Fertility

“Fruit Basket”, oil on wood

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This is the time of year in my part of the world where we see the fruits of fertility. Almost everyone I know associates Beltane with fertility, and that is perhaps as it should be with Beltane being the “planting” time of year for many folks in the northern hemisphere.  Midsummer has passed and everything is growing and growing– or if you’re down south here, being harvested and enjoyed.

Fertility isn’t really about things that are growing, although that is its results– fruits, babies, projects completed. Fertility is a state of receptivity. From dictionary.com: bearing or being capable of bearing offspring.  It’s easy to get confused about this as a pagan virtue. Does it mean we should try to have lots of children? Does it mean we should try to produce many awesome projects? I think it’s more about the quality of being receptive, of being open to the possibility of producing, be it children or art or some other work that the Gods set us upon.

If we’re not receptive, we aren’t listening or paying attention and we can miss our opportunities.  Fertility is not, however, a passive state. You can’t be fertile ground for new things to grow in without working on being healthy. This is doubly important with spiritual and mental projects. If we’re not doing the work we need to do to prepare ourselves for the job ahead of us then we won’t be fertile ground. Our work will wither and die, if it sprouts at all. So part of being fertile is taking care of ourselves. Like preparing a garden with compost and weeding, we need tending if we’re going to bring forth our best work.

Fertility can be ranked by quality, not quantity as well. One small fertile field will give a better harvest than several acres of sub-standard land. One nutritious dinner is better than three low quality meals. In being fertile, we are being called to be rich sources for whatever we are producing.  I think fertility is important as a virtue because it’s the soil from which other things grow. We can be rich, loamy earth or we can be pallid deserts, and much of that is up to us. We do the work to improve and ensure our own fertility and through that, enrich each other’s lives with our gifts.

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Courage

Fortitudo, by Sandro Botticelli

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One of the interesting disconnects here for me with the standard dictionary definition of courage is that I was always taught that courage is doing the right thing, even when you’re afraid. It’s not the ability to feel no fear that’s important, but the willingness to act in spite of that fear that makes us truly courageous.  It’s a Mark Twain quote, even: “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”

Sometimes you listen to people talk about their truly heroic acts, and they’ll admit to being afraid, and they’ll speak of simply acting because they had to. In this way courage is the brother of integrity. Courage gives us the strength to act on our convictions and to be the persons we wish to be.  Courage is also sometimes necessary in order to persevere, to act on our visions, and sometimes in order to practice our piety . It is a core virtue that other virtues are built upon. C.S. Lewis said: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

Courage comes to us from Old French by way of Latin cor- heart.  To be of good heart is to be courageous, because the Romans thought that all emotions came from the heart, and that courage was an emotion,  the opposite of fear.  Now we blame it all on our brains and our hormones. And I’m not sure that courage really is an emotion. I think it’s a mode of acting. If it were an emotion like love or fear, it wouldn’t qualify as a virtue in my reckoning.

 

I found this blog entry: Is courage made, found or grown, in which the author explores what she sees as the difference between courage and bravery. They are interesting points, although I don’t make the same separation. One thing that really resonated with me was a comment about someone’s child saying that other people can give you courage by giving you encouragement. Can you grow up courage in yourself? Can you help it grow in others? How about other virtues? They’re certainly easier to practice within a supportive community!

Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

Integrity

Virtudes, de Rafael, na Stanza della Segnatura...

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Integrity. Dictionary.com says: “Adherence to moral and ethical principals; soundness of moral character; honesty”.

Of all the virtues present in the ADF 9 virtues, this one is perhaps most out of tune with modern society.  Part of the reason for that is because here in the US at least, we’re no longer a cohesive culture. How do you measure someone else’s integrity if there’s no standard moral and ethical principles that are held by society at large? The other reason is because the first and most important commandment in modern society is “Do what thou wilt, as long as thou shalt not get caught”.

The first of these issues with integrity is the easiest to solve. The second definition of integrity, “a sound, unimpaired condition” (referencing ship’s hulls) can be easily ported into the first. Is a person’s personal integrity sound and consistent within themselves? Does that person have a personal code of ethics, either developed individually or from a group, that is both followed and internally consistent? We don’t all have to have exactly the same code of ethics as long as it’s clear what our ethics are and we are practicing them with integrity, honestly and openly.

The second problem is one of hypocrisy. That’s harder to deal with because of the lies and hiding that it entails. In our media-driven society, if you do get caught out, likely it will be public knowledge at electron-speed, even if it’s only to your Facebook and Twitter communities. If you’re a politician or a media star, multiply that by “worldwide coverage” to get the final result.

