Devotional Practice – My Approach

As I have mentioned before (quite a few times), I am a Polytheist, a Priest of Crow, and maintain my own devotional practice to Him. I have a few friends that are also Polytheists and have their own devotional practices with their own Gods and Goddesses. And our individual practices all look different, which is as it should be. I’m not interested in making my own practice look like theirs. I’m interested in making my practice work for the relationship I have with Crow.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle

At Pantheacon this year, I attended several concurrent sessions throughout the time I was there. When I was choosing what sessions, I was going to attend, I did so with a mindful purpose. I wanted to attend sessions that would help me strengthen my relationship with Crow and Coyote. At the time, I was also going through what I had perceived to be a potential start of a relationship with The Morrigan. That turned out to not be the case and was also colored by a certain perception bias I had instilled on things as well. It turned out to be a set of Valkyries that came to deliver a point. When I looked through the sessions, three stood out to me instantly, and I knew I had to attend each of these.

The three sessions, “Beginning Devotional Practice“, “Advanced Devotional Practice” (both by Silence Maestas), and “Brigid: History, Mystery & Magick of the Celtic Goddess” (by Courtney Weber) each had an immediate attraction for me. While I have a daily devotional practice working with Crow, and from time-to-time with Coyote, I am always open to the prospect of new ideas or techniques. The Brigid session, on the other hand, was an odd choice, given my so recent flirtation with Fliodhais. Still, I knew I needed to be at all three of these sessions. I’ll discuss the Brigid session in another blog post though.

I had attended Silence’s session at Many Gods West last year. So, I had a decent idea what I was expecting in these sessions. I knew there would be an open discussion, allowing members of the audience to share their own thoughts and perspectives. Last year, this was an invaluable tool for me in gathering my thoughts concerning Fliodhais, and where I thought things would be going. As it turned out, the flirtation was just that. And eventually, my devotional practice has set back to Crow and Coyote, with some extra work with the various Spirits of Place up here by the Red River that forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

In the initial stages of the beginning session, Silence talked about the basic aspects of starting a devotional practice. Choose a single thing to start with, and do it until you are extremely comfortable. Then begin to add other elements as you are called to do so, and continue working with your daily practice. My start came from greeting the Sun. But what the start is, does not matter. Silence added in some characteristics of Devotion into the conversation: Choice, Constancy, Perseverance. The choice allows you to become an emotional experiencer.

Why Have a Devotional Practice?

For this question, I cannot really answer for anyone else. Everyone will have their own set of reasons. For me, the start was with Coyote. I was seeking a Guide that could show me pathways I had never considered in my own Spiritual approach. In return, I was offering to be Their hands and feet within this realm. I spent three years thinking I could make a connection with Germanic Gods and Goddesses. I wound up with Coyote answering my desire for guidance. It made sense. I live in the middle of Native American lands – the southern edge of the central plains. I knew Coyote to be a Trickster. And I spent a lot of time being humiliated by Him before I finally stood up for myself. ‘Why would anyone want to work with me after making me into such a mockery?’ ‘At least you understood the point of the lessons. You need to stand up for yourself’ was the answer I received. And thus, started what has been nearly a decade of solid work with the first of my Trickster Gods.

Choice

You choose to do this practice. No God or Goddess will compel you to do any of this. They may ask, but it is still your choice. You have the Free Will to say no. Granted, there are consequences to saying ‘no’. Just as there are consequences to saying ‘yes’. Be sure you are prepared for either perspective. Just as well, be prepared to receive no answer at all. Too often, I have heard Polytheists say that they feel like they are doing something wrong when no God or Goddess answers them, directly or indirectly. That they feel they are doing their worship and devotion wrong when no Gods approach them. Worship and devotion are your choices; not a compulsion, not a directive. Sometimes, the Gods don’t answer. Just because there is not an answer or a manifestation, should that be the definitive answer as to if you believe? Remember, the Gods are not Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that just spit out the answers and Their attention whenever you ask for it or manage to punch in the right combination on the keypad for Their attention. The Gods do as They see fit as well. They also have choices. They also have Their own Free Will. Remember, devotional work with the Gods is a relationship, and relationships are cultivated – not created with the snap of a finger. Trust needs to be developed. Relationships are grown.

