You might wonder how to deepen a relationship with a particular deity. It’s a good question, but it’s one that can have a lot of possible answers. Here are some things to think about if you’d like to deepen interactions with a particular deity.
Whether ‘deeper’ is necessarily better is a question worth a bit of time, and one I’m addressing at the end of this essay. Just so you have that to think about while you read the rest.
- What activities might be appealing to this deity?
- Are there times or places that might be more resonant?
- How do your ritual or devotional practices fit?
- Are your expectations of ‘deeper’ realistic?
- What does this mean?
What activities might be appealing to this deity?
One of the first places to start is thinking through what kinds of activities might be relevant or interesting to that deity. Starting with research is a good first step: my essays on this site about building a relationship with a deity and learning more about a deity, along with my friend Kiya’s article on building relationships with a Power are all places to start.
Don’t worry immediately if there are things that you think might be appealing that are out of reach – for example, a deity might be associated with horses, but that doesn’t mean you need to have easy access to one! A deity might be associated with weaving, or with a particular place, or a specific color. You want to take that information in, and put it into a pile, and as you get more information, you can begin to make sense out of the patterns. (Kiya’s essay, linked just above, has some great advice on this.)
You may need to learn a bit about the original culture – for example, spinning yarn works differently for linen than it does for sheep’s wool, and there are different kinds of spindles (spinning wheels are a much more recent invention!) Knowing these things will help you with symbols and offerings. Some colours were very easy to dye or paint in the ancient world, and others were very difficult, so knowing something about the history of colours that come up can be helpful as well.
(Also, different cultures sometimes have very different ideas about the symbology of colour. On colour, I recommend a book by Victoria Finlay called Color: A Natural History of the Palette for a good overview that will give you lots of hints for further research.)
You don’t need to learn how to do these things, or every detail, but learning about the historical culture your deity of interest is known from can help you make better informed choices about offerings, and whether something is necessary (‘This shade of blue is sacred to this deity for this reason’), nice to have (‘This colour was harder to get and considered a more meaningful offering, my equivalent is this colour here’), or a historical relic (‘Terracotta with this kind of design was the way pottery was that century’.)
You may find that some methods of approach work better than others – either because of things about you and how you learn, communicate, or focus best, or because they line up better with the deity’s preferences. Some options include:
- Quiet ‘clear your thoughts’ meditation
- Guided meditation with an open-ended goal (meeting a deity or other being in the meditation, seeing what symbols or possibly conversation occurs)
- Charging a cup of water (or other suitable liquid) for knowledge, understanding, or to that deity or being, and drinking it down.
- Divination (Tarot is a rich symbol set for this, but other divination methods can work too.)
- Going for a walk or other quiet activity in a place that seems relevant to that deity.
- Doing a meditative activity that is related to that deity where you can let your mind wander a little (handcrafts are a good option here, but gardening, drawing, playing music, or dancing are all things that have worked for people I know.)
- Lighting a candle for a few minutes (or incense)
- Automatic writing (a technique of letting the deity or being guide your hand on the page in drawing or writing)
- Paying attention to what you are drawn to read, watch, or listen to, when it comes to general media you like (Do particular themes or concepts keep coming up? Do you find yourself picking things in a particular style?)
- Doing some volunteer work or helping a cause that is related to that deity or being.
- Prayer, petition, structured ritual, etc.
- Dreamwork (both in preparing yourself before sleeping for dreams, and in being consistent about journaling your dreams when you remember them.)
- Cooking foods from a deity’s culture, or using herbs or ingredients or flavours that are strongly associated with them.
- Doing a creative project related to that deity – write music, a poem, create art, do a collage, choreograph a dance, write a play, blend oils for perfume, design and plant a garden, sew something, knit something, embroider something – whatever your skills are.
There are plenty more, and I’ll add to this list as I think of other additions, but that should get you started.
Are there times or places that might be more resonant?
Some deities are strongly associated with places – if they had a temple centre or a location that is strongly associated with their myths. In Greek mythology, for example, I’ve been to Athens (Athena), Delphi (Apollo, and probably also Dionysus), and Mount Ida (Zeus), among other places. Bath, in England, is strongly tied to Sulis Minerva.
Some deities are associated with cities and settled places, others with the wild places of the world or the oceans or rivers. Some are associated with particular trees or plants or geographic or geological features. Some may be associated with specific foods, and those might make good offerings or alternately important foods to avoid offering, depending.
Some deities are associated with times of day. (This essay came about in part because of someone asking about Morpheus, who is obviously associated with dreams, and more a nighttime sort of deity than high noon, as a result.) Some may be – also possibly like Morpheus – associated with liminal spaces or places, those times we’re between two states.
Likewise, some deities are associated with specific seasons, or may be different in different seasons. (At least one deity I’ve interacted with in ritual is, from people who do regular ritual honouring Her, very relaxed and chatty in the spring and early summer, but very terse and quiet and sometimes sharp in the fall and winter.) Deities strongly associated with a particular animal may have some aspects of that animal at times of rut or hibernation or other significant physical impact for that animal.
