Just read an interesting post (which is a continuation of an earlier post) by Galina Krasskova over at Patheos. Now, I don’t always agree with everything she has to say, I even had some quibbles with a few things in this essay, but overall I’m on board with the whole service-to-the-gods focus, and I especially resonated with this:
“In some ways it involves a radical paradigm shift: it’s not about us. There’s something about all our communities that has taught us to approach spiritual work from the perspective that it’s all about our growth, our enlightenment; and while that might be part of it, yes, a byproduct as I mention above, it’s not the biggest part. Rather it’s about service and right relationship with the dead, with the Gods, with the land. This benefits us but it’s not about us.”
Absolutely. It always throws me a bit when a pagan is talking about their spirituality and I start realizing that their concept of such is entirely self-centered – what will make them a better person, what will heal their old wounds, spells that will help them, rituals done only for fun or self-interest rather than actual worship. Rarely in any aspect of life does one receive something without giving something, yet these people seem to think that spirituality is the exception. The gods, if they are acknowledged at all, are just there to provide blessings on demand, without any strings attached.
Of course, not all pagans are of this sort, but even in circles of more serious-minded and traditional polytheist folks, one sometimes sees an aversion to the idea of service for the sake of service, of turning over one’s life to the gods and spirits, of making choices based on what is asked of us, what is the right path, even if it might be inconvenient or painful.
And yes, I agree with Krasskova, there is a right path. Or rather, many of them, depending on who you are, who your gods are, what your job (spiritually speaking) is, etc. So while my right path may not be yours, may even be in opposition to yours and still be correct and approved by divine powers, it is still important to distinguish from those paths that might seem merely appealing to me, or easier (or even harder, since I’m somewhat of a masochist). Not all paths lead up the same mountain, and not all paths lead anywhere at all, or not anywhere good.
How to discern the right path? Give it over to the gods and spirits. Let Them show you what direction to move in, and then (1) actually listen to Them rather than to your own desires and (2) actually do it! Don’t ask for guidance and then ignore what’s offered. And don’t be afraid to do something scary, something different, something unplanned and unexpected, if it’s clearly being asked of you. Those are often the things that lead to the best parts. Maybe not even for you personally, but for others, or the gods themselves, or the land you live on… because it’s not always about us.
When you live in “right relationship” (I like that term) with the gods and spirits and the things They hold dear, it requires certain sacrifices and bestows many gifts (different in quantity and quality with each person), but the best gift is the service itself. These divine entities, that have inspired majestic temples, stunning works of art, festivals attended by thousands, moving hymns – that inhabit the inner workings of the very world itself, the sky and earth and rain and trees, sex and death and creation and entropy – that fill our world with magic, our bodies with ecstasy, our minds with visions… what could be a better use of our lives than to serve Them?