The Action of Worship

My religion is experienced in the doing.

This became clear to me as I entered the sacred space of our ADF ritual at Pantheacon, lifted my voice to invoke the spirit of Inspiration, and, for a moment, left my mind behind.

When I stepped in front of the altar and began to sing, I was performing a religious and magickal act. It was spontaneous and improvisational, and it originated from within my heart. It was the purest offering I could make.

In that moment, I was not thinking about what it meant to be a Druid. I was not weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the various Druid traditions, or squabbling over the definition of a word or title. No – I was invoking. I was calling down, stirring up, igniting the fire of inspiration in my own heart and in the hearts of all those present.

There was nothing intellectual about it.

“Worship requires action – it is not an intellectual task.”

These words came from Jean “Drum” Pagano, a man I met during my weekend in San Jose. Drum has been involved with ADF since the earliest days, and he serves in various leadership positions within the organization. Drum’s voice, in the few conversations we had in person and through his written word, resonates deeply with me.

Have you ever met someone and felt instantly as though you understood something about them, as though something inside them was very similar to something inside you?

That’s how it felt when I met Drum.

Drum says that worship requires action, and I heard that very message echoed by other Pagan leaders during the conference. So much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is mind work. We blog about our ideas, we argue about our differences, we share memes on Facebook ad nauseam (which, in my opinion, is very low mind work), and we allow this to consume great portions of our day.

What happens, then, when we spend our lives in our mind, on our screens, and even in the pages of our books, but we do not practice the action of worship?

It is no surprise that during November and December of last year, a time when I felt most conflicted about my religious path, that my altar was a wasteland; vacant, and unused. I did not approach it because I was uncertain if I believed in the words that I was saying each morning. I thought about it, and thought about it, and when I couldn’t decide how to think about it, I did nothing.

(If you were reading my blog during that time, you might remember a change in my tone. If you weren’t, you’ll find evidence of the change in the Archives.)

The result of my lack of doing was a period of spiritual stasis. In the absence of regular worship I became a bit more cynical, a little jaded even, and there was no sign of the fire in my heart which I speak of so often. I sing from this fire. I write from this fire. I make love from this fire. Worship keeps the fire burning, even as worship is an extension of this fire.

But then, after I became tired of the cold, dim reality of a life without reverence, I began my daily practice again. When I did, something changed.

I lit a candle, prepared a chalice of water, and laid out a wand made of wood. I gave thanks to the Mother. I called upon the God who had aided me before in the creation of sacred space, and was happy to discover that I could feel His presence again. I made offerings to the Gods and Goddesses, known and unknown, to the Ancestors, and to the Spirits of the Land. I lit a fire for Brighid, and gave thanks to Her. I did all of these things, stumbling from time to time, but reverent as I could muster, and my consciousness began to shift back toward the fire.

Worship requires action. You cannot think yourself into a state of transpersonal awareness. You must do something.

I wonder (more of an imaginative act than an intellection one) if you’ve experienced something similar. Have you been through periods when you thought more than you felt? And, if so, did that throw you off? Perhaps you have a different relationship to the intellect altogether. Perhaps it is a starting point for your experience of worship.

I always love to know what my readers think, but this time I’m going ask:

What do you do?



, ,



23 responses to “The Action of Worship”

