Divine Message Fallacy

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written in July 2008.

When I was a Christian, there were many issues in the church that bothered me. One of the most aggravating, though, began with some variant of the following phrase:

The Lord gave me a message for you…”

This was followed with some holier-than-thou, well-meaning, and usually very misplaced directive on how the subject should change or otherwise live his or her life. My bad, a pastor, often gets these “messages” from people—typically elderly women with a history of meddling and judgment.

What do you say to that? “Sorry, I think you heard wrong”? That never goes over well. “But the Lord told me! Are you denying God’s authority?” Saying their meddling comes from on high (and they might even believe it does) gives their words extra weight, because after all, God is never wrong!

My father generally says, “Thank you, I’ll ask Him further about that,” then asks his God just in case it is a valid perception, essentially checks it with his own experience.

One might think that occultists and pagans wouldn’t have such issues—but in reality, it’s worse.

The problem is that there are so many avenues for this perceptual projection in a pagan worldview. In Protestant Christianity, there are 1. messages from God, 2. perception of demonic forces, and… that’s all I can think of.

In Paganism, there are the following:

  1. Channeling and/or aspecting deities or spirits
  2. Messages from deity or spirits
  3. Divination (tarot, ouija board, etc)
  4. Psychic attack
  5. Dreamwalking and astral projection
  6. Eempathy
  7. Extrasensory perception
  8. Auras and energy
  9. Past lives

…and I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

Let’s go over some of the ways these can be abused.

1. Messages from Deity

This is no different than in Christianity. Usually the meddler will get a “message” from the subject’s patron, which the subject should of course pay attention to.

I think the best way to respond to this is with a “Thank you for your concern, I’ll think on that,” and then check with your gods yourself. If you’re getting a wildly different message, the “messenger” is probably wrong.

2. Channeling or Aspecting

I have known people to channel or aspect a deity in ritual (or pretend to) and then, while still “wearing” the deity, give someone in circle the channeler’s thoughts or judgments. Sometimes the channeler will later “not remember” the “message” (because of course it wasn’t them) but say, “it must have been important, you should heed it”.

When I’m giving the person the benefit of the doubt, I’ll believe that they believe it was genuine—but unless I can get a confirmation from the deity later, on my own, in private communion, I’ll be very skeptical as to the veracity of the message. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate the contamination and distortion inherent in the vessel, no matter how well a channeler trances out. That’s if they’re not being downright consciously manipulative.

3. Divination

Getting a divination from friends who know your issues is always risky. Oracles such as tarot are subjective, and I’ve known readers to insert their own opinions of your situation into the reading, weighing it with the authority of the cards.

An example: A very opinionated friend had read tarot for me several times before, but we’d fallen out of touch for several months. We got back in contact, updated each other on our lives, and I asked for a reading. I did not tell her my question; this was her preferred style, and it provides less perceptual contamination. I asked about something she had no way of knowing about.

The reading was spot-on. I know tarot, so I was able to “read over her shoulder”, and her interpretation was solid—until halfway through, when she very clearly felt she knew what I was asking about. She started smugly inserting her own opinions on what I should do about my education in the guise of “The cards say you should…”, when my question had to do with nothing of the sort.

Not telling your topic of inquiry to the reader is one way to circumvent this, as seen above. People who know what’s going on in your life, though, can often guess; I’ve suspected my subconscious of contaminating my interpretation when I’ve read for others and figured out what they’re asking about. Getting divinations from people who don’t know you well is better.

4. Psychic Attack

This one is obnoxious and irritatingly common. Accusations of “psychic attack”, often unwarranted, have begun witch wars or made them worse. Had a bad day and you’re mad at another pagan? “They must have cursed me!” Tell all your friends! Found out that a long-time member of your circle identifies as a psychic vampire? Well, you were tired after working overtime last week… they must have fed from you against your will! Confront them in a hostile way (or, alternatively, under the guise of “I care about you, but you need to learn to control yourself”). Can’t let them get away with that, after all!

