Originally posted 3/11/2021:

a lot of emphasis is placed on discerning whether or not certain events are really "signs" from the gods or not, and thaty's absolutely important, but it's also okay to just see the divine in things. whether something is really directed at you or not, the gods are everywhere. that thunderstorm may not have personally been sent from zeus to you, but that doesn't mean it wasn't him at all. i see sparrows all the time not because of some divine portent, but because they live all over my neighborhood, but they always remind me of aphrodite. seeing the divine in the everyday is a beautiful thing.

Of the many cyclical arguments which I would regularly see crop up all over metaphysical social media, the discourse on the nature of signs always seemed the most fascinating to me, as it was one of the arguments with the slimmest variety of responses. In fact, my accounts were beginning to gain real traction at a time where there was pretty much only one prevailing answer: completely normal and natural occurrences could not have been a divine sign, and to think otherwise meant a serious lapse of one's discernment skills. It was pretty wild, and I bought into it for a while, but it didn't take long for this line of logic to get old for me.

It seems today that newbies in the pagan sphere have a fixation on asking others to determine the significance of things that happen to them. Sometimes these occurrences are truly out there, and sometimes they sound completely normal. However, nowadays my response to both types of inquiries is the same: what significance did the event or events hold for the worshiper personally?

I am currently solidly in the camp that no one can successfully interpret someone else's potentially spiritual experiences with a high degree of accuracy, especially over the internet. There are just too many variables. The inquirer and responder likely have very different views of the world, different experience levels (metaphysical and otherwise), different personal correspondences, and almost certainly understand the divine and the world around them in different ways (people's spiritual beliefs are like their fingerprints in that way, in my opinion). Most importantly, though, the event was only directly experienced by one of the parties involved. How could an outsider understand the full context of a situation that did not happen to them? Vague assumptions can probably be made, but something will almost certainly be lost in translation.

There are a few arguments in the sign-stickler camp that I do generally agree with, however. I don't believe that the world revolves around any of us. Thus, obviously most normal natural events aren't specifically directed at us personally by our personal spirit crews. That'd be ridiculous and would mean that any one event could only be significant to one person at a time: the person who the sign was "meant" for. This does NOT mean, though, that these natural occurrences have no spiritual meaning whatsoever. Just because something wasn't meant for you personally does not mean that you cannot glean personal significance from it.

I'll use a personal example here for illustration. My mother's side of the family holds strongly to a belief that seeing a cardinal is a sign from a loved one who has passed on. Consequently, basically every time I see a cardinal in the wild, especially if I see a pair flying around together, I think of my grandparents. I do not think that every cardinal that I've ever seen since early 2016 has actually been one of my grandparents, but every cardinal I've seen since then HAS reminded me of them, and I usually stop for a minute to say hello.

I've got varying theories on where the hard-line sign-sticklers are coming from. Part of me wonders if it's some sort of latent culturally Christian anxiety regarding the lack of a organized clergy to interpret and explain the movements of the divine. To some, this lack probably feels more like a void to be filled. Every year or two there's certainly a push in some corners of the pagan internet to start developing some sort of pagan orthodoxy to form a coherent belief system. I understand the desire for direction, to be sure, but it feels a bit misplaced here. I'm always glad when these movements flop pretty hard, though I wonder when people will realize that it'll probably never work.

It could also be some symptom of the ever-growing issue of individualism, leading to a belief that anything not specifically intended for you has no meaning otherwise. Really, I think this potential belief actually reinforces the idea of the whole world revolving around the individual worshiper. Like, you really can't find even a shred of significance in anything that wasn't addressed to you by hand? Not to be all "I'm built different" on my own blog post, but really, does the world have no significance if it is not directly related to you? Maybe I'm just too much of an animist to relate to this point of view.

The origin of the phenomenon, though, matters slightly less to me than the subsequent effects it's had on the internet-pagan sphere. I don't think anyone is being Like That on purpose (most of the time). The implication that there is an empirically correct or incorrect way to interpret a sign (which, I cannot stress enough, often did not happen to the person doing the interpreting) leads to another implication that certain people know how to interpret spiritual experiences better than others, which leads to more and more honest inquiries into whether or not things are "really" signs. It causes people to feel less confident in their own interpretation abilities, and THAT is a problem to me.

Again, I am not trying to downplay the importance of discernment. A few years after I made that post, someone with less than ideal reading comprehension crawled into the comments to accuse me of that exact thing. But really, how are newbie pagans going to get better at discerning divine messages if they don't feel like they are the ones capable of discerning them in the first place? Is a newcomer sometimes being wrong in their interpretations really that much worse than them forever having to lean on other people to (often unsuccessfully) interpret their own experiences for them? I feel like there's a lesson about teaching a man to fish here...

Before I start going off on even more of a tirade, here is a message specifically to those who are struggling with their personal discernment: it's a skill like anything else. As such, it requires practice in order to be strengthened. Sometimes you will screw up. It's inevitable and not something that should scare you off from the practice entirely. But at the end of the day, no one else can really explain your personal experiences back to you. You are the only one with a full understanding of the context of the situation, both internal and external, and that gives you a great deal of power when it comes to interpreting it. You are capable, and anyone who tries to suggest otherwise is either trying to sell you something or looking to go on a power trip.

If you feel you may need them, here are some guiding questions you can ask yourself when attempting to interpret a potentially spiritual experience:

Maybe it's my own anti-authority bent influencing me here, but I have a good deal of mistrust for people who try to claim that you are doing your own religion wrong, especially in the pagan sphere. At least in the circles I run in, the vast majority of us are solitary, our practice connected to others in extremely informal ways. At the end of the day, we're mostly strangers on the internet to one another. Sure, this might lead to a degree of impartiality, but it also means that you've got little to no idea what angle everyone else is taking with their practices, and if their personal beliefs on signs are of any personal relevance to you. And above all, I am grateful for the fact that there is no governing body of pagans whose interpretations take precedence over our own. I think, rather than seeking elsewhere for answers, we should take this level of freedom to heart and seek them within ourselves whenever possible.