My experience has been that, overwhelmingly, Pagans tend to shy away form the use of the word “worship.” More often, we talk about how we “work with” a god, or we refer to our “patron” deities, or maybe we describe ourselves as priests, priestesses, or devotees, basically leaving others to decipher what we mean by those terms. Various groups within Paganism describe a “godself” or some similar concept that posits divinity within ourselves. The gods are manifestations of our psyches, or they exist because we’ve somehow collectively willed them into existence. You can envision the gods however you want because this is an orthpraxy, not an orthodoxy (as though those things are ever mutually exclusive). And, further, our personal practices are ultimately about working on ourselves in some capacity. A relationship with the divine brings wholeness, or it teaches us something, or it helps to solve our various problems. When those relationships stop feeding us, we can move on.
I’ve expressed some of these points in various ways over the years myself. Some of them quite recently.
Lately, though, I’m less and less on board with a lot of the above.
I use the word “worship” pretty freely. It’s what I do; it’s what my coven does. We worship our gods. I’m not the boss of my covenmates, so I can’t speak to their solitary practices, but when I tend my sacred spaces privately and conduct ritual alone, it’s not because I’m trying to attain some kind of personal perfection, manifest my own divinity, or earn some kind of blessing that comes simply by burning something and asking for it.
My worship isn’t about me. It’s about the gods.
I think a big part of my frustration lately (for those of you who’ve followed me as I’ve worked through my latest bout of depression), and a lot of the anger I’ve felt in ritual spaces, has been rooted in my getting something wrong in my fundamental approach to worship: I say worship isn’t about me, but I still expect things to go my way when I’m regularly engaged in a personal practice. I conduct ritual because I expect to get something out of it: inner peace, enlightenment, comfort, a sense of wonder, etc., etc. When I’m tired or depressed or pissed off, I’m less inclined to worship. I circle less. I put less effort into things. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing with my life. All that.
But devotion isn’t dependent on my feeling good or on my life going well.
The gods aren’t obligated to smooth my way through life, and my personal betterment isn’t the end goal. That’s a side effect.
I didn’t commit to being a priestess in order to get stuff, whether tangible or intangible. I did it because I believe this is all real, and the gods called me to do so. Yeah, my tradition is about praxis and Paganism is usually about what we do, but this is also about what I believe. I’m not on any fence about my polytheism. My gods aren’t abstractions, reflections of myself, or extensions of my Will.
So why aren’t I acting like it?
In wrestling with this, I’ve decided to recommit to a more structured devotional practice, regardless of the crap that’s happening in my life right now. I’m allowed to be depressed and angry and tired and everything else, but I still have to set aside time for worship. That doesn’t mean it has to look the way it always has, but I still have to offer toasts and pour libations and write.
Just setting in to renewing that commitment and setting those parameters has alleviated a lot of the badness I’ve been feeling in the last month. I’ll report back.
In my years of practice, I’ve heard people talk about how their religious and magical practices fall off when life gets hard. I think it’s probably something most of us suffer with from time to time. This is how I’ve chosen to deal. What do you do to make it through?