I honestly have no clue how to deal with this one. Denying it or suggesting alternative reasons for their tiredness, bad day, or other issue doesn’t always work. I’ve even heard people respond to denial with, “Well, maybe you didn’t mean to and didn’t know you did it, but you did!” If they insist on perpetuating that sort of drama, and nothing you say or do will change their mind—maybe they’re not the healthiest people to spend time with. Unless you enjoy the drama of witch wars and fractured magickal groups—in which case, please stay away from me. 😉

Sometimes all you can do is ignore the drama monger or break ties with the person entirely. Witnesses might help—someone who is energetically sensitive and can attest as to whether or not a phenomenon came from you, though that could just as easily slip into accusations of people “taking sides”. Seeking the guidance or mediation of a balanced, well-grounded elder may also help. Stay calm; if you react, the drama monger will take it as more fuel for his or her fires.

5. Dreamwalking and Astral Projection

A friend of mine who is a member of a small occult group of some note once had a stalker. This stalker learned about her membership, read up on the group, joined its forums, and started claiming that my friend had dreamwalked to him and was trying to seduce him, psychically feed on him, and other such things. He said he dreamed about her, so she must have dreamwalked to him. My friend remembered doing no such thing, and his description of her supposed astral appearance was very different from past descriptions of such by people she’d dreamwalked to on purpose. Arguments to the contrary, in private, proved useless.

This is similar to the psychic attack issue, and there’s about as much you can do—which is to say, dismiss and ignore. Alternatively, someone might claim to have dreamwalked or projected to you or to an area of interest and claim to have pertinent information. If the person shares private, personal information of yours with you, that’s a little creepy, in that stalker sort of way. Either they’re telling the truth and have been astrally spying on you, which is invasive, or they’re trying to impress you with their l337 powarz and have actually hacked your email, spied on you physically, or some other unpleasantly stalker-ish and illegal activity. In either case, you might want to report the person to the police, because one way or another, they got private information that they shouldn’t have had access to.

If the person instead shares information about a nonpersonal area of interest, check the info as best you can. Newspapers, internet, and television news channels are all potential resources. Don’t take it at face value; there are a lot of factors that influence perception, and the reports could easily be colored, distorted, or just plain fabricated.

6. Empathy

Oh boy. This one’s complex, large, and not often discussed. It’s also the one I’ve run into the most, and even been guilty of before. A sample scenario:

Are you doing okay?” asks Super Sensitive Empath, concern etched on her face.

Huh?” Odd question. You’re feeling kind of neutral, content, laid back. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

She gets that knowing look. “You don’t have to be polite with me. What’s wrong?”

Um… really, I’m fine. Doing pretty well, actually.”

A patient sigh from S.S.E. “You’re angry about something. You’re trying to hide it, but I can feel it.”

Oookay. You do a cursory check on your mental state, just to humor her. All clear. “I’m pretty sure I’m not at all angry. I’m afraid you’re wrong.”

Oops. Now Super Sensitive Empath’s oh-so-wonderful and ever-reliable senses are called into question. Now she’s got something to prove. “I can feel strong anger in you. You just really don’t want to talk about it. Tell me what’s wrong. I’m worried about you.”

Exasperation shows in your voice now, and you really just want her to leave it alone. “Nothing’s wrong!

You’re yelling,” S.S.E. says triumphiantly. “How can you tell me nothing’s wrong when it’s obvious you’re mad?” She reels a little bit. “Your anger is painful…” She’s just sooo sensitive.

There are infinite variations of this scenario, and they’re all frustrating. I’ve found no good way to handle it when the “S.S.E.” won’t accept your description of your emotional state. One can only really address the empath, and I’ll do that in a separate article, because such an address gets lengthy.

7. Extrasensory Perception

This covers a wide range of phenomena and claims, most of which are similar enough to empathy, dreamwalking/astral projection, and channeling/aspecting to not require specific elaboration. One, however, has come up often enough in my personal social circles to merit some mention: precognition.

Telling the future is a chancy business. Your mileage may vary, but my experience leads me to believe that nothing is set in stone; the future is mutable. Divination and precognition, in my opinion, perceives only the likeliest pattern. When reading the “outcome” cards in tarot, I state it as “If this pattern continues…” because a significant change in the pattern of events or pertinent individual’s behavior will generally change the outcome.

