So, how do you worship the Gods? Obviously, the exhortation to “do the work” is effective for those who experience a relationship with a specific God or Gods as a practice akin to being a master athlete, musician or craftsman. For that person, perhaps, the “work” of worship might very well be a discipline. For example, if one meditates, one can become better at listening to the deities. That is true. And yes, such a practice can be called “the work.” But maybe that isn’t the kind of person you are.
Now, if your desire is for an ecstatic union with a God, I am told that such a union is something for which you must “work.” If that is what you want, you will need to read the writings of others besides myself — the ones telling you over and over to “do the work,” because that is not a goal I have ever desired for myself. However, I do acknowledge that others do desire such union which is their valid spiritual path. But, personally, I do not wish to be a slave to a god, owned by a god, bride of a god, or, even, a servant of a god. I prefer to be a free person to being a thrall.
And I do not at all believe that ecstatic union with a Deity is the only, or even the best, option for all Polytheists. In fact, I do know from my own experience that more one focuses on a Deity, the more of ones time, energy, wealth, and work one give Him or Her, the more one is likely to fall into one of the kinds of relationships I have just mentioned. And I know from experience, as well as mythology, that the Gods can be extremely charming, even seductive. And you could find yourself in that kind of relationship whether you want it or not, especially when dealing with certain Deities, especially if they choose you.
That is why I’m advising you not to make offerings every day to one or more Gods unless you are very sure you want to attract a great deal of attention from Deities.
The alternative that I recommend, and is what I try to do, and what evidence shows that many of our ancestors did: focus your worship on the Land and House Spirits and Ancestors primarily, the Gods secondarily. But, most importantly, you have to decide what works best for you. Just as with friends and family, how much you stay in contact does impact the your relationships. So, how often do you want to worship and whom? Will you worship a specific God or Gods or Pantheon? Will you focus on deities or ancestors or nature spirits or other beneficent spirits?
Here is what one polytheist who worships a Norse pantheon has to say:
The ordinary Scandinavian of the Viking Age would probably go to the land-wights often, as to a neighbor, to the god/esses on feast-days, and in times of need or thankfulness, as to a chieftain (and much more often when a close friendship existed, in both cases); the Earth herself would be addressed rarely, if at all, just as the plain farmer or merchant would only on rare occasions deal directly with a kind or queen…. (K.H. Gundarssson, “Mother Earth and her Children” Idunna 36) ….daily or near daily offerings were made to the landwights and ancestors whereas only to the Gods during feast-days and in times of need or thankfulness or more often when a close friendship between a god and a human being. (Elves, Wights, and Trolls by Kveldulf Gundarsson, 2007).
Note that Gundarsson speaks of making offerings to beneficent spirits as a way of establishing and keeping up such relationships. And if you want to maintain relationships with beneficent spirits, you must acknowledge them, at least, and honor them as often as you can.
So if making offerings is specifically how we honor and worship the beneficent spirits, how does one make offerings and how often? How often and how much is strictly up to you. You get out of a relationship what you put into it. But keep in mind that burning out because you are doing too much is just as damaging as doing so little that you have no relationship at all. Also, think about what happens when you give someone too much attention. A relationship can become smothering. Some space apart is healthy for many beings.
That said, I want to address the issue of not connecting with the Deities, Ancestors and other Beneficent spirits because you are too busy or think doing other things is more fun. Unlike others who have written on this subject, I am not going to tell you just to “suck it up” and get on with the work.
On the contrary, if you are having any resistance to honoring your Gods, Ancestors, and other Beneficent Spirits on a regular basis, this is a very important signal that I advise you not to ignore. If you do not want to make offerings and prayers to the beneficent deities, ask yourself why? Is this really the right path for you? If it isn’t, you might want to take time to carefully think about the path you are taking and the consequences of your actions or inactions to yourself and those around you.
However, sometimes we want very much to do something; then we don’t do it. This is called “resistance.” Resistance is actually a survival instinct for humans. And beating yourself up — and letting someone else heap guilt on you over it, will not help you to become better at anything at all, not in the long term. And, in fact, you might wind up hating whatever you are trying to do such that you never do it again. You see, the survival part of your brain does not want you to do something strange or unusual because that thing might be perceived instinctually as a threat to your survival. Those who are experts in psychology have studied resistance. And some have written about it. For example, the “Queen of Resistance” is a woman named Barbara Sher. Sher has written many books and has many materials for overcoming resistance. I, myself, have used those tools for over three decades with great results.
One of Sher’s best and most straightforward techniques is to simply spend a set time each day doing something, let’s say in this case: ten minutes doing devotions to your beneficent guardian spirits, whomever they might be. For some, this works wonderfully but for others, maybe even most, this may not work so well, and Sher tells you this.
So, let’s say in this case, you get up in the morning all ready to say your prayers and offer a stick of incense, and then, suddenly, you just don’t feel like it. You make up an excuse to do something else. You do something else. Then you get distracted by email. The you go off to work. And soon you’re eating lunch. And before you know it it is dinner time. Then you think, “oh well, it’s too late now. Just forget it. I will try again tomorrow.”
