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Devoted without Devotion

04 Jun

I have a hard time talking about devotion. The word devotion, much like the word worship, has a lot of baggage tied to it. And if you ask several people how they define devotion, you’ll get all sorts answers back. As it turns out, we all have a lot of different ideas about what it means to be devoted to the gods. And it makes sense why a lot of people would have differing, and sometimes conflicting, ideas about devotion, as the definitions for the word devotion run the gamut:

de·vo·tion dəˈvōSH(ə)n/ noun
  • a feeling of strong love or loyalty: the quality of being devoted
  • the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose
  • devotions: prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private rather than in a religious service
  1. profound dedication; consecration.
  2. earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.
  3. an assignment or appropriation to any purpose, cause, etc.: the devotion of one’s wealth and time to scientific advancement.
  4. Often, devotions. Ecclesiastical. religious observance or worship; a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Some of these definitions are pretty straight forward: you spend a lot of time doing the thing, and that is devotion. Where as others definitely have more emotion involved: you feel strongly about the thing, and that is devotion.

When it comes to most discussions featuring devotion, I feel like the second definition (you feel strongly) tends to be the more prominent definition used, and that the bulk of the discussion has a lot of emotional overtone to it. A lot of people seem to believe that devotion is an act of love, or that perhaps your love pushes you to perform devotional acts. And it makes sense in a way- you don’t have to look very hard to see that many people in the wider Pagan and polytheist community have a lot of love for their gods. It’s pretty easy to find poems and hymns praising the gods; posts about how awesome the gods are, artwork and songs… the stuff is all over the place. And that’s a good thing! The gods are pretty cool, and it’s good that people feel good things about the beings that they are spending so much time focusing on and venerating.

But this post isn’t about having love for your gods. This post is about the exact opposite of that.

This post is about being devoted to beings that you don’t feel much of anything for, and how alienating and weird that kind of relationship can be.

As I’ve said in a few posts now, I don’t feel a whole lot about much of anything anymore, and if I do feel anything it’s usually on the sad/upset/negative side of things. That is to say on any give day, I’m usually either neutral or depressed. Happy, excited and positive don’t really seem to happen for me, and when they do it’s very fleeting. It took me a while to realize that this is how I’ve been for most of my life, and it likely is a byproduct of my depression.

As it turns out, this largely applies to my relationships with the gods, too. Unlike so many people who feel these immense emotions when they are around the gods, I am usually left feeling the same way I would if I were talking to anyone else. I don’t sit in front of my shrine and feel awe or humility or… anything. And even when I’m standing Over There talking to one of the NTRW, I still don’t feel anything different than what I would feel if I were talking to anyone else.

I don’t know if this occurs because I don’t view the gods as anything special, or if it’s my lack of feelings that has led me to not consider the gods as anything special. It’s really a case of the chicken and the egg-either could beget the other, and I couldn’t tell which came first, if either came first.

Not feeling anything for the gods leads to a very alienating experience in the community. It probably doesn’t seem that way on the surface, but over time I have noticed that it has become harder and harder for me to ignore the differences between my relationships and the relationships that other Kemetics seem to have with the NTRW. Of course, we all know that comparing ourselves to others is almost always a recipe for disaster, but I think its inevitable that each of us will at least compare notes from time to time with other co-religionists through discussion and interaction with one another. And it’s become very glaring to me that so many others can discuss and feel these things, and yet no matter how much I try, I just can’t seem to find the emotions locked within me.

When I first really realized that this is how my relationship actually was, I began to question if I was broken, or if I was doing something wrong. Maybe there were emotions somewhere that my depression was drowning out? But after months of looking, I still couldn’t find them. Even as the gods told me about the emotions that they have for me, I couldn’t find it within me to reciprocate, and I began to feel even worse. As I dug deeper into my own experiences and motivations, I really began to wonder why it was that I continued to work with the gods and focus on this Kemeticism thing if I didn’t really feel anything from it.

And I really think that this is key in a way. A lot of people come to religion in order to feel something. A lot of people left Christianity because they never felt anything for the god, the religious structure, or what have you. In many ways, if we don’t feel something from our actions, we stop repeating or performing the act. Many of us don’t pick religions because of logical decision making, we pick religions because they feel right to us.

