This series of blog posts is going to be based on the class I taught at Many Gods West. It is not precisely what I said in class, nor will it contain any of the stories of the attendees.
The reason I am writing this series of posts, and the reason I taught the Anonymous Spirits class, is because I needed this class.
When I started engaging with Spirits back in high school it didn’t strike me as notable that I didn’t ever get to know much about Them. They would much rather skip giving me Their names and get stuck with ridiculous nicknames (like the Brute and the Brains. Brute was smarter of course.) When God-bothering really began, all I knew was that there was a Goddess knocking. Despite confirmation that it wasn’t just sock puppets, I was given no identifying information. Thus began my engagement with Anonymous Deities and not just “smaller” Spirits.
At the time, there was almost no one talking about working with Gods without knowing Their widely known names. I literally knew of a single person. Except that Deities coming to Their (to be) devotees anonymously is not that uncommon of a practice, and there is some anecdotal evidence that it is becoming ever more common; however, there still is almost no one talking or writing about it.
Presently, most of the Beings I work are anonymous. I don’t get to know Who They are. About six months ago during a thorough professional divination, I was thinking out loud about asking more information on the main Deities in my life and the diviner drew “Gar.” For those who either don’t work with runes or who don’t work with the extended Futhorc, Gar means you don’t get to know. (It can also mean Odin, but it was very clear in the situation that it was NOT referring to Him.) All further attempts at divining information, however indirect, drew static.
How can you not know Who? And why might you not know?
Simple, They don’t tell you. With Gods, many cases where Someone shows up it is very clear who They are. Signs, symbols, visualization, Their presence, everything just screams it to your very being. There is no doubt in your mind that Lilith has paid you a visit.
But maybe you have no context for who They are. Being raised Christian in the US, with only the briefest overviews of mythology from high school English class, you might know some of the Greek Deities, maybe you’ve seen the Marvel movies so know Odin, Thor and Loki, but Angrboda (or Anat) showing up may well be incomprehensible until you do the research.
Or maybe your context is completely wrong. Growing up Evangelical Christian might well lead to some inaccurate assumptions if the Morningstar comes calling, but anonymously as a God of Light and Intellect and hard work could get through until you were ready to know.
Last month I posited three guesses to a spirit worker (who my Gods were chatting her ear off while we had dinner) as to why my Deities were remaining anonymous. Her reply, “One of those is correct, and I can’t tell you which one because that would give you too much information.” Whoopee.
But, dealing with anonymous Beings is much like meeting someone over the internet. You can be pretty positive that you are chatting with a person and not a bot. But there are a lot of things you don’t know about such a person, and there isn’t really any trust. TackyName6 could very well be a troll, a scammer, or a bully. It takes a lot more time to build the same level of trust when you don’t really know much about who They are. Maybe you’ll get a name for now, though it isn’t what most people call Them. You’ll learn Their favorite color, how much They hate coffee, and They’ll listen when you complain about your job. Eventually you’ll get a picture of Them, and a real relationship will build. But you may still have no idea what name They go by most of the time, where They live (though you might get the US, or even Chicago), or a lot of pertinent details. But that doesn’t mean you don’t know Them… or at least this particular face of Theirs.
It does mean that trust is much slower to come by and you have to be extra careful about bottom feeders. It is all too easy in many situations for bottom feeders, parasites, and other such toxic entities to pretend to be Someone Else and just drain you dry. Carding Anonymously just doesn’t really work.
What kind of not knowing?
Not knowing Who can take a variety of forms. Maybe you only know the Being’s affinity. It’s a Water Deity, could be Poseidon, could be Ran, could be Manannán mac Lir, could be Nanshe, or maybe it’s a Being of that particular place, such as the wight of Narragansett Bay. You don’t have a sense of the culture They are from, nor what sort of “flavor” They’re energy is, but you know it’s about water.
