Mar 23, 2013

Daily Devotions

In this post, I would like to share some thoughts on cultivating daily devotionals. This is a new part of my spiritual practice. I think that there is value to taking things slowly and to figuring out what works for you individually. Devotions are, of course, for the Gods and for the devotee. What breathes sweet life into one person’s journey might be pure poison for someone else.

The use of the word “cultivate” is quite intentional. A daily devotional practice must be the right sort of plant for its particular soil. Don’t ask a cactus to live, much less blossom, in a swamp. Don’t plant a tropical species in a harsh, dry climate.

In my own life, my work hours rotate steadily and frequently: night shifts one round, day shifts another, and so on. My own daily devotional practice has to fit into that framework. It is very human to try to bite off as much (or more than) we can readily chew, but my nontraditional schedule does serve the useful purpose of reminding me to keep things simple.

For me, I organize my daily devotions around the names of the days of the week, but with some modification. If you speak, say, Russian and have days named after numbers and not Gods, there is still room to get creative.

This is one person’s opinion, but I really think that if you are at a point where you have certain relationships established with particular Gods and Goddesses, it makes sense to focus on the connections that resonate most. This is not to say you can’t add in some variety, but well… here is an example:

Tuesday is named for Tyr. However, He is not a God I interact with particularly often. My focus on Tuesdays tends to be on Heimdall, as there are some definite similarities between Him and Tyr. Both make profound sacrifices to defend Their realm, and both are extremely honorable and dutiful. An observation might be a simple prayer (I much prefer to do this in silence, myself) or a lit candle. I find it easiest to pray in terms of thanks and remembering the uplifting qualities of a God or Goddess. It is good to place oneself in the moment as much as one can and to be as sincere as possible. I’ve found that I may feel heavy before starting the prayer, but that the act itself, when done attentively and with authenticity, does energize me. This does not mean I feel a response from a God or Goddess each and every time. Regardless of whether we sense Them or not, They do hear us and appreciate the attention we send Their way. They might surprise you, though. Give things time to grow. We don’t berate a sapling for maturing into a tree at its own pace, nor should we rain hard thoughts on ourselves or on our Gods.

There can be room for variation within your individual daily devotional practice. For me, Thursdays may involve a prayer to Thor or Thrud: sometimes both, sometimes one or another, or sometimes others in Their family. Saturdays are most often for Loki, but every once and a while, I will feel more of a pull towards Sigyn that day. Offerings also vary. If I am off on a Saturday, Loki might get coffee or some alcohol. But if I have to work, a candle or a short prayer definitely suffices. Our Gods are good and wise: leave convoluted and burdensome procedures to the human sphere. The Gods and Goddesses do not “nickel and dime” us to death. They have a heart and a generosity about Them that can be startling for those of us who came in with a more miserly understanding of what “the Divine” is supposed to be.

What if you have a fulltrui or fulltrua? I’ll share a personal experience here. It may or may not prove helpful, but I offer it as one potential approach. When I finally did decide on a devotional schedule that felt right, one particular absence stood out painfully and glaringly: Forseti was not on it. I took His immediate advice to go ahead with the daily practice anyways and to honor Him as the inspiration struck, as I’d been doing with Him before. That didn’t last long, however. I felt a yearning to regularly honor Him in a more “formal” way. The solution, as it turned out, has been that I briefly pray at His altar every day, hailing an aspect of Him that has some overlap with the other Gods or Goddesses I am focusing on. The key is to find a connection that makes sense to you. For example, on Mondays I pray to Njord. I recall His lordship over the tides, which are also ruled by the moon. This is not to say that I do not hold Mani in esteem, but offering to Mani during specific lunar events simply resonates much more deeply for me than a weekly prayer would. In any case, Mondays have become a good time to remember Forseti's ties to the sea and the legend of how He gave the Frisians their law. As a bit of UPG, He and Njord seem to be quite close. Much of my appreciation for Njord (and the ocean) has come through Forseti: left to my own devices, I’m a mountain and forest person. Both of Them are preservers of frith who often show gentle, quiet demeanors.

