The Mother of All Virtues and the First Brick in Community Building

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis again and Lewis, in his novel The Screwtape Letters wrote that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ” Contextually, he was specifically discussing what we might call more specifically moral courage. I’ve always thought that courage was crucial to becoming a proper and worthy adult but over the past few years, I’ve come to agree 110% with Lewis. I think it is beyond fundamental. I would go so far as to call it the mater virtutium, the mother of all virtues. It’s in sadly short supply today. Maybe it always was. 

Virtue (1) doesn’t just happen. We’re not born knowing what it is or how to live virtuously. We have to take the time to cultivate that which we wish to become. This takes work and may involve failure as we learn how to make correct choices, as we learn to do that which makes us better people, and most importantly, makes us better polytheists. Everything we do, everything we choose in our world, most especially our behavior, should make us better servants of our Gods. That is, after all, why we are here. Yet, where do we learn virtue? 

Ideally, we would be learning these things from our mothers’ laps, our fathers’ tutelage. The values and virtues of a functional community, of people of worth and honor, would be reinforced in our educational system, and we would be able to seek out philosophical schools as adults to help us continue learning how to best live. None of that exists today, or rather the first may exist in small pockets, the second is completely lacking, and the third is as non-existent in our communities as to warrant little to no mention. Instead of these things we are given social media and media in general that is hostile to anything approximating good, devout living, and largely absent of virtue — unless mutilating children is now suddenly virtuous. The proof, as the old saying goes, is in the pudding and look at our communities. So, what do we do? 

More than anything else, I think this is one of the major issues infecting our communities, and keeping us from building communities that will last. You cannot work with someone lacking in virtue, specifically the virtue of moral courage. It does not matter if someone claims to be an ally or a friend. If he or she is unwilling to stand with you in public, to speak in your defense, to eschew collaboration with those who public attack not only you but healthy devotion and polytheism in general, and to stand fast in the face of the opprobrium of others, then that person is a coward. You cannot reform, train, or transform a coward. They will destroy everything they touch. 

That is what lack of virtue does: it destroys goodness. It pulls it down to the lowest common denominator. It spits on devotion and instead inserts the shallowest of platitudes where true courage ought to stand. We have a generation of people who have been taught by public discourse that emotion equals rational discourse, that political partisanship equals devotion, that prayer is useless, that when someone calls you a bad word you should allow that to overwhelm your true identity and slink away in shame, and that words are dangerous. Well, maybe on that last point they’re right: words are dangerous. They allow one to recognize cowardice and lack of virtue and call it what it is without euphemism. 

We won’t have functional communities until people learn to stand with each other, support each other, and prioritize the Gods and Their respective cultus first and foremost. We won’t have functional communities until loyalty and faith are recognized as important things to cultivate; until courage is the watchword of the day, hand in hand with piety and devotion. It’s easy to feign courage when there’s nothing to lose. I want to see what one does when one’s reputation is on the line, when one has the potential to suffer real world loss. That is when you know the measure of a man. 

Moral courage isn’t the only virtue worth cultivating. While their origin may be problematic, for Heathens, the Nine Noble Virtues aren’t a bad place to start, though I’d add a few. Most importantly, I’d ask: what kind of human being do my Gods want me to be? What are the cardinal virtues, the unchanging moral guideposts by which I can become that person? Then slowly start making the hard choices – and it may involve loss of friends, loss of things that one enjoys, change of seemingly innocuous habits –and stand by them. There’s no easy way to do this. One cannot wave a magic wand *poof* and suddenly become a man or woman of virtue. It’s hard work; and it’s work that never ends. 