Usually the result of getting caught is that the politician or media star confesses all and admits to having done something “inappropriate” (rarely just plain wrong, almost always “inappropriate”). This is of course straight from Evangelical Christianity. Confess your sins and all is forgiven in the eyes of God. Whatever, but these public confessions are not any by-product of integrity, even if they do come straight from a religious urge to be forgiven. Perhaps by Judeo-Christian rules, one can never atone for one’s sins, but by human rules, you certainly can. And your sense of integrity may be God-inspired, but it’s acted out in the realm of humans. Integrity is a question of how we behave with others.

Integrity is by its very nature a social question. We don’t act with integrity towards the Gods; that’s piety. We act with integrity not for ourselves nor for our Gods but for our fellow beings and our community. Sometimes it would be easier and better for us if we didn’t. Maybe we need that wallet full of cash that we found in the street. Maybe we can’t afford a ding on our insurance for that fender scrape in the parking lot.  If we want to build a better world as well as be the best people we can be, then we do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. And that at its heart is true integrity.

Pagan Values

Values and Virtues

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June is Pagan Values Blogject month. I was incredibly excited to hear about this project, especially since I’ve been blogging about pagan virtues both here and at my Roman blog. As I thought more about it and what I’d like to post specifically for the PVE2011, I realized that “virtues” and “values” are not identical in my mind.

Virtue: A trait or quality of moral excellence

Value: An internal reference for what is good and desirable

These are interlinked concepts. For example, I may value clean air and I may consider being an environmental activist a virtuous way to behave. Put them together and I’m promoting something I value by acting virtuously.

So what does the pagan community as a whole value, and what do I wish were its values? I can’t speak for the whole of the pagan community and I wouldn’t try, but here is what I’ve observed over the years.

Pagan Community Values

  • Community– Many pagans find having a community of like minded people to be useful and important to them
  • Acceptance– Not just tolerating differences, but celebrating our unique life paths
  • Individuality– We value personal self-expression and personal freedom to choose our own paths and worship as we best see fit
  • Personal Agency– Many pagans believe that we are each our own best high priest/ess and that we need no mediators between us and our Gods
  • Environmental Awareness— We tend to be naturalists who want to embrace and protect our earth.
My Pagan Community Value Wishlist
  • Cultural Sensitivity— We are a borrowing people and sometimes we go over the line into cultural appropriation.  We need to understand that just because we know of a ritual or a prayer or a God/dess, they’re not always free game for us to use as we see fit. Living traditions of other cultures should be treated as holy and not used without training and permission.
  • Survivor Awareness– The pagan community draws a lot of people who come with extra emotional baggage. For people who have suffered abuse or violence, a welcoming hug from a stranger may seem less like a welcome and more like a threat. People who are recovering from substance abuse may need a non-alcoholic option for toasts, libations, cakes & ale, etc. It would be great if we could come to accept people where they are and not push on fragile personal boundaries.
  • Childhood Religious Training– Sometimes we are so busy embracing our spiritual awakening as adults, we forget we have kids in our community who are eager to be included and learn our ways and traditions. We can include them without indoctrinating them or forcing some One True Way on them.
And finally, although our values will not be identical because we’re not that sort of people (see acceptance and individuality above), our values will most likely have many overlapping points. We can celebrate our commonalities as well as our differences, and be individuals who work together as well as allowing each other the space and respect to work apart.

Moderation

Religious symbols from the top nine organised ...

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The Farlex free dictionary says of moderation: being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme. Their definition #4 also caught my eye: Opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics or religion.

Moderation as a religious virtue needs both of these things. Sometimes we get enthusiastic and get carried away, working on one job or project to the neglect of other things in our lives. Sometimes we can be unrestrained in an inappropriate way by over-indulging in something we love, be it wine, video games or shoe shopping. Moderation is the force that helps us balance on our path. Enthusiasm is good. Enthusiasm gives us energy. Moderation helps us “spend” our enthusiasm wisely.

Moderation in religious views is important for several reasons. One is that those who are not moderate with and in their religious views often start down the path of using their religious views as license to be unkind or harmful to others. This is not to say that we can’t be fervent in our beliefs and fully dedicated to our gods. We can love our gods, but we do need to respect other’s beliefs in our polytheistic world.

