There is an interesting thing that happens with new converts to pagan religions, at least within my observation. They often get very, very fixated on the basics of esoteric stuff.
And I wonder if this is a legacy of the mind-body dualism of Western culture, in which there is the world of spirit and the world of muck. Or if it’s a leftover of that whole You Must Have A Personal Relationship With God thing.
But the questions, regardless of which religion they wind up in, are almost always the same: How do I find my patron? What if the Powers don’t like me? What should I do for this festival? How do I do ritual? What should I believe?
Not a one of them comes in and asks a question like, “Okay, now that I’m converting to this new religion, what does that mean about breakfast?”
Or “What does that mean about how to drive to work?”
Or any “what does that mean about…” something that is practical, present, tangible, and ordinary. Because religion is not about the ordinary. Religion is about the special. Right?
Wrong. It’s not what you do when you’ve gotten into your fancy-assed festival pants and are sure the gods are watching. It’s what you do when it’s just you, your life, your problems, that jerk who cut you off, that shopping cart left in the lane in the parking lot, that decision about whether or not to skip breakfast again, that moment when everything drops away and the work just flows like it could go on forever, the sudden hug from a child taking a moment’s break from dancing the day away.
But people get deeply hung up on questions like whether or not their favorite deity likes them back. As if those were questions that mattered. And that’s the thing: those questions don’t matter all that much. Those questions are diversions from the actual art of living.
Personal piety is just that, personal. Your relationships with the Powers are going to be between you and the Powers, and, like most relationships, will be effectively invisible. If you have a specific relationship with one or more Powers, it seems to me far more relevant to consider what that inspires you to manifest in the world than whether or not that particular Power likes chocolate.
And the thing about manifesting in the world is that you can do it even if you don’t have a relationship with a Power. That’s the foundation. It’s been the foundation of Egyptian religion at least since the First Intermediate Period, in which people re-evaluated the absolute Divine Right of Kings philosophy and started to write more like, “I was a nomarch blessed by the Powers. You can tell that I had divine favor because…” and that because included their works, their care for the people of their region, their building of infrastructure, all of those things that were actually doing in the world. Basking in the grace of a Power is meaningless if it does not manifest in the world – and I would suspect that if the Power’s work is not actually done by the follower, that grace will not last. Ancient religion is and always has been a matter of reciprocal gifts (and occasionally reciprocal threats), after all.
If you fuck up your relationship with a particular Power because of the wrong chocolate, after all, that’s just between you and the Power.
If you fuck up your relationship with the world because you are more concerned with soliciting the goodwill of a Power than feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, emboatening the boatless, and all of that kind of thing, well, your piety isn’t doing anyone any damn good, is it? If you can’t hug your children so they have souls, if you can’t manage the connective justice of right relationship with others, if you can’t put your shopping carts back in the cart return, if you can’t leave your job at work when you go home, then you have a problem with your religion even if you perform your formal rituals perfectly and lay out the offerings on clean white linen every day.
What you do in shrine is a relationship, and you need to do right by it.
But it’s just one relationship, or at most a few.
You have a lot more relationships than that, and they are all holy.