Bear in mind that many of these times may not map onto Sabbats (which are in the 8 Sabbat form, a modern invention), or lunar cycles. If dates of months are involved, remember that calendars changed a lot over history. (These days, there are usually good resources you can use for calculations, but working out the details may not be simple. Ask any Kemetic about ritual calendars and they will make such overwhelmed faces at you.)
These things are all worth knowing because they can give you clues about when you might get your most productive interactions with that deity. If you approach a deity who is normally very quiet in the winter in the middle of winter, you’re likely going to get less than if you approach in spring or summer.
How do your ritual or devotional practices fit?
As you might guess from all of this, there are a number of possible ritual and devotional practice options that might develop out of the above. Some things you might want to think about:
With other people or by yourself?
Ritual and practice with other people can often let you do things that are impractical or impossible on your own – there are simply ritual techniques that take more than one body or two hands, or are a lot safer with someone else to be there and helping. On the other hand, other people often means compromising – they may not have the same specific deity commitments you do, at least outside of whatever your shared practice is.
What practices are things that make your life and the deity interaction better?
There are people out there who sit in quiet meditation for 20 minutes (or longer) every day. There are people who do a divination reading every day. There are people who do specific movement practices every day, or prayers, or whatever else.
Does doing that thing improve your relationship with your Gods? Does it make your life better? If you give it a good solid try (enough to be sure it’s not that it’s new to you, or that it uses a skill you’re not very good at and need to learn to do better) and it’s not doing much for you – then consider not doing it. This is why making specific ongoing commitments about particular practices is a bad idea, by the way.
Try committing to a practice for a month, or maybe two or three (if it’s less frequent, or more complex to learn.) At the end of that, evaluate, look at the notes you’ve kept about how things go, and see if it makes enough difference to you to keep doing. If you’re not sure, commit to another month, and see what you think then. (Obviously, if a practice makes you feel seriously unwell or unable to function and keep your commitments, stop doing it and either figure out why and adapt, or don’t do that again.)
I’ll tell you a thing: I’ve done the sitting for 15 minutes, and I’ve done the divination thing, and I’ve done the ‘do devotional daily prayers’ and frankly, all three of them make me feel less connected to my deities and made my spiritual life worse, so I stopped doing them.
For me, I’ve found that what deepens my interactions with the deities I spend the most time focusing on has been reading and learning, talking to people about some specific topics, having water in my life (I’m much better when I spend time near a river, even if it’s the fairly minimal ‘see it as I go by/over’ sort of interaction a lot of the time). Music is a thing for me, and looking at patterns that show up in my life.
But the big thing M’Lady wants me doing? Reaching out to people who want information and sharing with them. I do that at work, through my job as a librarian, and I do that in my Pagan life (through this site and other commentary.) Doing those things is what brings me closer to her.
Your mileage is almost certainly different, as it should be: this is only an example of how it’s good to try stuff, but it should be trying stuff to see what works for you and the deities or other beings you want to build relationships with, not some theoretical ideal.
Are your expectations of ‘deeper’ realistic?
People have very different expectations of what a relationship with a deity might look like. And, of course, individual people may have very different kinds of relationships they particularly honour, work with, worship, or focus on (or whatever other verb suits their practice.)
My friend Kiya, has a page on her website with a list of different ways people have imagined their relationships with their gods. Many of the items in that list have historical sources, but the whole list should give you some things to chew on.
There are spaces online (and offline in the Pagan community) where it seems like the only meaningful relationship with deity is very active, very ‘the Gods speak to me directly’, very all-or-nothing. In reality, that’s only one kind of relationship, and it’s a pretty rare one, numerically speaking.
I believe that happens sometimes, but I think other kinds of interactions are a lot more common. The vast majority of people historically – even those who are devoted members of their religion, entirely committed to a deity, for their entire lives – might have occasional flashes of amazing moments related to that deity, but it’s more like every couple of years, or every decade, or a couple of times in their life, not every day or week or month.
It’s also good to consider timing: often interactions with a deity may be a lot more obvious, insistent, or active (or just ‘loud’) when we’re first paying attention to that deity. Sometimes it’s because that deity was trying to get our attention for a bit. Sometimes it’s because there was a current situation in our lives that deity is especially attuned to.
And often, I think, it’s just the happy sparkly new relationship energy (like we get when we find a new friend, or get a new pet, or fall in love, or anything else that is new and shiny and amazing, and did I tell you about this yet?) That’s a very human thing, and it’s normal and good! But it’s also not a sustainable way to live our life for months or years, usually. Usually we get past the initial carbonating Disney hormones (to borrow a phrase not original to me or this context), and things settle down to something quieter and less obvious, and less always right in our faces.
Is deeper better?
