Welcome to Into The Mystic, a blog about Mystical Paganism and polytheism. My name is R.M. McGrath and I’ll be your guide.
The purpose of this blog is to explore mysticism and contemplative religion in a Pagan or polytheist context. In part, this will be done by looking at how mysticism exists in modern religions such as Hinduism and Christianity especially ‘traditional’ forms of Christianity such as Catholicism or Orthodoxy but sometimes non-traditional denominations, such as the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers). Then, we can explore how it can be applied to a modern polytheistic spiritual practice.
I want to be clear by admitting that I am not an expert on the subject. I’m writing because I’m trying to understand the subject better. My hope is that in writing it down, I will understand it better and I can help educate others.
A Brief Background
For a very long time, I’ve had an interest in devotional polytheism. I was raised Roman Catholic, left the Church in my early teens, and converted to Paganism in 1993. By the end of the 1990s, I had an intense curiosity in Hinduism, especially focusing on a devotional relationship with Sri Ganapati (Ganesha).
The tradition of bhakti (or devotion) runs strong within Hinduism. Perhaps in the West, it is most known via the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) made famous by poets and musicians like Allen Ginsberg and George Harrison in the 60s and 70s.
Today, I live in a very Catholic city and, though it is not my faith, I enjoy the traditions of prayer and devotion within Catholicism still being practiced in our increasingly anti-religious materialistic world. As the religion of my ancestors, I have a deep respect for the tradition. (Though, I also recognize that the Church, as an institution is not without its flaws.)
I am especially drawn to the monastic life and have done spiritual retreats at Catholic abbeys. I am admittedly enamored with the simplicity and communal element of monasticism combined with a prayer-filled life. In 2012, after surviving a life-threatening illness, I flirted with the idea of leaving Paganism for Catholicism to become a monk but my faith is in the gods, not the God of the Bible. (I maintain a fondness for Mary and will even sometimes pray the Rosary with the old Italian ladies at the nearby chapel before going into work.)
After I returned to Paganism and learned about the then-beginning Polytheist movement, I felt like I’d found a bit of what I was looking for. A devotional movement within polytheistic religion. Yet I still find myself going back and forth between Hindu deities and ancient European deities, my relationships and my understanding deepening each time.
What Is Mysticism?
Mysticism is the approach and belief that an individual can have direct contact with the Divine. Traditionally, through devotion and contemplation. Loosely interpreted, many Pagans who practice divination or who invoke deities can be described as ‘mystical’, in the sense that they have a direct contact with the Divine.
However, here we’re going to focus more on the devotional and contemplative aspects of mysticism.
So Why Devotion?
Devotion involves an emotional connection towards the Divine. In pursuing devotion, we are pursuing a more intimate relationship with the Divine. (Which for us, as polytheists, can be the deity of our choice…or the one that chooses us.)
In the Hindu religions, it is common to perform a puja (ritual of worship, often involving praise of the deity and the giving of offerings) daily to one’s ishta-devata (or personal god). Daily ritual, such as this, as well as daily or regular prayer, helps to bring the devotee closer on a spiritual and emotional level, to the deity.
Catholics can attend Mass daily or weekly but can also set up a shrine or prayer corner at home in order to perform their devotionals on a daily (or several times a day) basis. (Praying the Rosary is common among devotional Catholics.)
These all help to keep the devotee from focusing on her or his own ego and its desires, in order to replace them with love for the Divine. These remind devotees on a regular basis about their love for their God or Goddess.
Through prayer, through offerings, through repetition of the Holy Names (or Attributes), we sow the seeds of Divine Love. In this spirit, devotion brings us closer together with our Deity.
Contemplative mysticism is based on the premise that meditation, or silent worship, can bring us closer to the Divine. Silence is important here.
It’s not easy for many of us raised in a culture full of advertisements, TVs, screens, and other distractions. A key concept is that our selfhood is what blocks us from knowing the Divine. So contemplative practices seek to quiet the discursive mind and open ourselves up to our deity.
“So what does all of this have to do with polytheism?”
Admittedly, these are not techniques that are native to ancient polytheistic religions. One might wonder why would someone who worships a Kemetic deity would want to use techniques developed by Hindus or Catholics. I agree that this is foreign and may be distasteful to reconstructionist Pagans.
It’s my belief that since we are not living in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Ireland, Ancient Germany, or Ancient Scandinavia…we must find more modern ways to bring the gods into our world.
Techniques from living devotional traditions such as Hinduism or Catholicism are tools we can use to approach our living and beloved Gods. I cannot always recommend specifically how the individual is to do that as everyone has a different relationship with the Divine.
Modern polytheistic practices that are common today, such as godspouses, might not be authentic to ancient tradition. It was uncommon to have personal relationships to the gods in ancient Greece as well.
But as modern polytheism has been adapting to the needs of its practitioners, this blog will be here to assist those interested in exploring these topics with me.