BAY AREA, Calif. –For nearly two years, members of Solar Cross Temple have offered monthly “Devotions for the People,” a form of online Pagan ministry. While these devotionals stem from a variety of traditions, they more often than not are centered around some form of justice.
According to T. Thorn Coyle, “There is no real measure of success for these devotionals. Whether five people or 500 engage with the process doesn’t matter . . . . What matters to us is that the devotions to gods, goddesses, and ancestors are flowing outward into the world, and are accessible to as many people as want to join us.”
While it’s impossible to know how many people actually participate in these events, there is at least an uptick in how many people declare some level of interest. Temple leaders prefer to publicize these devotions via Facebook and their newsletter, and the most recent one shows 65 attendees, more than double the interest shown for similar events in the past year. That could be indicative of the growing online presence of the temple, or it could be driven by the theme, which focuses on the issue of family separation at America’s southern border.
Written by Sharon Knight and titled “Hekate Bear Witness,” the July 15 devotion opens with questions: “What will it take to open the hearts of the compassionless? What will it take to bind those who cannot find their way to humanity?” The titular god is invoked as protector of children, and is asked to bind those who would rip those families apart.
Other devotionals similarly invoke deities — Lilith and Brigid, for example — but some are focused on ancestors or other spirits, and several are broadly worded to allow the participant to invoke or eschew whichever beings feel appropriate to the individual or group that are carrying them out. A few of the devotionals are purely magical in nature, such as one contributed to Ivo Dominguez, Jr. around “knowing and being.”
Themes are selected either by temple leaders or the individual who agrees to write one for a given month, Coyle said. Board member Crystal Blanton solicits contributions. She has also written more than one herself, to bless the community and honor the suffering and injustice endured by many people of color in this country, past and present, among others.
“While some sociopolitical topics arise due to the events happening in the world,” Blanton explained, “other times we seek devotionals that the authors feel called to write about. There is no exact science to what we are looking for besides a need to support community, nature, justice, and the gods/goddesses/ancestors.”
Describing the scope, Blanton said, “We have had a wide range of topics from inner workings, social justice, and even community healing. Some of the devotionals are from well-known names in the greater Pagan and Polytheist communities, and others are not as known.” The list of guest writers includes “Leni Hester, Lou Florez, Morpheus Ravenna, Anthony Rella, Sarah Clark, Jacki Chuculate and many others.”
Coyle said that these devotionals were once organized as in-person events in the Bay Area, but were migrated to the internet in mid-2016 to expand their reach. While there are no meaningful metrics, she observed that “the format seems to be working just fine.” Per the mission of the temple, “it is important to continue to link spirituality and practical work, and since one of our mandates is to work toward justice, the current form of Devotions for the People was born.”
Blanton expanded on that transition, explaining that temple leaders “originally hosted monthly devotionals in the Bay Area and transitioned to providing monthly devotionals in our newsletters several years ago. The ongoing demands of life often made it hard for people to attend in person, in addition to the fact that not everyone lived in the local area. Providing options for people to participate in a devotional with other Solar Cross members allowed accessibility that may not have been there initially.”
As the temple is effectively based in both California and Oregon, gathering together in one place would be challenging even if there wasn’t a desire to include non-members.
These devotionals are one of the ways that Pagans and polytheists seek to utilize the internet to focus together in a single purpose, but it’s not the only one. For example, there is a series of rituals called “practicing apart together” provided through the Hellenic organization Elaion. However, the Solar Cross devotionals, focused as they are on issues of justice, are positioned to pique the interest of practitioners of a wide variety of traditions. As Facebook algorithms are intended to provide the greatest exposure only to those advertising on the platform, it’s likely that the true reach of this program will never be entirely known.