Reflections on Pagan community, Romano-Celtic Polytheism, localizing
one's path, and interfaith in the Midwest.
Piety and Distance
My shrine is gathering dust right now.
My regular practice has been on hold for weeks, when a combination of life factors (including a series of shootings in my neighborhood) conspired to knock me off-balance in ways that initially manifested as severe anxiety and significant social withdrawal, and has so far resolved into a combination of fragile self-maintenance and insomnia.
The fact that my shrine is gathering dust is officially problematic according to the traditions I work within. The Powers That Be, in their guises as ancestors, spirits, and deities, are beings with whom I am not only supposed to be building relationship, but to whom I have obligations.
And I tried.
When things first started coming apart, I would go to my shrine in the morning and at night and do my devotions to the best of my ability through the distress. When I couldn’t maintain form, I’d say whatever words I had.
Sooner or later I knew that I just didn’t have words, and that showing up for the work was making it harder to rebalance. I was delicate, and every obligation that could be jettisoned had to be.
I remember a conversation I had with my mother maybe ten or fifteen years ago, when she was interrogating me on being a Pagan. We were sitting in the car, her in the driver’s seat and me a passenger, and I remember her saying something to the effect of “Right, but in an emergency I’ll bet you still call on Jesus.”
This has stuck with me, years later, and not just because she was wrong. It sticks because not only was she wrong about who I call when things go wrong, she was wrong about whether I call at all.
Sometimes I do. The last bit of truly dangerous driving I did was basically one very long, slightly panicked prayer to Epona bookended by offerings of incense. But there have been other times that I have been in danger or distress and felt no need to call, like the time I was trapped in an elevator that felt like it might be ready to fall. In that moment, I was less concerned about being looked after and more focused on being prepared to die well in an unfortunate situation.
So when I consider this thing I am doing right now, where my Kindreds have a place in my home that I’m not tending, I have to believe that they understand that what I’m doing now is not disrespect or neglect. It is distance, yes, but it’s distance because I know that my choices are to settle the matters at hand well and without distraction, or to show up every day phoning in devotions that I find emotionally destructive at the moment.
I don’t want to offer to a household god or a patron or a spirit that wants me to hurt and be afraid while I do the work of recovery. If I were among the Kindreds, I wouldn’t want a devotee in my charge to hurt himself for my benefit. These should be reciprocal, loving relationships. Sometimes people need to check out for a little while.
Right now, what I can offer is a place in my home and quiet acknowledgement. It doesn’t look like piety in the traditional sense, but I like to hope the trust I’ve extended to the ones with whom I work tells a deeper story.
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