What Makes a “Devout” Polytheist?

05 Jun

I laid down on my bed in an attempt to rest my brain after a few hours of bad blogging. As I laid there, I stared up at my kar shrine, which hangs on the wall opposite of my bed (which means the gods can stare at me while I sleep) and realized that I haven’t opened my kar shrine in months. Literally. Months. The last active bit of ritual I did was for the Mysteries- which occurs around December/January.

So it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done anything.

The cup that normally holds water for the gods is likely bone dry- with a thin layer of salt and mineral in the bottom, because that’s what happens to water in the dry Arizonan air. I’m sure my re-ment and icons both have a thin layer of dust on them, because even with the doors closed, dust has a way of getting into everything.

Additionally to this, I’ve got a stack of books that need to be read. I’ve got lots of topics that need further research so that I can write more in-depth on them. I haven’t started my imywt project for Osiris which I was going to do last fall. I haven’t done a lot of things.

And on the surface, it may appear that I am a fluffy, arm chair Kemetic who does nothing but spout “what everyone could or should be doing to be a proper Kemetic” without actually having done it myself. And if last year’s explosion is any indication, I probably should be spending more time offline and less time online because, well:

Facebook is a monumental time-suck and therefore a hazard for people who have actual spiritual Work to do. I agree that some of the most important practitioners are not online at all, and we would do well to think about why that might be.

But I beg to differ. I beg to differ because there is more than one way to be religious. There is more than one way to be devout.

Just so we’re clear on what I mean by devout, let’s pull out a definition. Google defines it as:

  1. Having or showing deep religious feeling or commitment.
  2. Totally committed to a cause or belief.

And to many polytheists, devout seems to mean that you live your life for the gods. You live your life in shrine, giving the gods devotion, singing their praises, giving them their “fair” due (whatever that is) and performing what would really be considered priestly functions on a daily basis. And while that may be the definition for some people’s form of devout, it’s not the definition or criteria that everyone uses, nor should it be.

Some of us are going to find that our roles are within the shrine, but some of us are being pushed out there (by the gods themselves!) to make this community thing work better (which, for the record, means a lot of time spent online). Some of us show our devotion via writing online, others show devotion through crafts and creations which they sell online (or offline), and some of us get into really deep discussions about religion via Facebook (blasphemy!) because the internet allows us to educate, exchange ideas, and organize in a way that in-person methods currently can’t even touch. Each religious practice and each practitioner is different- and so each person’s application of ‘devout’ is going to be different. Being deeply committed to your religion can take many forms, and how “deep” we all need to be is going to vary. Not everyone is going to fit into the role of priest. Some people are laymen- and that’s okay. It takes all sorts to make a community and religion really run.

We modern pagans and polytheists seem to forget that even in ancient times, you had laymen. You had folks who didn’t pay any mind to the gods except when they needed something, thought they might have pissed one of them off (aka their life when to shit), or when it was time to feast and party. And in the case of Kemetics, priests spent a large portion of their year out of the temple- living like an average person.

So why is it that a large chunk of the modern pagan and polytheist movement seems to be so hell bent on telling every single person that they must spend every single ounce of time that they can focused on the gods?


I mean, isn’t there more to life than bowing in a shrine? And to a degree, isn’t there more to your religion than the shrine you bow in front of? Isn’t there more than one way to show your devotion to the gods and the religion that they are a part of?

Which brings me to the second point of this post- that life is for living. Even religious life is for living.

Once upon a time, someone once asked me what life is for. I think it’s a pretty common question, usually phrased as “why are we here?” or “what is the point of life?” I remember it pretty distinctly, as I looked back at them and said very mundanely, as though the answer were as plain as day to me, “Life is for living.”

Novel concept, that. That you are alive so that you may live.

I think a lot of people forget this. We get caught up in our day to day crap, saddled down with stress and jobs and kids and and and. And then one day, we wake up and find that we’re old and dieing.

But I also think that many of us forget this in terms of our religious practice, too: Life is for living, and in my opinion- your religion should fit into that. I think this is especially true for Kemetics, considering the whole “point” to this religion thing is to “live in ma’at”.

