Why is Devotion Important?
There’s been some predictable Heathen push back on my latest polytheist.com article: “Towards a Heathen Theology.” It’s been fascinating reading Swain’s article right after posting my own: his piece so neatly demonstrates precisely the type of blind sophistry that I was discussing in my piece that one could almost think we were working together to better make the point about devotion. I could almost thank him for providing such a clear example of everything that is so amiss with Heathenry particularly in the realm of theology (and perhaps reading comprehension).
Firstly, Swain posits that the only reason to be devoted is to gain some boon from the Gods. Right there, he and I are moving from two very different perspectives. Whereas for him, at least according to his writing, the only purpose in prayer or devotion is mercenary, for me it’s part of being a responsible adult. We engage with devotion not because we want something, but because it is the right thing to do. It’s a matter of maintaining right relationship with the Gods, with the Numinous, with the Holy Powers. This idea that the Gods are too busy to bother with us is one of the most destructive ideas currently in play in contemporary Heathenry. It negates from the start the possibility for any type of in depth relationship with the Gods. It nullifies the need for devotional work at all, which I’m sure is the reason it’s such a popular load of crap. One thing that comes through in reading ancient writings is that the Gods were real to these people. Swain and those Heathens like him reify lore without ever considering the mindset of the people who are supposedly reflected in its pages. The thing that we struggle with the most: the reality of the Gods is the thing that was a given to the ancient world. We are the ones lacking and it is specifically in the area of devotion.
Secondly, honoring the ancestors does not preclude honoring the Gods. This is a typical Heathen argument that crops up frequently in this type of discourse and it is founded in a false dichotomy. In reality, these things work hand in hand.
Thirdly, devotion and prayer for their own sake, as expressions of reverence for the Gods are not Christian concepts, or rather they did not originate with Christianity. Pre-Christian polytheists had complex theologies and the earliest prayers that we have on record date from Sumer. That we do not have reams of prayers from early Heathens points more toward their having an oral culture rather than a lack devotional consciousness. Otherwise we are forced to conclude that in comparison to nearly every other polytheistic culture extant prior to Christianity, pre-Christian Heathens were backward and shallow in religion and we have Roman sources noting that this was hardly the case. Tacitus talks about the piety of the German tribes, piety that was lived every day, not just when it was convenient to have a festival.
Swain writes at the closing of his piece:
“In closing, I think Krasskova is either trying to purposefully lead folks to believe those that do not practice devotion to the gods the way she does do not believe in the gods, or perhaps for some reason she actually believes this. Either way makes no difference to me as I feel Krasskova has put little to no thought into why we should practice such devotion, just that we should. And I feel all evidence points to her the ideas of such devotion as coming from Christian ideology. There are far too many similarities. If she can come up with a well thought out, reasoned piece drawing on the lore on why we should practice such devotion, then I might be able to understand. but to simply say we must have such devotion, or we are non-believers will not do. Simply, because many do not do as she does, does not mean we believe in the gods any less.”
I would hope that those reading my work are far better and more deeply ensconced in their devotion than I. It is not a matter of creating cookie-cutter spirituality. Even if we were devoted deeply to the same group of Deities, each person is going to express that uniquely. It will be a unique relationship for each and every person engaging in devotional work. The desired commonality lies in value and prioritization, in other words valuing a devotional life which Swain’s brand of Heathenry does not.
It is common in Heathenry to dismiss uncomfortable ideas or ideas with which one might disagree as ‘Christian’ ideology. Swain should perhaps study ancient history, or even early Christianity. The Christians had as much discomfort with the idea of an informed devotional life (one not easily brought into submission with prevailing orthodoxies) as contemporary Heathens. Hence why holy people like one of my favorite mystics, Mechthild of Magdeburg were as often excommunicated and sometimes even executed as they were canonized.
Finally if one believes in the Gods then it follows that belief should affect behavior. Given what one can so obviously see in Heathenry (evidenced beautifully in Swain’s post), it’s difficult to conclude from behavior any great depth of belief or caring. Swain may attempt to obfuscate the issue by ridiculing or misrepresenting devotion in general and my devotion in particular and he may hold up a lore based defense of devotion as his golden calf (ignoring again my argument that lore is not scripture and we should not need lore to show us how to behave respectfully to the Gods if we are adults) but in the end it comes down to this: Swain and others like him devalue devotion because they simply don’t want to do it. (1) Perhaps the enormity of what the Gods are makes them feel small? I don’t now, but the only right relationship with the Gods that they acknowledge is one in which the Gods barely exist.
- I’ve noted before in other articles that the endlessly quoted verse from the Havamal “Tis better not to give than to give too much…” is inevitably always quoted out of context. Read this in context and it clearly refers to negotiating with the rune spirits, not Gods and not ancestors. It’s a perfect example of the misuse and mis-interpretation of lore to edit out anything that might point to devotion or to skew it out of context and true.