Musings on devotion, servitude, and community

(title can also read: Nothing In This Post is Going To Be New At All)

Because apparently it’s tornado brain season (nothing like deep thoughts with a side helping of mild migraine!), I’m going to keep poking at things, and you get to see! Lucky, lucky you.

In discussion with folks over my last blog post, I keep coming back to this idea of needing to serve the community. I don’t know how prevalent this idea is outside of Heathenry. It was something I really came to be exposed to when dealing with heathens — part and parcel, I think, to the emphasis that gets put on community, on continuing the tribe, on hospitality, and the assorted things that go along that vein — and when I see it being spoken of, I see it largely being spoken of by heathen or heathen-like-types. This doesn’t mean those are the only people speaking thusly, and I’m admitting that right now. I also don’t know how much of this is a bleed over from more clergy-type religions — okay, Christianity. Because, between the more conservative attitudes and the tendency to Lore-thump, I see a lot of overlap between Protestant Christians and American Heathens. (In fairness, this could be more socio-cultural overlap, given than my experiences have been largely in the mid-Atlantic and New England states, for both groupings). But, the idea that in order to be serving the gods you need to be serving the community is an idea that I have issues with. The idea that in order to serve your gods you must give to other humans does not follow, and does not necessarily belong in paganism. At least, I don’t know that it should be allowed to exist in exclusion, in paganism. And really what I mean by that is, your path should not be decided for you by other people who are not walking your path, and too much, time and again, conversations keep leaning over towards, “and you are doing X wrong because of _______.”

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that you can’t serve others. But, to be devoted to a god, or to be a godspouse, you don’t necessarily have to have any Work to do. If you do have Work, it’s perfectly acceptable that that Work only be about you and your deity/ies. Do I think that we should be helping one another along as we can, as we go? Yes. Emphatically yes. Not just other pagans, but people, in life, in general. Which is a very interesting and weird thing for me to be saying, on anti-social, tribal-minded woman that I am. But, you know, it’s like when you’re on a the plane, and you’re being taught what to do in case of emergency, and how, when the air bags are released, you are to secure your own before you help your neighbors. So many of us, far too many of us, are in a state of emergency, often spiritual emergency. We cannot be any use to others if we are not taking care of ourselves. Culturally here in America there is a huge, huge push to give and give and give and give and give, and we are taught that it’s selfish to put ourselves first.

This is broken. This is not okay.

Which is why I say I’m selfish in my life. I am. And I think we should be. I spent a huge chunk of my twenties learning how to live as a functional adult — and learning what functional for me would look like. I know that I’m going to spend a huge portion of my life working on self-healing, but I can already see how that work, that self-reflection and self-care, has enabled me to be able to be generous, with my time and my heart, for others.

Which brings me to community. Time and again people seem to conflate ‘priest’ with ‘clergy’, and I do think that’s partially because the clergy that other religions have, which serves their religion community, are also called priests — but in the past the two were not always interchangeable. I (hesitantly, even after all this time) call myself a priestess of Poseidon’s (when forced to — grr ) but i don’t serve people in His name. I tend a shrine for Him, I offer Him libations every morning, I have evening and morning prayers. I’m not clergy. I’m not qualified at *all* to serve in that manner. I can offer anecdotal stories, I can share my experiences, I can expose my inner workings, and maybe those can be useful to someone.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value community more and more — and I’m still pretty reclusive, pretty tribal. I don’t see ‘the pagan community’ as anything more than clusters of various interfaith communities — because that’s really what we are, a loose confederation of a myriad of various religions that don’t really fit in with the Big Ones. We have enough common ground and enough common causes that such a confederation is useful — safety in numbers and all that — but I think we lose our ability to communicate effectively when we forget that all this dialogue is interfaith dialogue. And, for me, when I say ‘my community’ what I really mean is, my immediate family, and then my other kin, and then their kin that isn’t necessarily mine, and onward and outward. When I say ‘my community’ I don’t mean other humans, most of the time. Which brings me back to the idea of serving ‘the community’ and how people think that those devoted to specific gods/married to specific gods ought to be serving ‘the community’ and I have to wonder: which community? and why? And who are we to judge, we who are on the outside of that relationship, and cannot see all the everything?

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4 thoughts on “Musings on devotion, servitude, and community

  1. There needs to be room in Paganism, as there is in other traditions, for many ways of “doing” various things. I see your and Beth’s approach as being similar to the contemplative communities one sees in some of the monotheistic faiths, such as the Carmelites or Trappists from the Catholic tradition. Not everybody has to be doing the same job. Since there are fewer of us Pagan-folk, I guess it can seem like therefore everybody needs to do everything, but that’s unrealistic.

    If people who believe there can only be one God can manage to wrap their brains around the idea that some nuns run soup kitchens while others vow silence and remain cloistered in prayer, how is it that polytheists seem to have difficulty grasping that some priest/esses and/or God-spouses are called to focus their energies on the community and some are called to focus their energies primarily on their relationship with their God/dess?

    As an aside, making this comparison highlighted the humor of people referring to God-spousery as new. Catholic nuns are often referred to as “brides of Christ,” and I imagine they didn’t invent the idea.

    • If people who believe there can only be one God can manage to wrap their brains around the idea that some nuns run soup kitchens while others vow silence and remain cloistered in prayer, how is it that polytheists seem to have difficulty grasping that some priest/esses and/or God-spouses are called to focus their energies on the community and some are called to focus their energies primarily on their relationship with their God/dess?

      You are amazing. This is so much a part of the problem, and this is such a great way of framing that question. Thank you.

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