This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and have gone back and forth on. Today seems a day as good as any to attempt it. I suspect it’s a post many people will vehemently disagree with, but I’ll risk it all the same.
Something that I see an increasing number of pagans and polytheists attempting, and struggling with, is daily practice. I’ve talked on previous occasions on “not being afraid to get bored” and so forth with daily practices. However, I’m also asking another question at present: is daily practice really a necessity for many people? And, I’ve come to a conclusion on the matter: no.
In reconstructionist religions, one of the great advantages that has emerged over more general forms of paganism is that there are a variety of possible roles: not everyone is “clergy” or “a priest,” necessarily, in a recon context. I think this is good, because it reflects the very real reality of both premodern cultures and the modern world: not everyone IS a priest, or clergy, nor should they attempt to be if they are either uninterested in or unfit for such a role. Priests and clergy are a specialized form of spiritual practitioner, who are often different from “regular” practitioners and polytheist devotees, in a variety of ways. If you are wondering whether or not you qualify for this, I’d suggest there’s a few questions you can ask yourself on the matter:
Does your everyday living have requirements in it that many people, including other polytheists, don’t have?
Do major life activities–long-term relationships, living conditions, employment conditions, etc.–have restrictions upon them that relate to your relationships with the gods?
Do your everyday decisions have to take into account the reality of your gods in ways that many others don’t? Are there products you can’t buy, activities you can’t do, places you can’t go; or, on the other hand, are there products you MUST buy, activities you MUST do, places you MUST go, whether daily or on a regular basis?
Are there other things that are distinctive about your daily life? Are there clothes or jewelry you have to wear for spiritual reasons, procedures you have to follow for entering or leaving your home, sacred spaces, or other places of note?
All of these questions–and many more–are of the same sort, and pretty much demonstrate that one has a connection to deities that necessitates daily (or in some other manner regular) customary practices, and thus these things are a part of your daily practice, and can in fact entirely constitute your daily practice, as they may all add up to as much time, attention, preparation, and integration as many half-hour-daily meditators end up doing.
But, if you find yourself answering “no” to most of those questions, that doesn’t mean anything bad about you or your relationship(s) to the gods. It takes all kinds, including the innumerable cultists who showed up at a shrine once a year for a certain festival, and did little else in connection with a god, hero, or other divine being in their life apart from that singular festival appearance/attendance on a yearly basis.
The notion in many sorts of paganism that everyone is “their own clergy” and thus has clergy status, and therefore must in a variety of ways perform as if they are clergy, is rather erroneous in my view. As much as certain teachers and practitioners would suggest all of the modern pagan/polytheist population have some sort of daily practice (which usually looks like “daily meditation” in most forms I’ve seen it), I can’t really support that necessity from a general viewpoint, either as a reconstructionist or as a general spiritual practitioner who has many strong deity devotions, including Antinous. What I do and what I am is not to be taken as “an example” of what all people who are devoted to Antinous should be doing, any more than my current unemployment or being without romantic relationships should be taken as “required” for anyone who is devoted to Antinous.
See what I did there? Taking any person’s style of life as “exemplary,” even in one area of their life like spiritual practice, is a very big mistake. Every relationship with every deity, hero, or other divine being requires individualized, particularized, and highly unique negotiation, offers and counter-offers, efforts and counter-efforts, and all sorts of reciprocity as well as contractuality coming into the picture on the part of the gods/heroes/divine beings and the humans who are devoted to them.
This was an issue with the old Oracle of Antinous: there were many people who were interested in Antinous, and who therefore thought that this meant that the god was “calling” them, or would be interested in them, and even though that may or may not have been the case depending on the individual concerned, Antinous doesn’t automatically “want” something from everyone, or even from anyone, including those who are interested in him. Sure, he appreciates being honored by whomever wishes to do so, but that doesn’t mean that he therefore “has a plan” for each of those people–particularly if those people have never bothered to pray, do a ritual to, or in other ways honor him at all, and are waiting for him to “make the first move,” as it were, after they’ve decided they have an interest in him. It doesn’t work like that, and I suspect very highly it never has.
So, I think of my relationship to Antinous, and I realize that others have had it before, and may even have it now–which means that overall, I’m not that special. And, I look at some aspiring Antinoans, and while I’m impressed with their energy and their enthusiasm, I’m also often very put off by their expectations and their arrogance, that they somehow think Antinous–being a god who isn’t that well-known nor widely worshipped today–is somehow hungry for worshippers and will take anyone and treat them like they’re his “best customers” from the get-go (and, inevitably, they prove to have less interest in him when he doesn’t just show up and start granting their wishes immediately), and I think to myself, “I’ve seen these types before…they’re also not that special.”
It isn’t that people aren’t unique and different, and are due the same amount of respect that is due to any human for the simple fact of being human; it’s the notion of entitlement that often goes with the idea that one is human, and perhaps a bit different than many other humans, or even many other pagans and polytheists, and that therefore the gods will respond to one accordingly with little to no effort other than wishes and desires on the part of the human concerned. It simply doesn’t work like that, and I suspect it never will with almost every deity there is that is currently known.
Getting back to practice, though, here’s where I think an important difference needs to be outlined. While “fake it ’til you make it” can often be a good modus operandi to adopt in certain situations within polytheist practice and devotion, one of the things that I don’t think really works is to continue to act like one is some sort of special practitioner, high-level priest, or other such notion in one’s practice, and then expect not only the gods but also other humans to respond accordingly and treat one with all the dignity and social prestige that would have accompanied such a position in the ancient world. If the gods have not asked for one to do some sort of daily devotions to them, or to show their devotion by avoiding certain things or adopting others, then to act as if one doing such is somehow “required” would be an error of commission of a severe sort. The gods may not stop one, because I’m sure they enjoy the attention (sometimes) as much as anyone would; but there’s a big difference between daily devotions done with pure and full-hearted love and the prayer/ritual equivalent of ten spam messages a day.