Devotion is for losers

candle-3663352_640That’s what the little voice in my head tells me.

Devotion is for losers.

When I light my candle and incense, look at the divine images I printed off the Internet and pasted together, read poems I have written and then fumble my words when I try to ask for help–the little voice says, “Devotion is for losers”.

It sounds a bit like Chris Evans in an early, jerkass role–masculine, slightly nasal, tenor register, and very American. (No offense to Evans, who remains one of my favorite actors and beautiful people.)

I’m a strong independent person who don’t need no gods, right? I live by myself (well, self and bird). I work full-time and support myself. I’m an introvert who needs plenty of alone time. I should be pursuing the empowering path of Magic/k or however you want to spell it, right? Grinding out spells to make the changes in my life that I want.

Except that doesn’t work for me. Positive change happens when I’m not looking. Things I want tend to come to me if I genuinely, steadily desire them. Trying to have some sort of regular magical practice turns out to interfere with the one thing in my life that is genuinely, invariably, reliably empowering–that is, writing.

I’ve seen over and over again that if I have to choose between using my limited time and energy for magic/k/e or for writing, writing will win, every time. Writing wins over laundry, dishes, bingewatching, and sometimes even eating or sleeping, let alone magic.

Yet devotional practice flows in around the edges of work and dinner and writing and video and supports all that. Replenishes energy instead of taking it. Makes dealing with everyday stressors easier. Inspires my writing. Tends toward greater kindness to myself and others.

“Devotion is for losers.” I’m not sure where that snotty voice in my head came from, but I’m pretty sure it’s wrong.

(Image by s-ms_1989 from Pixabay)

Considering devotion

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226In fannish circles we have a saying: “I didn’t know I wanted that until I saw it.” It refers to something, usually a fan work, that satisfies a need or desire you weren’t aware of having. It might describe an unusual pairing, or a fan video using a particular song, or a what-if scenario in a fanfic that goes far afield of what “really” happened onscreen. A large part of the pleasure of fannish activities, I think, is simply discovering and connecting with your actual pleasures, desires, even kinks. In fandom it’s okay if you want to read a dozen different stories about a character overcoming past trauma by taking care of an abandoned child, however badly that sort of thing would work out in real life. (Not that I would ever read that sort of thing myself, of course….)

There was a moment sometime back in 2014, I think, when I realized that I wanted to make an offering to Antinous and ask him for help with something specific. At the time I had been going to church regularly for over a year and identifying as an Episcopalian. But despite going to Sunday Eucharist and saying the Daily Office (daily), I had no desire to take this particular problem, whatever it was, to Jesus or his Father. That was when it hit me that I had a relationship with Antinous, a Greek teenager who drowned in the Nile and was deified by Egyptian custom in the year 130 C.E., that I had never had with the god of my childhood religion, a religion I kept coming back to in spite of exploring a lot of alternatives. I had feelings for Antinous that I had never had for Jesus, and it wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to cultivate those feelings for Jesus–I had. I had relationships with some of the saints that had this emotional resonance–Julian of Norwich, in particular–but never with Jesus or his Father. That relationship, those feelings, are devotion.

That was what caused me to give up Christianity and adopt a polytheism focused on Antinous, finally, decisively. Devotion, this deep emotional connection with a deity, was the thing I didn’t know I wanted, the thing I didn’t quite know was missing, until I had it. I couldn’t manufacture it, any more than I could make myself fall in love with someone. Devotion is a sort of falling in love, being in love, falling in love some more.

POEM: Devotion

heart-2433814_1280

I want to set my heart on fire
and offer it like incense. I hope
it smells like frankincense
and myrrh. I want to throw
myself at a god’s feet, not
in subjugation, but in
adoration–because my knees
are too weak for this beauty.
I want to be gathered up
in arms that are stronger
than any mortal man’s could
ever be and cherished.
I want to bask in the sunshine
of unconditional positive regard.

I can stand up again and walk
on my own two feet. The heart
is a self-renewing organ,
the original phoenix, sweetly
burning till it’s consumed,
then rising from its own ash.
I can give it away again and again
and still have all the heart that I need.
I am neither a prisoner nor a slave.
When I offer myself, I know I am offering
what I have that is of highest value,
and what I receive in return is equal,
and greater, coming from the god.

Take my heart, divine one, this
renewable resource, this well of
mystery, the inner altar, the place
where everything is gathered and
distilled–eat me, drink me, burn me,
taste me, all that I am is yours
that I might live for you, from you.

(Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay)

The honor of service

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Your humble blogger as a teenager, hard at work

The first time I wrote a story, I was in kindergarten. With red and purple crayons, on that landscape-oriented coarse off-white paper with the blue guide lines, I wrote a story about a fight, a physical fight, between my best friend and me. It was extremely fictional; my bestie and I, who shared a birthday, never so much as quarreled. But from that moment on, I was A Writer.

I was already a churchgoer by that age, too. My mother always sent to me to church, although no one else in my family went after my sister got married and moved out. So it was probably a foregone conclusion that, with being both a writer and a believer, a religious person, I was going to see my writing as a vocation, as something I would do for God.

