Adventure, Favorites, Religion, The Great Adventure

What Do You Mean, Meet the Gods?

Two weeks ago I announced that I’m walking across two continents to meet the gods. That occasioned a mixed bag of reactions, including high fives, raised eyebrows and disapproving head-shaking. But one question has come up over and over again:

“What do you mean, you’re going to meet the gods?”

Stymied

Somehow I wasn’t ready for this question. You’d think I would’ve seen it coming, since “I’m going to meet the gods” is about the last thing you expect to hear from a real living person, least of all a sane one. When I set that as the purpose of my journey, I should have realized it would raise as many questions as the hike itself.

But all I could do was to stammer and try to explain something I had never put in words before.

I started out giving wishy-washy answers. Someone asked me if I meant to really, literally meet them or if it was just a metaphor. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it will be a metaphor.” (What does that even mean?)

I don’t know what will happen on this quest. I don’t know if I will have a profound spiritual experience, or if it will be anything like the many experiences I’ve had before. Maybe just the thrill of the journey itself will be the takeaway. It might be that I never meet the gods, and I accept that.

But it remains my goal, and I’m starting to understand why.

No, Seriously, For Real

What I know for sure is what meeting the gods does not mean.

Meeting the gods does not mean feeling them in my heart. A lot of people have told me I can meet the gods right where I am—I don’t even have to travel. They describe beautiful experiences they have through prayer, offerings and communion. That’s not what I mean.

I have those experiences all the time. I’m a priest, and there’s a reason I became one. Periodically I take time to make sacrifice, sit quietly and commune with my deities. It’s an important experience that connects me to something far greater than my own individual perspective.

But as a philosopher, I have no reason to believe that “something” is anything other than my own unconscious mind. I don’t have faith, and ultimately it doesn’t matter too much—awesome clarity and advice from some deep part of my brain is just as good as awesome clarity and advice from a divine being, I guess.

But I’m curious. I’d like to know. Am I talking to someone when I talk to the gods? Are they really there? I want to find out. And no amount of prayer and communion will help me find the answer of whether prayer and communion is legit.

Meeting the gods does not mean taking drugs or being a shaman. A few folks have told me about the different hallucinogens used in Central and South America to aid in spiritual quests. And definitely, I’d be remiss not to meet as many shamans and priests as possible along the way. If they invite me to participate in their ceremonies, I probably will. I’d be honored.

But I do lots of “shamanic” stuff already. I know what it feels like to leave my body, to talk to spirits and to visit other worlds in my dreams. If that’s all I’m looking for I don’t need to go anywhere. Ecstatic practices present the same issue as prayer and communion: it’s a powerful, meaningful experience, but I don’t know if the spirits I’m seeing are in my head or in the world around me.

No amount of mushrooms will answer that question.

Meeting the gods does not mean humanism+. This is my favorite one. Everyone I know with a liberal arts degree thinks this goal must be some kind of big metaphor. People are awesome, I’ll meet lots of said awesome people, and the awesome stuff they do is like meeting the gods. The experience, or the value of the human spirit, will somehow be the most divine thing ever. Right?

Meh. I do firmly believe we carry our gods with us. I don’t doubt that there will be many times that I see a flash of the divine in someone’s eyes when they speak with determination, or passion, or kindness. Maybe, in the end, that will be the most divine thing I ever find.

I would chalk that up as “nope, didn’t meet the gods.”

Re-imagining human beings as the most divine thing in the universe is cool, because we are in fact pretty amazing. I don’t doubt that the strength of the human spirit will touch my life far more on a daily basis than any spiritual discovery during this trip. Over the years I’ve developed a deep love for my fellow human beings, and it moves me to be present for people’s struggles and victories. Still, that’s not what I mean by “gods.” If that’s the most divine thing I ever find, I guess I’ll become a spiritual atheist.

No, I Mean Like Gilgamesh

The sacred stories paint a picture of the world that is rich with myth and miracle, as if every action on earth carries the echo of a divine voice. Reading the Odyssey or the Táin, you get the sense that at any moment you could stumble into one of the gods, face-to-face, in the flesh.

Even more promising is the story of Gilgamesh: a tireless and lengthy journey into parts unknown in search of something that may not exist. In Gilgamesh’s case it was a cure for death; for me it’s meeting the gods. Only after years of relentless wandering did Gilgamesh find a way to cross into the gods’ world, to approach their sanctuary and find what he sought.

