“How do I know if a deity is contacting me?”
“How do I begin work with a deity?”
“How do I know I’m working with the deity I think I am?”
These are just some of the many questions I get on how to start a polytheistic practice and deity work. If you’re asking these questions now and are looking for answers, then you’ve found yourself in the right place! Welcome to my Deity and Spirit Work 101 Guide, a resource on getting you started with Deity and Spirit Work.
Using this Guide
This guide should be used in conjunction with other resources you find written by experienced devotional polytheists. It’s also best when read all the way through, even if I or someone else referred you to a specific chapter. This is especially true if you’re brand-new to spirit work. I don’t recommend trying any sort of spirit or deity contact until you’ve familiarized yourself with the concepts presented in this guide and made the right preparations.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Deity Relations
“Spirit work” and “Deity work” are terms that describe the act of forming relationships with spirits and deities. These are terms often (but not exclusively) used in pagan and polytheistic communities.
Polytheism, at its core, is the belief in multiple gods. Polytheism can be approached in many different ways, from a soft polytheistic standpoint (the belief that gods are archetypes) to a hard polytheistic one (the belief that gods are, in some way, fully autonomous beings). Some polytheists may work with one god even while acknowledging others, while others work with many different gods. Some polytheists are even what’s known as polyaffiliated, meaning they work with multiple gods from different pantheons.
Many polytheists identify as “pagans” or those who follow earth-focused practices. However, not all pagans are polytheists, nor does someone need to be a polytheist (or even theistic at all) in order to be pagan. That’s because spiritual practices can be tailored to your spiritual needs and worldview.
My slant in this guide comes from a hard polytheistic and animist perspective. I experience gods, spirits, and entities as autonomous even if I don’t experience them as literal. Be prepared for that language as you work through this guide.
Christian vs. Pagan Deity Relationships
Starting relationships with deities and spirits means knowing what these relationships can look like. In the Western world, our approach to divinity is heavily Christianized and heavily colonized, and Westerners typically have a Christian impression of divinity even if they didn’t grow up practicing the faith. If you’re a Westerner, it’s likely your understanding of a God/Devotee relationship is that of a Lord/Servant dynamic. This involves things like:
- Humbling yourself to God
- Placing God above all
- Risking God’s anger if you don’t
Those with a Catholic background may have also learned that God doesn’t bother with everyday human lives.
This is not the universal approach to divinity, not even in other organized religions. It’s especially not the approach for animistic religions like Norse Paganism. When it comes to paganism, not all devotees or even deities want a Lord/Servant dynamic with each other. That’s because deity relationships work the same way as human relationships—they can take on any dynamic, be healthy or unhealthy, and begin and end.
A big part of this has to do with how a religion views divinity. In Christianity, God is seen as both a paragon to live up to and a being to please. But in Norse Paganism, for example, deities represent human behavior taken to larger-than-life proportions, and therefore are figures we can relate to.
The trick to successful deity relationships lies in knowing they play by the same rules as mundane relationships. Navigating that requires practice, self-sovereignty, and discernment. This we’ll go over later in Chapter 2.
What Deity Relationships Look Like
If deity relationships don’t always have a Lord/Servant dynamic, then what dynamics do they have? Some examples include Teacher/Student, Parent/Child, Artist/Muse, Familial, Friends, and even Lovers. These dynamics aren’t forced, but instead grow from the collaboration of both the deity and the devotee.
No matter the dynamic, healthy deity relationships involve:
- Clear communication
- Mutual understanding
- Respect for boundaries
While unhealthy relationships involve:
- Control tactics
- Nonconsensual actions
- Fear tactics: Intimidation and Threats
- Manipulative behavior
(You can read more about spiritual abuse red flags in Chapter 4.)
These relationships can be started by either you or the deity. If you want to work with a specific deity, it’s perfectly fine to reach out first. Deity relationships are built, not assigned.
Lastly, while deity relationships look a lot like mundane ones, they fulfill spiritual needs rather than physical ones. In this sense, they’re not a direct replacement for mundane relationships, especially not romantic ones.
Some final miscellaneous expectations involving deity work are as follows:
Deity work takes effort. This involves researching, learning new tools, learning new skills, sharpening your clairsenses, and trial-and-error.
Your relationship is between you and the deity. No one should act as a dedicated “interpreter” between you and the deity in question. That can open you up to a whole lot of potential abuse. It’s okay to use a third party to help with an instance of discernment if you need, but ultimately no person or entity should be interpreting your relationship with a deity or spirit for you.