The problem with feelings is that they can be misleading sometimes. I remember reading about Nehet’s reflections of tending a deity’s icon every day, and one of her recollections was that you won’t always feel super cool woo stuff every time you go into shrine. There are going to be some days where you are seriously just going through the motions and nothing else. And if you expect every single experience to make you feel something amazing or different or unique, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Being someone who has multiple mental illnesses, I know that I can’t always trust what I feel. I also know that I can’t always trust what I think, either, because sometimes it’s more my mental illness and chemical imbalances talking than myself. Perhaps its due to living this way for so long that I don’t really rely on feelings to motivate me or drive a lot of my actions. If I waited for feelings to give me the signal to get things done, I’d never get anywhere.

By the time I had reached this point, I began to wonder if it was a bad thing that I don’t feel anything for the gods. There are so many days when I feel like the only one who describes the gods as “ehhh” with a side of “wiggly hand movement”, and I couldn’t help but worry that maybe it was a problem on some level. However, neither of the gods I frequent seemed to care. Yeah, they get a little disappointed when they start talking about their feelings in regards to myself, and the best I can do is shrug in response, but outside of that, it’s never gotten in the way of the work they’ve asked me to do.

The only time it’s ever been a problem is when I’m talking with other humans about relationships with the gods, and particularly when we’re talking about devotion. Because it seems that so many people believe that action that isn’t coupled with emotion is somehow not as effective or desired.

But the truth of the matter is, you can be devoted to your gods and not have a bunch of love backing your actions. You can be extremely loyal to the gods and the religion you practice without having love flood your heart. You can be dedicated to the pantheon that you serve without having the warm fuzzies.

You can be devoted without feeling devotion. And more importantly, you can be effective as a devotee without feeling devotion. Our religion is supposed to be more about doing (orthopraxy) and less about feeling (orthodoxy), and yet it doesn’t seem to translate into how we view relationships with the gods. Even though most of the dialogue you see regarding deity-devotee relationships involves some element of emotion such as love, not every relationship needs that to be the focus in order to be successful.

Just like with my last post about pushing back against general narratives, I’m going to push against the narrative again and state that I am a devotee that doesn’t necessarily feel their devotion. My lack of feeling doesn’t make my actions any less sincere or any less effective. Who I am is enough for the gods- weird emotional ticks included. And if it’s enough for them, then it should be enough for me. And hopefully it is enough for everybody else, too.

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13 Comments

Posted by on June 4, 2015 in Kemeticism, Rambles

 

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13 responses to “Devoted without Devotion

  1. G. B. Marian

    June 5, 2015 at 4:25 am

    I think the issue here is that people have a tendency to think there should be a “standard” when it comes to human relationships with the Divine, and I don’t think that we as polytheists really have any business thinking that way. Some relationships will involve a steady balance between emotions and practice, while some will focus more on practice and others will focus more on emotions. (And then there are the people who operate outside of this ballpark completely.) I am glad you’ve come to terms with yourself on this issue, and while I understand how the sheer frequency of emotional output from other Kemetics might make you feel alienated, I would at least hope that no one has actually given you any grief over this situation. (And if anyone has, I’d say they should mind their own dang business.)

     
    • von186

      June 8, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Most people who give me grief seem to do so unwittingly. They’ll make comments that aren’t entirely directed at me, but more or less chide me for how I view the gods. Sometimes, though, I will get comments that imply I’m less-than. Luckily they aren’t from Kemetics very often.

      I feel like everyone just needs to adopt the mindset of “all relationships that are healthy and not hurting anyone are good relationships, and there is no need to put rules and restrictions on these things”. Hoepfully, one day, it’ll catch on.

       
      • G. B. Marian

        June 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm

        You keep writing the way you do, and it probably will. That’s some mighty good heka you’ve got there.

         
      • von186

        June 16, 2015 at 5:56 pm

        You speak too kindly :>

         
  2. Redfaery

    June 5, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Reblogged this on Flight of the Hamsa and commented:
    A great read. I’m one of those who left Christianity because I felt “empty.” Specifically, the Christian God returned my longing and love with a yawning cold void. But other people’s relationship with their gods is None of My Damn Business.

