One of the interesting indications that your spiritual and/or magical path is actually working is that the choices you make have consequences. While all choices have consequences of some kind of other, choices with spiritual weight have the potential to have several degrees of consequence.
Engaging in devotional practice – taking up practices like prayer, praise, worship, ritual, study, etc. etc. have consequences, too. Some of these consequences are direct and more or less expected; for instance, we rather expect that by expressing sacred affection we receive sacred affection in turn. Devotional practice initiates waves of regard that bridge the worlds and establish connections that are sweet and surprising in their intensity.
However, devotional practice (and spiritual engagement more generally) has other consequences that might seem harder to notice. That is, they may not seem to directly follow from a decision to pursue sacred relationship. However, fruit naturally follows the flower; your choice to mingle your world with Theirs will have results and sometimes those results are surprising.
When I talk about the fruit of endeavor I’m talking about natural outcomes, whether or not these outcomes are known from the outset or even specifically desired. Increased sentiment might be a known and desired fruit but increased capacity for feeling is a necessary part of increased sentiment; therefore a devotionalist will find themselves plunged into situations that set new high (and low!) watermarks of emotional sensation. This is fruit, a natural consequence of the path, even if it was not expected when the path was taken up.
I’ve talked some before about the outcomes of devotion, about how one can potentially end up with some cool mystic shit and magical toys along the way – but that this isn’t the point of devotional engagement. I’d like to state this again: devotional practice is more than its outcomes. It is more than its fruit. While devotional practice has the potential to deliver all kinds of amazing experiences to your door, none of this is actually the point.
(“And what is the point?” one part of myself asks another. A whisper growls, “To burn”, and there is a recollection of ecstasy, the taste of transcendence on the tongue.)
If the outcomes of devotion aren’t the point of devotion, how then can one’s devotional activity be judged or measured? Well, it can’t. Not really. I mean, I think that having analytical tools regarding devotional practice and desired outcomes are actually super duper useful, especially when we’re seeking to build a tradition. This is why I prepared an entire session on analyzing devotional practice last year for MGW. Finding concrete ways to think about a highly subjective practice is really important if you desire to improve (keeping in mind that not everyone does and this is totally and perfectly 110% OK because hey, *people pursue religious engagement and yes, even devotion, for all kinds of different reasons*).
A better question might be ‘how should the outcomes of devotion be regarded’ or ‘how is a person’s devotional character exhibited?’
An even better question might be, ‘why do I care?’ or ‘why am I trying to measure a devotional character that isn’t my own?’
We care about our gods. We care about our spiritual beloveds in highly personal ways. We see insults against them as terrible wounds, as things to be argued about, as wrongs to be put right.
We tend to see our gods on our sides. After all, there They are, comforting us in the midst of strife, pointing out solutions, cheering us on to action. They’re clearly on our side.
We must remember that every devotionalist is having exactly the same experience we are. That is, their gods are on their side, too. Even in the midst of circumstances where it seems like They couldn’t possibly want to be allied with people who are hurting them, insulting them, disregarding them.
If I chose to take every insult about Loki as meaningful, I would have no rest.
If I chose to personally defend my beloved against a world full of people who have already decided to hate Him, I would not cease.
Are these fights He really wants me to fight? When I choose to stand up in defense of His character, what am I really trying to accomplish? No matter how genuine my desire to give Him full honor, am I being driven by other motivations?
How badly do I want to be deemed right? How badly do I want to feel like I’ve won?
What, in the end, is there to win? Who will notice that I’m right?
Elsewhere I said today that devotion makes a very poor weapon, especially against other people. Stepping into a devotional universe means that relationship is prioritized and accepting that the mystery of sacred nature is always going to frustrate human attempts to really truly deeply realize it. There is an immense uncertain character to devotional existence that is not talked about. This hidden feature is enough to drive one to distraction, enough to ruin one’s life, and destroy one’s sacred relationship.
The uncertain feature of devotional life is the devotional life of other people.
There they are, living in a universe hot with sacred passions, feeling something you can’t even guess at, whispering words you wish you’d thought of into the ear of your very own private Beloved.
The awareness of the devotional life of other people is a fruit of personal devotional engagement. You eventually learn that you are not alone. This is a natural outcome and even if you started this path thinking you know this truth already, it will come back in repeated harvests.
Who is loved more? Who is loved best? Who is loved correctly? Who is loved rightly?
Who is right?
No one. No one is. That’s not how devotion works.
Who can defend their Beloved best? Who can champion Their cause? Who can rally force to prioritize Their supposed goals?
Who is best?
No one. No one is. That’s not how devotion works.
You can eat the fruits of devotion. You can savor them, thinking that they have been rightly earned, that at some point in the past the right decision was made and here you are, enjoying the fact of your rightness. But remember, this isn’t the point of devotion.
You can reject the fruits of devotion. You can spit them out, try to shove all your practice away and dive back into some other way of being because the choices you made didn’t have the outcomes you thought you wanted, because the outcomes you said you wanted didn’t come without strings attached. But remember, this isn’t the point of devotion, either.
I’ve done both. I’ve held up fruits – the natural outcome, neither earned nor striven for – and thought that I’ve created something, earned something, and that these fruits are indicative of my rightness, my treasured nature. I’ve also tossed fruits aside, feeling betrayed and angry that I’d been tricked into feeling something so deeply that I broke inside and never got to be the same again. I felt picked on, felt like I’d done something wrong, known for sure that I’d failed and stepped off whatever path that was intended for my steps.
I have been repeatedly humbled.
And that is how devotion works.