The Inevitable Rant About Discernment

Resources on discernment are, quite emphatically, not in short supply.

And yet, despite this abundance of resources, a lot of people are really bad at discernment. When I was a new baby Heathen on Tumblr, we literally had The Discernment Talk every. Gods. Damned. Week.

And it never got better! We still had our little hysterias. (Remember, remember, the fifth of September.) We still had our sweeping trends. Some of it was just how Tumblr works as a social media site, what with the reblog button and all. But more static, self-contained areas on the internet like closed Facebook groups weren’t immune, either.

It’s just…a very persistent, wide spread problem.

We could write more discernment posts. We could simplify them. We could shove books at people. We could simplify those, too.

But none of this makes a difference if people aren’t open to it. People don’t like to be told they’re wrong. They really, really don’t like to be told they’re wrong. Even when they are wrong. Especially when they are wrong.

And nobody is going to be immune to that.

So when you finally feel like you’re successfully making contact with a god, finally seeing some evidence of their involvement in your life, finally letting yourself believe…what’s your knee-jerk reaction to being told to re-evaluate and start doubting?

You probably start getting worried. Maybe angry. Almost definitely defensive. “You don’t know me, you don’t know my life,” etc. Or the infamous “but it’s my UPG!”

Which…well, you know how I feel about that.

When someone brings up discernment, especially concerns that you need to use more of it, it’s not because someone is trying to take your spirituality away from you.

Rather, the person is usually concerned about lack of judgement, and you going on a wild goose chase and possibly hurting yourself. Because it happens. Gods are confusing at best, and sometimes deliberately misleading. Ditto for spirits pretending to be gods for the sake of messing with you.

And, whew boy do people like to make things up.

Precious little of what a god has ever conveyed to me made any sense the first time around. It is almost always tiny signs. Random objects. Sneaking suspicions. Showing up with crystal clear imagery and speech is rare. And even then it doesn’t make that much sense, because gods are confusing. Sometimes I’ll let myself act on just a hunch, which I try to save for things that seem to unambiguously fall into the “not required, but it would be nice” category. Anything that feels remotely heavier gets marked down, divined on, asked about with people I trust and respect, conditions set for clarification (e.g. more birds! Harass me with MORE BIRDS)…and then shelved if I don’t figure it out. If the gods consider it a high priority, then it falls to them to pester me about it later.

Like with more birds.

Do read that post, by the way, because it’s a great example of bad and delayed discernment on my part. All of that hassle could have been avoided if I’d bothered to just…ask, correctly, and pay better attention, instead of running off based on my own assumptions.

You know. Discernment.

Because what would having my assumptions proven wrong that early have done to me? I’d be struck with doubt about a lot of other things. But a lot of the other things I believed in at the time, uncritically, were causing me serious distress.

I was better off for being proven wrong, because it gave me a chance to rebuild my practice with a fresh and mindful perspective. I am happier. My devotion is genuine and freely given and–yes, a bit cautious! Because I’d rather be cautious than hang my assumptions on the gods and blame them for it. I’d rather not go on wild goose (or falcon) chases unless it leads me to something I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m not going to tell people how to do discernment. Because, as I said at the beginning of this post, the resources are not in short supply. When I was putting together a resource list for someone a few months ago, it was harder to whittle down to a top three than it was to find anything good in the first place. I was spoiled for choice. If we keep writing more posts on the how and not the why, we’re just throwing more information at a wall.

Rather, I’m going to ask people to take notice of whether they focus or gloss over at the suggestion of discernment, or instructions on how it works, and to question themselves as to why they do that. What’s at stake? What’s threatening about it? What does it threaten to take away from you, and why is that so bad?

More importantly, what are you missing out on because of failing to use discernment? What do you stand to gain through better discernment?

To be disabused of notions that don’t serve your best interests is to be given something, and it is to be given something quite precious. The resistance to discernment only hurts you in the long run.

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Shyness, Shame, and Sh*tty Broom Closet Doorknobs

I toyed with putting my face and name to the blog for a while, and even had an author photo for a week or two, and released a video, before finally pulling both.

I am not anywhere near shy about being a Heathen in person. My hammers are on display, and I’m always looking for bigger ones to wear. (There’s a dick joke in there, somewhere.) I consider it important to go about my business as a visible Heathen, and am always prepared to answer questions about what I do if I encounter someone curious. I’ve done it before.

Because it should not be shameful, and I therefore have no reason to behave shamefully. And if I cower, or hide, from visibly aligning myself with my faith, I leave more room for encroachment by dangerous extremists.

But I still compartmentalize, and keep my legal identity separate from my online, religiously focused presence. I am very comfortable with people learning about paganism through me, I’m far less comfortable with people learning about me through my paganism. Even in a job where I knew for a fact I was working with other pagans, I didn’t say much of anything until the end of the season, except to a customer who also sported a Mjolnir.

In-person situations like moots, blots/seges, and pagan pride are wide open. My paganism is accessible to other pagans by the very nature of the situations in which I meet them. That’s a given. There’s an implicit contract that I can generally lean on, because most of us agree that revealing somebody’s practice against their will is a terrible thing to do.

I keep my face hidden not because of shame, but because I am anxious about the consequences of visibility within the wider community, where I can’t exercise even a little bit of control. On the internet in general, really. Perhaps this would be different, if I were part of a religion with far less baggage than Heathenry, and could afford to be less worried about what kinds of people I might piss off. Having had a stalker situation before (not Heathenry-related, just a creep who couldn’t fathom why repeated boundary violations made me not want to be accessible to her anymore), I’m a lot more stringent about my personal information than most people. I obsessively check and cover my online trail every few months, and make sure my info is pulled off of people-finder sites. If I ever decide to self-host and monetize this blog, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be springing for WhoIs protection.

Again, the control thing. I’ve had it taken away too many times to feel secure in surrendering a whole lot of it. But there is a very real chance that I am overestimating the risk, at least as it relates to Heathenry.

And that has me wondering a bit, as someone who’s pledge-bound to assist other Heathens as well as I can, whether I need to be the rest of the way out of the proverbial broom closet to achieve that. It’s literally a requirement for working in certain pagan-focused organizations.

And if so, at what point can I claim that’s the case?

I’m not even saying, like, “is the broom closet even real” and trying to deconstruct that concept. Because, that’s experiential. And I’m experiencing that. So it’s functionally very real.

Though I don’t like the phrase “broom closet” very much, but that’s a whole other thing.

Anyway.

Realistically, as someone progressively ramping up my involvement in local Heathen scenes, someone who’s doing captioning work for panels run by Heathens, who wants to work as clergy someday, I know I cannot stay hidden forever. Especially because there have already been lapses in judgement where I link myself to my overt pagan presence online. Not often. But they’ve happened.

Even putting my social media to my legal identity when joining the Troth was an anxiety-inducing step, even though I’ve wanted to join the Troth since about February.

I hope, someday, I’ll be braver. I am a painfully shy person in real life.

…until somebody cracks a dirty joke at a moot, at least. By all means, make dirty Heathen jokes.