     
  3. reluctantchristopagan

    June 7, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    You’re most def not alone in these kinds of sentiments. I have to confess, I sometimes get envious of people who feel a lot of reverence and adoration for the gods, and it’s been a sort of disorienting thing all the way from day one having mixed feelings about working with them while the community as a whole seems to view them almost exclusively through a scope of positivity -and like you said, that’s not a bad thing, but it can get a little uncomfortable if your glasses are more jaded than the rest of the community’s.

     
    • von186

      June 8, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      What’s weird is that even for the people who are jaded, they still seem to have love in there somewhere. And I’m constantly just like “how the hell did you manage to find that??” because it just hasn’t happened for me yet.
      I think at this point, I’m just gonna own the fact that I don’t feel much either way, and let it be. ANyone who has a problem with it can take it up with S and O.

       
  4. artanoannatar

    June 8, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about devotion and such like. It’s strange; it seems every time I start fretting over and worrying on a particular issue, you post something that addresses the issue in some way. Maybe coincidence, maybe something else, but it helps and I am very appreciative of it, and of course I enjoy your posts.

    This in particular jumped out at me: “A lot of people come to religion in order to feel something. A lot of people left Christianity because they never felt anything for the god, the religious structure, or what have you. In many ways, if we don’t feel something from our actions, we stop repeating or performing the act. Many of us don’t pick religions because of logical decision making, we pick religions because they feel right to us.” I’ve been in this limbo of Christianity wasn’t right for me, but I doubt whether what I’ve chosen is actually better, or maybe nothing is real and nothing matters. But, like you, I have multiple mental illnesses and know I can’t trust my feelings or my thoughts pretty much of the time, and it unfortunately goes both ways – good and bad. You’re certainly not alone there, and it means something to a relative newbie like me to not feel alone in it.

    So, I guess, at peril of going on too long: thank you, thank you.

     
    • von186

      June 8, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      hahaha who knows XDD I must have uncanny timing, or something.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that it has helped. Thank you for your feedback :>

       
  5. torhalla58

    June 12, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Exploring My Heritage, and Me.

     
  6. chewingnatron

    April 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Reblogged this on chewingnatron and commented:
    This is a topic near and dear to my heart.
    I do have feelings regarding the Netjeru, but they don’t seem to be like others’ feelings for the Netjeru. My own feelings are soft and they’re less my feelings than the feelings I seem to feel coming from the Netjeru. I really don’t feel a lot in regards to religion, sometimes it worries me sometimes it’s a relief.
    But its still kind of odd feeling to be floating in a community where everybody seems to be in love with the gods and I’m kind of like “Meh.” Honestly, I have stronger feelings towards ma’at than the Netjeru. And for me, that’s okay. Keeping ma’at is (to me) the most important part of the religion. I see tending to the Netjeru as means to help keep ma’at and less a goal in and of itself. I’m sure some would think that’s disrespectful to the Netjeru. But I think they can take care of themselves for the most part at least. I know our belief is important, but I think that if the Netjeru subsisted on nothing but our belief they’d be thoughtforms not gods. Gods have angency, gods have powers we don’t understand. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be gods.
    Back to my point. Its hard being in a community that seems to be tied together by something you don’t feel a part of. Maybe we could make a group for ourselves or something. Something to let others know its okay not to feel strong emotions towards the gods. A “polytheists anonymous” or something along those lines. I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud.

     
  7. Heretic-thinking

    August 11, 2016 at 5:40 am

    Well, I feel you there. I like my gods, I like them like I like my friends but I always feel alone with or without them. Sure, it comforts me to talk to someone sometimes and ask for advice but since I have a lot of intuition, I don’t know if it’s them or not (I suspect them for being there since my childhood so I’d say I grew up with them). But I don’t feel adoration, I do respect them as I would respect any other human being but I can’t do rituals, I can’t devote myself to say formal things because I feel it’s a big empty lie. When I do offerings, I try to do them with respect but most of the time it’s “Well, hello Geb…Here are some food, incense and a green candle, hope you like it…If you could help me with that or send me signs on what I should do, that would be great…well thanks for your time, errr…bye?”, it’s as awkward as if I had to offer a present to someone I don’t really know in front of many people.

