Notes from a Polytheist’s Dictionary

Devotion

1. Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or activity.

1.1 Religious worship or observance.

This knot in my mouth, this tie in my tongue, tying me to you is this religious observance? Love? Something not in the dictionary? I have trawled the history books as they are eaten like bread by ravens and crumpled by their claws like crumbs and in their dust found nothing to describe this. Are there no words for the tongue-tied? Is there no bread?

Invoke

1. Call on (a deity or spirit) in prayer, as a witness, or for inspiration.

To invoke is to call on who is already present and make their presence manifest in this heartbeat of time. To invoke a deity you must have travelled into their labyrinth, taken all the wrong turnings, made your mistakes, fallen from sliding stepping stones into their abyss, climbed out spiderlike on the silken ropes that bind you to them. You must have found your voice screaming on the eagle-winds of their parapets and your silence in their most secret gardens. You must have met their dragons and their worms in death-masks, learnt to wriggle like the most humble thing before emerging from the wormholes of the stars to see your deity in another light.

Prayer

1. A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.

How do we know that we are praying when we do not set aside enough time beside the waterfalls to hear the flute players whose music is pure prayer and floats like a dragonfly to its bittersweet end? If only we could pray like flutists, like waters, rather than casting our boomerangs like throwing axes into the night skies with our iron demands. Is it enough when moths are drawn to our candles and beasts on misericords crowd around bending their ears? Last night I prayed to the horses of the otherworld and they came with indigo skins of twilight. I had a friend who prayed to a pterodactyl and she came from millions of years ago to help with a project she did not understand, that her wings eclipsed, her primal call dismissed. When I prayed to a god I was a minnow swimming amongst other minnows then I was his.

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6 thoughts on “Notes from a Polytheist’s Dictionary

  1. This is a good way to conduct explorations and seek definitions! Though we are tongue-tied, yet may we speak?
    Your words are those of a seeker who knows what is sought but is also aware of its elusiveness and of the commitment needed to find it.

    I’m always torn between using ‘Invoke’ and ‘Evoke’. The first has the usage “addressing in prayer” but also “to ask for assistance” and further “to summon” (as ritual magicians attempt to do) – or perhaps as in your “throwing axes into the night skies with our iron demands? The second avoids the implications of the imperative voice. Its usages are “to draw out”, “to awaken in the mind”, “to get a response from”. It might suggest an act of imaginative vision rather than the actual presence of a deity, but I usually prefer it to the suggestion that we can demand a presence.

    Already seeking definitions is aiding exploratory thought!

    1. I’m not quite sure either ‘invoke’ or ‘evoke’ fits completely with how I address a deity actually. As a process I’d tend to begin by speaking their name, their epithets, any forms of praise that come into my mind and invite them to share their presence. It’s extremely rare I’d use anything formal. A general term I’m more comfortable with is ‘call to’.

      This is in personal practice. I guess in a group ritual it may be necessary for someone with a relationship with a deity to speak a more formal invitation… and perhaps we’re speaking about invitations here rather than invocations… to give others a sense of the deity and invite their presence into the rite.

      I definitely agree we cannot demand their presence!

  2. I recently re-opened a book by a well known spiritualist and found him referring to a participant in some group or other whose guide always came through in the form of a kipper. She would apparently make the appropriate pouting gestures.

    As you know, I’m not religiously inclined, but much prefer the tenor of your words to the borrowed terms of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ you seem to be deconstructing . I’d be hoping for some kind of dialogue, verbal or otherwise, with any ‘deity’ -so would worry about ‘worship’ or ‘devotion’. Could we say that an emanation of ‘love’ (of the unconditional and communal-as-well-personal kind) -particularly during challenging times- is the signature of a deity, and that this is what might make it possible to love, or become devoted to them?

    It occurs to me that dedication to a calling can be an unspoken form of devotion …

    We saw and felt something like this during the Britannia Coconut Dancers’ annual procession round Bacup yesterday. It was enigmatically wonderful, and just what we needed. šŸ™‚

    1. As a religiously inclined polytheist I’m comfortable with the term ‘devotion’ and seen it as really central to both my relationship with the gods and the land, and I definitely see my path as an awenydd as a form of devotion to my gods and the land spirits. I’d agree this has to be based on dialogue and respectful relationship and that when a deity shows love through hard times this is a signature of their presence that inspires devotion.

      I’m comfortable with ‘worship’ too in the sense of giving worth to something/somebody numinous and wonderful whose being lies beyond our perception. I feel like the odd one out in this in the pagan world. The other week I was sitting at the end of a table at dinnertime during a drum making workshop and when one person said ‘we don’t worship the gods’ everybody agreed and nodded along. I didn’t have to energy to be the lone obejctor. I’ve found this is the tendency in most pagan/druid/shamanistic groups, except when UCLan Pagan Society had Heathen members.

      The Coconut Dancing sounds great šŸ™‚

      1. Yes, I’d noticed that. I think I had too many difficult associations with Christianity to be comfortable with ‘worship’, but like the definition you give here. Hopefully no-one’s language need become an orthodoxy šŸ™‚

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