I’d be leaving something important out if I didn’t point out that historically speaking, being Very Clearly In Direct Contact With Deity is usually not a recipe for a calm, pleasant, or peaceful life. Or for getting much else done besides what the deity wants.
For most people, deeper isn’t always better. You have many amazing things you can do with your life, and not all of them are going to be compatible with deep, life-changing interactions with deity on a regular basis. Those kinds of interactions often affect everything – from where and how you live, to what you do for work, to your other relationships (romantic ones, friendships, community interaction – everything.) It can significantly limit your ability to find other people to share ritual, ideas, or community with. Choosing to commit to a deeper deity relationship certainly can have rewards, but it also closes other doors.
On all of these topics, I suggest reading a fiction series – the Chalion books, by Lois McMaster Bujold, as one of the best depictions of deity relationships in a large scale culture. The first two, especially, The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. Most characters in that world do their devotional celebrations, perform service to their chosen deity, and otherwise live full and rich lives. Only a few people have much more direct and hands-on experiences, and for most of them, that leads to a lot of complexity and change that has good elements (and may be very necessary) but also changes things they might otherwise have chosen. While fiction, I think the series does a great job of illustrating the choices and consequences of different kinds of interactions.
What is it like for me?
Let me suggest a 1 to 10 scale, for comparison purposes, where 10 is ‘deity is undeniably in the room with me, interacting independently, communicating complex information in some way, and focusing on the interaction with me’ and 1 is ‘I think that might have been the deity, but it could have been a bunch of other things’.
In my own experience, my interactions with the primary deity I mostly focus on in personal practice, I had half a dozen very specific experiences over the course of about six months (dreams, meditation, ritual, other experiences) and then it settled down. These days, fifteen years into that relationship, I feel Her presence – lightly, like a murmur or standing near me – occasionally, usually when there’s something I should be attending to maybe a couple of times a month. My initial experiences were about an 8 on my scale, but these days, I have a lot of light 2s, and maybe have a 4 or 5 every couple of years.
Over those fifteen years, I’ve also had very direct experiences with other deities maybe two dozen times (and at least two thirds of those were in rituals that included Drawing Down as part of the ritual: one of them was *me* doing the Drawing Down.). I’d say those range from two or three 9s on my scale, down to about 7. I’ve certainly been at plenty of rituals where there’s a strong sense of deity presence (though it’s often more common and stronger in group rituals with people whose ritual practices directly focus on an environment that encourages those interactions) where they’d run about a 4 to 6 on the scale.
I’ll have moments where I feel a strong sense of a particular deity’s presence in a particular place (sometimes a geographical location, sometimes a museum, sometimes an activity), but they are not the same kind of directness as the above – maybe a 3 or 4. (Lots of sense presence, not much communication.)
What does this mean?
All of this means that learning more is good, figuring out things that would be pleasing to a deity or other being is good – but that it’s okay to have limits, it’s okay to say “This is a comfortable level for this relationship for me.”
I think that the vast majority of people are going to end up with a deity relationship that is more closely akin to ‘an expert in your field who you’ve met a couple of times at events, and who clearly enjoys talking when you’re in the same place’ or ‘a favourite teacher from 10 years ago who has a big influence on your life, but who you don’t see every day or even every year’ or ‘a really good friend from college/your school days/your early 20s who matters a lot to you, but has their own life on the other side of the country’.
(If you don’t have relationships that are sort of like this, I hope you can fill in your own. A relationship that matters to you, but does not rely on constant daily contact, or high-intensity interactions, but where you’re delighted to see that person, catch up, and do things together when everything lines up that makes that possible).
These are great relationships of their kind, and they’re often very healthy ones. And they’re usually ones which maximise your ability to grow, learn, and develop over time, in ways that can be very good for you. Beings who love you (including deities) usually want you to have that growth. They may chime in when they think you’re doing something that’s really going to hurt you, but not so much if you’re going the right way, and learning.
High intensity relationships with lots of contact can also be loving and amazing and great – but they can also turn into something that’s not so good for you, or limits you in important ways. Sometimes these kinds of interactions warp people, make it difficult to sustain the things most people need or want in their lives (healthy relationships with other humans, long-term ways to support oneself, being able to use skills, knowledge, or training you’ve invested a lot of time and energy in, ability to separate yourself from unhealthy or unsafe interactions if you need to, etc.)
If you start building in a more intense interaction, my advice is to take it very slowly. Make short term commitments (a month, three months) and build up over time to a yearly commitment, and do that for a while before making any longer-term one.
Be careful about promising specific activities or practices that can’t be done in a wide range of circumstances. Could you do this thing if you were travelling? In hospital? If you were living in a different location? If not, don’t make a long-term commitment to a specific practice, do a “When possible, I will…” commitment, or make it part of your practices and have alternatives.
I hope this article has given you a lot to think about – it certainly doesn’t cover all the possibilities, or all of the considerations for a specific deity, practice, or culture.
[Last edited December 24, 2016.]