Daily devotions are something found in many, if not all, religious paths in one form or another. Devotions are a form of study and practice that is external to the main practice of the religion, something personal that is embarked upon to bring deeper meaning to the basic beliefs and practices of the religious life. Often times these devotions are contained in books with daily thoughts to take the practitioner through a meditation that might deepen their religious path.
Many Pagans start their path with strong support from a set practice laid out in a book or a training course. They get through a year or two or three, and then they finish the “beginner” and “intermediate” material. After that, many of us stop cold for a while wondering what to do next. What practices will take our spiritual path to the next level?
If you are lucky enough to have a strong community and a good teacher, you may have no problems finding books or study to carry you on for the rest of your life. But, if you are a solitary practitioner, you are more than a little likely to spend some period of time wondering where the “advanced” level study material is hiding.
For the Pagan practitioner whose religious life is tied to place, the “advanced” material for devotions can be a deep study of the place itself. I’ve spoken before on this blog about building a sit-spot practice, and this is a very useful form of daily devotional practice, but it can only go so far in a single lifetime. To really understand the place where you live, you need to study the flora and fauna, the natural history, and the weather patterns of your home. This is where a few good books are in order.
A good place to start is with a few guide books for the area where you live. You can treat them like you would a sacred text. Set aside 15 minutes each morning to read about one species in your area. Write some notes about it. Meditate on what you have learned. Then, if you can, try to find that species in its natural habitat near you.
Lots of magickal practices include working with the correspondences between plants or animals and various types of energy that you might want to tap into for spell work or other types of working. Most of us have used books like Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Cunningham’s Encyclopedia Series) to help us with that work, but there’s so much more that you can do when those correspondences have become a part of your internal sense of the world, rather than a thing that you need to look up. You develop that internal sense by working with the herbs or animals yourself. And yes, you can get a lot of that from meditation and journey work, but nothing beats the experience of actually meeting an eagle face to face in the wild to teach you what Eagle represents.
One of the books that I’ve found very helpful for building relationship with edible and medicinal plants is Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants (Field Guide). It’s not intended to serve as a magickal reference at all, but his descriptions of meeting the plants and getting to know them personally was very influential on the development of my own practice of meeting the plants around me. I knew from ethnographies that shaman throughout the world get to know plants by talking to them and ingesting them, but this book gave me a distinctly American way to approach the practice. Tom Brown, Jr’s mentor was a Native American man, but Tom Brown himself is of European descent, and his stories are the stories of a Euro-American learning to live in harmony with this land and the other living beings in it. Because of that, he provides a model that can be both newly indigenous and respectful of the indigenous practices of the First People who were here before us.
For many of us, there is no choice but to re-dream the magickal practices that we will follow and that we will teach to others. We can do so in an airy way with no grounding, and our practice will be as thin as the work we put behind it, or we can use the power of aspects of our own culture — of Western science and nature studies along side myth and legend from our ancestors — to provide us with some of the tools we use for that re-dreaming. By tying your religious practice to a daily devotional activity of meeting your non-human neighbors through guides, your sit spot and nature walks, you can find that “advanced” knowledge you have been hungering for.