Devotion while depressed

My post on the spirit of depression gets waves of likes from time to time, and the article I wrote on treating depression in a Pagan context remains one of the most popular pieces I wrote for the Wild Hunt.  I don’t know that Pagans and polytheists suffer depression more than other people, but it does matter to us.

Recently — and perhaps for the first time — I recognized a pattern which may help me avoid the worst of symptoms.  When I am energetic and enthused I commit to things, and those commitments can build like a wave which slams me flat.  My mistake has been in committing based on my best days, because when they occur it’s difficult to recall what the worst feel like.  That can lead to me falling short, which only compounds the problem.

In recent weeks I have completed obligations around running an event for a hundred people and mostly finalized a budget for a small nonprofit, but I also agreed to several days of travel in the name of my religion and to strengthen ties with my ancestors, all before Thanksgiving, the gateway to American stress season.  Oops.

One way I am scaling back is in relation to the gods.  I’ve temporarily suspended my practice of writing down all of my offerings, for example.  In addition, the temple I keep as priest of Poseidon is in what I characterize as a slow-maintenance period; I dismantled, cleaned, and reorganized the space but I am reinstalling deity therein at a seismic pace.  Last week I put a cloth on the altar, and yesterday I placed a candle holder.  (Poseidon is a patient god; as long as I move faster than the tectonic plates in this he is not displeased.)

Spirits and gods don’t always understand human needs, but if they desire our service they must sometimes accede to our limitations.  If they are playing the long game, they will listen.  Poseidon recognizes slack tide.  I am grateful for his nature.

What role does mystery play in your tradition?

If I’m not mistaken, the idea of mysteries comes from Hellenic tradition, so there’s that.  Some percentage of Hellenic Pagans have embraced mysteries ever since, right up until the present day.  The question is about my tradition, and that’s the answer.  I haven’t personally been initiated into any Hellenic mysteries, but there is something itching at the edge of my brain which may change that fact at some point.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?

I had a friend once who used as his motto, “No promises made, no promises broken.”  That may be the only way one could honestly answer “no” to this question.

The bargains I have more trouble holding up are the open-ended ones.  Sometimes I will get clear direction to give up or modify a behavior, without it being tied to any specific bargain on my part.  Not knowing the higher purpose of what’s being asked is tricky, but that’s what I generally have to deal with when I don’t initiate the bargain myself.  That’s one of the reasons I never felt particularly led to give anything up for Lent when I was Catholic; the church at that time did a really bad job of explaining why I sh9uld, no one in my family modeled the behavior, and I was never motivated enough to find out why the priests thought it was useful.

When it’s my idea, though, I know what I’m offering, and I know what I’m asking for.  A little concrete thought goes a long way for a practical guy like me.  So I make bargains with Ares to avoid conflict, or to gird myself if it’s inevitable, and I deal with Hermes to protect myself and my home from thieves.  I have a clear goal in mind, and a clear idea of what I want to offer in return — which is subject to negotiation, of course.

Folks who are more sensitive to their gods’ words likely have more productive conversations, and doubtless find bargains initiated by those deities to be less trying.  I don’t hear my gods well, so I make do with what I have.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?

This is where I have drifted from the traditionalist to the localized form of Hellenismos.  I’m very interested in learning more about ancient Hellenic festival structure and applying it to my practice, but applying it in a relevant, modern, and local context is important to me.  So far the only festivals I celebrate are:

  • The festival of lilies, when I give some of the abundant tiger lilies around my home as offerings, and
  • The Hermaia Agoraia, an opening of the markets for the secular holidays.

I’m in no rush to add more, expecting that new ones will manifest when the time is right for them.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What blocks to devotion have you had to overcome?

This all comes down to lack.

  • I sometimes lack a desire to perform devotions.
  • I have lacked faith in the gods I claimed to worship.
  • Likewise, in a secular world, I sometimes feel like the belief that this is all worthwhile is mostly beaten out of me.

