You’re dealing with the demon of external validation. You can’t beat external validation. You want to know why? Because it feels sooo good. — Northern Exposure, “Gran Prix” (1994)
I would argue that external validation isn’t always a bad thing. However, if you are going to write or speak in public about your mystical experiences — or heck, if you’re going to have mystical experiences at all — external validation is something that you both should consider pursuing from time to time, and something which you also must learn to live without. I’m going to try to explain why.
First, we are all human. We make mistakes. We get things wrong. We have egos and agendas and wishful thinking, and even the most experienced, able witch or spiritworker or priest is not infallible. We do not always hear the voices of the gods clearly, without our own wants and needs getting in the way. We sometimes fail to acknowledge our weaknesses, emotional baggage, and personal issues when They are trying to tell us something important. Therefore, when we have to speak out about things for which others have only our word to judge the message by, we are not guaranteed to get that message across cleanly. It behooves us at these times to seek external validation, either by consulting others who’ve independently arrived at the same conclusions (which one might call PCPG or “peer-corroborated personal gnosis”) or via divination from some trusted and competent person.
Be prepared, if you go the latter route, to be told that you’ve been mistaken. It happens from time to time, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate your judgment or the validity of your other experiences. And while getting divination on a matter isn’t necessarily a foolproof way to validate something you may not even be able to describe totally in words, it’s better than being erroneous in your beliefs about yourself and your path, and possibly basing future behavior and choices on that error of perception.
Seeking external validation about an important matter of UPG (unverified personal gnosis) which has the potential to impact your life, or the lives of your loved ones, or the lives of others who have put their trust in you, is a good thing. In time, we can generally learn to trust our own inner voices, and to improve our own signal clarity, but even so, getting a second opinion from time to time is still wise. All of the professional spiritworkers I know do this, particularly if it relates to a matter involving their own personal relationships with lovers and family members, or some other topic about which they cannot trust themselves to be impartial, because impartiality is part of what makes someone an effective spiritworker (as opposed to a priest or priestess, for whom impartiality may be less useful than compassion — but that’s another discussion entirely).
The irony is that, while reading the accounts of others who have been brave, reckless, or foolish enough to post their experiences online for the whole Internet to see, or publish them in a book for readers to examine, or to speak of them at a public gathering or workshop in front of a live audience, many people have had their own private experiences externally validated. This has happened to me in some remarkable ways. For example, I first met my current housemates when I emailed one of them about something he’d alluded to on a mailing list, only to find out later that the part he didn’t talk about publicly was exactly in line with my own experience. On the other hand, I’ve lost count of how many times someone has emailed or come up to me saying that what I’ve written in this blog, in one of my books, or in an article I’d forgotten about because it was submitted a year ago to some publication, has validated their own UPG and made them feel less like a crazy person having delusions about this Loki guy.
It’s awesome that people can find a source of validation for their most significant experiences in the words of a stranger they’ve never met. It’s a bit of a relief as well when someone says something I’ve written has done this for them, because that tells me I’m doing something right, rather than just wasting my own and my gods’ time. But (and this is a Sir Mix-A-Lot-worthy But) that is also exactly the kind of external validation that you, I, and everyone else needs to stop needing. Initially, when people are new to mystical or spiritual experiences, this kind of validation provides reassurance that one is not, in fact, ready to be committed or is otherwise disconnected from reality. The problem arises when we begin to pursue external validation for its own sake just because it does, as the Northern Exposure quote says, feel really, really good. I’m convinced that we have to learn to live without it if we want to grow spiritually as devotees of the gods, priest/esses, monastics, spiritworkers, or whatever part of this hodge-podge religious movement we occupy.
If you’re going to post, write, talk, or lecture about things like making a marriage-oath to an ancient Norse god, taking astral journeys to a realm most people think is only real in folk tales, or interacting with the spirit of a tree, you have to stop caring about whether or not anybody approves or believes you. That sounds entirely self-contradictory — why talk about it unless you want people to believe? — but from my point of view, the biggest reason to speak of one’s personal spiritual matters, things which you know most people in this world don’t believe in and therefore, don’t need to hear, is because you know someone else out there does need to hear it. And because it adds to the common body of knowledge about whatever it is you’re talking about — be it a form of spiritwork, an insight about ethics or values, or a theological idea. And also because it contributes to the health and vitality of our faiths, and the honor and renown of our gods. Not because you’re going to get admiration, thus reinforcing your shaky self-esteem, for saying or writing it, or because you want to appear special and unique to people you’d like to impress.
