I don’t belong to many social communities, for one because I can’t stand socio-religious politics, and also because I get bored with one-up-manship and other drama. But every now and then something comes up that causes me thinky thoughts to churn. On a Roman Revivalist group there was a short discussion about reclaiming the word devotion into its original latin context (where is a thing is literally belonging to the gods and is gifted to them as their sole property with no other claims upon it…my summation) and replacing the term with dedication.
Here is where I had to inject because there has been something settling at the back of my mind for a while, ever since devotional polytheism became a word of practice for some folks. For brevity I will say that I don’t define devotion as being synonymous with being of oneself dedicated to a deity (which is how some use the word). As I have a background with Religio Romana back in the day I am quite familiar with the origins of piety and devotion….or familiar enough anyway. But I also think that there is an assumption that everyone who uses the word devotion means it in the manner that it is commonly used. I think that is a mistaken assumption. When I say I am devoted to Apollon I say it with full implications and understanding of what I am saying. I am dedicated to a small handful of deities, but I am devoted to only two, Apollon and his other half Artemis (and that is really because I consider them entirely inseparable in a pretty complex way that I won’t get into in this post). I suspect that there are many polytheists who take this same understanding when they speak of being devoted to a god.
It is based off an understanding that what belongs to the gods, the gods have the privilege to receive whenever the want. Therefore Romans had the habit of devoting their enemies as gifts to the gods in hopes that the gods would snatch up their gifts quickly and lessen the enemy’s force. When I, as a polytheist, talk of being devoted to Apollon it means that I belong in entirety to Apollon. Because I literally gave my life to him, I understand that the days I enjoy, and the gifts I enjoy, are by his favor…..and I understand all too well that he can decide to claim my life at any moment (not that the gods couldn’t do so anyway). Being devoted to a god, thoroughly belonging to a god, is not even a commitment, it is a life long gift. It is about being in the holdings of the deity, doing as to please the god but also receiving the pleasures that the god decides to give to you. Devotion is whole scale personal sacrifice….it is like falling in love in many ways as you make your needs secondary as you realize that every part of you is engaged in the company of your deity. In some ways it brings you to a point of separation in your life from what is considered “normal”. I think the Romans would have been terrified by this, although I imagine there were a few adventurous ones would played dice with fate and devoted themselves to a deity they adored. For Romans though this would have bordered on superstition, and would have been considered undesirable for that reason alone. There is a certain risk with devotion, a risk that can change depending on the individual and on the deity. Not a risk from the deity but from yourself and how your react to the deity’s touch. Madness can easily be one, which is what I think Romans feared above all with regards to Superstition.
I think some Dionysians out there would know exactly where I am coming from with this!