I hope that some of these thoughts may be of use to others who feel called toward a scheduled devotional practice. I’ll note here that it took me a number of years to decide to do daily devotions. Nothing needs to be rushed or forced. Of course, less frequent observances are always a good option, e.g., honoring Odin every Wednesday if He is a God you feel particularly drawn to. Again, this is an act of cultivation, of gentle tending and ongoing attention. Nurture the practices and relationships that are truest for you. It can be a great joy to invite the Gods and Goddesses into our lives this way.

Mar 17, 2013

Compassion Can Be A Heathen Value

There are many things that I love about being a polytheist. One of these is that we are not all bound to a single path. Our Gods and Goddesses treat us as adults, expecting us to grow and explore in ways that honor the callings of our own hearts. There is a greatness, a richness, to be found in diversity.

Compassion is probably not the first word that will come to mind in a discussion of Heathenism. Honor and bravery, certainly, but compassion? I can only write of my own experiences, and these are shaped by the God I am devoted to.

Frankly, the warrior way is not my way. It took me some time to really come to terms with this. Even in early childhood, I'd argue highly unpopular points before both classmates and adults--not because I enjoyed conflict (I didn't and I still don't), but because I believed that these points were the truth, and that the truth was far more important than my personal comfort. I had a fighter's spirit. I thought that this was my strength, and that, with sheer force of mind and will, I could batter my way through whatever stood between me and my goals.

This approach may have its place at times, but as I grew older, I came to realize that the feel and the tone of things matter. They matter deeply. I could try to harden my heart, to grit my teeth, and to push through. But in the meantime, life was still going on. The sun was still rising and falling, and time was ebbing away.

Ultimately, compassion is the wisdom of slowing down. It is the wisdom of not always living on the edge of the blade, trying to press or cut through everything in sight. Compassion for ourselves allows us listen to our own rhythms and draw from our own wellsprings. It is about authenticity. People feel as they feel. They may or may not decide to act on that information, but they cultivate a relentless sort of honesty within themselves. The societal messages, on the other hand, are quite different: keep pushing on, just get over it, stop being so sensitive, etc. Compassion offers another way, an antidote to all that coldness.

I have a somewhat radical theory about emotions, one which ties into compassion. My theory is that no emotion is irrational. No emotion, ever. The "facts" underlying the emotion can be irrational, and the expression of the emotion can be irrational (perhaps even punishable as a crime), but the emotion itself will always make sense in its context. A paranoid man is very sensibly afraid. The attackers he fears are all in his head, but his feeling of dread is utterly rational. You can't reach out to him without acknowledging his pain, his very human experience of fear. I think this is where we so often go wrong. We try to control our emotions as they happen instead of looking at their roots. We even tell our children that they should feel one thing and not another thing. We don't teach them that they can feel many, conflicting things at the same time, or how to honor that confusing experience. When we're adults, we're that much harder on ourselves and on others. Just grow up, right?

Interestingly, psychology is starting to show that the "push though it" attitude can actually detract from one's goals. If you tell someone "I don't do x," as opposed to "I can't (or shouldn't) do x," you'll have better results. The first phrase implicates having personal agency; the second takes agency away.

To the uncritical mind, it may seem "compassionate" to not punish anyone for anything. We need not deny reality in the name of compassion. That would be foolishness indeed. Some actions must have consequences.

A genuine compassion can coexist with dedication, honor, and duty. Compassion for ourselves and others reminds us to hold the boundaries that we must hold, and gives heart and meaning to our deeds. Compassion can be a truly Heathen value.

Mar 10, 2013

A Springtime Symphony

I had a wonderful experience today, the first day of Daylight Savings Time: I was out hiking and happened upon a full frog symphony, a miracle in the marsh.

The singing was loud and unmistakable, and could only be heard in one area. Some took more note of the concert than others. Not far off, bicyclists whizzed by, calling out warnings to pedestrians over the frogs' music. One couple walked right past them without pause, deeply engrossed in a discussion about money. But there were also people like myself who were inspired and who stopped to soak up the beauty of the unexpected symphony.

As can be seen, I snapped a few photos of the singers themselves. They were doing a very good job at hiding themselves, but there was one open spot where they posed for some shots.

I even tried my hand at making a music video. You can't see any of the frogs in it, but you can get a nice look at their habitat and hear their amazing springtime song.