The god I worship has changed, but my sense of writing as a vocation never has. It’s just that happily, I found a god whose prime concerns include the very things I wanted to write about–sex, gender, creativity, religion, different kinds of erotic love and romance. Offering stories about m/m romance to Jesus felt a little odd, to be honest; offering stories about m/m romance, or about m/f/m, or alien genders, or whatever, just seems like the sort of thing Antinous would want to read.

My writing is my service to my god and to his people. And by the people of Antinous, I mean gays, lesbians, trans folk, bisexuals, queers, intersex people, and yes, asexual and aromantic people, too–anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary boxes of heteronormative sex, two genders only, biology (out of date and badly understood) is destiny. My goal in writing is to offer alternatives to those binary boxes, to stimulate the imagination (and sometimes the genitals), to get the reader hot but also to make them think. Frankly, I find writing a sex scene an excellent way to get to know a character and encourage them to tell me more about their lives, so I can write all the non-sex scenes. That goes for my own so-called original characters and for already fictional ones like Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. It goes for m/f, “heterosexual” pairings as well as same-sex or multiple ones.

Worshipping Antinous and the other gods of my devotion means making offerings of material things, like wine and water and incense and candles, and of my writing, such as poetry and hymns and prayers. Serving Antinous means getting back to work and writing my fiction, poems, blog posts, so I have something to offer in that way. Neither service nor worship mean giving up my autonomy, my dignity, my freedom to choose what movies to watch or clothes to wear. Maybe some people’s paths require that much dedication, to wear a certain habit or forgo popular culture in certain ways, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, I bow to my gods; then I straighten up and get back to work.

Worship, service, and agency

I’ve been, at various times in my life, an Episcopalian, a Druid, a Tibetan Buddhist, and now a pagan polytheist. My regular spiritual practices have changed a lot in accordance with various paths. Yet there’s always been a thread of continuity in my spirituality, no matter what I called myself or what I did. That thread was worship.

I have always been a worshipper. As a child, I went to a little Episcopal church that was firmly set in the High Church tradition: Eucharist every week, before that was the norm; colored vestments; lots of sung liturgy and incense; even the reserved Sacrament on the altar, to which we genuflected every time we crossed in front of it. (This may be why my knees are so bad today.) We had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, borrowed from Roman Catholic tradition, and bowed before the consecrated Bread, exposed in a monstrance, a cross-shaped shrine of gold and jewels.

I started to drift away from the Church as a teenager. I looked in other traditions, witchcraft, neopaganism, but always drifted back to the Church. The Church had structure–liturgy, scripture, prayer book, hymns; the Church had worship, even if I often felt I was not really connecting with Jesus, God, whatever.

I didn’t know for a long time that worship was what I missed. As a druid I flailed about trying to find my patron deity or deities, which was what all the cool kids were doing at the time. As a Tibetan Buddhist I was more attracted to practicing deities like Green Tara and Medicine Buddha than to meditation. It wasn’t until I found or was found by Antinous and introduced to concepts like making simple offerings that I realized worship, devotion, maybe even surrender were the things that had always been missing from my spiritual practice.

I see a lot of witches and occultists say things like, “I don’t worship deities, I work with them. I’m not religious or devotion-oriented, I make pacts with spirits as an equal. A witch bows to no one.” Well, okay. But my theory is that everybody worships something. The U.S.A. is full of nominal Christians who actually worship Donald Trump. I’ve seen plenty of people who look to me like they’re worshiping a quarterback, or a radio personality, or an actor. Some people with an excess of power and money are quite obviously worshiping themselves.

You see, whatever you most deeply value, that’s what you worship. It may or may not be embodied in a deity or spirit, but that value is your god. The very root of the word “worship” is about value: “worth-ship”. Not about subservience, groveling, fear, or dependence, but value. Do you offer time, money, effort to a spirit, deity, or cause? Do you ask them for help? Do you give thanks for receiving it? That’s worship.

It doesn’t matter what your motivation is–whether it’s fear, or not fear, whether it’s devotion and love for a deity, or just a need of a spirit’s power and expertise. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big cosmic or celestial deity or a humble ancestor or a wee nature spirit. The exchange of offering and blessing, petition and response and thanksgiving, that is worship. The act of acknowledging worth in a being is worship.

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2On the other hand, worship is not necessarily service. I worship Antinous and a mixed pantheon of mostly but not exclusively Roman deities associated with him. The major Roman deities, those called the Dii Consentes, get regular offerings from me, though I don’t practice in a strictly Roman way. But I don’t serve all of them.  I worship many gods–which is, after all, the definition of being a polytheist; however, I don’t serve them all. I am not at every passing spirit’s disposal. I serve only Antinous and the goddess Melinoe, daughter of Hades and Persephone, and most of that service looks like doing what I ought to do, or want to do, anyway (such as writing, or practicing good self-care), but with them in mind. I think of myself not as a servant or a slave, but more as an agent, carrying out their agenda under their authority, but with a good deal of freedom, like an agent of SHIELD. *g*

Everyone worships something. Perhaps not everyone has the urge toward service, toward devotion, toward a deeply passionate, committed relationship with a deity. Some of us do, and it can be a joyful and fulfilling relationship that in no way violates human dignity. My love for gods only enhances my life, because it’s reciprocated by their love for me.