But the next day comes and the same thing happens. You still don’t do your devotions. And the next day, the same. If this sounds like you (and I know it has been me!), why are you doing that? Is it that you do not know what to say or don’t know what to offer?
In that case, sit down for ten minutes a day and write down things you might say to the deities or spirits. Do research on your God or beneficent spirit and find out what he or she likes as an offering. Spend another ten minutes the next day planning how you will get the offering and write or find a prayer until you are ready to spend the ten minutes on the devotion. If you cannot offer the flowers, or sweets, or libations for whatever reason, offer a stick of incense. If you cannot do that, offer the light of a candle or electric candle.
Can’t afford the ten minutes? Is it too much? How about five minutes? No? Then two minutes. Still too much?
Then say aloud and with conviction, “I don’t want to do this! I will not do this! I will not worship any of these beings! I refuse!” Seriously.
Everyday you balk, for whatever reason, at worshiping or connecting with the deities, ancestors, or nature sprits, say out loud that you will not do your devotions! At some point, I promise you, you will stop saying it (you might even burst out laughing at how silly all this resistance is) and start doing the worship. Just try it. And don’t believe me. Try it for yourself and feel free to read more techniques that Barbara Sher has come up with in this book which is free online here. (By the way, to my knowledge, Sher is not religious. But her techniques apply to anything you want to accomplish.)
Then, after you do devotions for a while, your life will change in wonderful ways, as mine did and others have, and you won’t want to live any other way. You will start missing your Gods, ancestors and the land spirits when you have spent too much time away from them, just as you would miss your human family and friends.
So, now, how do you get ideas for devotions? And what really is a devotion?
And what if standing each day at a shrine and saying a prayer and offering a stick of incense is just not working for you?
There are plenty of books and help for learning to do devotions. For me, having an anchor of some sort, especially if I am only half awake in the morning is the best thing. So I plan and use, for my anchor, a payer book. If you go here in my blog you can start to learn how to make your own. But will this work for you? Only you can say. Perhaps you like spontaneous prayer and offerings. Perhaps all you need to do is set aside a time every day to do something spontaneous or even just put it on your “to do list” each day and check off your devotions whenever you go out and do that spontaneous thing. You can even combine your devotion with another activity, such as a daily walk or a craft that you dedicate to your pantheon. Perhaps, for example, you have dedicated yourself to making the best rune sets for others to use. Or perhaps you love to sing compose and are determined to build a body of hymns for your deities. Doing those things each day can be your devotion, your offering.
What is important is to do a little often. You will accomplish far more than you can imagine that way. Try it. You will see. Even if it is only two minutes a day.
I like how this Polytheist Organization defines devotion here:
The Fellowship promotes the giving of offering to the Powers guiding its individual members and communities of members as its highest expression of worship. The Fellowship asserts that the offering of art, song, praise, labor, and other gifts of value—even aesthetic value—are sufficient as expressions of hospitality towards the Powers. (http://fodla.org/vision.pdf — emphasis mine).
What has happened to me, sometimes, though, and I have seen it happen to others, is that soon devotions become work, drudgery, boring, uninspired, mechanical. As one Pagan at Pantheacon put it “daily practice sucks.” Should I drag myself through doing such devotions anyway?
Well, for me personally, if my daily practice sucks, I just don’t do it. And I don’t apologize for that. Nor do I think I am wrong in that. If my relationship with a human, for example, has started to “suck,” I don’t continue to maintain that relationship as is, but instead see it as a signal that something is wrong and needs to be changed. I see that I have become embedded in a dysfunctional or stagnate relationship. And getting stuck means no growth. Then, I would ask myself, “what’s gone wrong? And how can I make it better?” In a human relationship, for example, I find that if I don’t change things, both the other person and myself become unhappy and stop growing.
So, in a devotional situation, I might try some of the things that I would try in a human relationship. Maybe my Deity doesn’t want to hear the same exact prayer every day. Maybe what I am offering could be better. Maybe if I have been offering a libation of grape juice each month to the Nature Spirits of my land, they would prefer porridge, or corn meal, or tobacco. Or maybe a variety. Maybe I could inspire and stretch myself by writing or finding new prayers, or song, or a dance or an art work, or by planting a tree or cleaning up a local park. Maybe I have been asking the Ancestors for things but neglecting to give them a good feast of things they like to eat. And let’s say I happen to love to cook or bake. Why not exercise my love and talent in cooking for Them! That’s an idea!
I know that in my own culture we have a mistaken belief that we cannot and should not enjoy ourselves, that unless we suffer, we are not really doing serious “work” for someone or something. But enjoying what we do, usually actually points to our actual talent, or, as Barbara Sher says, our actual unique “genius” with which we were born. And while her books and writings are not religious, I reason this way: if we are each born with a unique genius, the Gods made, or at least rejoice in that we have evolved this way. And it is our talents, the genius, they want us to use. What greater gift could we possibly give to them? When we see a flower, we do not strip the leaves and put that up as a bouquet. We pick the flower and put it in a vase and love it. We love what is most beautiful about the plant.