You have to take your ego out of it entirely, as a matter of fact, or you’ll never stop chasing the demon, trying to feel good about the attention you get. When you do that, when you spend time pursuing external validation at the cost of pure intent, the message gets muddled, or even lost, and it becomes all about you and not about what you’re actually saying.
I try hard to remember as I write this blog that it’s not about making me look as if Loki and Hela favor me above others. It’s not about making myself seem like an authority. It’s about sharing the things I have struggled with and the insights I’ve reached, in the hope that other people might find these things familiar, or useful to think about. It’s not because I’m special — on the contrary, it’s because I’m not special, and the obstacles and challenges I’ve experienced and will continue to experience are shared by a great many people. Yet few of us speak openly about these things, afraid of being mocked or harassed or dismissed. Learning not to care about external validation helps with that. When you care less whether or not people agree with what you believe in, you’ll also care less that some people will be hostile to it.
I’m not 100% there yet. I really like getting positive comments and feedback. I enjoy the fact that people read and like what I have to say. I’ll admit it — my ego gets stroked by these things, as much as my sense of a job well done is satisfied. But that can’t be my primary reason for writing the things I do. By the same token, anyone who writes publicly about their own experiences and insights needs to ask themselves what their primary goal is in so doing. For example, I’ve seen a lot — a lot — of blogs where the author claims that the gods or spirits told them to write about their stuff, and yet, all one seems to read there are entries rather transparently phrased to highlight how special and important the writer is. It’s one thing to say, how does this look to you? It’s another thing to say, look at me, I’m important, even God X thinks so…
There came a time a few years ago when I realized that, even if nobody else in the world knew, believed in, or cared about my relationships with my gods, that wouldn’t matter. I would still be obligated to Them, would still love and want to honor and revere Them, and would still be one of Loki’s consorts and madly in love with Him. What people think of it is irrelevant. It took me a long time to arrive at that place. That happened, not coincidentally, shortly before I started this blog. I couldn’t have begun writing Twilight and Fire without having come to that understanding, especially because I, myself, have been guilty of coming from a less-than-clean place when speaking of my interactions with my gods, particularly Loki. I was very insecure about His love for me for a long time, and found some rather annoying ways to try to reassure myself.
For a while after I first realized that what was happening wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before, I sought out approval from the wrong people, including strangers online who didn’t even know me. I competed with others to “prove” how special I was in the sight of my gods. I wrote rambling, self-indulgent bullshit that wasn’t public, but had enough readers so that I was guaranteed of at least one response to everything I wrote, simply because I wanted the wrong kind of validation — the ego-stroking kind. Some of what I produced was honestly meant to express something more pure-minded — the devotional I wrote for Loki was a gift for Himself, and the fact that I don’t even know how many copies have sold seems to bother other people more than it bothers me. But honestly, I made these pointed remarks two paragraphs ago because I’ve been there, and have seen it in many others. I know from experience how hard it is to stop chasing the demon, and what an asshole it makes you look like when you do it in front of other people. But it can be done.
I’m not arguing that it’s immature or unworthy to want praise, admiration, or reassurance. It’s natural to desire those things — because you worked hard, did your best, or showed extraordinary talent or skill at something, or maybe just didn’t do as badly as you feared. But when we’re talking about things that can’t be measured or quantified, like religious experience, it becomes a whole other matter. What I’m saying is that external validation about personal gnosis and/or interaction with the divine needs to be sought out consciously, mindfully, with a single goal — that of ridding oneself of falsehood or delusion. Looking for validation from outside sources for any other reason is a waste of time. While it’s understandable when people first start having experiences that aren’t described in books or spoken about very often, there comes a point when you have to learn to trust yourself and your gods, and most of all, that you have the wisdom and discernment to seek validation only when it’s necessary, not when you’re feeling insecure. In the end, truth reveals itself, but only if you make a place for it. Then the demon loses its seductive power, and you find that it’s far less satisfying to pursue it than it is to hold fast to the things you already know are real.
(This post was inspired by Dver’s recent writings about discernment. My thanks to her for providing the impetus to discuss something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, but was uncertain how to approach.)