So, this is a subject I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while but it keeps not happening for some reason. That said, I think this is hands down THE most important skill you can have when dealing with paganism, polytheism, magic, witchcraft, or anything else that involves woo. It’s also extremely handy in muggle matters, too. We often hear about its importance, but we rarely get much more than that. I’m going to attempt to talk about what discernment is, why it’s important, and might even succeed in coming up with a couple ways to hone it.
What is discernment?
Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions for discernment (the last is from their English learner’s dictionary, and included for its clarity):
1 : the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure : skill in discerning
2 : an act of perceiving or discerning something
3 : the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently
So in a nutshell, discernment is the ability to know what’s what.
Why is discernment so important?
Discernment is a vastly underrated skill, and we often only see it talked about in spiritual contexts. That said, it also has more practical applications. It can help you tell if you’re actually getting a bargain at that sale or if they’ve really just lowered their prices to market value. It’s what lets you know that that guy really isn’t a Nigerian prince, and he’s never going to give you money. It’s what let’s you know that maybe Timmy isn’t such a good influence on you and if you keep hanging out with him you’re going to get arrested. Basically, in real life applications, it’s the skill that keeps you from getting scammed or conned.
The same applies in a spiritual context. Your ability to discern can help you find more reliable sources of information, whether it’s telling which spiritual leader/guru is legit and which is not, or even which books and print sources are reliable and which not to waste your time on. Most importantly, good discernment skills can help you differentiate between various thought and entities in a spiritual context. Without discernment, you will not be able to tell the difference between the gods (or god–I’m approaching this from a Kemetic standpoint, but it’s pretty universal), other spirits, and your own thoughts. If you can’t tell that difference, your spiritual experiences will be questionable at best, and, frankly, downright unreliable. The honest seeker must be able to perceive things clearly in order to grow spiritually, and in order to develop a healthy relationship with their deities.
Discernment is especially important for those in leadership positions. If a leader is unclear, they may tell their followers that God/the Gods want them to act in a particular manner, when in reality, it’s really just their own opinion and desire. The truly dangerous aspect is that a leader may do this and be completely unaware of it–they may truly mistake their own thoughts for the words of the gods. This is one of the reasons you see the phrase UPG (unverified personal gnosis) tossed around a lot–it’s a way to say, hey, my discernment might be off. I don’t think it is, but it’s possible. Also worth noting is that the spiritual realm has many beings in it, not just gods. A lot of these entities are just like you and me–they’re just people. Others are much more powerful, and may enjoy messing with people. Good discernment skills are what lets you tell the difference between a god and a powerful entity pretending to be one. And when you’re able to tell that difference, a lot of those entities will back off, because they realize you’re not going to fall for their tricks.
So yeah, on the woo front, good discernment skills will protect you from unhealthy leadership, groups, and spirits.
How do I hone my discernment skills?
This is the hard part. While some are naturally gifted in this area, some of the rest of us have to work at it. I would suggest a two prong approach. Firstly, gain as much knowledge and information on whatever you’re trying to discern. For your mundane world application, this might include doing research and finding out more about Nigerian princes (and discovering the well known scam). For woo, this might involve researching the gods you think you’re talking with. While books won’t give the full picture, often you can get enough details to get a feel for what a given god stands for, and how they typically react to people. In this case, you want to make sure you’re using good sources (and we’re back to real world discernment). Don’t just use wikipedia, but make a serious effort. If you don’t care enough to do it right, you probably shouldn’t be doing whatever it is you’re trying to do.
The second prong is to use your own intuition. Intuition is highly linked to discernment, and sometimes it’s the only thing you have to rely on. So you need to get to a point where you can trust your instincts and gut reactions. The way you do this is to start by noticing your instinctive reactions, and then seeing what happens next. For example, I have found that time and again, when I strongly and instinctively dislike someone, there’s almost always something really wrong with them (i.e. they turn out to be a really horrible person). And because I’ve experienced that over and over, when I meet someone new and that voice in the back of my brain recoils from them, well, let’s just say I politely keep my distance. But it took a lot of time and experience to get to that point. It didn’t happen overnight. You are going to have to be patient. In the meantime, be a skeptic. The best way to keep yourself safe when you’re still honing your discernment skills is to take everything with a large grain of salt (and doing so will actually help you hone those skills, so it’s a win-win).
Hopefully I’ve done a good job here of looking at discernment and some of it’s applications. It really is an essential skill when doing any sort of woo, whether it’s religious, witchcraft, or dealing with spiritual entities of any sort. Discernment is the strongest protection and ward you can have, short of divine intervention. It is not an easy skill to develop, but you can hone it over time–the trick is to have as much information as you can, be it print or experiential.
As with most of my serious posts, this is largely based on my own experiences. What works for me may not work for you.
(originally published Apr 26, 2017 on my tumblr)