A common thing to see on social media is people posting thank yous to various gods angels and other spirits. I myself do this routinely. Some have suggested that this could be a thing offered to spirits when asking for something, particularly spirits who are known to want fame and attention. People might also see it and wonder why people would publicly post about spirits, or their spirituality. People might wonder why people wouldn’t keep something like that private or if it’s intended to show off.
Historically, thanking spirits publicly was a common part of pagan cultures. We see it largely in Rome and throughout the empire. It was not uncommon for people to put up graffiti naming a god and thanking it for something. In medieval Europe saints were publicly thanked at their shrines or publicly punished when they disappointed the community. In cultures where your spirits are real and where most people recognize them as real it’s common for our social interactions with the spirit world to be part of our social interactions with our embodied community.
Most of us live in a different sort of culture these days. We have grown up in societies influenced by the cold spiritless worldview of low church Protestantism. Along with not acknowledging the reality of the spirit world, that worldview prizes quiet, humility, and avoidance of any spiritual act which might seem showy. We also mostly live in societies where religion is no longer part of the culture, and people have many different religious views and backgrounds. Since religion is a reified thing separate from cultural norms religion becomes a thing in a weird box. A box we’re supposed to keep private, a box we’re not supposed to talk about or ask about. It becomes a thing we have to navigate in terms of our experience of ourselves and others. In short, we live in a world which doesn’t promote a healthy experience of religion and society as a natural part of our lives woven deeply into our cultural experience. As a result it can become a bizarre artifact which people look at with curiosity and awkwardness when we allow our religious behaviors and experiences to show, instead of the healthy positive empowering experience of fully engaging the spirit world with those around us. We should be able to rejoice in the experience of the fullness of reality.
So when we thank a spirit publicly, for some people, depending on how they do it, it might be showing off. But I hope for most people it isn’t. After all, you’re recognizing what the spirits did not what you did. For most people it’s a sincere expression of gratitude. We don’t often think of it as such, but gratitude can be a valuable thing to give. When we think of offerings we think about food or alcohol or objects. We are less likely to think about devotion, or time, or words, or behaviors, and we are certainly less likely to think about gratitude. But how nice is it when someone truly and sincerely expresses gratitude for something we’ve done? When we realize we’ve really helped someone, and that they really appreciated it and they express their appreciation and how it helped them, our hearts warm. It feels really good. Gratitude has a value and is a meaningful and powerful offering.
When we consider gratitude in the light of our contemporary society there is an added component. We live in a throw away society. We buy things that are disposable. When we buy things that last, we expect that eventually they’ll break and replacing them will be easier than fixing them. We turn off anyone who we disagree with. We walk away from whatever doesn’t suit us. This doesn’t mean we don’t have things we love or appreciate, or people we love or appreciate. It does however make it easier to allow any interaction or relationship to be one which can be thrown away. It puts a premium on connection and valuing others. It adds a deeper value to simple things like gratitude because we recognize our interactions aren’t throw aways. We recognize our interactions with ephemeral things don’t have to be ephemeral themselves and that we need to maintain and value those relationships. In a throw away world, true gratitude can be revolutionary.
We also live in a society where belief in spirits and magic is not recognized as the norm. The reality is, it’s much closer to the norm than we realize, most people believe in spirits and magic in some way, but they don’t profess a belief in it. They don’t engage a belief in it. Those of us who do profess such a belief and engage in navigating our world based on that belief might get written off as eccentric or weird or crazy. Publicly acknowledging the role of spirits in our lives, especially on a regular basis and in front of those who don’t embrace that belief shows a commitment to those relationships with spirits and to our understanding of the world. We willingly show gratitude regardless of how it might appear.
As magicians there is also an element of posturing that sometimes creeps in. People don’t believe in magic so magicians have to prove to themselves and others that their belief is well placed. They have to show that they are successful powerful magicians. Even within the community of magicians sometimes it seems like people have a need to show that they are powerful and capable magicians. Letting go of that need can be important to getting things done, and real power and success often come when we stop worrying about making it look like we have those things. Sometimes getting what we need comes from understanding when we should go after something ourselves and when we should ask for help.
When we thank spirits for things we have not only acknowledged that we encountered a situation where we needed help, and asked for that help, but we are publicly letting that be known. Instead of fronting that we are unstoppable forces which can handle all things on our own we’re publicly implying that we ran into a problem. Our lives aren’t perfect despite our magic. Not only are we acknowledging that we ran into an issue but we’re also acknowledging that we needed help. We didn’t just have a problem in our lives which our magic didn’t prevent, but we ran into something where we turned to things which were bigger than us, or at least which had a greater vantage than us, so that they could help us and provide for us. This doesn’t prove anything about our power or prowess, it also doesn’t take away from it. But we’re publicly recognizing that the spirits in our lives are not only helpful, and powerful, but that they are beings which we need in our lives who help us when we need to rely on someone other than ourselves. We also recognize that it’s ok to rely on something other than ourselves despite the often egoistic nature of modern magical culture and modern culture in general.
So, there is quite a bit we can unpack when it comes to those things implied by our own expressions of gratitude. We represent belief in real spiritual presence despite the Protestant inspired modern world, we express gratitude and value in a world where gratitude and value are often overlooked, we open ourselves to review where people see what we believe, they see that we encounter problems, they see that sometimes we need help. There is in a sense a humility and a sort of being laid bare present in the act of publicly giving thanks, and it embraces a classical approach to the world quite at odds with our modern experience.
Aside from our experience…the spirits might also enjoy public thanksgiving. Many spirits like awareness to be drawn towards them and to their ability to work in the world successfully. More people connecting to them and thinking of them, more people working with them and seeking with them can help their access to or interaction with our phase of the world. More people turning to them for things can also lead to more people making offerings to them and giving them things they like. So for many spirits, it’s not just the fact that we’re giving a gift of gratitude bolstered by the circumstances which would otherwise confine that gratitude from being given, but also that they desire public praise, or fame, or attention. Not all spirits want this, but many do. So with that in mind public thanks can be an offering which is not only meaningful from the perspective of our own experience but also can be exactly what a spirit wants.
So if you enjoyed my thoughts on this subject, check out more of my thoughts on the spirit world and our relationships with it in my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits.
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