  1. DruidMedb Avatar

    I spend a lot of time in my meditation room in front of my home shrine but I really feel connected to the divine when I am outdoors in the woods, the mountains, the desert, at the ocean, it doesn’t matter. Just being outdoors in connection with the world around me is spiritual.
    As a child, this is how I experienced the spiritual. Hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, rafting, kayaking, mountain climbing, that’s how I connected best. When no one was there but me and the spirits I could literally feel the heartbeat of the earth and hear the words of the spirits spoken on the winds.
    After I suffered an injury in the Army, I was restricted from really getting to the deeper wilds. My practice suffered and it hurt so much, I just didn’t want to live anymore, it was that agonizing.
    It took a long time for me to realize that the spiritual was all around me, not just in the deeper places of the wilds. I appreciate the little moments more and can appreciate the beauty around me, even when not in Nature, but there is still something about lying in a patch of wild grasses and gazing up at the sky or sitting on the loamy earth at the base of a great tree, that feels so spiritual and uplifting to me. The world is so much more potent.
     This is still where the spirits talk to me. I feel them in my meditation space but I hear them, and sometimes see them, more often in the wilds.
    Having this connection requires action. When I step into natural space, it is sacred space. I make offerings to the spirits asking that they guide my hands, my head, my heart AND my feet, that I should not do harm to the environment while I am there. I ask for their permission to enter the space and wait until I feel that they have consented.
    I take gloves and trash bags with me on hikes and when I go to the park, one for trash and one for recycling. I do work in the local park (the third largest municipal park in the US) and remove invasive plants. My Grove also propagates and plants native plants for the park service. This is part of my piety, a way to give back to Nature.
    I talk to the spirits as I walk, aloud sometimes. I’m an amateur ethnobotanist, so after years of leading educational hikes on the native use of plants, I know the plants and animals of my environment well and I feel that they know me.
    When I leave the space I make offerings again and thank them for their hospitality, for welcoming me into their home. I also thank the Earth Mother for her abundance and nurturing.

  2. […] A Space For Dialogue Beneath The Sacred Oaks Skip to contentHomeAboutContact TeoPost Archives← The Action of WorshipWhat do we want from our Pagan leaders? Posted on February 27, 2012 by Teo BishopIn this last week […]

  3.  Avatar

    Hi, Teo! I spoke to you very briefly after the sitting meditation outside Z’s ritual. It was a pleasure to meet you.

    I have a working altar in my bedroom, where I have my tools out and deity paraphernalia on display. Most mornings, I light the candles and say prayers to the deities they are for, sit in silent meditation for a while (formerly about 5 minutes, now more like 20), then make kala (a simple self-purification ritual involving charging and drinking water), and go about my day.

    I also have several small shrines to gods an to my house protection spirit, and burn candles and incense at them when I feel moved to do so, usually several times a week.

    It’s been my experience that the more often I spend time sitting and interacting with my gods and spirits, the better I feel. Not always, though. Sometimes sitting meditation triggers panic attacks, which is usually a sign I need to do some digging to figure out what’s up. I definitely find that when I’m feeling depressed and disconnected, it feels both pointless and immensely difficult to go through my observances. That seems to exacerbate the condition, but so do most of the things I find myself doing when having a depressive episode.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Hi, eelsalad. Thanks for the comment and for sharing with us some information about your home shrine.

      I think I’ve experienced something similar to what you described in your comment. The regularity of my practice keeps me smooth and level, but then there are times when my irritations make if difficult to maintain my practice. I’ve gone through entire seasons without a daily practice, and – as I wrote about in this post – I think that only made things worse.

      I’d like to discover some new ways to engage with the irritations or difficult emotions so that I can maintain my practice; to learn how to lay them on the altar, if you will.

      Again, thank you for your comment. It was a pleasure to meet you, too, and I’m glad that you’ve become a part of the dialogue here on Bishop in the Grove!

  4. Arthur Avatar


    There is a great depth to this.  Sometimes just how we can choose to move through a room, or put on our trousers, or turn on the lights – whether we elect to do it either deosil or widdershins – can bring a present moment of holiness to our actions.  Even the raising of our morning coffee cup to salute the four directions can be a moment of worship.  The act of worship is important.  A Christian priest once counseled one could act one’s way into a new way of thinking quicker than one could think one’s way into a new way of acting.  This is the essential importance of worship to me.  The actions inform the way I believe.  This being said, I propose how we select to be mindful in almost any action we undertake can make it into an act of reverence and worship as well.  I contend this is the way of Paganism.  It is not so much of what we think and say as what we do which defines us.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Beautiful comment, Arthur. Thank you for sharing your ideas here. I love the words of the Christian priest, too — I will be returning to those again and again, I imagine.

      Thank you for being a part of this dialogue. I’m grateful for your insights.

  5. Jessica Flowers Avatar

    This brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your experience because I have so often felt this within myself. This plateau that I would stand and stand and stand and stand on…feeling frustrated, broken and without hope. It was only when I began to run…To really run as far and as hard as I could to find the end of the plateau that I finally found the ledge and jumped. I didn’t know what was below me or above me or to the side of or anything…but I jumped anyway because it was all I could do.

