Dictionary definitions of “Devotion” will say things like:
“strong attachment (to) or affection (for a cause, person, etc) marked by dedicated loyalty”
“religious zeal; piety”
“religious observance or prayers”
“profound dedication; consecration.”
(All from dictionary.com)
According to the source information on dictionary.com the origins of the word go back to the ancient Latin giving meanings of “act of consecrating by a vow,” also “loyalty, fealty, allegiance;” in Church Latin, “devotion to God, piety”.
So how do these ideas manifest in a modern polytheist today?
There isn’t a single answer to that question but a multitude of ways. In this post I’m going to talk about some of the ways in which ideas of devotions manifest in my own life.
I consider myself to be devoted to a number of deities, most of them fall within the Brythonic family of beings. Gradually over time I have built up personal practices of offerings, songs and prayers for those I am devoted to and I’ve written on my own blog about my changing Patterns of Devotion. What I actually do has also changed over time.
My focal point for my prayers, hymns and libations is my main household shrine. On it I have statues of three different Goddesses; Epona Rigantona, Brigantia and An Cailleach. I also have images of Loki and items that to me symbolise Maponos. I’ve also got small brass goblets and a wooden quaich which I use for libations. The quaich was made for me by a friend and used for my libations to Epona Rigantona. The goblets are used for libations for the other deities. Also on my shrine is an incense stick burner that was brought for me during a Brython camp in Wales, some hand knitted roses, a beaded rose in a vase with lavender and wild grasses, a horse shoe, a swan feather wand, a small brass bowl used for water and my prayer beads. For some of my observances some items get moved off the shrine and others added such as an oil burner set aside for Maponos and a lantern I use in flame tending. There’s often a candle of some kind on the shrine too.
On the floor in front of my shrine is an old pillow in an old plain brown pillowcase. It is on this that I kneel and sit when I pray, sing, offer libations and quietly open my mind and heart to my gods.
On the other side of the room I have my ancestral shrine area which includes photos of some of those of my family who have gone before me, particularly the ones I knew best. There’s also a goblet that is sometimes used for ancestral libations and an unlit beeswax candle plus a few crystals, some dried lavender, a raven feather and some fabric roses.
Each item on my shrines has meaning to me, each item speaks to me of my ancestors or my gods in different ways. Tending these shrines, dusting them, sometimes re-arranging them, is a part of my devotional activity. These spaces are dedicated to the presence of these beings in my home and life.
When I spend time with my gods at my shrine I often begin with song. I sing hymns of praise and love for the being I am about to spend some time with in prayer. Next I usually make a libation, usually alcoholic, that I leave on the shrine overnight. I empty it out in my garden the next morning. I then pray, often using my prayer beads and finally I simply sit for a while with my thoughts of the day and anything I want to bring before that deity. I also try and spend some of that time with an open heart and mind listening for anything that the deity may want to say to me. Sometimes things will just come to me, a need to do something or go somewhere as soon as I am able. I’m never really sure where those ideas come from but I do try and pay attention to them.
My ancestral practices are similar in that I will offer a libation but usually tea and I’ll sit and share a cup with them. I don’t really pray to my ancestors, it’s more of a silent chat. I think about what has been going on in my life, the things I think they will be most interested in, I think about my memories of them and I look at the photos.
These activities are part of what I think of as my core devotional practices. Then there’s the other things I do.
Every twenty days I tend a flame in honour of Brigantia. During that period of time I pray to Her, I think about Her stories and I sing to Her. I also go about my usual activities for that day but I try and do so a bit more mindfully than I might do on other days.
I knit and sometimes I knit as a devotional activity. This isn’t a regular thing but every now and then I will feel the urge to knit something in honour of a deity. When I have the urge to knit for Epona it’s roses that I knit, sometimes I place them on my shrine, sometimes I give them to others. When I knit for Brigantia I knit shawls or wraps that once completed are given away. So far I haven’t done any devotional knitting for other beings but that may well change.
I’ve recently started a healing circle and that work is devoted to my gods especially Maponos.
And in the last few months I’ve started volunteering with the Riding for the Disabled Association, Glasgow group. In part that work is like a gift to me from my gods and in part it is also devotional activity.
I enjoy all these aspects of devotion. There are times I feel tired and want to leave things out for a bit but keeping going is an act of devotion too and the joy returns. If the joy in these acts fades completely, if they ever become empty and meaningless to me, then I will know it is time to think about changing the activities or patterns of my devotion again. For now though there are quiet, prayerful times and more active times, there times when I make things and times when I give what I have brought. Changing activities and changing patterns but all aspects of my devotion.