You will notice the first word in that statement is live. And the final word in that statement – ma’at – doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

Ma’at includes all of us. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Ma’at encompasses and touches all of creation. You, me, the tv. I read a lot of posts that seem to take a holier than thou approach to being “proper” in your practice, and these posts seem to imply that the only correct point to anything in the polytheist community is the gods. You live them, you breath them, they are your everything. And while I will agree that the gods can be important, there is more to this whole religion thing than just the gods.

And for us Kemetics, the “more” portion would be ma’at. Ma’at trumps everything, because without it, none of us survive – gods included. And if you’re not living your life in all of the capacity than it can be lived (shortcomings and spoons taken into consideration, of course), then you’re not really balanced, which means you’re not really living within ma’at.

Or perhaps, that you’re just not really living. And if you’re not really living, what good does that do anyone?

You can be devout and not ever sit in front of a shrine.
You can be a good Kemetic and not have read every single academic book on the planet.
You can be a good polytheist and still be on the internet daily.
You can be a devout polytheist and have a life that is tangential to the gods.

And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.


Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Kemeticism, Rambles


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

20 responses to “What Makes a “Devout” Polytheist?

  1. Senneferet

    June 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I love this. I’m always moaning at my husband how I feel bad because I believe I was given this life to live it. If we all lock ourselves away in a shrine, how will the faith evolve? How will we reach potential Kemetics (or followers of other paths)? Some people were made to be priests. They are extremely pious and their entire lives are focused on their gods. That’s fantastic but it isn’t for every one.

    Whilst I am in agreement that *some* religious focus has shifted from the gods to a more fandom-based, “gotta catch ’em all” pseudo-polytheism, it’s no excuse to start bullying people into bowing and scraping, and essentially guilt tripping them into being ‘more religious’.

    • Sarduriur

      June 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

      ::claps:: Yessss.

      And there’s waaaay more than just one way to be devout, pious, whatever. The rampant sanctimoniousness within the Polytheist community at large needs to calm down somewhat. Yes, the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All pseudo-Polytheist” mentality is something of a problem, and we need to combat that constructively. Ridiculing people for not being in shrine every day, or multiple times each day, is not the way to go about that. Not all every act of piety/devotion is going to be obvious at first glance, but there are many ways in which one may live and act that is of service to the overarching Polytheist community and of use to the Gods. Going forth to found a healthy community is tangible service to the Gods AND Their people. That can’t happen from the shrine. That happens out in the world, and often, through the internet (which is used to organize and communicate and all that fun stuff).

      I don’t go to shrine and offer food and shinies and flowers EVERY day. But I write academic articles and do source mining for those articles every day, taking advantage of my University education and continued affiliation, which are relevant to the Gods I worship, the religions I practice, and the people within various parts of the Polytheist community who are looking for reliable information on such things. That’s a key service — which not everyone can do or otherwise have access to since not everyone can go to Uni and have unrestricted access to JSTOR and whatnot — and it’s a key service that requires internet access to do. I’m also a married woman (a military spouse, no less) and I have to live that life as well. Being a good wife to my husband and a constructive member of that community is another expression of piety/devotion to the Gods I worship and the religions I practice (and their attached value systems), too. It’s just not nearly as obvious as sitting in front of a shrine looks.

      We have an outstanding advantage that previous ages have not had, and that’s instantaneous, worldwide connection/communication. We’d be fools not to utilize that to our advantage, for the purpose of (re)building Polytheist religions in the Modern Era.

      As you have said, and as Devo has said on more than one occasion, it all comes back to knowing how to balance these things. There is such a thing as “too much” of something, no matter how good it is. 😉

  2. Senneferet

    June 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

    One more thing; Ma’at is about balance. As long as we have a healthy balance between our time spent on-line, off-line and in shrine, we should be good, oui? 🙂

  3. Larissa Lee

    June 5, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I had this argument as a Wiccan with my mother, actually. (Just to add another point of view)

    My mother said I wasn’t “really a Wiccan” because she hadn’t seen me doing a ritual for the full moons or sabbats in months. I was in high school, and my dad was very antagonistic to my practices when he saw them (candles, statues, notes on stuff). I tried to explain to her that I lived each day as a Wiccan, that my time almost every day out by the creek and in the woods with friends was a form of worship and communion on its own. She didn’t buy it for a while, not until years later when I was still Wicca (i.e. it wasn’t a phase).