You can say “no.” Just because a deity/spirit wants something doesn’t mean you always have to give it to them. Gods can be held accountable for their actions, and you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with just because they asked.
Gods can say “no.” I saw it put very well in a post on tumblr: Gods aren’t dolls you can take out of a box and play with whenever and however you’d like. They’re autonomous beings capable of making their own decisions and they won’t always do the things you expect them to.
Incompatibility happens. Sometimes a deity’s personality, methods, and antics might not vibe well with you. That’s okay. Recognize when it happens and make adjustments accordingly. This may mean taking a break, putting some emotional distance between you two, or going separate ways altogether. It’s best if this can be done mutually to facilitate a healthy transition.
A Note on Entities from Closed Cultures
If you’re experiencing a situation where an entity from a closed culture is trying to contact you, and you’re not a part of that closed culture, it’s your responsibility to contact a spiritual authority from that culture to see if you’re permitted to work with that deity.
Chapter 2: Discernment
Discernment is the process of interpreting and vetting metaphysical experiences. It’s the backbone of all your deity and spirit interactions. Discernment helps you build what’s known as UPG or Unverified Personal Gnosis. UPG is different than simply having a “headcanon” about a deity because UPG is created through your direct experience with a spirit or deity. If someone else has the same UPG as you they got independently of you, then that UPG can be considered SPG, or Shared Personal Gnosis.
You UPGs don’t have to match other people’s, not even community elder’s or any other spiritual authority’s. You also don’t have to tailor your UPG to match theirs. Status doesn’t give others any say over your experiences with a deity.
Synchronosities & Methods of Communication
In my experience, when a deity is trying to get your attention, they’ll do so in ways you’ll understand. They’ll often show rather than tell who they are, and the ones that aren’t forthcoming about showing you who they are may be impostors. There are many ways this communication can happen. One half of this puzzle includes receiving synchronosities, or “coincidences too uncanny to be coincidences.” These may appear as omens and dreams. We can further communicate with our deities and receive synchronosities through divination and our clairsenses.
An “omen” is a sign that appears in the physical world, and receiving one isn’t always a bad portent like the word suggests. However, omens definitely feel uncanny or significant in some way. Many times, but not always, deity’s omens will correlate with their associations. One of the omens Loki sent me was a domesticated fox named Loki, and Odin once sent me his trademark omen of two ravens. Sometimes omens can take much more mundane appearances, but still maintain the uncanny quality of a synchronosity. They also seem to pop up when you least expect them.
Discerning whether or not something is an omen can take practice, especially early on when you’re looking for them at every turn. Omens are very much a “gut feeling” sort of experience and not every unique thing you see may be one. Sometimes those three crows are the Morrigan announcing her presence, and other times it’s just three crows.
When you’re unsure whether a deity is trying to contact you or not, you can ask them to send you signs and omens. This can also help identify who that deity is if you’re still not sure.
Unless you have aphantasia, dreams are another way deities and spirits can identify themselves. Like omens, it’s up to you to determine whether or not a dream is significant based on its content and the feeling it gives you. This is also an opportunity for a deity to demonstrate themselves in ways they might not be able to with omens alone. Like with omens, you can ask a deity to give you dreams in case you need other forms of confirmation.
Divination can be used to facilitate direct communication with deities and spirits. Divination is wonderful because many forms of it can be hard to “spoof.” Some of these divination methods include:
- Dice divination
- Rune reading
However, not all forms of divination are foolproof. For example, pendulums are very easy to subconsciously influence, which may result in murky messages and mixed signals. It’s important to have the “random chance” factor in your divination method as much as possible. This would be a good time to familiarize yourself with dice, Tarot, runes, or cartomancy if you haven’t yet.
Two divination spreads I recommend are the Deity Identification Spread and the Deity Communication Spread. Please note that these spreads only work if you’ve confirmed there’s a deity trying to reach out to you, otherwise your readings might not make sense. For further divination resources, see my resources page.
Just like we have senses that perceive the physical world around us, we also have clairsenses that perceive the metaphysical world. Sometimes you’ll hear the term “Godphone” used in the pagan community. This term denotes a direct line between you and a deity via clairsenses.
Everyone has clairsenses and can develop them with practice. Sometimes they’re hard to recognize because we don’t know how to consciously use them. Typically, people have one clairsense or a few clairsenses that are stronger than others, and these are the ones you’ll want to identify and develop. The only way to know which one, and to make them stronger, is through practice. Think of it like a muscle that needs strengthening.