So, if your hobby is baking cupcakes for example, think if how happy your human friends are when you share them a gorgeous delicious decorated cupcake of your own recipe instead of forcing yourself to do something for them that makes you miserable? Anyone who loves you would rather not see you miserable but happy. And, hey, your cupcakes are the best! Maybe it is time to offer the Ancestors, Deities, or Nature Spirits one of your stunning cupcakes instead of droning on and on a prayer that just bores and exhausts you — and probably them!
But suppose you’ve done all kinds of devotions for months or even a year or two and you still end up feeling empty and exhausted. Is it possible to do all those sincere devotions and not feel any connection to the beneficent spirits you are worshipping?
Yes. It has happened to some people. And it has happened to me. It happens when one is worshipping the wrong God or gods or ancestors for them. Just like you “hit it off” with some people, you will hit it off with various Gods and spirits as well. The saddest thing I have ever seen is when someone works so hard to give offerings, devotions and prayers to Gods only to conclude that those Gods do not even exist. I have known people who have devoted years, regularly worshipping, even on a daily basis, not to have those particular Gods reciprocate at all. If that happens to you, I ask you to please stop worshipping them now. Yes, sometimes it takes awhile to get their attention, and maybe that is what is happening here. But if you are being sincere and doing your best and you get little to no response, stop and find other Gods, ancestors and/or beneficent spirits. There are at least thousands to choose from.
How can you tell if a Spiritual Being is responding? Usually it will be pretty clear if you keep yourself open. Little (or sometimes big) serendipitous things will happen — you will start seeing the deities’ symbol or color everywhere; someone will start, seemingly out of the blue, telling you about a story they read that is your Deities’ myth; some boon you have asked for will be granted in the most unexpected way; or you will be in a bad situation and suddenly you will see in your mind your deity and gain strength and perhaps a flash of insight on how to solve your problem. And you will solve it! Maybe you will have a vivid and lucid dream. That has happened unexpectedly to me on several occasions (and I do not deliberately practice lucid dreaming, so such dreams, for me, are even more surprising).
But if you go for months and nothing like this happens — or worse, when you do your devotions you get the distinct feeling of indifference, it may not be that the Being does not exist, but merely that 1) He or She wants to see how sincere you are first, or 2) doesn’t warm up to you and you not to Him or 3) He or She knows that that another deity is interested in you or already following you around — that another Deity was there first, so to speak
For example, it is not uncommon for a Deity to choose a devotee. So let’s say Athene has already chosen you and knows you and She would have a good reciprocal relationship (She is, after all, a Goddess and knows much more than any of us do). But you are not really aware of Her consciously and focus worship on Thor instead. I think the gods are very wise and know more than we do. I think it is possible that Thor might know that Athena is about and so He steps aside so you can get to know Athena better. This is completely my Unverified Personal Gnosis, but it definitely fits in with my experience over the decades.
I can give you an example directly from my own personal experience. I originally was completely convinced that I was meant to worship a Celtic pantheon because I felt drawn to my Cornish and Welsh background. Even my German Grandmother came from an area of Germany which had been largely Celtic originally. Thus I focused my worship on Celtic Deities for many years, first in Wicca because I was told that Celtic worship was Wiccan. But Wicca just did not fit well with me at all; and I saw many things about it that were not Celtic. Eventually, I found myself in Celtic Druidry, but that didn’t work either. So then I started taking a look at Celtic Reconstructionism. But try as hard as I might, Celtic Pantheons just left me completely cold. I felt nothing for Celtic Gods, languages, culture or mythology. None of those Gods spoke to me at all, even though I tried praying, talking, and devoting my practice to them.
Then, while working within Druidry researching the ancient Celts and I wound up gravitating and having experiences with the mythology and deities of Persian, and Vedic pantheons. Moreover, when trying to learn the Oghams someone suggested I learn something about the runes as well. That is when I found myself having relationships with, not the Celtic but the Germanic Deities. And the Oghams lost all interest for me.
Although I do not believe anyone has to be of a particular ethnicity to be called by the Gods of a particular culture, I do believe our ancestors call us. I had long been estranged from parts of my family that were notably Celtic. What was interesting, was that when I took a series of DNA tests, I learned that the ancestry I had actually inherited, which I had never been told about, included Iranian and Orcadian (which is largely Norse)! What a big surprise!
So, don’t be too sure that who you choose to worship will be the ones you will end up worshipping and having relationships with. Give yourself time and be patient with yourself. If your devotions are not being reciprocated with a close feelings to those you worship, try asking for guidance and try worshipping other Beings to whom you have felt drawn for reasons unknown. Sometimes we find ourselves in a kind of unconscious stubborn denial before we find our way, as I did.
I hope these posts were helpful to you in your search for how to worship the Deities and beneficent spirits. I hope these ideas will help you set yourself on a spiritual path that fits both you and your Gods. Again, if anyone tells you to worship the Gods in a way that doesn’t feel right to you, pay attention to that signal. Keep exploring and learning until you find yourself on the right path for you and your Gods.