Doing the Homework

October 13, 2018 | Filed Under Devotions, History, Things I Think About | No Comments

I fell into a Tumblr discussion yesterday about the need to read as part of developing a spiritual practice. This was a discussion among heathens, so the reading was specifically focused on the sagas and lore, but it applies to any spiritual practice.

There are many ways to work with the gods, and for many people, the easiest thing is to set up an altar and do devotions, and call it good. As with any relationship, however, the more you put into it, the more you find in it.

I tend to fall into intellectual detachment far too easily, so early on, I did some reading, but mostly I focused on doing things to get out of my head. I needed some active experience of the work to create a connection to the work.

As I become more comfortable in my active practice, I picked up the pace of my reading. Understanding the lore and history (however it may be spun by any particular author) helped me connect more deeply with my beliefs, because I can analyze the words and think about what was said, what the original text and context and intent might have been, and how to take what is old and apply it to what I’m doing now. That work deepens my devotional practice, and my devotional practice deepens my understanding and appreciation of the writings.

Some people argue that reading the lore isn’t necessary or helpful, because it’s “not the original version” or “it’s not true, it’s just stories”. No, we don’t know what “the original version” was—or, rather, versions, because each area had its own variations on the gods and myths. Yes, the versions we have now were captured through the lens of outsiders who put their own spin on it, and then adding in the vagaries and changes introduced by well-intentioned but flawed translations, and it’s even further removed from whatever the original versions may have been. That means it’s the same as any other recorded myth or history—spun, altered, diluted—but it’s what we have to work with. Again, our job is to read and analyze it in the context of its place and time in order to understand where it might have come from, and what it may have once been.

Other people object to reading because they don’t want to restrict their practice to what was purportedly done a thousand years ago—not to mention that there are significant holes to fill in the stories. The history is a starting point, but it isn’t a limit on your devotional work. It’s a foundation. We don’t limit ourselves in our daily lives to what was common practice and available knowledge in a particular era of history, and there’s no reason to limit our spiritual practice in such a way, either.

So, yes, you can skip the homework, but why would you deny yourself that that connection to the past, and the opportunity to make more of your present?


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