Morning Devotionals

Ceisiwr Serith, one of the ADF leaders, posted a morning devotional to his blog a while back and linked to it during one of the discussions on the ADF dedicants’ list. It’s a moderately elaborate and attractive order of devotion rising directly out of the ADF conceptual structure, though I have to say for myself that it is almost overly elaborate despite its deliberate brevity. My own sensibilities are somehow unwilling to engage with it, though, and I’m left with a feeling that I’m somehow missing something. I want then to work through my reluctance here so that I can come to better understanding of how his devotional interacts with the divine.

Devotional Acts as Cosmogony

In his introduction to his exposition on the devotional he says

… religious practice is supposed to be a high priority; life seems to get in the way. In response to this, I’ve developed a short devotional for the morning that covers the bases, and does it in about two minutes.

The order progresses at his two shrines, one for the home and then his primary, and follows a threefold structure of self-purification, establishing the cosmos as a tripartite circle around the devotee, and finally invoking and making an offering of prayer to the three kindreds of gods, land spirits and ancestors. Insofar as he uses 1) preestablished poetic diction, 2) gestures and bodily positions and 3) a holy space set within the home, this feels actually quite Christian to me. I know that it is backed up with good research – we know, for example, that Roman houses had personal shrines in them and that prayers to the gods in every culture often involved gestural components – but I cannot help feeling that there is a disjunction here.

I realize that I am most likely reacting out of a desire to distance myself from the attitudes and perspectives of my Christian past. I was very avid in my devotionals then, praying in Latin, using a rosary, and often singing hymns as part of the daily offices, but, other than the comfort that comes from the constancy of and participation in a longstanding tradition, there was very little of the divine in what I did. I only received an ‘answer’ to a prayer once, and it was not exactly what tradition would lead me to expect from the Christian god. I saw the disjunction then, and the best way that I can describe it is the insistent feeling that, as I knelt in prayer, the divine hosts stood back away from me and watched, unmoving. This was exactly opposite to my desired state, which was to draw close to the divine, participate in the divine and thereby achieve a kind of union with the divine. I have only begun to really ‘get’ why this was so.

At the heart of Christian ideology – I can’t believe I am actually using that word! – is a rejection of the mundane or worldly in favor of a transcendent divinity. At its most basic, the foundational narrative of Genesis establishes corruption as a basic opposition to and thus subsequently perverting force against divine law; by implication then, the entirety of creation needs to be reformed at the last judgment because mankind, the Great Project of divinity constructed according to its own image, was corrupted. Thus all that is present to us in this world of this life is corrupted and separate from the divine reality of God’s law. Thus even natural philosophers like Isaac Newton saught an understanding of God through natural law because God’s purpose could not be comprehended by man’s  fallen nature.

While corruption and perversion exist as ideas in non-Christian thought, it is not nearly so central. Hindu philosophy defines Rta as divine law that is perceptible in the natural order of the world, and the Earth Base’d quality of contemporary paganism has almost become a universal truism. In fact, I would go even further than this and say that it is the world itself that is divine. What is more, because the perceptible world is a kind of projection of the divine world into time – this is, of course, an oversimplification of the grossest kind – there is no separation between the phenomena that we see and the divine source from which they spring. Our assumption that how we see the world comes from the world, from the circumstances of our physical surroundings (à la “I’m a pessimist because things always go wrong”) is simply a false conciet fostered by a pattern of thought which owes its existence to the predominance of Abrahamic thought.

I sense that you are probably wondering what this means for morning devotionals.

Simply put, a devotional cannot be separated from the action pertinent to the divinity whose presence you seek. A devotion to Agni, the Vedic god of fire, would entail actually building a fire or at least meditating on the nature of fire. A devotion to Mars would entail actually fighting: training would be good, but an actual fight would be better. A devotion to Ceres would entail planting and tending a crop of wheat, or perhaps making beer. A devotion to Apollo or Lugh would entail studying and then practicing medicine, herbalism and poetry. It’s the practice that really counts. Because the god is in the act party to his peculiar nature of divinity, pursuing that act is to pursue the god. This is why I think you have devotionals in Early Modern Scotland where someone would pronounce a devotional poem while performing a basic task like smooring a fire or cleaning the table. It’s not the prayer that is really important but the act itself. This is not to say that the words are not important. Their purpose is to focus attention and intention, the full energy of the devotee’s spirit, on the divinity in question.

I myself have great difficulty settling on a specific form of devotional because in my mind I don’t really understand the gods well enough individually to feel that I can interact with them deliberately. My devotionals tend to be things like focusing my mind on poetic and colloquial inspiration while drinking coffee or attending to spiritual purification while taking a shower. Thereby the daily acts which are so often dismissed as menial and ‘just normal chores’ become the means by which I live by and through divinity.

It’s not nearly enough, though, and having gone through all of this I cannot help now wondering if I have not actually misunderstood Ceisiwr Serith’s whole purpose and design. Through his threefold act of purification, centering within the divine cosmogony, and invocation, he is establishing a focus for the day, dedicating himself to percieving all action in terms of the divine.

Inventing Devotion

Outside the wind is picking up as if all the world feels the quickening of the divine. I remember all those times over the last three years when I would wake up a little more to the divine in the world and feel that sense of power and easy movement, that intuition that all things are possible. I think that the purpose of a devotional is to awake and heighten such a sensibility. I rememberwaking up in the stone house where I grew up in Virginia and feeling that excitement at being alive, wondering what would come up and overjoyed at the prospect of going out into the world again. As an adult, the trappings of our human society have cluttered my awareness so that I sometimes wonder if the action of the mind does not actually encrust the spirit, limiting its ability to move. A morning devotional then must be a rekindling of that excitement, a stripping off of the mire acquired over the years.

Lately the dogs have been getting me out at about four in the morning, and I have cursed them for it on occasion, but I think that I should embrace this. Much of my own spirituality is (a little ironically) focused on being outside, so I think that I should enact my devotional there. This means that I will need to get some means of holding or drawing water out in our garden (more at least than the little natural pocket in our Oak’s roots that has been serving as my well) and wash first there before fully showering inside.

For a devotional prayer, these occurred to me on looking through some of the invocations offered in Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. Of course, the originals were very Christian in focus:

 Ionnlaidh mi m’aodann
‘sna naoi gatha greine
Mar ionnlaidh mi m’anam
‘sna naoi buadhan buidheiche

Ionnlaidh mi m’aodann
‘sna tri tonna tapaidh
M’anam àlainn a’ nigheadh
leis an teine ‘s an uisge

I wash my face
in the nine beams of the sun
As I wash my soul
in the nine victorious virtues.

I wash my face
in the three waves of quickening cleverness
To wash my beautiful soul
with the fire and the water.

I feel that this needs a third verse, but it will do for now until I can get into a quiet place and really internalize it. I should really also check my grammar in a couple places, but I think this is pretty solid.

Before I settle into handling the cosmogonic portion of the devotional, I think I will need to go back to some of the Loricae that I came across in my first year of graduate school and take a look again at William Sayers’ article “Fergus and the Cosmogonic Sword” (History of Religions 25, pp. 30-56). As for the gods and the other kindred, I’ll just have to keep meditating and paying attention.

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