    I renewed my fires of inspiration in my personal practice. Incorporating body modification as a sacred art for myself. As a piercer I was able to manifest these things in my work place and within the Pagan community I found the support and community I so yearned for. Shortly there after I was able to write and lead my first ritual EVER. A piercing ritual for a friend of mine that drew on Demeter to guide the process… The community was there, the warmth of the fire burned brightly even as the room was dimly lit and everyone there shared an experience unlike any I have ever known before. 

    I found my calling when I went back to school, as an anthropology major, focused on rites of passage and ritualistic modification. I have continued this path wholeheartedly, learning some hard lessons along the way. But the good outweighs the bad and I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach a workshop on the Sacred Art of Body Modification not only here in South Florida, but also at Florida Pagan Gathering in Ocala (crosses fingers, however things are looking good!)…

    It’s a hard place to be in, but sometimes we need to be in those hard, uncomfortable, dark bottomless pits in order to learn something that will help us get out of it.

    Thank you again for sharing your experience with the community, may the love of the Divine guide you strongly in your path knowing that you have people who support and believe in you.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Blessings to you, Jessica, and thank you for this testimony of your personal experience. I’m happy to hear that you’ve reconnected with that fire in you, and that you have a community to support you in your spiritual growth. I also think it’s wonderful that you’re seeking more education to support your practice and your service!

      May the fire in your heart burn brightly, always.

  6.  Avatar

    Teo – 
    It’s funny that you are blogging about this – my wife and I just had a similar conversation last night about the difference between belief and religion.  We’ve just started going to a church (my wife is Christian, but of a more Deist bent), and generally while she is worshipping, I am in the church kitchen helping prepared the meal for afterwards, or taking care of children in the nursery.  
    For me, the hospitality is my act of worship, that giving is in and of itself a sacred rite.

    And while I may be alone in this, I don’t think that the Gods particularly care if we worship Them or not – every religion has the same basic rules:  Help rather than harm.  Protect the children, the weak, the innocent.  Give if you are able to the less fortunate. See that there is sacredness in life.

    Every one of those rules are prescriptions for action – everything else is just details.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I don’t think you’re alone in it, Eran. I think your act of hospitality as an expression of worship makes a lot of sense, and is a wonderful way of being present in a religious environment that otherwise might not have a lot to offer you.

      I’m also in agreement with you about the Gods. I’m not sure how popular an idea this is, but I’m of the belief that the Gods need nothing from us. Our offerings may affect the quality of our relationship, but I think it may do more for us than for them. The role of human is to be human, and live fully a human life. Honoring and worshipping the Gods, in whatever way seems most in line with your own temperament, should be something which enriches your experience of that human life, and redirects your focus onto these “rules” you mention — hospitality, protecting those in need, charity, reverence…

      I think I might spend some time with the idea of “prescription.”

      Thank you for your comment, Eran, and for allowing me a little insight into your personal practice.

  7. Benjamin Hoshour Avatar

    Loved your blog post today, Tio.  I think you cut right to the heart of the matter.  Religion and spirituality as a practice has always been about the living of those things – the way they resonate in our actions, the “doing” of it, as you say.  I just finished righting up my mental exercise paper for ADF and I found it ironic that my write up was centered around the what I “did” and how I did it.  For me, my spiritual food and action depends on the day and my mood.  Some days, I stand before my altar, stare at Thor, Frigga, and Odin and pour my heart out to them.  Other days, I simply walk through a local park or forest and let myself commune with the spirit of the place.  Other days, I will read inspirational writings that inspire me to action.  Thank you for a thoughtful and meaningful post.


    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      And thank you for taking the time to comment, Benjamin. I appreciate getting some insight into how you approach worship.

      I like the versatility of your practice, and that’s something I’m working with. I find the regulatory of worship before my altar helps ground me, but there are times when I could bring my attention more acutely to the presence of divinity in the world around me. It’s really about striking a balance, I think, or about finding the practice that best fits your temperament.

      Again, I appreciate your post, and I intend to give you blog a read. Blessings!


  8. Rob Henderson Avatar

    You’re assuming that doing something isn’t an intellectual exercise.  For me, pretty much everything is.  >8)

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      That’s interesting to me, Rob. Everything? Is there ever a moment where you feel your intellect is suspended?