    Even non-members of a community can assume, from online discussion boards or television depictions, that you have to be ALL-IN to really be a member of that community.

    • von186

      June 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      That is also a valid point. What a shame about your mother, though :<

  4. Cin

    June 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    It drives me batty when someone tells me that to be a Witch I have to be doing this and that and this … and its like No. I am being a witch when I take time to take care of myself. I am being a witch when I lay down and cuddle with my husband rather then going off to some “pagan” event. We don’t have to prove it to others to be faithful and devout.

    Great post. 🙂 Thanks for putting it out there.

    • von186

      June 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      Happy to hear you enjoyed it! :3

  5. Dr. Wendi D. Wilkerson

    June 6, 2013 at 12:44 am

    My two years of scholarly research and ethnographic interviews with many, many polytheists reveals that polytheism as it was practiced in ancient times and as it is being practiced by contemporary peoples was and is orthopraxic—it was and is based on practice, not belief. In ancient polytheist cultures, practical engagement at some level or other was required even at the household level, because belief alone wouldn’t build the relationships that were regarded as necessary for the healthy functioning of your home, community, city, and nation, or help ensure the protection and fertility of the land, animals, and people. What you consider to be the priestly functions of temple-keepers were in fact a routine part of the household religious practices of ordinary people living in the ancient world. Only in the modern era that has no memory of these traditions but does have a long tradition of outsourcing the obligations of religious ritual to the “professionals” i.e. clergy, could anyone consider basic home-centered devotional practices to be “priestly” functions. But then again, given that contemporary attitudes about religious devotion have been shaped by a religion that holds fervent belief as the marker of devout behavior, it isn’t surprising to see how even contemporary polytheists have been shaped by that notion, even if it bears no relation to the orthopraxic religion of polytheism.

    As regards the question of the title, my Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “devout” as, “1: devoted to religion or to religious duties or exercises; 2. expressing devotion or piety and 3. devoted to a pursuit, belief, or mode of behavior.” Devout is etymologically related to the word “devotion,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “1a. religious fervor : piety, b: an act of prayer or private worship —usually used in plural ; c. a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation; 2a. the act of devoting ; 2b. the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal.” Looking at these definitions, it’s quite clear that “Devout” isn’t a feeling of conviction born from rumination; it’s an attitude predicated on action. Actions such as making offerings a regular basis, the cleaning and tending of shrines, the prayers spoken at the shrine or even during the drive to work—these are what create a connection to the Gods, Ancestors, Land Spirits, or other Holy Powers, etc.. They are activities that those who are devoutly religious polytheists regularly set aside the time to do to strengthen and affirm that spiritual relationship. Scholarly research and participating in online discussion about polytheist topics certainly is one very underappreciated way of showing devotion to the socio-political cause of polytheism as an IDEA. And this work is certainly vital to furthering polytheism as a social CAUSE. But it isn’t the sort of direct engagement with the Gods and forging of connections with Them that defines polytheism as a RELIGION.

    It’s true that the loudest polytheist voices out there come from those who are consumed with a life of service to their Holy Powers. But they also have repeatedly said that the reason for their heavy engagement is that they are clergy, and that they don’t expect everyone in the world to do what they are doing. More to the point, those same polytheist voices which the author laments in her article are not only heavily engaged with the devotional practice of polytheism as a RELIGION, they are also researching, writing, and contributing to the discussions about polytheism as an IDEA.

    • Aubs Tea

      June 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

      “What you consider to be the priestly functions of temple-keepers were in fact a routine part of the household religious practices of ordinary people living in the ancient world.” Can you please show me what sources you’ve found for this statement in a Kemetic context?

    • von186

      June 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

      This could be a long response becasue I wish to address all of the points you made.

      I agree entirely that many polytheistic religions were orthopraxic in nature. In Egypt, what was important was upholding ma’at. Whether you necessarily believed in the gods was less important than upholding ma’at and keeping the god’s temples up and running (especially considering that the health of the temples, in many eras, was directly related to the health of the economy). However, whether the priests who performed the cultic functions in the temples believed that what they were doing mattered was of less importance than the fact that they actually did it. It was a job, and it needed to be done. There are some cases we have where priests acted very selfishly while in the god’s houses (temples) which would lead me to believe that sometimes, they didn’t care about potential divine repercussions. I throw this out there in an attempt to de-romanticize the ancient’s relationship with the gods (see my post on Egyptian priesthood for more).