Constancy

Perhaps the easiest aspect of Silence’s Characteristics of Devotion is that of Constancy. If part of your devotional work takes place at the butt-crack of dawn (as mine does), then be there. That consistent behavior provides the religious context of what you are doing. And honestly, your devotional practice needs to be something that you can do easily. You do not have to wind up looking and acting like a Catholic Priest or Nun in your devotion. My devotional work requires me to be there. If I happen to be wearing a Rush concert t-shirt and a torn-up pair of jeans – then that works. Constancy is not about dressing the part – it is about being you. No matter how you look. If “robing up” is something that helps get you into the frame of mind, then do so. Just remember, you may not always be somewhere that you can just do a quick change into a set of ritual robes. As I noted, part of my devotional practice is greeting the sun as it rises into the morning sky. Even when the clouds obscure it. Even when it is raining outside. Or in the case of my trip to Ireland two years back, standing in a waiting area in the Dublin international airport. And while I stood there and looked out the window, with a cardboard coffee cup in hand and my carry-on backpack hung over one shoulder, it was a magickal moment indeed.

Perseverance

So, you have made the motions. You have set up your devotional practice. You have decided which God or Goddess you want to work with. And They do not answer or acknowledge you. What now? Well, keep at it. A relationship with a God or Goddess is like any relationship you have with anyone else. it can take time to build the trust necessary for a relationship to be established. You do not have to pitch a piece of expensive jewelry into a lake to show that you have devotion. Well, maybe you do. That is truly up to you, and the nature of your relationship with the God or Goddess that you are flirting with or Who is flirting with you. That is a choice for you to make. The point is that whatever relationship you are cultivating takes time. And once the connection is there, like any relationship, obtaining depth requires constant work (remember Constancy?).

This is a relationship of choice that you are building. A choice that was made between you and a God or Goddess. Certainly, They are beings that we do not ultimately comprehend completely, but this is still a relationship. Just as it took some work and time to develop trust between yourself and your significant other, the same holds true here. You want that intimate relationship? That takes work buddy. And that work requires you to be constant, work through difficulties and misunderstandings, and to choose to have this. If you are wanting it just to have a God or Goddess notch on your altar…you’re not approaching this as you should. Remember, relationship = trust, trust brings intimate relationship, intimate relationship = commitment, commitment comes from hard work.

A Caveat – I Am Not an Expert

Now, I have stated this before. I have also stated this in the professional conferences that I have led sessions on SQL coding. I am no expert. I can only relay what I have learned, what works for me, and what does not work for me. I am not the final arbiter of what is or is not devotional practice for anyone. Well, except for myself. In that realm, I certainly am the expert and final arbiter. All I can really say is that anyone who wants a devotional practice can develop one. You must commit to study, practice, and ritual to achieve what you are wanting. Read, do, repeat. Or as the bottle of shampoo notes – Lather, rinse, repeat. And above all else, look carefully at what it means to cultivate a devotional relationship with a God or Goddess. Like any relationship, the prime commitment is time. Be sure what you are getting into before you do it.

–T /|\

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The Gods Are Alive – You Need Only Reach Out and Open Your Mind

A few nights ago, I was contemplating the legend/myth of Santa Claus. Seemingly, it is interesting that something near to this image of a jolly, older guy passing out presents is so far-reaching and encompassing throughout many cultures around the world. Perhaps, it can be attributed to the wider reach of Christianity throughout the entire world. Maybe. I would prefer to see it a little differently though. I believe that the underlying concept of freely sharing the joy and love of what human beings can be – regardless of nationality or race, is an easier concept to reach for so many.