Maybe you don’t know anything about Who, but you know the culture / pantheon. Like a Deity named in one line of lore, so you have Their name, and you have an idea of the proper protocols for working with Them because you know where They’re from. But you don’t have any idea about Their Job, family, personality… anything. We have lost so much lore, so much knowledge… many of our Gods are just a name, and countless more have been lost. Similarly, it could be Someone unnamed in the surviving lore, but clearly from a specific culture (Sebastian has written a lot on Vanir that are not named in the traditional lore.)
Or maybe you’re like me and you get ABSOLUTELY nothing. Like the deity in my life I call the Snake Being, because They have opted not to disclose a gender (if any), and They usually take the form of a snake. To the best of my knowledge,They first approached about two and a half years ago in a guided meditation. Now, They are arguably my patron. I understand the work They are doing on me, but I still don’t know anything about Them.
Does not knowing matter?
Oh fine, I’ll elaborate. Yes, it very much matters. It matters for reasons that it shouldn’t: you can’t explain to other people Who you work with. You will undoubtably be judged by many for worshipping Anonymously. It’s a harder path in many ways, and it will lead to lots of frustration.
It matters because you will doubt yourself all the more because you cannot consult lore. It matters because it is so much easier for others to dismiss you and too often we place the opinion of other people above the opinion of our Gods. It matters because Names have meaning and power, and working Anonymously means there is a huge piece missing.
It matters because it is so much easier to get shit wrong. To fail. To fuck up. And that’s okay. Let me repeat that: IT IS OKAY TO GET SHIT WRONG. (This will be a theme.)
Too often polytheists are afraid of “doing it wrong.” Admittedly, we get told that we’re “doing it wrong” from all sides. Critiques by fellow polytheists include being too pious, not pious enough, too much direct engagement, not enough direct engagement, and that’s just within our communities of polytheism (and even over something as simple as whether or not to eat offerings, which I will be getting to later.) Non-polytheists often tell us we’re doing shit wrong, mostly because they think we’re doing entirely different shit than what we’re actually doing. Yes, my religious practices would be quite wrong if I was in any way trying to do Judaism, but that’s not what I’m doing.
I’m going to say it again, it’s okay to get shit wrong.
Not knowing Who you’re dealing with means you don’t know a lot of the basics. You don’t know the basics of how to approach Them, what kinds of hospitality rules They prefer, what cultural language They speak (and therefore it’s easy to misinterpret the message), or even Other Beings that They do or don’t get along with. For instance, when working with the Norse Gods, it’s well known to NOT put Skadhi’s shrine and Loki’s shrine next to each other. Except, that relies on knowing your shit.
Which clearly, we don’t. When working anonymously, not knowing your shit isn’t a failure, but it is a challenge to deal with.
Going back to what I said above: names have power. Even outside the bounds of tradition, names matter. Loki, husband of Angrboda, is very different than Loki, Breaker of Worlds. It really helps to call on the right one. (There is a lovely story about sacrificing to the wrong Zeus, anyone remember what it is?) When working with Anonymous Beings, we are working without that power.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Lets start with some of the obvious disadvantages:
- No outside guidebook / path
- No good warning markers for heading off in the wrong direction
- Or the right one
- Even more (corporeal) people disbelieving you
- Much harder to tell diviners Who to “get on the phone”
- Easier to fall into the archetype trap (See Morpheus’ Keynote from MGW. Also, will be talked about further on)
- Harder to check ID / check for parasites and bottom feeders
- Missing the power of Their Name
- Dramatically harder if you don’t have god-phone or similar skills with direct engagement
There’s plenty more disadvantages, and anyone reading feel free to chime in with some in the comments. But there are advantages as well.
- Much fewer prejudices and assumptions to overcome
- Can build something based more on the need and desires of you and the Being in question
- Can be easier to connect with them as a whole Being, and not just Their Job
- No “doing it wrong” from outside sources like the lore
- Lessens risk of groupthink
- Helps to keep you from looking for outside validation
Notice that some of these are the same, or directly contrary to the disadvantages? That is intentional. Many of us are inclined to seeking outside validation no matter how many times the outside sources are actually saying stop looking for outside validation. We actually seek out folks to judge us, be it harshly or kindly. Folks will definitely judge a person for working with anonymous Beings, but it’s a different kind of judgement. I don’t ever get the “You’re doing Demons wrong!” because these Gods are not Infernals to the best of my knowledge.
