When you’re a pantheist who believes the gods are archetypes, it can be hard to tell where the devotion ends and the inner work begins. If I speak prayers to a deity, or make an offering, or conduct a ritual in their honour – am I expressing devotion to Cosmos? Or am I petitioning unconscious parts of myself, working inner change?
It’s definitely both. And sometimes I’m ok with letting it all merge together without too much analysis. But sometimes I feel a yearning for clarity, a need to draw a line between worship and self-development. Because while they are fluid, they are ultimately opposite – expanding consciousness without, and expanding consciousness within.
The Sabbats have tended to focus, for me, primarily on inner change. And it seems to me that a large amount of the wider Pagan community treats them this way, too. They are seen as metaphors that we can tap into in order to effect similar changes and patterns within ourselves. We “plant seeds” and “harvest”; we “release” and “receive”.
But following this fairly rigid symbolic structure has not really been working for me of late. Instead, I’m feeling the urge to return to pure devotion at the Sabbats. As poignant markers on our yearly cycle, the Sabbats are not about me. They are about Earth, and the yearly cycle of creation and destruction that reflects much bigger such cycles in the wider cosmos.
Yes, these cycles occur within me, too. But not necessarily in tandem with Earth’s plant- and wildlife. I do enjoy the trigger for specific types of contemplation that the Sabbats evoke for their season. But I’m feeling a pull towards letting go of that self-centric habit for the Sabbats themselves, and instead focussing on pure celebration of the cycle of the year – the largest and longest cycle, apart from our own life and death, that we experience tangibly.
But I want to get more serious about developing ritual for inner work, too. I have recently committed to doing regular shadow work, and perhaps a monthly ritual to work through the major shifts and explorations of the month would be beneficial. But I like the idea of this being separate from the Sabbat celebrations.
I’ve been experiencing some frustration with the full and new moons. For the first year or two of my dedicated spiritual practice, these were times for me to “practise” my ritual structure. But at that time, the very act of developing quite a rigid ritual structure was the process by which I solidified my beliefs and personal mythology. So the full and dark moons were times of exciting exploration of my beliefs, as I tried on my latest ritual-shaped cosmology for size.
But since these days I have become much clearer and more comfortable in my cosmology, I have been finding it hard to inject meaning into those days, and sitting down to do arbitrary ritual doesn’t feel right. I have tried before to establish a sort of magical practice for the full and dark moons – doing simple workings to reflect changes I want to invoke. But somehow, that practice hasn’t stuck.
If the Sabbats focus more on the outer, perhaps I will naturally gravitate more towards doing inner work at the dark moons, if not the full moons too.
Of course, both types of ritual – devotional at the Sabbats, inner work at the dark moons – will continue to look quite similar, for me. I will use similar language, I will sit at my altar, I will even – I imagine – have similar emotional experiences. But right now, I feel like making this distinction will be helpful.
And one of the most wonderful things about having a self-made spiritual practice is that I can do this, I can experiment, I can feel out what I need right now and flow with it.