    But I’m sure depression and many hormonal imbalance are the causes of my “meh” attitude. I don’t have a lust for life. I don’t have really have faith in anything, even if I believe in everything.

    A little off-topic but not so much: I think it’s easy to say “oh I love x God, she/he is so awesome, we talk all day long, I couldn’t live without him/her…” but your gods aren’t your bff with who you gossip all night long… I guess it’s like being fan of Justin Bieber or any other music star, you could say that “He looked at MEEEE and I kneeeeew he recognize me since I go to all his shows *squee squee*”. I can see that in other religions, like Buddhism, my mom is Buddhist and we have this reincarnation of a great master who’s called the Karmapa. Today, he is a young man (33) and have a big fan club within Buddhism. Why? Because he is supposed to be divine, many people just love him or feel adoration for him, some people almost go into a transe when seeing him or talking about him. I never met him so I couldn’t say if he glows love and wisdom like my mom told me. But I also suspect that since Buddhism is a lot more common with women over 55 (the menopause club, like I love to call them), they tend to love the Asian tall guy more than the supposedly wisdom he radiates (trust me, no disrespect here but I see these old ladies very often since childhood…). My mom has pictures of him all over the house, it’s like having a brother I never met. She talks of him with such passion and I saw all the old ladies being so fond of him, if I didn’t know Buddhism better, I would think it’s some kind of cult. (Of course, there are some branches that looks and feels more like a brainwashing cult than the peaceful one in which my mom is.) She even gifted me many pictures of Him and I don’t know what to do with these, I know it would be disrespectful to thrown them in the trash but I don’t feel anything for him.

    Think of it like that, there are also visionaries in every religion, they are people who feel things very intensively (they could die from a heartbreak, they would cry of joy if they didn’t saw you in a long time), they are the only ones that can say if what they feel is true or just really wanted by their thirsty soul, and even if they did, we’re not sure that discernement is real. I think there are a lot more “silent” practitioners than this. Think that maybe it’s better for you to feel that way, to not blinded by some passion, like some moth crashing into a light bulb, screaming “LOVE ME LIKE I LOVE YOU DAMMIT I JUST WANT TO BE CLOSE TO YOU!” (lmao). I saw some pagans being bff with gods, talking about how awesome they were everyday and then, when the honeymoon was over, they were heartbroken and they felt betrayed, sometimes it’s because silence occurred for no reason, sometimes it’s because they didn’t warned the devotee that something bad was coming, sometimes it’s just because the god is busy and brushed off the devotee. Maybe some people have a great relationship with gods, simple and full of good stuff, that’s what I wish them. But I really see serious practitioners being more like:
    “*sigh* Yeah man, Set, buddy, I like you but yeah, I don’t know, you’re really a pain in the ass sometimes, you know.
    – Yasss but you know you love me. *touching everything with it’s tongue, especially the upper part your head to show you he’s everywhere and that everything belongs to him*
    – Yeah, I guess I don’t have much choice but to love you. *sigh*”

    Of course, my paragraph isn’t meant to say that people who feel love and/or enlightenment within religion are crazy or not serious or not valid, I’m happy for people who found some peace/love/faith into spirituality, please give us a little bit of your passion since yours burns in a big fire.

    In theory, I love Geb because he chose me, we’re very alike, I like to secretly think that I’m a bit special (shame on me, really) since very few people work with him (or are aware that he’s there). But in practice, I don’t know him (and there are not much ressources on Him), I don’t feel anything special for him, I don’t know when he talks to me since I can’t discern clearly when it’s him or my mind and whenever I try to do something formal to please him, I’m like “fuck this, I’m just lying and it’s a vast mascarade”. When doing stichomancy with a dictionary, I asked him what he thought about the formal rituals and the fact that I should maybe take the beginner’s courses with the KO church, he literally gave me a (French) word meaning tedious and dilapidated. I guess he knows me and loves me for who I am, impetuous and rebellious, lol!

     

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