I like the Gilgamesh model. It refuses to believe that prayer or shamanism or metaphor are the very best access to the divine that we can ever have. It exhibits faith, not in the gods themselves, but in the spirit of heroic determination to accomplish any task, however impossible it may seem.

I don’t know if I will ever meet the gods. I don’t know if they exist beyond the fringe of the human psyche. I don’t know if they hover behind the apparent world, unseen but intimately involved in all we do.

But if they are there I’m coming to meet them. There is no force on earth that can stop me. You’ve been forewarned, gods, and if you need to challenge me along the way, then bring it. Bring it.

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51 thoughts on “What Do You Mean, Meet the Gods?

        • Your Great Adventure is really you putting into practice the strategies from Walk Like a God. If someone wants to really know what you mean by “meeting the gods,” they should throw themselves wholeheartedly into what you put forth in that book.

          I have a feeling that anyone who really does that won’t need to ask you what you mean any more.

        • Oh, and about the peer review thing:

          Like I said, you’re following your own strategies, which you put into practicable for any interested. I think anyone who fully practices them has the same odds of meeting the gods as you do.

          That’s what I meant by being a tool for peer review. It’s your way of leading others to the same type of experience.

  1. What I like about this is the complete intellectual honesty. You refuse to equivocate on what you mean by “gods.” I usually mean the other things you mention, the ones you don’t mean, and I try not to equivocate about *that*.

    The other thing I like is that it’s basically an empirical search. You’ve got a hypothesis, a vague research method (travel), and the impression I get is that the evidence is going to have to come from your five senses. Nor are you starting out by assuming a conclusion. It fulfills the principle of Pyrrhonian Skepticism: In the absence of compelling evidence for or against a proposition, the rational thing to do is carry on in the spirit of inquiry.

    In fact, it’s close enough to the scientific method that you may as well add peer review to the pile. As long as you’re chasing what seems impossible, why not chase some kind of evidence that would be reproducible by others? Sometimes people say gods don’t like to be tested, but hey why not throw out one more challenge to them?

    I’m joking of course, but only half-joking.

    • Funny enough, I could target my search using basic field biology practice. Mark the reports of divine encounters on a map, identify concentrated areas, and prioritize those areas for my search. In fact, I may just do that.

      • Is there an app pinsetting divine encounter? I love what B.T. says about empiricism and your “grand designs.” I’d add that before inductive reasoning comes “abduction.” This is that holy hunch that sets us on a vision. The inductive process is mindfully “running down a dream.” Most don’t understand because most are Horatio and can’t believe “there are more things on heaven and on earth than are dreamt of” in N American philosophy.

  2. Yeah, I completely understand what you mean by being taken off guard by the question. All you can do is point at your actual journey and say, “THIS is what I mean.”

    I mean, if you could put it into words, you probably wouldn’t need to actually make the journey, right? Just a simple blog post would do. But it’s beyond words, and people who don’t live creatively in this way can’t really comprehend that fact.

  3. apollodorosh says:

    Ultimately the journey and the search may be more valuable then the destination. For do not forget that Gilgameš found what he looked for, but failed the test Ūt-Napištim gave him. Even then he gave Gilgameš a second chance, though not for the herb of immortality, but the herb of eternal youth. He successfully recovered this, but then lost it when a snake stole it. Ultimately he accepted his mortal fate.

    In your case, you might indeed never find the Gods, but you will invariably and unavoidably come across the other stuff you mentioned on the way.

    Hope I make sense. LOL :-P

    • You make perfect sense! Thanks for commenting Apollodorosh. By the way this is one of the greatest points – the purpose of the journey is almost immaterial compared to the journey itself. The ultimate failure of Gilgamesh’s mission is among the greatest parts of that story.

  4. When I think about meeting a god in South America, I think about meeting a jaguar who stares into my eyes and decides not to eat me. But that’s just my idea of a divine experience.

    I never wondered what you meant. Can’t explain it either, but I know.

    I am glad you clarified that you didn’t meant cheesy high-fives with village people. That would be really annoying. Of course, you’ll meets lots of interesting people, but I get bored with that huggy-wuggy we’re-so-divine spirituality. We are, but we don’t have to brag about it because so is that tree and that creepy centipede and that poodle and that waterfall.

