: What is my reaction, why am I having that reaction?


  1. Excellent post--and interesting to read a Pagan reflection on what my Quaker sources might call "discernment"--something we Pagans need more wisdom on.

  2. Thanks for posting about this. I have tried to use this approach for a while now when receiving readings or messages from the Holy Ones via other god-touched people, and it can be really humbling to realize that my initial strong reaction had more to do with the medium than with the message. However, as you know, I'm all for using a mindful approach to such matters ;)

  3. I've had the experience of the revelation from the sketchy source. Back around the time I was trying to figure out how to write again, I decided to take a random bus and see where it led. I made it as far as the bus stop when I was accosted by an unwashed, liquor-smelling man. He told me that it was too late for him, he was an alcoholic and a sinner, but he wanted to save my soul for Jesus.

    He talked for some time, though. Once I got over the initial reaction to him, I realized that he had just told me why my writing wasn't getting anywhere. I was trying to make everything excessively verbose, to show off my vocabulary (a habit that hasn't gone away for non-fiction writing purposes), and what I needed was simplicity.

    I never did get on that bus. I went home and wrote my best story in years.

    I can't say for certain whether it had anything to do with gods or spirits or just my subconscious looking or a way to say something it had already figured out, but I'll take it.