It’s also both easier and harder to fall into what I call the archetype trap. Basically, by that I mean boiling down a being to Their Job / the archetype They are using and ignoring the rest of Them. It’s harder to fall into that trap because you may well not get to know Their Job, so you can’t think of them as The Smith. You do get to know They love mead and care passionately about Their family. But it can also be a lot easier to fall into such a mindset, when you don’t get to know Their name and all you know is their Affinity, like say Water.
No lore means no bias. I can’t build preconceived notions based on stories that are usually written from another perspective, often in translation by folks not venerating Them. No lore means no “right” or “wrong” way for ritual, for protocol. Instead, it’s getting to learn by trial and error mixed with directly being spirit taught.
Should you engage with anonymous Beings?
Generally I stay away from actually telling folks how to run their lives, spiritual or otherwise. I am not the authority on how you should engage with your Gods, because that’s between you and your Gods and Spirits. I am not a pastoral counselor, I am not a therapist, I am a person with a blog and teh authority of teh interwebz. But, there are some considerations I want to address for those of us who get a choice.
In general, this is a personal question each of us have to grapple with ourselves. But there are some helpful questions along the way. What are your boundaries? What are your trust issues? What are your already existing obligations? What do other Gods and Spirits think about this Being?
When dealing with Someone specific showing up and you are asking whether you should engage with Them, those are important questions to ask. Further questions need to be, what are They asking of you? What sort of purpose does this serve? Is this fitting in with your personal wyrd? Does this benefit you? Is it good/lawful?
By good I don’t mean the moral question of good versus evil, I mean the dichotomy of good or bad. Plenty of bottom feeding Entities are simply parasites and would happily remain anonymous while draining you dry. A good way to figure this out is to get professional divination done, particularly as I find a non-biased secondary opinion really helpful for understanding anonymous Beings.
If there aren’t any ethical, professional diviners near you (that you feel you can trust) there are a few who are willing to do readings at a distance (yay interwebz.) Or if you’re me, you end up having dinner with one by accident and getting lots of messages because the Gods are trolls.
I have not at all mentioned mental health as a reason non to engage. GLE wrote a great post on polytheism and mental illness, so go read that as most of it applies here. The big takeaway though is know your own mental illness patterns, learn how it functions, because it will help distinguish between the internal and external. As GLE says, religious experiences rarely match up with illness symptoms. Depending on where a person is in with regards to their illness, it can actually help to have mental health problems when engaging in this work. Why? Because if you’ve already done the work of knowing your own mind, especially the shit that’s broken, then you already have a much better road map of yourself than most folks. But, that only applies when you’ve done the work. Yeah, doing the work. It’s a theme.
Also, you may not have a choice about whether to engage with anonymous Beings. You might be like Oree Shoth and find a God in a dumpster and willingly take Him home with you without knowing anything until you eventually call Him Shiny because well, Oree had to call him something. (If you haven’t read N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, go read it. It’s wonderful.) But you might be more like Yeine, and have your entire life bound up more in the Gods than you could ever imagine, with no choice in the matter what so ever. There are many paths, and some we are on whether we like it or not. (I will be writing about Consent at another time.)
If you’re someone with shitty boundaries, highly impulsive, a tendency to let others take advantage, overly trusting, and difficulty identifying what is healthy for you, maybe this isn’t the place to start. This is one of the places in religious practice that trust issues can be a good thing. My personal trust issues helped me slow the fuck down and not just get the first tattoo a Spirit mentioned.
So, much that I despise telling people what they should do if you’re considering starting up with an Someone Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous, don’t just sign everything away. Take the time to think, consider, and consult. Most Gods and Spirits that intend to be a healthy influence on your life will support such consideration. Take the time to consider.
Next part will address respect and cultural appropriation because that deserves it’s own post.