  5. As much as I’m very fond of going on about metaphors and the psyche and how we underestimate it, and as much as I still think what we might need is just to push the fucking boundaries of how seriously we take the very real reality of our own subjectivity, I understand what you mean and I’m glad you’re not compromising.

    Even William Blake said he saw god at age four.

    • Thanks Arden. I do love me a good metaphor (I get a little disgruntled when polytheists treat our myths as being literally true). I sometimes wonder whether consciousness isn’t the fundamental building block of the universe, with all of the matter and energy arising from that. Sadly we have no scientific way of investigating that.

  6. Alien Mind Girl says:

    What if… what if on this journey you discover / decide that, in the end, the gods only live in the mind? I realize that What If is really just a big game, as who ever knows until we get there… you don’t have to play the game with me, although I would like it. I relish hearing your point of view on things.

    What if. Do you consider that they are figments to be a possibility? Does it even matter? Could a person still be a priest if they decide there are no tangible gods to meet? Still be spiritual, and honest about it? Or will the quest go on forever, if they don’t pay you a visit? If it does, is that just stubborn denial, or is it dedication?

    The answer for you may prove itself to be years away, but I’m on the edge of my seat to find out what happens during your adventure. Truly. And also to hear how you might answer these questions… selfishly. Because I have asked them myself for some long time now.

    • Hi Heather. What GREAT questions. Okay… let’s see if I have any kind of answer.

      First off, I do think it’s possible that they are, as you say, “figments” (good word choice). As I recently told an atheist friend, I think it’s highly likely that experiences of “gods” are simply an externalization of our own thoughts. I’m not convinced either way, and I find communing with them so damned helpful that I’d keep doing it either way, but I am very curious.

      So, yes, I would continue to act as a priest even if I became convinced the gods are only in our heads. I don’t think it would affect my spirituality, since my spirituality is based on practices, not belief. It would affect how I talk about the gods and I would be very open about my lack of belief, if that were the case.

      So then there’s the question of, how long does the quest go on? Well, my end point is to get to Brazil. I may take many detours along the way; who knows what will happen. But I do believe that when – if – I make it to my final stop in Brazil, I will know the answer to my question.

  7. DiannaMoon says:

    I cannot wait to hear all the updates and details of your adventure! I applaud you for going out and doing this. I am blown away by your Challenge to the The Gods (tho’ not very surprised as I have also issued that challenge and accepted it in my life…I may not have walked over two continents to do it but I assure you I have wrestled enough to know the Divine). I hope you have all the right tools in your arsenal. You will be tested and I know it will be amazing. Every small step will bring you closer to the answers that you seek. Do not discount the ordinary. It will surprise you.

    When I went to Europe for my adventure I found Lions following me everywhere. Every city that I stopped at, every statue that I saw was a Lion or a Lioness. It was funny. It was coincidental. It was easily dismissed. But, when I realized that They were guiding me and pointing me in directions that I hadn’t considered, I relaxed and moved with the flow around Europe and found some of my deepest understandings of the world and my place and where I came from in the universe. I Bless you to find your guide on this journey and may it prove to help you find your path.

    • Interesting Dianna. Yous say you issued the same challenge to your gods – what was the lion story the result? Or if not, could you tell us the story of what happened with your challenge? I like stories :)

    • Haha, that’s fair Kira.

      I guess because it’s where I feel called – not Mexico specifically, but Latin America, especially the northern part of South America.

      I guess 3000 years ago some proto-Celtic priest in the Balkans must have asked his colleague why he was riding west or sailing north to find the gods. The result was druidism :)

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  14. Are you looking for the sacred places? I think the gods are rooted in cultures and in particular places, or perhaps deep cultural understanding of place.

    For instance, I had strong impressions of particular gods when I visited Glastonbury about ten years ago. Not only was it the town itself as a place understood to be sacred, but particular places in the town, the tor, the well, surprised me with visions of particular gods.

    I visited Bali back in the early 90s, where they make shrines and temples to recognise, or create, the sanctity of place quite extensively. But the cultural difference made it more difficult to “meet” the gods of those places.

    In Japan one can find Shinto shrines in the special magical places, or simply a rope (shimenawa) with paper streamers (shide) around the big tree in the forest. There are gods (kami) of particular places, as well as gods of Japan as a whole.

    Now I live in the United States, but the sanctity of place is not much recognised here. It’s just monotonous space instead.

