Word and Will: Devotion Part 2

Jul 31, 2006
One of the reasons I'm making some changes in my life right now is that I've realized that I seem to have different standards for Paganism than for other religions; or at least, that I seem to think of them in different ways. As a rule, I tend to think of most religions in terms of what practitioners do. Followers of Hinduism have large community rituals and food offerings and truly lovely devotional altars. Followers of Judaism keep kosher and the Sabbath. Followers of Christianity go to church and evangelize and tithe, either to the poor or to the megachurch. (Yes, to a different degree depending on the individual, but considering the devoted.) For my own part, though, I have been content to define myself as Pagan based on what I believe -- I believe in many gods, in the immanence of divinity, in magic and reincarnation and all those other things that Pagans believe.

Oh, I still associate Paganism in general with covens and group workings and events like Pagan Pride Day, but I've been isolated from the opportunities to participate in such things, and I've allowed that to become an excuse for my own lack of practice and devotion. (One of my first books was Cunningham's Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner; despite the general emphasis on covens in most witch books, I have very little excuse, really.) To be blunt, I haven't done anything in far too long. So I've been thinking about devotion.

Partially I blame my Religious Studies class; it was the first class outside the anthro department I took on religion since high school, and it gave me a lot to chew on, mostly concerning the day-to-day practice of many religions. It also really made me feel the lack of Pagan religious texts. There's a lot of history, ancient and modern, questionable and well-researched; a lot of magical theory, ancient and modern; plenty of basic introductory texts. There is not, however, a core holy text, or even a set of texts.

And I love words. I love the concept of the Jewish Tefillin, holy texts bound to the arm and forehead during prayer -- I find the idea of binding very powerful, and that of physical contact. I'm significantly lacking in holy texts, however. (I am toying with the idea of ogham and names, actually.) I love the power of words in the Buddhist tradition, where even one letter taken from a sutra has the power to perform miracles. I love the respect accorded to a Muslim who has memorized the Koran, because doing so preserves the Word of God.

I know, I know. I write; why can't I do it myself? Well, it's not the same. Other people have written often quite stunning pieces; why not use those? I'm not sure what the difference is between knowing that something was written by an unnamed poet five thousand years ago by the inspiration of God and knowing that something was written by Doreen Valiente forty years ago by the inspiration of the Goddess, but it exists in my mind nonetheless. I struggle even more with the genericness of so much Pagan writing: because there are so many gods, and because of the Wiccan tradition emphasizing the unity of all gods as the God and all goddesses as the Goddess, specificity is hard to come by. And, let's face it, a lot of Pagan writing can get pretty cheesy, and it's hard to feel properly worshipful when you're being distracted by your own cheese.

I have been trying to drag myself away from the idea of devotion as inherently tied to words. In the bible study group I went to in high school, we were encouraged to pray even if we had no words, but I have found that, for myself, this gives me even less structure than meditation does and in the end does nothing for my sense of connection with the divine. I have also been struggling with this idea that connection with the divine is something that happens only at a particular time, when you sit down to pray/meditate/what have you. As a Pagan, I know this is not true, but in real life, I often find that I wish I had that devotional ritual to re-focus my mind, remind me that whether or not my internet connection will be hooked up by next week is not the be-all and end-all of the Universe, that getting out of the house is good for the soul and the body, no matter how much of a nuisance it seems. I need a devotional ritual -- and since I've signed on for the type of Paganism that is, essentially, a massive do-it-yourself project, I have to come up with one.

That's the rest of this series, then; my wanderings through the potential of devotion and how I'm going to come up with something that makes me feel genuine, worshipful, powerful, and not full of cheese. Unfortunately, although the status of my internet connection is not the be-all and end-all of the Universe, it does affect blogging -- and since it might not be up for a week or two, posts might come a little farther between than I'd expected. I will try to get down to the library, though, when I have Part 3 ready.

Tomorrow I move my life up one state and to the right. And after that -- who knows.


Sojourner said...

I hope Madison is treating you well so far!

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

This is my first visit to your blog. I'm struck by the freshness of your writing and the integrity of your self-examination... I know _just_ what you mean about how hard it is to focus on what's sacred in our writing when distracted by all the "cheese."

Luckily for me, though I'm a word-person too, my practice winds up being quite non-verbal. (And a good thing, too! Since my day-to-day practice is mainly centered these days on attending a Quaker meeting. ;> ) Like you, though, I sometimes wish we had more of a tradition of devotional writing. There are a few Pagan poets who are _almost_ there (I'm fond of Penny Novack's poetry, for instance) but there's just not enough of substance yet. I do find myself falling back on imagery instead, though there are times that's not quite what I need...

Thanks for writing. I'll be stopping by again soon--I do hope you'll post more on this thread.


Jenavira said...

sojourner - Madison's great! Loving it so much I've been falling behind on the blogging, unfortunately. ;) Hell with this whole "nature religion" idea, I love living in a city. (Though to tell the truth, I have the best of both worlds -- an apartment on the edge of town with a huge backyard and some very enthusiastic local wildlife, but close to the bus line so I can get into town easily. It's brilliant.)

cat -- Thank you! Always glad to know my writing is hitting a chord somewhere. :) I hadn't heard of Penny Novack, actually, I'll have to look into her work. I suppose devotional writing is much like everything else in modern Pagan traditions -- it takes some work to separate the worthwhile stuff from the New Age drivel, but doesn't it seem like the poetry is particularly bad? Anyway, hope you stick around (and sorry for the huge gap in posting!)

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Grian said...

I've noticed there are quite a few Pagans looking for some structure lately. The difficult part of it is finding the right amount of structure without things getting too dogmatic. I struggle with things like that in my own practice and have finally come up with some devotional rituals that feel real to me.

I love the frank way you write and I can't wait to read more as this series evolves.