I get depressed.  (Let’s be clear what this means.  Depression is a mood and an illness, and the two are often conflated.  Some years ago when I was suffering mightily from the illness of that name, I attended a “Norseworking” healing ritual; when I told the leader of my ailment, she suggested I “grab some energy when the ‘warm fuzzies’ come around.”  Warm fuzzies may tickle a mood, but the suggestion was one of the best-intentioned utter dismissals I have even been subject to.)  Depression interferes with just about every mental process, including relations with the gods.  There’s a reason my Catholic mother finds the poem Footprints in the Sand to be inspiring:  depression cuts you off from men and gods alike.  There’s no greater obstacle than that.

Luckily for me, routine is the core of an orthopraxic religion.  I can perform devotions whether or not I happen to believe on any given day, and I’ve performed daily devotions long enough that they’ve become a habit for me.  In other words, I’m more likely to do them in my sleep than not do them at all.  That’s good, because depression amplifies the feelings of hopelessness and being a tool that our secular world create without effort.

In the before-times, when I simply described myself as Pagan but couldn’t articulate what exactly that meant for me other than an enduring love of the Earth and an attraction to forest gods, the obstacles were greater.  I never quite got myself into a ritual routine as I have now, so it didn’t take so much to undermine me.  I didn’t feel any divine forces unless I was in nature, or in a group ritual, if at all, and I needed that to inspire me to act.

I was all but saying, “Show me that you’re real from time to time, and I’ll honor you.”

But I really can’t say enough about orthopraxy and the power of forming habits.  The idea is present in many, if not all, Pagan religions, but Hellenic practice spoke to me in the most sure voice.  I’m sure that any Pagan can become more rooted in eir faith with some solid routine, whether they come from a reconstructionist, traditionalist, polytraditionalist, or pretty much any perspective at all.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?

Obstacles?  Not hardly, not so that I noticed.  But for that response to make sense, it needs context.

I’ve had people look at me like I had two heads when I acknowledged worshiping the ancient Greek gods.  You know, the same look people get when they proclaim that they believe Jesus is their personal and literal savior.  I don’t think that people believing I’m a little nuts is particularly an obstacle, because I mostly keep conversations about my religion out of places where it doesn’t belong, like in the workplace.  And if I did consider that reaction to be an obstacle, then it would be present no matter what deity-centric religion I followed.  It’s not cool to believe in literal-yet-unseen beings.

Has being part of a minority religion ever made me feel uncomfortable?  Hmm, there was the one boss I worked for who demanded all offices be closed and empty by one o’clock on Good Friday, but he didn’t make me go to church with him.  I had another boss who moonlighted as a minister, and while he did bring his religion into the stories he told, it never felt like recruitment to me.

Most people in my word are members of a religion in name only, if at all.  Secularization is in, but it’s a Christian-focused secularism.  You notice that more when you’re not trying to be Christian, or when you’re trying to be something other than Christian.  It can be annoying, but I’d rather call it ignorance of the masses than any form of privilege.  Just because nobody could hear the Whos didn’t mean that they were being silenced, they were just small and commensurately quiet.

This experience of mine is all about external obstacles, or lack thereof, which I define as coming from society and the environment; I’ve never had any internal obstacles either, those which stem from vows, taboos, or otherwise from relationships with one’s gods.  I’ve kept all my vows, including two which are ongoing, and I have no taboos or divinely-inspired restrictions which might create obstacles.  If I did, though, I would try to celebrate them, for surely such obstacles would lead me onto a path I might have otherwise never noticed.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What methods of inducing altered states of conscious[ness] does your tradition have?

As with anything in a localized, reconstructed tradition, the answers can come from “there and then” or “here and now.”

There and then altered states were most famously (and perhaps apocryphally) induced by gases leaking up from a volcanic vent.  Alcohol was pretty popular in some corners of the world, too.

Here and now I’m aware that many of my co-religionists have mastered techniques, both old and new, to induce trance for oracular work, as well as open themselves to the gods in general.  This is technically hearsay, because I have neither witnessed nor experienced it myself, although I have faith it’s really happening to others.  I simply haven’t felt called to explore this myself, and rely upon those flashes of insight that I receive from time to time.

Someday when I’m not working three or four jobs I may yet learn what works for me.  I had some powerful experiences in my pre-Hellenic days, specifically with Herne, and I’m more than a bit curious what doors I may open by going deep.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.