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:
- a feeling of strong love or loyalty: the quality of being devoted
- the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose
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.