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On Daily Devotions
The other day, on my own blog, I published a blueprint of what a typical weekday looks like for me, in terms of my regular devotions for my god-Husband Odin. This rundown did not include any of the little rituals I do for the other gods and spirits I deal with, nor any of the more involved things I do for Odin on special occasions, weekends, or just because I want to do something extra for Him. It was only a bare bones outline, without any details as to words said or precise gestures involved, but no sooner had I posted it than I really wished I could delete it.Why is that? I wondered (once it had been established that no deleting would be allowed). I think it's because the post at once felt so personal and at the same time didn't seem to accurately depict what my devotional time with Odin really feels like, since any type of schedule, written up like this, is going to read more or less like a "laundry list" of actions. I also doubted whether it would prove helpful to anyone else.
But then one of my friends commented that it helped her to see how a devotional life can be composed of a series of small actions which, taken together, add up over time to so much more than the sum of their parts. I think that's a really good way of expressing it. A bunch of little actions which may not seem so significant on their own—such as brewing coffee or pouring a drink, sweeping around the altar, or taking out your prayer beads on a bus ride—can, over time, feed and nourish the growth of a deep and intense connection. Devotion is the art of training the mind towards focus on the gods, and just as with athletic training, this does not happen quickly or overnight. Bearing this idea in mind, I thought a more general follow-up post, on some things to keep in mind when setting up your own "training" routine or developing it further, might be in order.
First off, I'd like to stress that I don't think anyone should attempt to copy my (or anyone's) devotional routine, or even specific devotional activities, without carefully considering whether the other person's practice fits your situation. My own daily routine is based not only on my being a "godspouse," but on the inner workings of my specific and unique relationship with my Husband, which is not going to be the same as anyone else's. While there may very well be lots of tools in common (candles, incense, breath work, prayer beads), I intentionally left out most of the details regarding exactly how I work with these things because it's far more powerful and meaningful to develop your own little rituals and your own routine, based on your own unique relationship.
Beyond that, I'd like to stress that the two most important factors in developing a devotional routine are consistency and energy.
The first factor should be obvious, but is more difficult for a lot of people to put into practice. Simply put, the most beautiful, elaborate devotional ritual in the world is not going to be as powerful as a series of small gestures if your routine is not practiced regularly. And where a daily devotional schedule is concerned, it really is crucial that it happen every day. In other words, do not decide to hold a two hour daily ritual for your gods and spirits unless you really plan to do it every single day, and unless you know that you are able to follow through with that, because once you have established a devotional pattern They do expect you to follow through with it. This means that regardless of however you may be feeling (angry, bored, in pain, sick, distracted, hurt or resentful, etc.) or whatever else comes up in your life (a family emergency, illness, being fired from your job, being invited out to dinner, or wanting to catch the latest episode of your favorite TV show)--NONE of these things trump your commitment to do your daily devotions, and none of them are acceptable excuses for not following through with them.
If you can't or won't follow through and do your devotions consistently, for any reason, one of two things will happen. At best, They will take you to task for it; at worst, your relationship with Them may suffer accordingly. Once you have established a pattern of performing certain devotions daily, that pattern becomes the minimum of what They expect from you. This is why I mentioned that the routine I posted for myself was my BARE BONES devotional schedule, what I do when I am in the worst circumstances possible and am not able to do anything else. Most days, I actually do a lot more. Whether or not you do a lot more than your bare bones schedule is, of course, completely up to you and will be determined by how intense your religious practice is in general. Not everyone needs to be a priestess or a seidhrkona. I am never "off" spiritually; I am always wide open to Odin, listening for His words and guidance, ready to act if He demands it, and this is true even when I am at work doing my mundane job, or shopping at the grocery store, or sitting on the bus. I am never "off duty" for the other spirits I serve, either, and if there is some service I am suddenly called on to perform and I am at work, I have to find a way to do it. However, this level of service--and the sacrifices I have made, and continue to make, to reach this point--is not necessarily for everyone.
Interestingly, just as I was getting ready to finish up the first draft of the post I'm writing now, a couple other related posts came to my attention: this one (which I actually agree with quite a bit), complaining about the entitlement syndrome that exists among many pagans who feel that they should reap the benefits of the Work without having to do any actual work, and then this opposing point of view arguing that not everyone needs to commit themselves to the same level of intensity in their religious life (which is also true). So, if your life is not about bridging two different realities on a daily basis, staging carefully crafted festivals every few weeks, going into deep trances every few days for seidhr or faring forth, doing frequent divinations for others, continually deepening your knowledge base through studying scholarly books about your god and your faith, and constantly striving to improve your skill as a diviner and magical practitioner while also spending hours each week crafting, writing, and being a go-to person on the topic of your deity for other people (which pretty much describes my life)--well, then, guess what? That's okay! It is perfectly fine to be a lay pagan or polytheist, worship the gods you love, and not put a whole lot of work into it beyond that.
However, even if this is you, once you have established a devotional routine for your gods and spirits, Whoever They may be, I would still strongly advise you to stick to that routine. In the end, you will get out of your practice what you put into it, and there is an accumulation of power and of holiness that builds up over time when you perform a ritual activity (no matter how simple it may be) each and every day. It is this accumulation that can see you through the tough times, the times when you can hardly bear to keep going with your practice, when you feel you can barely even do the bare minimum. It is this that will help you keep going.
The second crucial factor in devotional work should also be obvious, but I think it bears a little elaboration. As I mentioned earlier, anyone's devotional schedule can read like a laundry list if you aren't considering the energy that goes into it. (Most ritual blueprints I have ever seen also read this way.) For example, my list of daily devotional activities sounds rather domestic, but this is okay because the focus of my relationship with Odin is my Marriage, so a lot of the devotional things I do for Him are centered around making a home for Him and with Him. (Bear in mind that there is a fair amount of influence from Frigga in my practice, as well.) On my end of things, this home is threefold, consisting of my body itself, my heart, and whatever my physical surroundings happen to be. For this reason, sweeping up around His altar, making sure there is an attractive offering bowl and cup for His daily offerings and that I have nice candles and incense to offer Him, selecting appealing linens for our bed and keeping them in good condition--all of these things are just as important to my practice as the precise runes involved in the galdr charm I sing for Him each morning, or what prayers I say with my beads, because all of these things work towards drawing us closer and enriching my relationship with Him on a daily basis.
Regardless of the nature of your relationship with any particular deity you are honoring, the most mundane activities can become infused with spiritual power if you approach them with the proper attitude, with joy and reverence rather than as rote chores. When doing your own devotions, it is extremely important to police yourself in this regard, and it is vital that you put as much intent and as much heart (for lack of a better word, but I think this one fits) into each and every devotional action you perform for the gods. This simple shift in attitude can render the ordinary into something holy, and this makes all the difference in the world. All of my monastic tendencies nothwithstanding, I fully realize that it is not practical for most people in our culture to sit in meditation for hours on end, or to maintain a temple completely set apart from their daily lives. And you know, I think it is more powerful to weave a connection with Them using the tools you have available right now, in your life as it is, rather than wishing for some ideal situation that may never come about. And so, find the series of small actions that are significant for you, and that you feel will please Them, actions that come from your heart, and then give those actions everything you've got and do them every day. And most importantly, the moment you catch yourself doing something for the gods by rote, stop and do it over again with meaning, with passion, with all the love and devotion you have in you. Believe me, you will feel the difference--and so will They.
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