I'm Back! & Devotion part 3

Aug 18, 2006
Two weeks later and I'm finally all wired up again -- the move has been exciting, exhausting, overwhelming, all those things and more. I have job leads; I've found the grocery store, the post office, and the library; I've even been fairly successful at figuring out the bus system. My favorite thing about Madison so far, though? The gigantic year-round farmer's market. For the first time in my life, the hundred-mile diet seems not only feasable but very attractive, too.

So now that I've caught up on my Pagan blog reading, it's time to contribute to the pool again, with my continuing series on devotion. I started off this series by talking about the difference between magic and religion and last time went on to my literary expectations and disappointments in Paganism. Like I said last time, though, I am trying to move away from the idea that devotion has to be something that's done with words. After all, words hold all kinds of power, but in Western civilization the liturgial word has all too often been solely the property of the leader or priest, creating barriers between the divine and the people trying to access it. I certainly don't believe that this is the only way an authoritative text can work, but I respect the fact that modern Paganism has moved away from that idea in reaction to its misuse in other traditions (even while I continue to be confused and frustrated with the lack of coherence and external direction).

Modern Paganism is hardly unique in this respect. Last fall I took a religious studies class to fill out my senior-year schedule; it was a surprisingly fulfilling experience, focusing less on the facts and history of religions than I'm used to such classes doing and more on the experience of living within a religion. When we addressed Hinduism, we talked a lot about it being a religion of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. Doctrines vary -- name and number of gods, nature of the universe, afterlife and how to best prepare yourself for it...all those things are negotiable. But everyone gives offerings. Offerings are huge. Everyone venerates images of the gods, because those images are a means of focusing and manifesting their power. Everyone, in other words, does something.

Which, hell, is one of the reasons I went for Paganism. It involves more doing than just going to church on Sunday. Unfortunately, the variability in Paganism is even bigger than that in Hinduism, and there isn't even any orthopraxy. There are no sutras to write as acts of merit. There are no scrolls to bind to your body in prayer. Especially when working with Irish/Celtic dieties as I usually am, there are no images to venerate or traditional offerings to make. There is no daily cycle of prayer -- no prayers, period.

It's one thing to decide, intellectually, that what you want out of the Universe is a mystery religion, like Paganism, where the scripture is not in a book but in your own experiences. It's another thing to struggle with finding ways of having those experiences when all you've learned how to do is the liturgy and structure of the United Methodist Church. I don't doubt the path I've chosen, and I don't doubt my need to continue as a Solitary before I try to find a group or coven to work with. But by the Gods it can be hard.

Which is, of course, why I've been running this devotion series in the first place; wandering around the idea of "how the hell do I get there from here?" I've always been a little surprised, actually, at the lack of Hindu-inspired traditions and practices in modern Paganism. After all, Hinduism is pantheistic, polytheistic, relatively uncentralized, and has endured for thousands of years. It's also almost entirely reliant on community structure, which might be one of the reasons it hasn't taken off in modern Paganism: we still lack that kind of community cohesion. Which means, really, that borrowing from the Hindu tradition might not be a bad idea right about now. (Besides, doesn't a devotional celebration this big look like a hell of a lot of fun?)

For myself, I've been experimenting with the idea of offerings. In our mostly European-inspired traditions, offerings outside of formal ritual are usually associated more with lesser spirits like the faerie than with the gods, but in Hinduism offerings, mostly of food, are the key to devotional practice. (Another offering is of clothing; statues of the gods are dressed in bright scarves and flowers. When I find the statuary I'm looking for, I'll be all over that one, too.) The wonderful thing about offerings of food is you'll never forget about them; you eat at least twice a day, and with a little mindfulness, the presence of food becomes a reminder that devotion is necessary, and stimulates mindfulness on its own. (To tell the truth, I started wandering down this line of thought with Alestair Crowley's list of devotions; he borrowed the Buddhist concept of mindfulness to inspire a great deal of his own tradition's requirements.) It's no different, truly, than the offering given in formal ritual, but if I waited to acknowledge the gods until I performed a formal ritual....well. Let's just say that technique hasn't been working well for me the past couple of years.

(Next time around: stealing borrowing from other traditions, the physicality of devotion, and Adventures with the Rosary.)

1 comment:

Sojourner said...

Welcome back!