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.

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Happy Summer Solstice

The sun behind the Heel Stone at Stonehenge, s...

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Like its winter counterpart, Summer Solstice is a holiday that has been celebrated around the world since pre-Christian times. In the Christian era it became St. John’s day, but many of the traditions remain. Bonfires to ward off malignant spirits because the veil is thin, purification rituals, gathering of medicinal plants at their prime, all-night parties that start as vigils and end as revels.

Neopagans sometimes call this holiday Litha, after the Anglo-Saxon month that coincided with this time of year.  And because of Shakespeare, we all think of fairies on Midsummer, and delirious dreams and delights and tricks. It is perhaps another interpretation of the veil between worlds being thin, not only the veil between the spirit world and ours but also the fairy realm and ours as well.

I’ve been interested in the discussion going around various places about just what “midsummer” means. I’ve always read in scholarly sources that this is an Middle English usage of  “mid”, meaning “with” instead of the more usual “in the middle of”. Midwife has similar roots. This does not stop people from coming up with the most convoluted theories involving Celts, Astronomy, planting schedules and the like. I think in this particular case Occam’s razor is the way to go.

Even so, it is the middle of the long days and short nights time of year even if it isn’t the middle of summer. I live far enough south that this isn’t quite the same effect as it is in more northern latitudes, and so the inevitable mourning about the coming loss of sun is less sharp for me.  The shortening days are less a dramatic fading away and more of a subtle muting. I do very much miss the midsummer moon of my childhood in the north, though. The moonlight would be almost blindingly brilliant and make everything look so strange and high contrast. I could imagine fairies dancing in that sparkling moonlight world very easily.

For us, this is the beginning of the end of the nice weather, the entry into the time long, hot days that will burn out the garden and violent storms that punish the earth more than cool it. We’re entering a fallow time here, and that makes it almost upside down compared to my friends a little further north. Already we’ve eaten beans and the last of the cucumbers and radishes for now. We’ll have to wait for cooler weather to plant again.

It’s a good time to eat ripe summer fruit, stay up late to look at the stars, and let lazy dreams carry away the afternoon doldrums.  We’ll clear away the old vines and plan what we’ll do next.

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.

Meditation

The orange

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Here’s a mindfulness meditation exercise that I learned a long time ago. I’m posting it because one of my favorite ADF blogging people was talking about struggling with meditation and others have mentioned struggling with mediation too. I’ve been doing formal meditation since I was fourteen. I’ve done a lot of different forms of meditation over the years. I wouldn’t say I’m any sort of expert, but I am very experienced! I enjoy meditation in its various forms a lot, but it’s not easy for most people to get started. This is an excellent exercise that doesn’t seem like meditation to a lot of people, so it’s a good beginning technique.

Be Here Now Meditation: Know Your Orange

Get some food item. Doesn’t matter what food, though many times if you do this in a group it will be an orange or a single raisin or a single peanut M&M.  It does need to be something you’re willing to eat!

Sit down with it and examine it closely, as though you were taking notes to tell us blog readers all about that particular orange or raisin or M&M or piece of toast. Talk up a script to yourself, either out loud or silently, about the food item. Observe how it looks, how it smells, its weight and texture, Explore everything you can learn from observing it before you eat it. Look at it up close and far away, hold it up to the light. Really know it before moving on to eat it.

If it’s an orange or something else that you peel or cut before you eat it, observe and describe that process as well.

Take a bite and observe and describe the flavor. Pay careful, intimate attention to the flavor, the feel of the food in your mouth, the emotions and thoughts the experience of eating the food brings up.

You can turn all the info into a journal entry after you’re done. If you’re a writer, (and if you’re reading this, you probably are!) approaching the exercise as though you were preparing info for an essay or blog entry can really help you keep focused and observing. Even if you don’t want to write about the experience, behaving as though you were going to write about it or explain your orange to someone else helps your focus.

A lot of people try to force some kind of meaning on this sort of meditation– that you’re learning to appreciate life or love your food or spiritually bond with the Universe through your orange or raisin. That’s all nice and everything, but it’s not the point. If you don’t feel instantly spiritually evolved or bonded with the Great Circle of Life, that’s fine. Don’t panic; nothing’s gone wrong! The point is to Be Here Now. As the guy in the video link on meditation says, it’s all about paying attention. Be present in that moment, really participating in what you’re doing, and observing it with a non-critical mind. This is the core of all meditation, and the slipperiest, hardest part to get.

Hope this helps someone with their meditation practice!

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