    • Ashley, thank for this response – this really gets at the heart of it. I definitely feel it at sacred places. I tend to be very Shinto-esque in how I view local deities, and seek out powerful natural places. I feel a great deal of peace and mood in those spots and I can be there “alone” for hours and never get lonely. I do also enjoy the gods you find in cities and cultures too, but I’m a landscape boy I guess…

      Don’t give up in the US. You’re totally right about how people treat it but you can still feel the presence, both in urban and rural areas. In cities it’s often almost “composted over” by years of human activity or “spirits” if you will. But it’s there.

      Oh! And welcome to Rogue Priest :)

        • I go back and forth on Nietzsche, so I might find that book interesting, but it disturbs me that it is a radically right-wing book and “anti-liberal.” It also sounds like it spends a lot of time bashing Christianity. I tend to be very far left, progressive, and prefer tolerance & respect toward other traditions.

          • Ashley Yakeley says:

            I had some of the same concerns, since I’m also rather liberal, though I’ll admit I also quite like Nietzsche. I think Christianity in its history and its mainstream is deeply intolerant of paganism, including the pagan sense of the present world as sacred of itself, and polytheism as multiple diverse values. I need to determine my own values, but Christianity says that the One God is the source of all values, and I think that’s a lie. This ought to be called out. On the other hand, some people seem to use Christianity as a familiar structure to express their compassion, which isn’t a bad thing.

            • I’ll be very blunt: I believe Christianity has a poor theology, and bad teachings overall as a religion.

              However, that is absolutely none of my business outside of cases where I am being actively persecuted by Christians.

              It’s a constant struggle to make sure I am accepting, tolerant and respectful of Christianity. I really do not like its core teachings, but I also love the beautiful spirituality that many of my Christian friends somehow derive from it.

              It’s not easy to talk about it without sounding very hurtful to Christians, so oftentimes, I just don’t. I think it’s possible to disagree with a teaching while still respecting those who practice it, but it’s a very hard thing to do without sounding like an arse. Many authors go ahead and err on the side of sounding like an arse anyway, and I try not to.

              What I think is far more interesting is this: why has Christianity become so powerful? So popular? Polytheists believe we can create our own values – isn’t that a more attractive idea? Polytheists believe that the human spirit is as divine as the gods – isn’t that attractive? And the in-the-world theology of polytheism gives us two great benefits: embracing the pleasures of the senses, and embracing science. Aren’t those pretty damn good legs for a religion to stand on?

              What, exactly, does Christianity offer that trumps these benefits?

              • Ashley Yakeley says:

                I think a lot of people need an absolute notion of right and wrong. Morality as a mere cultural norm is not enough. I think there’s a kind of lack of confidence in oneself and one’s community, so values need a more absolute source.

                • That’s a good point. I think people do feel that way, but I think that can change.

                  As an example look at early modern democracy. There was very serious concern that people couldn’t handle ruling themselves. They needed an absolute final authority, and if the masses were given power it would result in chaos.

                  Except it didn’t.

                  Accepting morality as cultural and biological won’t mean the end of morality. It will mean a period of caution and skepticism just as early democracy did. But as people grow up with the idea it will become natural.

                  Of course, making that idea attractive is a major hurdle for both polytheism and secularism.