We live in a world where conflict is common-place. So common-place that many of the conflicts are not readily reported in the news media. But then again, with most of the news media concerned with who hates the Sunkist-Orange President or where a “fascist” can be found that can be punched in the face – news is not as readily available since it does nothing to assuage the feelings of an extremely vocal few. And that is truly a post for another time.

No, the entire concept of Santa and gift giving is a wonderful sentiment to have. I would hope that it spreads to more than just a single day. And more than just six days throughout the entire year. As a myth or legend (whichever you prefer), it does make for an interesting study of just what myth and legend can mean to us as a global society. And not just religiously oriented myths. Myths and legends provide our somewhat monochrome, monotone world with color and expression.

In 2016, I attended a panel on Mythology at Pantheacon, where the discussion turned from the myths as we have told them prior to the addition of modern technology versus the addition of CGI and movie technology providing a new vision. And while I would posit that these modern adaptations of the myths, bear the marks of how the Hollywood producers and executives deem the Gods to be, or even how the Gods seem to be to the graphic novel writers and artists would dream the Gods to be; there is an impetus that these modern adaptations do bring people into Pagan traditions. These people may dabble in various traditions before they cast these off and find their own manner of approaching the world around them. And some of them may stay within a Pagan tradition, finding their own expression of the Gods that drew them in – ditching Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the embodiment of what the Gods may seem to be to them, and finding their own imaginative interpretations within their own minds and hearts.

Petroglyph Trail - Mesa Verde National Park
A narrow passageway along the Petroglyph trail in Mesa Verde National Park, where I came face-to-face with Crow.

As I noted in my “Static or Dynamic Mythology” post back in 2016, for me the Gods and Goddesses are alive – each their own individual manifestation. But the myths and legends are alive as well. Surely, some of these myths and legends have grown and adapted with the colorful additions of Bards and Storytellers throughout the ages. An embellishment that becomes believable is a true gift of a storyteller weaving his or her spell around a campfire. The same holds true for those same stories translated into a written word or onto the large screen of the movie theater. And given the desire of so many to purchase books, watch movies, and even tv shows geared to the myths and legends of our times – the thirst for the colorful nature of myth and legend is readily evident.

And the thirst is not even true for just movies or even mythology. To present that perspective, look to the X-Files tv shows and movies, which tackle many modern myths and legends. Aliens, shadowy government forces, and deep, hidden conspiracies are all a part of our modern cultural myths. Some are unlikely to be true, but it does provide some color to our black and dark blue suits, with the red ties and white shirts or even the more mysteries camouflage and olive drab uniforms.

Or perhaps, your concept of myths and legends is geared more to the far east with guardian monsters protecting the woods, mountains and streams o the island of Japan from the rampaging force of Godzilla (hat-tip to Mojo)? The idea of a monster created from the frightening and dangerous powers of nuclear energy is a rather modern one. Godzilla has been rampaging throughout Japan since the 1950s. Taking a rampant fear of nuclear technology and applying it to monstrous creations that destroy small-gauge railroad sets made to look like the Japanese cities and countryside, provided both a story that has become beloved and a more hidden warning of the need to respect the Kami that are literally everywhere.

Our myths and legends will continue to grow and deepen as we grapple with the questions of where we fit into the world, and even the universe, around us. And many of these myths, legends, and stories are adaptations of situations within our own lives – projected onto a wider screen than any monitor or television: our own minds. No offense to the amazing CGI and Hollywood writers, set designers, and animators – my own projection of Crow is more amazing than any special effect could make Him. And while I am not reliving any legend or myth (and I really don’t need to) – each day of my life is lived within a landscape of living Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, and my own Ancestors. Every day brings me new experiences that have meaning, complexity, and depth to me. Paganism and Polytheism are not for everyone. And not every person will have similar experiences as I have. However,  without taking the time to explore, the patience to try multiple times, the desire to read and learn about where you are diving deeply into, and having an open mind to what you are experiencing – you may never know. The first step is wanting to.