Failure is going to happen and it’s not the end either. We pick ourselves up. We examine our faults. We make amends. We do better in the future. There’s an old Heathen saying: “We are our deeds.” It’s the deeds I watch. Not the words coming out of someone’s mouth, or inbox. I have a lot of people in my world who say they stand behind my work, who say they support, as I, do the founding of functional polytheistic communities, who even are my friends. Yet I watch as publicly they cultivate those who have dedicated in some cases decades to attacking my work, slandering my name, and attempting to create a community that has no place for devotion and the Gods. Or I watch as some of these people stay silent when I am publicly attacked. You’re not friends. You’re cowards. I see you. I see your true nature. All the rhetoric, philosophy, and pretty words in the world won’t change it. You cannot trust a coward to stand, and you cannot trust them to have any loyalty whatsoever. These are people who would sell their own Gods while pretending to be devout. But you know, if they’re on the right political side of the equation who cares, right? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic). 

I think it’s time for our communities to grow up a little bit, to remember that we are first and foremost religious communities and with our religions – if we want them to last, if we want them to matter – come values and virtues that also must be cultivated and sustained. If that latter process doesn’t start with courage it won’t happen at all. 

Notes:

  1. What is virtue? The term comes from the Latin word for “courage” or “valor” (virtus) and Merriam-Webster defines it now as “a particular moral excellence,” a definition with which I agree. These are the qualities that lead to excellence of character, conduct, and personhood.

Affiliate Advertising Disclosure (because of my link to C.S. Lewis’ book). 

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About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on October 14, 2022, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Greetings from the Texas Gulf Coast, USA. Wyrd timing, I must say…thank you for sharing this. Time to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back in therer…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You brought to mind something I’ve been pondering a lot lately.

    I used to hang out in several of the more mainstream Heathen and Norse Pagan social media groups, and most of what I saw people doing or saying didn’t feel anything like actual Polytheism. It didn’t feel like people practicing a religion at all. It felt more like some of the reenactment groups I’ve been a part of over the years. There were certainly a lot of passionate people and a great deal of joy to be found in those mainstream groups, and that isn’t bad on its own. The world needs more of both. But there was very little genuine devotion to be found in them and barely a few drops of piety. They were nothing at all like what I’ve encountered among my Palero and Shinto friends. Those communities aren’t perfect, but at least they understand what a real Polytheistic religion is like and how it functions.

    Several years ago I thought little of it. “We’re still a young religion, we’ll mature and grow out of the reenacting vibe soon enough,” I thought to myself. “We’ll get some elders, some diviners, some spirit-workers, and other specialists, and it will all be sorted out in a decade or so.” But I kept hanging around, and realized that we didn’t mature out of it. If anything, it’s gotten worse. The elders, shamans, and diviners showed up just as I expected, but were met with hostility and rejection.

    For a long time this baffled me. I had no idea what went wrong. But I’ve slowly figured it out, or at least part of it. As sad as I am to say, most people who call themselves Heathen or Norse Pagan don’t want to practice a religion. They just want to play Viking with their friends and people trying to build a religion ruins their game. There are also the morons with shaved heads and poorly done swastika tattoos stealing Norse symbols for their own bullshit reasons, but everyone with half a brain hates them.

    Today mainstream Heathenry feels less like a bunch of SCA reenactors and more like a bunch of college kids playing a Viking themed Dungeons and Dragons campaign. And anyone who dares to point this out (or Gods forbid, objects to it) is called toxic or accused of being some kind of bigot. “Don’t invalidate the practices of others,” is one of their favorite phrases, and all I can think when I hear it is how a Tata Nganga or Shinshoku would react to hearing such rhetoric. Not well, I would imagine.

    So I don’t really interact with mainstream Heathenry that much anymore. I let them play while I get on with the hard work of building a real religion and trying to maintain some semblance of morality. I thank the Gods I have the courage to keep trying in such a hostile world.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Yep. as one of those spirit workers I can tell you that we were shat on across a community that wanted to eschew its responsibilities to its Gods and those that serve them. This is why I work almost exclusively within my own House, and that House follows the types of protocols that any santero or palero would recognize. It is strict and I WILL invalidate the practices of those who bring their bullshit to my doorstep. We have an obligation to protect and nurture our traditions, not indulge trash.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow…I have to mediate on this before I really comment.

    Thank you for your WISDOM. This is prfound.

    Ken Doran

    Liked by 2 people

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