Like channeling/aspecting, supposed precognition can be used to try to influence others towards the precog’s desires. Let’s say you want to pursuer a particular romantic relationship, and a friend is jealous or thinks such a relationship will negatively impact him in some way. He has a “bad feeling about it” that you should really heed because, after all, he’s precognitive! If you don’t believe him, it’s a personal insult! Or he “has a dream that feels like it’s about the future,” and it depicted disaster if you go forward with this relationship.

Of course, since most relationships have problems from time to time, and since more relationships fail than succeed, it’s very likely that something will go wrong in the relationship at some point. If you pursue the relationship despite the jealous friend’s dire warnings, he’ll jump on the chance to say “I told you so” and “See, I really am a precog!”, ignoring the fact that all relationships have problems. If you agree with him, then he has more weight on his side for future manipulations. Walk carefully if you have a friend like this! It is even possible that the person doesn’t mean to be manipulative, and sincerely believes he’s predicting the future, but that doesn’t make it any less manipulative.

Sometimes a person might have a legitimate precognition, but it’s cloaked in symbolism and easily misinterpreted. I know one person who had a vision of a mutual friend shooting fire from his hands at a particular event, in conflict with a young man, and a girl was involved. The visionary took this literally; he believed that magic would become more powerful by the time of that event and his friend really would throw fire around. The event came, reality remained the same, but the “fire-flinger” and the young man had a bitter, heated conflict over a girl for the entirety of the event. The vision came true—but not the way the visionary thought it would.

If someone has a supposed precognition that concerns you, take it with a hefty dose of salt. Take it as an opinion, a warning from the messenger if you wish, and weigh the potential risk. It never hurts to take a more careful look at a situation, but don’t let the precognition (which may or may not be valid) make your decision for you.

8. Auras and Energy

This has much the same issues as empathy. I have known people to say that someone they dislike has “bad energy”; I have known people to be scathing towards visitors because “their energy was off that day”. Now, I will admit to feeling wary of people I’ve just met for no reason I can perceive other than energetic, but I try to give them a chance to prove me wrong. Sometimes one’s mood can influence either one’s energy or one’s perception of others’ energy. Using such perception to belittle or manipulate is, in my opinion, distasteful and poor manners. If energy bothers you, then shield. Maintain healthy boundaries.

One abuse of perception is giving someone too much information (real or distorted) about herself, thus warping or robbing her of the identity seeking/development process and contaminating her perceptions with your own. The ethics of this require individual contemplation; what I find ethically reprehensible might be no big deal to another person. If someone shares with you information he sees “in your aura”, take it as opinion and perception, but not hard fact. If he insists that you are insulting him by expressing doubt, he’s got control issues or some serious insecurities that are his responsibility to deal with.

9. Past Lives

It amuses me that an apparent pick-up line among Pagans and New Agers is “We were lovers in a past life” (or knew each other, or were related, etc). I have watched myth-making in process, where one person shares a few details of a past life, and the second person uses those as a springboard for more details, until two people (or an entire group) have woven an extensive, oft-exciting, and dramatic story that they’re emotionally and psychologically invested in.

I have also watched attempts at mythmaking, where two people admitted feelings of recognition and connection, and the younger person kept throwing out hooks and prompts for the elder to build on. “I know I knew you! Don’t you remember this vague event…?” The older person recognized what was going on and didn’t take the bait, instead asking her for details or denying remembrance (or both). The younger person floundered in response, saying such things as “I don’t remember details; don’t you remember more about this?” or making noncommittal, vague, general responses and trying more probing questions.

Just because you were with someone in a past life doesn’t mean you should be with them in this one. Some people, wanting to belong or fit in, might come up with memories (however distorted or fabricated) of friendships or other relationships with another person or group. Some might have memories of a disliked person (or object of jealousy) as an enemy in a past life and use that as justification for their dislike.

One occult group that places a good deal of emphasis on reincarnation has, I think, a healthier view. They say that they have been lovers, friends, and bitterest enemies, but they are not the people now that they once were, and those issues are then, not now.

In Conclusion…

There are unhealthily manipulative people in any group, and that includes Pagans. Many people want their opinions heard and heeded, and will (consciously or subconsciously) seek ways to give their opinions extra weight. Perception is easily distorted and contaminable, even if the experience is honest and the communication of such is well-intentioned. Be careful, question, and check others’ perceptions against your own experiences.

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