Though this week’s original prompt, “What do you seek from the divine?” has been switched to a prompt about the types of relationships shared with the divine, I’m actually choosing to write about the first one. I’m doing this because I think being honest about our motivations within relationship, whatever configuration that relationship might be, is part of what helps that relationship develop in a healthy and productive manner.
While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the magico-religious theory that holds a specific action or petition is going to have an automatic result simply for having asked (aka, the cosmic vending machine theory), I am a fairly ends-oriented practitioner in many regards. That is, various religious and magical practices are engaged in with a particular desire in mind. These practices are chosen, in part, because they seem to offer what I hope to achieve and because the process seems compatible with my magical skill, my style of practice, the web of commitments I’m part of, and so forth. It’s the second part that sometimes gets left out in ends-oriented planning.
There’s the cliché story about the teen girl who wants to do a love spell and so heads off to the local witch shop with a shopping list culled from a love spell printed in a book. The proprietor suggests simply making an apple pie instead since all the same ingredients are used (and when I tell the story, I like to add that even if the protagonist is rejected, she still has consolation pie). The girl throws up her hands – that’s too much work! Baking is hard! Can’t I just do a spell for love instead? Yes, this story is a cliché and yes this actually does happen from time to time (witch shop proprietors can certainly tell you a few stories), but there’s more than one lesson to take away from this. First, of course, is the lesson that magick is work and takes effort and skill, just like baking a pie.
The second lesson in this story is about choosing between two paths that lead (ostensibly) to the same outcome. The teenager in the story might be quite terrible at baking and so knows that her efforts are likely to fail and alienate the object of her affection. The teen might also have also engaged in some personal magickal practice and already has a little skill built up. The point is that you have to choose the processes that are most compatible with your skills, aptitudes, experiences, and so forth.
Of course, if I were in this situation, I’d do both. I’d make a love pie and do a love spell. There’s nothing wrong with addressing a problem with multiple strategies to best leverage their respective advantages. This is why I meditate *and* cultivate a consciously more compassionate mindset. This is why I live quietly *and* petition Santa Muerte for a peaceful life. And you know what? The Powers are much more willing to lend a hand if you’re actually making an effort on your own. You will find that their blessings flow more freely and obviously when you make an accounting of what you’re going to do with those blessings.
Like some other magicians, I was never very good at money magick. I could magick up an extra $20 now and then but my success was sporadic and not really dependable. Then a while back I hit on the idea of actually saying what I wanted the money for. What exactly am I doing with the prosperity I’m asking to receive? What are my precise monetary goals? Once I started included this information in my petitions, the magick started working better. I still struggle financially and I’m frequently on a real knife edge of need but when the money flows, it flows – and it flows from me to many other ends that help further the Powers’ presence in this world.
Ultimately I guess I seek a partnership with the Divine that helps me become a better person. I seek to be more capable of helping others and serving the world because thereby do I serve Them. If they are present, here, now, in this world (and they are!), then expanding my efforts towards improving and serving this world is going to help Them. And it does.
But past that ultimate desire is something else, an arching vault of emotional resonance that keeps pulling me up and up. Relationship is not outcome. Relationship is not ends-oriented. Relationship is process, experience, the present moment. Losing sight of that is losing sight of the real power of sacred relationship. Relationship should not be forced into a value-oriented paradigm; we should not have to prove our emotional priorities by holding up the outcomes of our divine relationships. Once again: we should not have to prove our emotional priorities by holding up the outcomes of our divine relationships.
Sometimes – not frequently, but occasionally – there’s an effort in greater pagan and polytheist dialogue to make devotional relationship mean something. And this is fine because devotional relationships can and do have very positive outcomes – but that’s not really the point. It is, however, a place to start. Srila Prapupada replied to a question about the appropriateness of praying to Krishna for money by replying that any prayer was good prayer (I summarize; I can’t recall the precise quote. I believe it’s from a little book called Perfect Answers to Perfect Questions).
Faith is not necessarily automatic. We don’t generally offer our whole hearts to the divine without some indication that they’re there and that they are responsive to us. (There are of, course, major exceptions to this but we’ll set those aside for a moment.) This happens through an exchange of attention, gifts, and so forth. We seek their attention and blessing, which is recognized as evidence of their love and affection. We celebrate their power and presence, which in turn helps endear us to them. Eventually this exchange of energy (rather nicely typified by the rune Gebo) is less about any possible future outcome and more about a present saturated by sharing.
A relationship with the Gods generally begins with desire. We seek something – proximity, affection, refined awareness, knowledge, aid in magick, or the satisfaction of curiosity. Being honest about the fact of desire and trying to identify precisely what is desired is a good thing, a very good thing. Many of Them desire something of us – proximity, affection, refined awareness, knowledge, aid in magick, or the satisfaction of curiosity. Relationship helps achieve these and many, many other desired outcomes. But sooner or later, at some point, all parties of the relationship are participating in something much, much more.