Clairsensing can be one of the most rewarding forms of deity communication, but it can also be the hardest to discern. When you’re starting out, it’s easy to confuse your clairsenses with your personal thoughts, symptoms of mental illness, intrusive thoughts, and/or compulsive negative self-talk. Always double-check the information you’re receiving against a good divination method.
We’ll go over specific clairsenses in Chapter 3.
Rule of Three
The Rule of Three is a useful form of measurement that can help you discern synchronosities from mundane events. Receiving one sign is coincidence, two is information, and three is confirmation. In my experience, gods or spirits who want your attention are very eager to make themselves known and will happily send you multiple signs. If you think you’ve received a sign from a god but aren’t sure, ask for more.
Alas, we’re only human. One thing to be aware of when exploring discernment is keeping your confirmation bias in check. Confirmation bias is defined as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values.” In other words, it’s the act of finding evidence to support your beliefs, rather than basing your beliefs off of evidence.
It’s hard not to have hopes for certain outcomes with deity and spirit work, but success at this requires learning how to interpret metaphysical information as it presents itself. The more you work against confirmation bias, the more authentic your spirit interactions are going to be, and that’s what’s important. Use different methods of discernment to help you with this so you can get a clear message.
Chapter 3: Metaphysical Preparation
Magic is a vital part of spirit and deity work because it’s a facilitator of spirit interaction. Once you start interacting with the otherworld, the otherworld is going to want to interact with you back…and spirits really get a kick out of messing with unsuspecting people. Those stories you hear of people summoning “demons” through Ouija boards? Usually it’s the result of rookies making rookie mistakes and spirits being opportunists. Contrary to popular belief, Ouija boards are no more dangerous than any other divination method.
Knowing the basics of magic is will help you prevent a great number of common problems many beginners experience. In other words, this chapter will tell you the basics of how not to be basic with your metaphysics.
The magical fundamentals you need for spirit work are Warding, Shielding, Grounding, and Banishing/Cleansing. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with self-tested methods for all of these in order to properly do any spirit and deity work. If you’ve never done magic before, there’s many books out there showing you how, and I plan to add my own resources when I have the chance.
Psychic shielding is a form of metaphysical protection for yourself. Shielding protects against unwanted spirit interactions depending on your programming or intention for the shield. How you put the shield up can be done in many ways. You can use your personal energy, design a sigil to draw on your arm, or enchant a piece of jewelry.
Warding is your number one protection against unwanted spirits entering your living space, and is essential for spirit and deity work. The concept of it is similar to a shield, only instead of surrounding you it surrounds your home, room, or other living space. Warding begins by making a list of allowances, rules, and conditions for your space, and specifiying what permissions certain deities or spirits have, if any. Then you put up your wards using any method of magic you’d like: with energy, with sigils and banners, with crystal grids, etc. Again, your method is up to your own practice.
In Wicca, there’s a concept called “opening a circle.” The concept behind this circle is to create a designated ward that lasts through the duration of a ritual. You can do this as well, but a house ward should serve the purpose of protection well enough, unless you need a ritual space for something specific.
This keeps you from getting too unteathered as you do energy work. Grounding is very different for everyone, but fortunately you can find many methods with a quick google search. Grounding can help you push out “black water” energy and draw in “clean energy” from the earth. This can be done while shielding.
Banishing and cleansing will help you get out energy or spirits you don’t want in your space. You can do this with many methods, including smoke cleaning, sound cleansing (bells, music), water cleansing, rituals, spells, and others. Intent is important here, as well as establishing your own sovereignty as you clean your space. This involves being firm and steadfast in your resolve and communicating your right to your space.
DISCLAIMER: This section is still in-progress. Read with caution.
Building up your clairsenses is like building a muscle. It’ll be hard at first and require persistence. But the more you do it, the easier it’ll be to use your clairsenses. Keep in mind that clairsense abilities might not feel the same way as your regular senses. At the same time, you also need to be careful not to confuse them with regular senses. This is all especially true if you have symptoms of mental illnesses that could be conflated with clairsenses. Please make sure you’re taking care of your own mental health when exploring metaphysical concepts.
Here is a list of some commonly-occurring clairsenses:
Clairvoyance: The ability to “see” the metaphysical. In one way or another, you perceive pictures or visions of metaphysical beings.
Clairsentiency: The ability to intuit the metaphysical. It’s the ability to sense the presence or absence of metaphysical beings and feel energies.
Clairaudience: The ability to hear the metaphysical or interpret information from deities and spirits as statements.