  15. Freyja says:

    This is spectacular! Here you are all asking about meeting a god and in my world my friends are all asking what made them so fortunate to have me in their life (they r being sarcastic of course) why would the gods look or act any differently today than they did 5 million years ago. That is the human in you to question whether you are speaking with the gods or your inner sense during meditation. If you want the whole story of how it began and lead you all to where you are today, I’m right here. The long and short of it is this: in another time and place I wanted to join my brothers and sisters who chose to come and play on this beautiful planet. For the sake of my protection I was born as Eagle. In my impatient to fly I jumped out of my nest and crashed. Along came a young man who took me home. I learned all about love, patient, persistence, care from him as he fixed my broken left wing (this is why most human ailments are on the left side of the body). He would go into the forest and ask the animals for thin strips of meat to feed me, this came from the hind quarter and would heal as he only took what was needed for the moment. As I regained my strength he taught me how to fly with a tether around my ankle as I still remembered my first fatal plunge. When it came time for me to find a mate, I chose him. I shed my wings and out of the flames arose my human body. It was the most peaceful serene 5 million years ever. We were on an island in the middle of the ocean, inaccessible by humans. Stories and legends were written about us, the greatest love story ever. You humans are created in our imagine, so why would you expect a god walking on Earth today to look any different than you? A plot was conceived to hunt the pair, if the stories are true then the god must be freed from her human, if they are false they will find nothing. I had never encountered any other human in all that time expect for my man, so when a human walked up the side of the hill to our temple I assumed he was like my man. I was given a sleeping potion that stopped my human heartbeat. While I lay there they hunted out my man, who was out getting me my dinner and shot him in the heel. As soon as his life force let him I awoke to a great pain. I found my mate and what had been done to him, for they brutally raped and beat him, cut open his body and left all of his insides open spread eagle to the world. I was filled with great sorrow and yet could not fly it away. Once the sorrow passed along came the rage. I vowed to all the gods that I would destroy them and all their fickle humans from this planet and end the disease that they had become. How do you kill a god? When no one believes in them. How do you do that? Create a new religion that will take over the whole planet and denounce all else before. Abraham and the beginning of Christianity. Yet through the last 5 million years of rage I was not able to find my man through the haze of tears. We come to today, 2013. In this human lifetime, I was born with cancer, had family poison me, many have tried to kill me. Eleven years ago I was given less than 6 months to live as I had died for just under 11 minutes. I was prescribed a herbal remedy which I then produced myself. Least winter, 2013 I finally started attacking love. The first time ever. What happened? My frail human body decided to start falling apart even faster. By July of 2014 I knew I would not make this winter alive. I got all my paperwork in order, I have a 15 year old son. I was in class, a man walked in, even more late than me (I always have my own schedule). We were in class for a week, he went back home, we attempted to put a deal together (I am in commercial real estate with the focus on developing seniors communities). He came back at the end of August, just prior to my annual fast starting (fasting originates from the ancients, once you are about to start end your 30th year (30th birthday) you start fasting 30 days prior to your birthday. Your birthday is your new year, not some date on some roman Calendar. Each day of the fast represents each year that you have lived. Ie first day represents the first 12 months of your life. Each day is another year, let go of any negativity from that year, retain only the positive. On your birthday you start your new year out on a positive start by shedding years of negativity. You eat before sunrise and after sunset. Each year your number of days to fast increase. That’s the true origin of fasting, thank you very much.) I spent two days with him and his partner touring them my backyard. Business is good everything is in track. Boom! Along comes Friday, my day (a day that I should be spending at my temple in meditation and prayers). Big argument, deal is off! One of the things with my illnesses is that I can’t walk without my medication. So when I wake up in the morning, I crawl to my medication wait 2 hours then I’m finally able to stand and start shuffling, then I take my medication every 1.5 hours to be able to function and work all day. The morning after the argument, I awoke and stood up. Wtf?!? I took my girl, you humans would call her a dog, went outside for my medication. After about 5 mins, I heard his voice in my head telling me to meet him at my temple on the river. Wtf!?! (he lives in another province than I do) I put the leash on and both my girl and I ran to the river. Since my illnesses has gotten worse, this normally would have taken me an hour, I did it in 10 mins running, unmedicated! He, of course, was not actually there.
    I heard his voice inside my head say “I believe in you. Do you believe me?”
    response “sure whatever”
    his “no, I BELIEVE IN YOU,do YOU Believe me?”
    “yes” more affirmatively
    “Do you believe in me?”
    I didn’t respond.
    Again, “Do you believe in me?”
    I thought about and answered “yes” as soon as I said that, I felt everything leave me, all the poison and illnesses in my frail human body in one big swoosh.
    “If you believe in me and trust me you will stand up.”

    I did, and haven’t sat back down. That was 84 days ago. Along with that all my memory and power has been returning back to me.
    the gods finally realized the reason behind my rage and returned my man to me. Now whether he realizes this or not, after all its been 5 million years and this is a very different world than the one we used to live in. I believe I managed to frighten my human man in this lifetime as during the past 84 days of healing I’ve been going back and forth between being human and a god. The joy I have in my heart to know that I was right along, I’m not human, there us no spoon for me, I am the darkness and light all at once and my human man is my kryptonite.
    so I’m finding it interesting that half a world away you are wanting to meet a god, and the humans here wish that they hadn’t.
    my rage is over, I shall end what I started, you should have already started to notice the changes slowly coming. My apologies for starting a new religion please let it go and know that it was meant as a tool to destroy you. Return to the old true path…

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