I was reading a novel a few days ago and came across a line from Seneca “deo parere libertas est” – to serve/devote oneself to a God is freedom. I was so intensely struck by the sentiment that I’ve been mulling it over since I first read it. Certainly, it is a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. I’d just never quite heard it phrased so succinctly.

Devotional living can be hard. Coming into alignment with our Gods and ancestors and nourishing those relationships (which is part and parcel of restoring the ancient covenants with Gods, ancestors, and land) carries with it the challenge of reorienting our priorities, changing the way we look at the world, at everything, and it often involves a certain degree of loss. Actually, I think sometimes it involves a huge degree of loss. It’s difficult, really, really difficult because it changes everything in our world. Doing devotional work well changes the way we are in our world, the way we position ourselves in relation to everything. Yes, I strongly believe that the Gods more than meet us half way, walk with us as we struggle, but that doesn’t make devotional work any less grueling.

I remember once my adopted mom was discussing ‘love.’ She was very much against any abstract, grand, or romantic definitions. She said, “you know what love is? It’s rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.” She compared it to a parent changing a baby’s dirty diaper when completely exhausted and I rather agree with her. St. Augustine (I’m not a fan, but he was right on this particular point) said that “my love is my weight,” meaning that his love for his God motivated him to make changes to who he was and to whom he wanted to become.  If we look at devotion as the cultivation of a deep hunger and longing for God, the cultivation and its fruition, then it’s the work of tending that fire of longing, while at the same time of seeking endlessly to sate that hunger. St. Benedict (I’m taking a class in early Christianity so we’re reading Benedict now) gave us the famous dictum: “Ora et Labora” (pray and work). Until recently I’ve always interpreted the ‘labora’ part of that saying to refer to manual labor (which monks would routinely engage in not only to support themselves but as a spiritual discipline) but more and more I am beginning think that it may be a bit more metaphysical, that Benedict was referring to the intense and painful spiritual labor of opening ourselves up to our Gods. Devotional work takes humility and vulnerability, a level of radical honesty not only with our Holy Powers but with ourselves too, most especially with ourselves and well, it can be pretty awful at times. There are reasons why Christian writers wrote that it was a “terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Well, it can be, because afterwards nothing is ever the same again.

Sometimes it’s the very longing for connection to the Gods that hurts the most. It’s fire in the soul, a goad to the heart. It’s a thing that gives no peace. I once quipped that I hadn’t had a single comfortable day since I became a devout woman (I’m exaggerating, because there is deep joy and satisfaction in the devotional life as well, but not by much). That longing is so crucial. We can numb ourselves to it. So much in our world encourages us to numb ourselves to it but if we do that, then getting through the really difficult times, the proverbial dark nights of the soul is that much harder. In the nadir of our spiritual world, it’s sometimes longing that carries us through. It’s certainly longing that encourages us to do the work that helps ensure good spiritual discernment. If we are longing for our Gods after all, why would we settle for anything less? Someone recently posted in a comment to one of my previous blog posts that the Latin word cultus, referring to all the rites and rituals and devotional practices of tending to a particular Deity, is directly related to the word meaning ‘to cultivate, or to tend’ and that is linguistically correct. To pay cultus to a God is to be in a state of having tended to that God and one’s relationship with Him or Her properly. The word itself calls to mind the work of tending a field, the hard, manual labor of a farmer minding his crops – work that paid off with the means to nourish a family or community. It implies a great deal of consistent labor. It’s the same with devotional work, that likewise pays off in the micro-verse of our souls, of our character, of the formation of our hearts and minds.  

Getting back to Seneca though, I agree with him. There is immense freedom in consciously, passionately serving a God. It’s not just the satisfaction of being in right relationship with the Holy Powers, but also of acknowledging that when we are in that relationship, so much falls into place on every possible level. When we are given over consciously and mindfully to the Powers that shaped our world, that wove our fate, that nurtured our ancestors, that breathed life into our beings, with that comes a soul deep purpose. It elevates us as human beings. Likewise, we have tremendous free will within our devotional worlds. All things being equal we have the choice of doing this work gracefully. We can cultivate in ourselves those things that cultivate our connection to our Gods, or we can behave like petulant little bitches (and believe me, we all go down this route occasionally). The work of devotion is ultimately that which allows us to experience our Gods directly. It allows us to align our priorities and wills with Theirs. It allows us joy. It places the world in order and us in order within that world, and if we are in alignment with our Gods, then all else is commentary. If we are in alignment with our Gods then They are in alignment with us, and we have the benefit of Their blessing and protection as active, moving forces in our lives.

All of this leads me to the question of what makes one a good person. What does it mean to be an adult and a polytheist and what are the virtues that we should be attempting to cultivate? It’s not as easy a question as one might think given that the answer will vary mightily depending on the Gods we venerate. What Odin wishes cultivated in His devotees is very different in many respects from what Dionysos or Inanna might wish. It leads me to the conflict I see playing out in our communities every day, namely whether humanity or the Gods should take priority in our consciousness. But if we are not serving the Gods well, if we are not in right relationship with Them, then how can we possibly hope to be so with the people in our lives, or with humanity in general? If we cannot order this, the most essential of relationships rightly, then how can we hope to do so with the smaller, yet also important ones?