Claircognizance: The ability to just “know things.” It’s like an instant download of information into your mind out of nowhere. It can tie into Precognition.
Clairempathy / Psychic Empathy: Psychic Empathy is the ability to feel other’s feelings as though they’re your own. This is different from regular empathy, which is the ability to identify with other’s feelings. If left unchecked, Clairempaths might develop coping mechanisms that involve trying to manage how other people feel. Fortunately, learning good shielding techniques can help mitigate strong empathic feelings.
Clairtangency: The ability to feel the metaphysical or assess metaphysical properties through touch.
Clairalience: The ability to perceive Astral or metaphysical smells.
Clairgustance: The ability to perceive the metaphysical through taste.
Precognition: The ability to know something is going to happen before it does; premonitions.
Artistic and Divine Inspiration: The Poets have given many names to the unprompted artistic impulses found in creatives, including Afflautus and fervor poeticus. The Norse concept for this is oðr. The Welsh and Celtic concept for this is Awen. This is the act of receiving metaphysical or divine information through artistic impulses.
Chapter 4: Impostors
Not all spirits or deities may be who they say they are. That’s why it’s important to vet entities thoroughly before you decide you want to commit yourself to them. It’s also one of the most common mistakes newbies make. Discovering the spirit or god you thought you were working with is an impostor can leave you feeling betrayed, mistrustful, and upset. You don’t deserve that. Knowing the signs of impostors can really help with that.
Mental Sock Puppets
A mental “sock puppet” is the result of you talking to yourself and interpreting that self-talk as something else. Here are some signs you might be dealing with a mental sock puppet:
- It acts in accordance to your whims and expectations
- You receive no “new” or unique information from interacting with the sock puppet
- The sock puppet is only as knowledgeable as you are
- It has no autonomous nature (only abides by your will)
- It gives no portents or signs unless you’re looking for them
Mental sock puppets are easy to get rid of if you know what they are. You gave it a story to begin with, so getting rid of it is just a matter of reclaiming the narrative.
Remember how I said spirits can be opportunists? Some of this opportunistic behavior can take the form of spirits pretending to be someone they’re not in order to elicit your loyalty and trust. They can take the form of a deity, a guide, a companion, or anything else that you’d be receptive to. Lying spirits are why it’s very important to know the basics of magic as discussed in Chapter 3, especially when it comes to Warding and Banishing.
An impostor spirit will display any of the following signs:
- They exhibit spiritual abuse red flags
- They perform nonconsensual actions
- They refuse to let you interact with other entities, people, or do further research on them
- They claim they can give you everything you want
- They rush you into oaths or vows
- They get mad at boundaries
- They claim you’re their “chosen” or “special” person
- They demand inappropriate things right away
- Their demands feel tricky rather than reciprocal
- They’re dodgy about their identity
- They prey on your insecurities, desires, and ego
- Their behavior or personality is inconsistent
- Their personality seems wildly “out of character” for the entity they’re supposed to be
- They don’t recognize you if you’ve had prior interactions, or remember previous interactions
- They’re vague about who they are and don’t demonstrate it in any meaningful way
- They show signs of being someone else
These impostors can be anything from lesser spirits to named and known deities, often trickster-types. This is, weirdly enough, how I personally got to know Loki; he disguised himself as a character of mine but otherwise acted like himself in personality, talking the role of a helpful being in my life. It would have been a completely different story had he disguised himself as another autonomous entity, however.
Point being, you have every right to be mad at impostors for lying to you, even if they end up being a deity, and you have no obligation to work with them after that.
Chapter 5: Continued Relationships
You did it! You finally vetted a deity or spirit and you know exactly who they are. At this point you might be thinking about ways to continue interacting with them and grow the relationship more. This chapter outlines what that can look like.
Veneration and Practice
A staple of devotional polytheism is everyday acts of veneration. What this looks like is influenced on your path and the practices you choose to employ within that. Oftentimes people will build a shrine or altar for their deities so they can leave offerings of food, drink, trinkets and incense as a way of showing fondness and veneration. Other forms of interaction are based in the preferences of the practitioner. I connect very closely with Loki through art, but others might find connection with their deities through nature, meditation, trance, music, and more. There are many guides and suggestions out there in different pagan communities that can help you get started.
Patrons and Matrons
Some people have what are called Patron/Matron deities. A Patron/Matron is the deity that a devotee is most connected to. This deity plays a special role in that devotee’s life that goes beyond a standard devotional relationship. A Patron/Matron will be a devotee’s go-to for protection, guidance, and comfort no matter what attributes that deity has.