One of the things that gives me pause with monotheists is that by their basic belief, they believe that everyone else is wrong simply because they are not monotheists or because others are worshiping the wrong god(s).  This is problematic, since there are many different religions in the world. There are more than 30,000 varieties of Christianity alone! Especially in the proselytizing faiths,  it’s hard for adherents to hold a moderate, tolerant viewpoint. And yet we all must, if we’re going to survive and thrive.

Another issue in religious moderation is that many of us crave the religious life. We want to live our daily lives in company with our gods. We want to add depth and meaning to our existence with our religious impulse.  Religion can bring wonderful richness to our lives, but too much focus on religion alone can distort the life-affirming aspects of our practice and leave us neglecting important parts of daily living.

For example, I had a friend whose husband got fired from several jobs in succession because he would not stop proselytizing at his workplaces. He would not stop when coworkers told him he was making them (and customers) uncomfortable. He would not stop when directly ordered to do so by his supervisor. Even after his repeated job losses, he maintained that he was doing the right thing, and losing jobs simply meant that he was being persecuted by evildoers.  His former coworkers and employers, by contrast, would say that he was the one doing evil by harassing people and not doing the job he agreed to do when he signed on, and by failing to be economically responsible to his family. The really sad part is that he might have actually reached more people with his religious message, had he been more moderate in his delivery of it.

A less extreme example is the previous owners of our house. They left a number of religious items when they moved out– plaques, posters, signs, prayers, religious trinkets. They also left a significant level of filth and decay. Praying is good. So is cleaning and upkeep! Moderation reminds us that we need to devote time to both. And as Inspiration Injection reminds us below, we also have to be moderate with our moderation and not become so cautious that we lose our enthusiasm for life.

Hospitality

The traditional Slavic greeting of bread and salt.

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Hospitality is the basis of civilization. The dictionary.com definition is: the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. Without a basis of hospitality, it’s really not safe to go anywhere. Conversely, if you accept hospitality, you are honor bound to behave in a reciprocally appropriate way.

In the Celtic world, hospitality was very important. We can see what people thought of those who didn’t follow the rules of hospitality in the Scottish song, “Glen Coe“, about guesting with murder in mind. “Glen Coe” talks about the responsibilities of the host– they gave the strangers shelter from the storm, food, dry clothes. The murderous guests break a holy bond when they let in more warriors and slaughter their hosts. The idea that temporary peace must be honored if you’ve been given hospitality is the keystone in anyone’s ability to travel anywhere. We trust our modern hotel chains to not sneak into our rooms and kill us in the night, and they trust us not to set fire to the place and rob our fellow travelers. In the Celtic world, hosts were honor bound not only to make their guests comfortable, but also to protect them from harm, similar to the idea of asylum.

We can offer hospitality to the Gods too. By making offerings at home, setting up household shrines or sharing parts of our daily meals with the Gods, we extend hospitality in our homes to the Gods we worship. Modern religion tends to be almost exclusively “temple” oriented. People go to church or synagogue or mosque to worship, and though they might say prayers at home, the idea that home is a place for the Gods as well as people to feel comfortable at is one that not many modern people pursue.

Hospitality, making people welcome and comfortable is elevated to an art form in some cultures. Russians have welcome trays, Arabs traditionally welcomed visitors with bread and salt, The Japanese have the “Way of Tea”. Although hospitality can be surrounded with elaborate ritual, it doesn’t need to be. In order to be virtuously hospitable, all that is required is a sincere desire to make your guests feel comfortable.

Perseverance

On my Roman blog today, I’m discussing constantia, the Roman virtue most similar to perseverance.  Constantia(or perseverance), along with gravitas and pietas, were considered to be the three most important virtues by many Roman philosophers. Perseverance is “Steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness.” Its second definition has to do with the Calvinist doctrine of the elect– that perseverance is only granted by God’s will to his chosen.

This is a great illustration of the difference in thought between Christians and Pagans regarding virtue. Though many Christians strive to live a virtuous life, they consider the ability to be virtuous to be beyond human reach. Whatever virtue you have is given to you as a present. Pre-Christian pagan thought tended to view the virtues as ways of behaving that were within reach of any person. Striving to live a virtuous life does indeed require perseverance! The Romans even thought that if you had a virtue as a natural part of your character, it ceased to be a virtue because it wasn’t something you were working at. Virtue in Roman pagan life was an active thing, full of striving.

Perseverance is one of the most valuable virtues, because cultivating it gives us strength to cultivate the others. Perseverance helps us keep doing what we need to do, even in the face of adversity or failure. I think in modern usage it implies some of the strength of character and sense of self that the Romans called gravitas. It’s definitely in my personal top three virtues!

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