Let’s start by looking at the word devotion. It dates back to the 13th century and is defined as
1. a) religious fervor, b) an act of prayer or private worship, c) a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation
2. a) the act of devoting [devotion of time and energy], b) the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal [her devotion to the cause]
3. the object of one’s devotion
We can always look at the word “devote” in the way that we use it in our day to day speech. We say things such as “I devoted a large part of the day to housework” or “I’m devoted to ending hunger in my community.” In these cases the word “devote” shows that the thing we are devoted to has power in our lives and means something profound and special. In a matter of a few simple words, “devote” means “to vow”. So by doing devotional work each day in a sacred sense you are renewing your sacred vows to the Gods.
When we talk about our devotion work as Pagans we are talking about taking the time to acknowledge and work with our God and Goddess. We might also wish to take the time to work with Spirit Guides and other entities as well, but our focus should rest in making sure our connection to the Divine is strong. Daily devotions, even if they only last a few minutes each day, help to create that bond that can be so important in our work later on.
The way that I have always related it for those who are new to the Craft is like this. Let’s say you find yourself in a difficult position with your rent one month. For whatever reason times are tough and you’re short on the cash you need to meet your rent for the month and you know that if you don’t pay up your landlord will have you out on the streets regardless of the reasons for your situation. You take a few minutes to try and think of who you know that would be in a position to spare some money for you and a specific person comes to mind. You haven’t really spoken to this person more than a passing “hello” in the last few months, but you were once close and you know this person has always been the giving type before, so why not now? You call up your friend and casually ask for the money you need expecting this to not be a problem. But when you friend sheepishly says no you find yourself a bit surprised. Why? Why should you be surprised that this person you have no real connection with isn’t willing to go out on this limb for you? Should the Gods be any different?
We learn early on that the Gods have personalities and digression just like we do. They will always be there willing to hear what we have to say but they might not always be willing to help. Sometimes it’s because we’re asking for something that they know isn’t right for us or they know we’ll miss out on an important lesson if we get what we’re asking for. But sometimes they may decide not to work with us because they don’t know us and we haven’t connected to them. It’s like if you told your friend that in the above example “trust me, I’ll pay you back in a week”, there is no way for this person to know if you will really pay them back because you don’t have that connection with them. The Gods will look at you the same way. Just because you tell them you are going to follow through with something doesn’t mean they know you will for sure, especially if they haven’t had the chance to work with you, get to know you, and learn what you’re truly like. Are you a person of your word or are you a person “of the moment”, someone that says what they need to in order to get what they want? This is where taking this time to spend with the Gods each day, adding energy to our work with them and creating that connection, becomes so important.
Getting started with a daily devotional practice is always the hardest part. What should you do, how should you do it, how long should it take and when is the right time of day for this sort of work? Everyone is going to be different and everyone’s devotional work will be different, and that is as it should be! Remember, this is a very personal sort of work and one that should be created by the individual as an expression of love and devotion to the Gods. It should never be something done by route and it should never be something that is a chore. It should be approached with love and care.
First let’s look at the “what”. What you do for your devotional practice should be rooted in the idea of showing love and respect. For many people the physical acts taken in devotional practice as the keys to opening the spiritual gateway for this work. So take a moment and think about what physical acts you perform in your other rituals, such as Sabbats and Esbats, which really mean something for you. What things really bring you to a place of sacredness or that open yourself to feeling that magickal energy around you. For me, the act of lighting a candle, lighting incense and smudging the space always makes me feel grounded and centered for spiritual work. These are things that always are part of my personal work that I do for my devotions. For you it may be casting a circle, chanting, or simply sitting in silence at your altar or in a sacred space in nature. Whatever it is find your “trigger” for this sacred point of separation from the mundane to the sacred and make this part of the opening and closing of your work.
How you do your work will be based on several things. Are you someone that likes a lot of ritualized actions and words, things that are planned out ahead of time and follow a format? Or are you rather someone that needs to just be able to be free, doing things as they come to you? Decide how you want your devotions to go as far as how rigid they should be or how free-form you will make them. I am a ritual type person. I have always been more drawn to things such as ceremonial magick, the use of lots of tools and props, ritual drama and the like. Because of this I always including certain words with my candle and incense lighting, I cast banishing pentagrams in the four directions as well as above and below before starting to act as protection during any deep meditation work I may do, I also find that opening and closing with a specific set of words helps me to feel “plugged in” to what I’m doing. From there I am much freer with my work. I call to whatever God or Goddess I’m working with at the time , or the archetypal “Lord and Lady” and either give thanks for things, offer prayer or ask for assistance.
The length of daily devotions is always a big question and can be quite debatable. I personally feel that you should always allow yourself a little more time than you may think you need. When we get into meditation or in a ritual mindset, time becomes non-linear. Something that you think will take you 5 minutes might have taken 45 minutes. If you’re someone that is planning your devotions at the beginning of the day the last thing you want to do is be late for work because you didn’t time your meditation and devotion correctly. The other thing here is that you don’t want to rush. Rushing isn’t doing either you or the Gods any good; it will leave you feeling unsatisfied and leave the Gods feeling that they are just a pit stop along your busy day. For this reason many people that do have busy daily lives with full time jobs, kids to care for and the like may find that doing this work at night, before going to bed when you might be able to get the most peace and quiet, will be the best time to work.
And this brings us to the issue of the time of day. Again, everyone will be different. I personally like to start my day off with my devotional work, but this is because the fact that I work from home under my own terms and hours, I can do this without any need to rush. If I were still working in the corporate world, I would be doing my devotional work at night like I used to. Back then I had experimented with both morning and evening devotions and found that doing the work in the morning never felt connected for me. I would have to wake up earlier than normal in order to get the time in before having to rush off to work. When I did it at night, while I might be a little tired from the day, I was at least able to relax and focus more than in the mornings. The best way to find your right time or day is to experiment. You might find the middle of the afternoon when the kids are at school is the best time for you! Try some different things and do what feels right.