This week I’m talking about devotion, but it’s taking a different turn than I expected.
Originally I was going to take it as an opportunity to gush some more about Lugh, but instead I would like to shift the focus to talking about what devotion is and some other things surrounding that.
Many newbie pagans emerge blinking into the world of their newfound religion and have one very pressing question on the tips of their tongues.
“What god should I devote to?”
And to be honest I was no different. I wrote a bit about this in my last post so I wont retell the story. Instead, I’m trying to figure out what it is that causes that search. It’s probably different for everyone, but I think a potential unifying factor is a need to feel special. And I don’t mean that in the more derogatory ‘special snowflake’ way. It’s just that many pagans come to these religions as teenagers or early adults when they’re still looking for themselves. They’re looking for an individuality, an identity, and many think that having a personal, devotional relationship with a deity will help that.
I’m not really here to critique that search beyond some cautionary words about making rash decisions, but I would like to point out some of the differing kinds of “devotion” that exist within some pagan religions.
First of all, I think devotion can be divided into two categories. There is the act of performing devotion to someone or something, and there is the state of being devoted to someone or something. The difference between these is that one is a temporary, individual action and one is a continued state of being. They aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. You would probably perform regular devotions to an entity that you are also devoted to. But not everything you perform devotions for necessarily required a promise of continued devotion.
To use myself and the deities I interact with regularly as examples, I am devoted to Lugh. I swore that devotion to Him at Beltain last year, and again at Lughnasa. The state of being devoted to Him, for me, includes making regular offerings to Him and performing other regular tasks. Brighid, on the other hand, is a goddess I have not sworn devotion to. However, I do perform devotional actions for her often. For example, I will occasionally devote cooking or writing to her and I usually include her in my morning prayers. There is not an ongoing arrangement or expectation for this, it is simply what I do when I feel like I should.
Both of these relationships are extremely fulfilling, neither is superior, and I think it would really benefit newbies to slow down and consider what they are looking for and why before leaping in to these long arrangements. To be totally frank and honest, I think I devoted to Lugh too soon. I absolutely do not regret it and wouldn’t change our relationship for anything – but I can see all the ways now that it could have gone badly. I had interacted with Him for only 3 months before I swore a ‘temporary’ devotion, and that’s not nearly long enough to get to know Someone. If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited a year at least. Afterall, is He going anywhere? No. Was I? No. There was no rush beyond my own impatience and I hope some of my readers will take my advice when I say don’t jump into sworn devotion too quickly.
In addition, it has been the experience of many polytheists that you do not choose a god. If they desire a devotional relationship from you, they’ll come knocking. Imagine if someone walked up to you on the street and said “I’m going to marry you.” Wouldn’t that be weird? You would think someone would bother to get to know you before jumping into a big commitment like that, and how rude to not even ask, just to tell you! Same deal with deities and sworn devotion, I think. You should have a mutual working relationship and an understanding of each other before something like that is asked or given.
And it won’t always be someone you expect, either. If I had been asked to describe a deity I would like to be devoted to, I would probably have mentioned associations like cats, the moon, gardening, writing . . . The Lord of All Skills probably wouldn’t have even been on my radar, that just seems a bit overwhelming. But He made the call and I answered.
I also consider oaths to be different from sworn devotion – but others may consider them to be the same thing. Swearing devotion, to me, is more of a promise of what you will give, prayers, offerings, etc., whereas I think oaths tend to be similar but also have more specific and stringent guidelines regarding action. For example, the guidelines of my devotion to Lugh are actually fairly vague – but I might choose to take more specific and more binding oaths in the future. In fact, I plan on it. I have been given more and more instructions lately that I feel are building up to something important. If only I could figure out what half of it meant… (anyway, moving on)
I think another thing people overlook is that any of these things – devotional acts, sworn devotion, oaths – can be given either to a singular entity or to multiples. You might, for example, preform devotional work for a group of deities or an entire pantheon. I have devoted crafts before the the Gods, Spirits and Ancestors in their entirety. So that might be a solution to those who seek a relationship, or a target to dedicate their work to. Instead of picking a name off a list of deities, do your work in honor of many. I would even argue that you can devote to things like your family or community as well.
Another really important thing to remember is that not every deity who shows up is asking for eternal devotion. Sometimes they just want to hang out, or they have one specific message. And then they go back to doing their own thing and you go back to doing yours. I made the mistake of thinking a goddess who came into my life briefly last year was looking for this kind of relationship, and I became pretty distraught when I wasn’t getting any feelings from her anymore. I felt lost and abandoned, but really I was just being clingy. She came by to help me with one thing, she never hinted at a deeper relationship.
This post changed a lot between planning it to when I actually wrote it, and from starting writing it to the end of writing it. So I apologize that it’s a bit disjointed. The tl;dr of it, though, is that sworn devotion or oaths are big deals and should not be undertaken lightly – neither can they really be forced. But there are a lot of other options if you just want a fulfilling relationship!
[added] I would like to add two things here that I neglected to make clear in the first incarnation of this post. The first thing is that I absolutely do not advocate non-consensual devotional relationships. I firmly believe that if a deity chooses you, you have every right to say no. I think that such a decision should be as carefully decided on as saying yes, but I believe the choice is there. The second of these is that I think I implied that you absolutely cannot choose and approach a deity of your own accord. That was a mistake of phrasing, rather I feel that approaching a deity out of the blue and immediately seeking a devotional relationship is unwise. Both of these corrections reflect my belief that devotion is a two-way street. Both involved – deity and devotee – need to be in agreement. This is really what I meant about the “you do not choose a god” business. More accurate would be ‘even if you choose a god, They must also choose you.’