The devotional arts challenge on Instagram has reciprocity as today’s prompt, and as I was doing the dishes, I was actively meditating on that word. What is reciprocity, and how is it related to devotion?
the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit
This was the definition on dictionary dot com. It specifically spoke of relationships, as well as from a business perspective. Reciprocity is the sharing and giving in a relationship, and from a spiritual perspective, it is the sharing and giving between oneself and deity.
So often our society tends to focus on the miracle aspects of god and turning to god for something we need. That isn't a relationship. How often would you show up at a strangers house, asking for something? There certainly isn’t anything wrong asking for things we absolutely need to survive, but in the end, when we’ve already done the work of getting to know the gods, and in return, letting them get to know us, the exchange is stronger.
This is what relationship is. It’s not a good relationship if you are only giving, or only receiving. If you are only having an orgasm, but your partner is not- you are not a good lover. If your friend is only ever talking about their problem, and never listening to yours, your friend is not a good friend. If you are only asking for things from the gods, and never showing devotion, friendship or even listening to them, you are not in right relationship with them.
And believe it or not, if you are giving to the Gods and not asking for anything in return, it’s still not right relationship- many Gods live by an idea of hospitality and reciprocity. There is a need for balance. Now I’m not saying that we should give and give until the Gods owe us. That’s not how it works. But if you are giving to the Gods, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for support- even something minor like having the strength to face a hardship, or finding the courage to face down a fear.
Think of it like going to a pub, and you buy a round for your friends- in many places, it’s considered rude if you don’t stick around and enjoy the next round. Or you visit a friend's house, bearing a gift- but then you don’t accept the hospitality. It might not seem like a big deal, but it might lead your friend to be confused as to what exactly the relationship you have together is. If you only ever pleasure your lover, but never let them pleasure you, eventually, your partner might think something is wrong.
You can also think of relationship as teamwork. If you offer a seed to your deity, will they send you water to nourish it? If you do the work of planting it, will they bring about growth? It is together that you demonstrate right relationship! And if you think about it, that extends to your community too. Right relationship with your deity can lead to right relationship with your community. You give and you take, and they give and you take, and together, you are all strong. If you all are growing trees, it's going to be a beautiful forest. Whenever I think of the community I care for most, it's because that community has a reciprocal relationship with me, as well as the Gods. Sure, there's probably drama (I just tend to avoid it at all costs, and miss it because my head is in the clouds, or because I'm focused on spirit...) and times it's not all sunshine and rainbows, but in the end, I have the support of a generous, giving community that I hope sees that I give back to them as best I can. And the same goes to my relationship with deity.
For nature based spirituality, reciprocity is by definition fundamental- it is the giving and taking of life in nature, and it is seen in all things, including the spirits and the Gods. A while back, I was recommended the book Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods by Kirk Thomas. I don’t remember who it was- it might’ve been a bnp (big name pagan) blog, and it’s been on my wishlist for awhile. I think maybe I’ll get it this month and read it, since the topic is on my mind.
But I can name a few things that come to mind when I think of reciprocity:
Art, such as painting, sketching, coloring
Devotional acts, such as dedicated workouts, walks, gardening
Activities related to specific deities- weaving for Arachnae, A feast for The Dagda, metalworking and forgework for Brighid, etc.
And what you ask for can be specific, or it can as simple as “Give me your blessing.” Because sometimes that’s all we want from our Gods.