      Furthermore, I completely disagree about your comment regarding

      “What you consider to be the priestly functions of temple-keepers were in fact a routine part of the household religious practices of ordinary people living in the ancient world. Only in the modern era that has no memory of these traditions but does have a long tradition of outsourcing the obligations of religious ritual to the “professionals” i.e. clergy, could anyone consider basic home-centered devotional practices to be “priestly” functions”.

      Perhaps it is not the case for other polytheistic religions (please bear in mind that not all polytheistic religions are the same or have the same “rules”), but in ancient Egypt, you had priests and you had laymen and we still don’t entirely know what the laymen did in their own homes regarding worship (which is why modern worship resembles priesthood functions so closely). Another example I can bring up would be Shinto. Some people had daily interaction with the kami, but many times, there were certain times in the year when it was prescribed that you visit the local shrine/s and pay your respects to kami and that’s it. The role of a layman was not the same as a temple priest. There is, as far as I know, no conclusive research that has shown that the laymen of the past did the same things as priests did. Especially in terms of ancient Egypt, the layman did not have the time to clothe and feed an icon three and four times per day (and it would have been sacrilegious for anyone less than the top priests to even consider doing these rites). And outside of the priesthood, most of the working class didn’t have the proper knowledge to perform the liturgies that the priests did for the gods. Furthermore, the daily rites done for the gods in antiquity was done by a whole troupe of priests- something that the average person would not be able to maintain, either.

      Therefore, I am of the stance that 1. We do not know for a fact how the laymen of the past worshiped the gods in their own home. 2. That these people were likely more interested in plowing the fields and making food to survive than performing complex cultic rites every day (that they wouldn’t even have the knowledge to perform, honestly) and 3. That there was a professional class of priests for a reason- mainly the reasons listed above.

      I utilized the definition on google because it was more concise and didn’t use “devotion” in the definition of ‘devout’. I also tried to stay away from the words ‘pious’ and ‘piety’ because neither word is easily defined and contains a lot of baggage that I thought would detract from my main point. That being said, if we work within your terms of devotion being based in action instead of belief- that doesn’t change my main point at all. The point of the religion of Kemeticism is to live in ma’at- living is an action, which has many facets and points to it.

      In modern contexts, in order for a religion to be formed or survive, you need people. You can only gain people through the expansion and dispersal of knowledge to said people. Therefore, I do believe that interacting with others online does, in fact, promote the religion and help advance the religion forward, especially recon oriented religions that are just starting out. We need people out there helping others to learn where the resources are and writing up information about the various gods. This, in turn, brings more worship and followers to the god/s, which strengthens the religion as a whole and, in theory, makes the gods stronger. Furthermore, for those who don’t have an active god-phone, they may never truly get to know the gods in-depth via shrine work, but they can learn a ton about Thoth via writing a blog post on him and learning about him through interacting with his followers.

      In short, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need all of these aspects foe the religion to survive. Another overlooked aspect of many polytheist religions is community. Community was paramount. You don’t create a community by only sitting in front of a shrine.

      Perhaps you are interacting with different pagans than I am, but many of them seem to believe that we all need to be spending as much time in shrine with the gods as possible. And while I agree that working with the gods and showing them some love is important, I think that we can’t forget the other aspects of religion and life, which is what I was getting at in this post. I don’t necessarily grok how you can separate actions for the religion vs actions for it as an idea, unless you are referring to arm-chair polytheism, which is a term I loathe, because people use it to put others down unnecessarily.

      Religion is a huge soup. Each of us are adding our own spices and ingredients to the pot to make the soup what it is (via shrine work and online work). All input is useful and relevant to the soup. As I said above, nothing happens in a vacuum.

  6. Rachel Izabella

    June 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I simply want to thank you for bringing some realism, sanity, and balance to this topic. I appreciate your words here much. Thank you!

    • von186

      June 7, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      I’m glad you liked it! 🙂


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