If you’re asking yourself, “Who is my Patron/Matron?” then it’s important to recognize that Patron/Matron relationships are built, not assigned. Additionally, the concept of needing both a Patron and a Matron is actually Wicca-specific. Wicca is a highly-gendered duotheistic practice that has no deity pantheon of its own. Instead, it encourages Wiccan practitioners to seek out two deities from other pantheons to represent the divine masculine and divine feminine, who then become that Wiccan’s Patron and Matron. Because of this, the terms can carry a different meaning in Wiccan circles.
Unless you subscribe to a traditional Wiccan practice, you are not required to have both a Patron and a Matron.
Sometimes you’ll experience moments when it’s hard to communicate with an entity, as if they vanished without a trace. These are what’s known as “fallow” times, and they’re perfectly normal circumstances in spirit and deity work. Going through a fallow time doesn’t mean a deity has left you or that you’ve lost your ability to communicate with them. It just means you’re going through a period of rest, similar to how a field must rest for a season so its soil can restore its nutrients. The fallow period is only temporary and your senses will bounce back stronger than ever after it.
Oaths and Vows
Oathing is the act of making a solemn, honor-bound promise to a deity. This promise can come about for any number of reasons, sometimes at the request of the deity, sometimes not. Reasons for taking Oaths and Vows are between the devotee, the deity, and the situations within that relationship.
You aren’t required to take an oath to a deity just to work with them or to have them as your Patron. Oaths especially shouldn’t be taken as a means of control or status, nor should you take them if you’re not comfortable with them.
This section is still pending research, so I will fill it in with more information when I have it.
On Displeasing Deities and Spirits
Some people who are new new at Deity and Spirit work worry they’ll do or say something that’ll displease the entity they’re trying to form a relationship with. I’ve found this almost always stems from a preconceived idea that deities expect certain behaviors or acts of service out of us and will withhold affection if we can’t fulfill these things.
First, this is an inherently abusive dynamic. Second, no spirit or deity worth working with (let alone ones who care about you) would give or withhold affection based on your performance. Third, you have no obligation to listen to any person, resource, or institution that claims this dynamic is normal or mandatory.
Spirits and deities interested in working with you aren’t going to get mad at you for simply being human. They know you come with the shortcomings, quirks, and variations inherent in the human condition.
But if a spirit or deity is displeased with you? Then it’s entirely fair for you to know the reason why, to reflect on if it’s justified, and to make amends if so. Friction can happen in any relationship, including spiritual ones, and this is why communication is so important.
If the behavior seems out-of-place, you may be dealing with an impostor of sorts.
Frequently Asked Questions
This section is dedicated to specific questions about spirit work people have asked.
Q: “How do I know if a deity is my Patron/Matron?”
If it’s evident. That being said, nothing is predestined. All agreements made in your relationship requires the interest and consent of both you and the deity/spirit involved, and that includes whether a deity acts as your Patron or Matron.
Q: “How do I know if a deity is reaching out to me?”
See Chapter 2 for Discernment methods.
Q: “Help! I made an oath / vow and want out of it!”
This lies between you and your deity, so you’d have to talk with them about it.
Q: “How can I tell the difference between clairsenses and mental illness?”
It really depends upon the symptoms you experience and how your clairsenses manifest. Because of that, I can’t ethically provide a comprehensive guide on discerning clairsenses from mental illness. However, I always recommend doing mental health check-ins with yourself as you continue with deity work:
- Is this interfering with my day-to-day life?
- Is this causing me distress, anxiety, confusion, or disruption in any way?
- Am I having a hard time with discernment in general right now?
If your practice is giving you greater distress than not, then it may be good to set some boundaries with it. As intriguing as deity work is, your mental health comes first.
Q: “I reached out to a deity/spirit and they didn’t respond. Did I do something wrong?”
Most likely no, you didn’t do anything wrong. A deity might’ve not responded for any number of reasons. Some possible examples:
- They’re busy
- The message wasn’t received; try again
- They may be waiting for a better time
For me, deities have always clearly communicated when they don’t want to work with me, and they’ve never been outright mean about it.
Q: “Will a spirit/deity be jealous if I work with another spirit/deity?”
Just like with people, it really depends on the entity and the situation. But it’s not behavior you need to expect. If jealously comes up early and persistently in a deity/spirit relationship, it could be a warning sign of an impostor, or at the very least an unhealthy relationship. Even if it’s not an impostor, you’re allowed to talk to your deity/spirit about this behavior and get answers. Context matters.