You enter a clearing. It’s a small grove in the middle of a forest. Moss hugs to the trees, creating shadows, giving the area a darkness that doesn’t feel quite natural. There’s a gurgling brook close by that you can hear, lending a soft moistness to the air. Green grass grows underfoot, providing a carpet for your bare feet. In the center of this clearing is a low stone altar. As you approach, it seems to hum with an otherworldly energy. You sense that this is a space where you can connect with gods.
Great start to a meditation? Possibly, and it might be used that way some day, but not today. This was how I led a group of adventurers to start a portion of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure that ultimately gained them boons from Melora, the Wildmother. But I have been thinking lately of how faith in the game relates to faith in real life – how the religions of role-playing games match up with the religious experiences of their players.
As a player, I have worshiped the healing goddess Sarenrae, offering her impromptu prayers and sacrifices so that my bard could sing sweetly and reveal truths. I’ve made offerings and walked the path laid before me by the Matron of Ravens, often working as a bringer of the release of death to those who suffered in life. Pelor received my sun worship (hello there, Apollo!) And with my friends, I have worked so many spells to defeat the forces of the death god Vecna.
In working with deities in a game setting, I’ve become more aware of how I interact with and work with deity in my non-gaming life. That is to say: I have a new appreciation for the many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the ancestors and gods are moving on my behalf.
For example, one of the animals that I associate with my patrons is the blue dragonfly. Not only am I now much more observant of noticing them as they flitter by, I’ve found that when I chat with them, more come to visit me. These encounters leave me feeling much more connected with my patrons than I previously thought – I have the feeling that they’re paying attention and sending me some hey-girl-I-see-you-doing-what-you’re-doing-keep-it-up love. It’s always nice when mom and dad tell us they’re proud of us, isn’t it?
I’ve also noticed that when I’ve done my morning devotional for a few days (or, to put it another way, had a long rest to recharge my spell slots), situations seem to fall more into place to keep my flow going. I don’t feel as hindered by my own thoughts, but instead, I feel swept away by inspiration to arrive at just the right place at just the right time.
I’ve had new portions of ritual devotions presented to me, falling out of my head with no effort at all, that allow me to re-connect with my feelings of being in the presence of deity. Chants have come, which I’ve then used in ritual casting. Physical workings have been presented that tie in with the mysteries of the gods and allow me to again deepen my understanding and relationship with them. My favorite of those is the braiding and unbraiding of colored yarn associated with the Weaver Goddess, which is a physical manifestation of her building our tapestry and also working out the knots we put in it. These inspirations are not just spiritual: I’m better able to contribute at work with my creativity (thanks, Minerva!) and become a more active part of the team.
Omens and prophecy have played a big part in some of my gaming adventures (to which I tip my hat to George R. R. Martin), and because of that, I’ve started remembering my dreams. Some of our in-game dreams are revelations that lead us onward in our quests. In much the same way, my personal dreamscape has become not only a space to recharge, but also a place to communicate with my ancestors and deities in a way where my conscious mind doesn’t get in the way and make me second-guess the messages. It’s deepened my ancestral workings to such a degree that I feel I’m finally getting some of those paradoxes in my ancestral bloodstream resolved, freeing up the flow of energy.
It’s not just in the playing of these games that I find large ah-ha moments. In watching livestreaming shows like Critical Role, with their vastly amazingly diverse landscapes and deities, I’ve found new faces of deity, a clarity I might not have otherwise received.
For example, in watching the Critical Role episode “A Name is Earned,” the intrepid heroes of Vox Machina encounter the mate of Osysa, a gynosphinx they met previously who has information about a magical item they seek. They find this sphinx, who tells them great knowledge cannot be given and must be earned. In the ensuing fight, they can only best him by learning his name. Upon figuring out the name, the fight comes immediately to a halt; the now-named Kamaljiori greets them with respect and offers them the information they sought.
Which is to say – the guardian became the guide. The guardian god, who is fearsome and fiercely protective, becomes a compassionate guide if we ask the right question, or say the right thing, or prove our worth in some fashion. In the Faery Seership tradition, when we encounter the guardian, we speak words that show we are worthy seekers. When these words are spoken, he recognizes us, granting access to his mysteries and allowing safe passage towards deeper knowledge. We must prove we are worthy of the knowledge he protects before we are allowed access to it, because that is how sacred it is.
In watching this episode of Critical Role, I wept. It was the guardian revealing another facet of himself to me. I gained another way of understanding how he was both fierce and loyal, horrible and gentle. These concepts that I just nodded my head and accepted were made concrete for me thanks to an example that had nothing to do with Paganism. That’s what the gods do – they find out where our attention is and send us messages that way when we’re not paying attention in the “normal” way.
My characters have had to do a variety of tasks in service to their chosen deities. Each time they do these things, they are granted gifts, or powers, or some glint of wisdom that can only come from the gods. In this way, I am constantly reminded that the gods that I work with out-of-game are also waiting for me to resume my daily devotionals, to walk the paths they have shown me. It’s this give-and-take of energy in some fashion that helps lead to a deeper relationship with them.
I have an aha! moment now when I realize that remembering to light the candles, say the words, and spend time in front of my altar – that is, taking actions on behalf of my connection with the divine – actually allows my ancestors, companion spirits, and patrons to communicate with me. In one sense, this is about letting the child-self come out to play. In another, it’s purposefully shifting focus from the more mundane world to the world of spirit. I always want to prioritize that world, but I don’t always make the time to do so – and then I grumble that the gods are ignoring me and none of my spirit guides are talking to me. Well, that’s because I haven’t made the space for them, isn’t it? Games remind me of the importance of making that effort.
My characters get a boon when they make the right offerings and say the right words. I do, as well, when I make the space in my life to be present in the moment and allow those communications to happen. I might not get barkskin for an hour, but I come away with an insight or new task that will help me feel like I do. These interactions have led me to new ways to work with deity that make sense for living in Florida, have led me to meet people who can help me further my education, and provided some experiences of personal gnosis that make my spiritual relationships far more meaningful.
All this to say: the gods will find a way to get their messages to me. If I am stalling, dragging my feet, or ignoring them (or the ancestors – man, can my family nag), they will figure out what has my attention and start sending messages there. If I’ve become lax in some area, it tends to come up in game play – whether I’m playing a character, acting as a game master, or even watching others play. Whether this is to remind me to pay attention because they are calling me, or because I’ve become “that friend” who only calls when they need help, they’re there, and they’re there for me.
Now, all I’ve got to do is listen (and maybe roll the occasional natural 20.)