      1. Rob Henderson Avatar

         Hmm.  Now that you mention it – no, not really.  There are times hen it’s less focused, but I’m always observing and almost always analysing.  Probly just me.

  9. Kilmrnock Avatar

    Something i may have left out . my daily meditation/devotion is usualy done when i awake , done quietly on the bed side . i also do a meditation / calming b/f i sleep to calm /center my mind , heart and soul after my usualy crazy days . w/o the night meditation i have trouble calminy myself so i can sleep.i am working on a perminant alter , but as a ADF druid as the entire world is sacred a dedicated space isn’t always needed.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for both of your comment, Kilm. I was glad to see this second comment about the things that you do each day. Bookending your day with a time of still, centered meditation seems like a wonderful thing to do.

      I understand what you mean about the entire world being sacred. With that said, I find that there are certain things I wish to do in the privacy of my own room, standing before my altar, that I might not feel comfortable doing in public. I find something to be very magickal about my *alone time* with the Kindred, if that makes sense.

      Tell us – where are you at with the creation of a permanent altar? Do you have a space set aside for it?

  10. Piper Avatar

    Intellect or something close does start my worship and communion with the divine. I go to my core, examine my feelings and reconcile them in a quiet state. When I am centered and free, for a while, I then draw a card from one of my decks (I have only kept 2), not for divination but to look upon the symbolism and reflect on that influence in my life. I guess you could say that is my first DO, drawing the card, hearing the sound and placing it on my altar. Then I lay out the altar, we have a house altar, but for worship, I rebuild mine each time. I draw each item from it’s space in my box, reflecting on the reasons it is there and feeling the space build and resonate. After that, the roll/path of the ritual draws me in, invocation, offerings, requests, and communion seem to fit solidly in place and time, my last DO is  to take down the altar and return it to is slumber until the next time.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for this account of your practice, Piper. I like the way you speak of your “first DO” and your “last DO”. That’s language that I think could be useful in placing our focus on action. I also love the way that you unpack your supplied, and in the process unpack the entire ritual and ceremony. It’s beautiful imagery.

      1. Piper Avatar

        Thank you for your comments, this was a timely post for me, my wife and I are teaching our son basics, in this craft of ours, and I will be working with him this week on ritual, tools, and practice. This has given me some great perspective, thanks to you and the other commentors here.

  11. Kilmrnock Avatar

    Well for me at least , learning to think and feel has been a life long journrey . I’m a boomer , was raised in the late 50’s,60’s, came into my own in the early 70’s. I grew up in a time when alot of the things we take for granted now , came to be . Womans lib, race riots and rights , changing relationships between the sexes , the vietnam war, the heady 60’s  . Trust me , for a young man a damned confusing time ………….all the stuff i grew up w/ didn’t apply/work anymore .i was raised w/ the idea that men are supposed to be tough/strong  and logical . Showing emotion back then for a boy/man was considered weak , being a sissy. Just to prove my point , in those days John Wayne[the actor]  was the ideal man , tough, strong ……..wouldn’t think of showing emotion . But as i aged , i’m 56 now, i’ve learned to listen to my heart as much or almost more than my mind these days . One of the biggest problems guys my age have  is showing and experiencing raw emotion even the every day stuff .We tend to bottle it up , keep our emotions inside .For me learning to feel emotions and listening to my heart was a life changing experience and was part of my journey into and through paganism , i too am an ADF member . Now when i’m in my grove the feelings are much deeper and heart felt , my mind logical self is there to , but i have learned not to let my mind completly color what i experience and learn and feel . This way of doing , seeing things also works into my daily devotions and life.Actualy my emotions get me sometimes , i’ve always been sentimental some things just get to me , get me choked up , sometimes all warm and fussy inside . i’m not talking about my temper , i just feel like i get emotional more than i should sometimes . But as far as experiencing my religion , b/c i let my heart be more involved all of it rituals , daily devotions , my relationships w/ our gods are better/deeper.Also my path now is Celtic Warrior based , the Code of Honor/Conduct is quite important to me , actualy always has been . I live my life based on the Honor code w/ a more open heart and mind . And just for the record ………… Celt/Gael mindset , and Pagan religious  beliefs are a major part of my life .

  12. Kirk Thomas Avatar

    “What do you do?” That says it all.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Preach, Rev. Kirk. Preach. 🙂