Posted on October 12, 2017, in Lived Polytheism, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Your post is full of spiritual truth.
    When touched by Divinity, we are forever changed.
    We must follow our spiritual path, because our soul will die if we do not.
    The love we have for our Deities is a fire that consumes us. Even when
    we can’t feel their love, the pain is a sign that it is still there. If we keep
    our connection & relationship with the Deities, we can deal with life, with
    all its problems. Divine love cost us our life. It is a price worth paying.


  2. Your post brings yet more tears to my eyes. I have been back in New London now for almost 2 weeks after a trip through PA, MD, and VA. Part of this was for my 45th college reunion. Leaving Allentown, i drove my husband and myself to Sharpsburg/Antietam, MD. If any of you know about that town, it was on 9/16/1862 that the bloodiest one day battle in the history of the Civil War occurred. It was also the date on which we arrived in a town surrounded by battlefields and graveyards. Over 24,000 people were killed in that place, if not directly on that day then as a result of their wounds. Since I was a girl I have always said that my parents misnamed my middle name, which was for my paternal grandmother. However, she had another name that I wanted, her middle name, Kassandra. I know things, things that I cannot explain. We had a wonderful local guide. His family had always been Unionists, in fact well over 80% of Marylanders were pro-Union (another lie of the South). By the monument to the Irish Brigade at the Bloody Lane I libated with pure water. They were thirsty, those Union dead. However, there were not as many there as i thought there would be. I got the distinct knowledge that they were cleaning the Southern Miasma from this battlefield. I could not feel Rebel dead. They had been evicted. However, they do NOT rest and they never will. The battle had been turning by the end of the day. That night Lee abandoned his dead and the battlefield. He later abandoned his dead at Gettysburg. This was my 3rd trip to Gettysburg and it has never been more silent. The vile evil miasma of the South is being cleansed by the Union dead. I will NOT have it called anything but what it was! There are NO BUTS in this matter. There was NO WAR of so-called northern aggression (another vile lie). Of course, they are creating modern miasma. Lee committed atrocities and crimes against humanity along with his treason. Let no statue remain to him or any other traitor! Remove his name from Washington and Lee University! The dead call out! The enchained call out! Let none of this evil remain! Ignorance is NEVER an excuse! Let vile Christian teachings be reviled for what they were and on occasion continue to be. No one should be allowed to hide! Let the final lie of one, true, church forever be promulgated because of its moral culpability, greed, and murder!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Firstly, this has very little to do with my theological post. I’m not sure why you felt the need to post it here on this particular post. I have written elsewhere on my feelings toward removing monuments. This would better be placed on one of those posts however, that being said…

      as deplorable as I find the position of the south during the Civil War, I am adamantly against removing military monuments. it edges far too close to disrespect for the dead and I do think that the military dead of both sides deserve to rest.

      I have a venerative practice for the military dead. Years ago, I was sent on a pilgrimage to various civil war battlefields including Gettysburg. I went to a handful from PA to VA. I was deeply uncomfortable with visiting confederate graves. I was flat out told that honoring the military dead isn’t about supporting their cause. It’s about laying men and women to rest. It’s about recognizing their sacrifice and human suffering. Whether or not I agreed with their cause was utterly irrelevant to the job at hand (I think i too made libations of water to the fallen from both the North and the South). In the Confederate cemetery in Richmond, I encountered an unknown soldier who was heart broken that because he’d been buried with name unknown, his mother would never know where to visit his bones. I was directed to make offerings and told that my modern mores mattered not at all; that there was veneration to be done and to get to it.

      i think it is easy to take down a monument and pretend that we’ve done something to right the wrongs that plague our society. It’s a nice feel good move that in the end does nothing except conceal a history that we haven’t even begun to truly face. And where does it stop? Right now, there’s discussion about removing a statue of Stephen Foster, a musician, because the image includes a black man playing a banjo behind him. Foster was not a confederate. That statue is there in part to recognize the contributions of African American music to Foster’s work, yet it’s another monument, memorial, and artistic representation on the chopping block. I think that is short sighed insanity.

      Better to use these images as a way to educate.

      When I do my work for the military dead, I go to Union sites to bring offerings and do healing work, and then I go to Confederate sites to do the same. One of the most potent places I have found also is on Gettysburg, a peace memorial which, when it was erected, included the presence of Confederate and Union veterans.

      We’re very sure of ourselves today, and very dismissive of history, or rather very eager to rewrite it as a panacea to all our current injustices. In reality I think we’re quite blind.

      I agree with you about the pollution of the Christian screed, and generally about the culpability of the South but I would ask you not to post something like this again on my site.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You post things that I desperately need to hear with startling frequency.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “All things being equal we have the choice of doing this work gracefully.” This thought is deceptively simple, and one I really want to (and should) think about more frequently.

    Great post; there’s quite a bit in here I want to unpack in some meditations over the next few weeks. Thank you.


  5. There is tremendous freedom in being part of something bigger than oneself, particularly being the devotee of a God or Goddess and a member of a religious tradition, but to a lesser extent, that sense of freedom can also come from devotion to a community, a nation or a worthy cause.

    Among other things, it means that we know we don’t have to carry the burdens of life by ourselves, but there are others who are on the same path, be they Gods, battle comrades or fellow devotees, whom we can turn to.

    I think that one of the great tragedies of the Western world is that we carried the concept of respect for the individual too far into a cult of atomistic individualism, where each individual is theoretically free, but in reality is expected to face the world alone as a consumer of mass produced corporate junk and a individual atom in a vast universe. Oswald Spengler was right: modern Western man is the loneliest being in the history the planet. It’s no wonder that the society we live and so many of the people within it are messed up.


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