Modern Devotion

Christians have often been said to practice a religion that is largely antiquated and has no relevancy in our post-modern world.

Many Christians maintain that their religious expression and the text from which they derive their spiritual practice is as relevant today (despite changing attitudes with regards to individual human rights, cultural shifts, moral relativism), as it was centuries ago after Christ’s burial, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Some assure us, by quoting scripture, that while customs, mores, cultures, and ideas may change, that the word of God stands forever.

A friend of mine who is also a polytheist and is devoted to the Greek gods and Titans (but does not consider himself a Hellenist), maintains that relevancy is important. He doesn’t have access to all the things that were once used in a ritual or devotional context. Sacrificing a black dog to Hecate now could land someone in jail. Centuries ago, it wasn’t something that her worshipers would have given a second thought to. If Hecate’s epiphany manifested in the form of a woman who interacted with humanity today, much like the gods in Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods”, what would she want? It’s an exercise in imagination but with a sense of true devotion, one could find substitutes worthy of a god.

Perhaps she likes coffee, served black with no sugar.

Perhaps after a long business trip, one would purchase high-quality coffee and prepare it in a dutiful manner.

Perhaps when the coffee had finished brewing, one would pour her libation and honor her with words of devotion and gratitude for bringing them home safely.

Some have argued that the Wheel of the Year has no relevancy anymore – especially since, and depending upon your location in the world today, the seasons do not correspond to the festivals. Imbolc may have been the beginning of spring to the pre-Christian Europeans, but here in the American Midwest, the stirrings of spring aren’t something one feels in February. The ground is still frozen and attempting to till the soil is an exercise in patience and fortitude.

An ancient calendar based on lunar phases and the seasons may no longer be relevant to many of us, but there are still things from the ancient world that remain with us today. Some of which may often be taken for granted. To the ancient Sumerians, civilization was believed to be the greatest gift of the gods. It was the gods who bestowed us with the tools we needed to divert chaos and bring order to the world around us. That is an enduring gift, and is still relevant to us today. To enjoy the gifts of the gods in the form construction, cities, canals, sidewalks, and tended gardens is something many of us can take for granted. But it doesn’t have to be so. 

During my camping excursion, during a deluge that muddied the paths throughout the campsite, I found myself musing aloud: “I am reminded why the Sumerians held civilization in high esteem. I’ve already had enough of this mud”.

Aside from being appreciative of civilization, how do we, as members of a religious and spiritual tradition that is alive due largely to reconstruction (and a little personal gnosis), maintain relevancy?

What can we do, “in the spirit of the thing”, that would honor the gods?

For some of us, it may consist of setting aside a portion of our meal. For others, it may be an elaborate devotional ritual involving things they have made or a song they have written. For others, it may be tilling soil and planting foliage in their garden with a sense of devotion. As an artist, I paint and sculpt items for my shrine and altar spaces.

I for one, am a firm believer that even if culture changes, if customs change, there are ways of keeping the spirit of those customs and religious expressions alive.

How do you, dear reader, keep these customs and religious expressions alive?

-Sam Jackson
July 12, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *