Some remarks on spiritual discernment

In one of the more curious anecdotes from Eunapius’ Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, a group of gullible students were attending a theurgic seance wherein an Egyptian priest conjured a visible apparition of what purported to be the God Apollon, but when the Neoplatonic holyman Iamblichos inspected it he laughed and (I’m paraphrasing here) proclaimed, “Why are you falling to your knees filled with reverent terror – this is just the ghost of a humble gladiator!” 

Man may well be the measure of all things, as Protagoras averred, but we’re not very high up on the food chain when one considers the profuse array of divine and spiritual entities who inhabit this world alongside us. Not only do they vastly outstrip us in knowledge, power and access to other planes of existence but they are not constrained by any kind of universal moral code. There are dangerous and deceptive forces out there who want nothing more than to see the human race wiped from this planet – and they aren’t even necessarily what one would consider “evil” beings. Those exist too, in their plenitude, as well as things that are hurt, confused, scared, lonely or trapped.

So how can you tell that the entity you are encountering is who they claim to be?

You can’t. Not with 100% accuracy, 100% of the time. But there are questions you can ask, and things you can do that can certainly help.

Such as, how do we know any of the things that we think we know?

Other people’s testimony.
The direct experience of our senses.

If you have prior experience with the entity use that, along with the known lore concerning them and the accounts of contemporaneous devotees as your basis for evaluation. 

Is the entity behaving in a manner that is consistent with the above? Do they “feel” like they normally do? Are they employing recognizable speech patterns? Are the appropriate signs and symptoms present? 

By signs and symptoms I mean the type of phenomena described in Proklos, On the Signs of Divine Possession as quoted in Psellus’ Accusation against Michael Cerularius before the Synod:

He speaks first about the differences which separate the so-called Divine Powers, how some are more material and others more immaterial, some joyous (hilarai) and others solemn (embritheis), some arrive along with daemons and others arrive pure. Straight afterwards he goes on to the proper conditions for invocation: the places in which it occurs, about those men and women who see the Divine Light, and about the divine gestures (schêmatôn) and signs (sunthêmatôn) they display. In this way he gets around to the Theagogies of divine inspiration (tas entheastikas theagôgias)[a theagôgia is a drawing in or drawing down of the divine]. “Of which, ” he says “some act on inanimate objects and others on animate beings: some on those which are rational, others on the irrational ones. Inanimate objects, ” he continues “are often filled with Divine Light, like the statues which give oracles under the inspiration (epipnoias) of one of the Gods or Good Daemons. So too, there are men who are possessed and who receive a Divine Spirit (pneuma theion). Some receive it spontaneously, like those who are said to be ‘seized by God’ (theolêptoi), either at particular times, or intermittently and on occasion. There are others who work themselves up into a state of inspiration (entheasmôn) by deliberate actions, like the prophetess at Delphi when she sits over the chasm, and others who drink from divinatory water”. Next, after having said what they have to do [i. e. to gain divine inspiration], he continues “When these things occur, then in order for a Theagogy and an inspiration (epipnoian) to take effect, they must be accompanied by a change in consciousness (parallaxia tês dianoias). When divine inspiration (entheasmôn) comes there are some cases where the possessed (tôn katochôn) become completely besides themselves and unconscious of themselves (existamenôn…kai oudamôs heautois parakolouthountôn). But there are others where, in some remarkable manner, they maintain consciousness. In these cases it is possible for the subject to work the Theagogy on himself, and when he receives the inspiration (epipnoian), is aware of what it [i.e. the Divine Power] does and what it says, and what he has to do release the mechanism [of possession](pothen dei apoluein to kinoun). However, when the loss of consciousness (ekstaseôs) is total, it is essential that someone in full command of his faculties assists the possessed”. Then, after many details about the different kinds of Theagogy, he finally concludes: “It is necessary to begin by removing all the obstacles blocking the arrival of the Gods and to impose an absolute calm around ourselves in order that the manifestation of the Spirits (pneumata) we invoke takes place without tumult and in peace (atarachos kai meta galênês)”. He adds further “The manifestations of the Gods are often accompanied by material Spirits which arrive and move with a certain degree of violence, and which the weaker mediums cannot withstand.”

If all that does not jive, what is different and how might this be accounted for? 

After all, Gods and Spirits often have a plurality of forms and the situation might require them to be more or less formal than they ordinarily would be. 

But sometimes you can tell that something is off and what you’re encountering is just a bad drag routine. 

At which point, ask for confirmation. I have set up codewords with all of the core Gods and Spirits that I work with, and if the being cannot provide them it’s a dead giveaway that they are not who they seem to be. (This is also an excellent means of verification when a third party comes forward claiming to have messages for you. If the God or Spirit doesn’t provide authentication it either means the message is not of utmost urgency or the person is not as perceptive as they are presenting themselves to be.)  

Another method is to make reference to past encounters with the entity but include false information; if you are not corrected, that can be a red flag. 

Thirdly, you may intone their epithets and project a sigil or charged mental representation of the God or  Spirit which will either empower or pass straight through them if they are that being (or very closely aligned to them) but will cause distortion and disruption if it is something merely pretending. 

There are, of course, many other methods for discerning the identity of a spiritual entity but it is not my intent to cover all of them; rather I am trying to get the conversation started. 

And so we’re going to move on to how to evaluate messages communicated by spiritual entities. 

Begin by asking yourself the following questions. 

What has been communicated to you? At this stage, keep it just to the facts. Don’t fill in the gaps, make inferences, analyze what the message personally means to you or any of the other interpretive methods we regularly employ. You want the message as clear and concise as possible. 

How has this been communicated to you? Did the encounter happen face to face or through indirect means such as divination? Was it the result of a dream, vision, or out of body experience? Was it something you observed, something you heard, something you intuited or arrived at through other means? Did it involve external perception or was the communication internalized? 

How reliable is your perception at the moment? What is your current mental, emotional and physical status and how might this be influencing what you receive? Is there a lot of internal chatter or stress that could be compromising your signal clarity? Are you suffering a depressive, hypermanic or delusional episode? How is your sleep routine and nutrition? Are you on any medications or drugs? Note that none of these are sufficient to rule out a message received, but all of them can and will influence your perception. 

How do you feel about the message being communicated? Is it challenging or upsetting, completely novel or exactly what you expect, what sorts of emotional responses does it stir in you and so forth. None of these speak to the accuracy of the message, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to be aware of lest you fall into a series of errors one need only survey the majority of polytheist and neopagan communities to find amply on display. 

6 thoughts on “Some remarks on spiritual discernment

  1. See, this is why I think the vast majority of people should just stick to regular kinds of worship. I was very quickly disillusioned at a young age with the common Neopagan attitude towards these kinds of things and it’s something I’ve never truly understood the appeal of


      1. Never thought of it in those terms – dabbling. My former friends were Core Shamanists. My takeaway from that is one does need a deep immersion into a culture. I think the diffusionist ideas of culture which stems from Western thought still plagues modern people.

        Reading a book on Atlantis and Mu being the source of all the world’s cultures will do that.

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  2. Greetings from the Texas Gulf Coast, USA. Thank you for sharing this. May I cross-post it?


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