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.
- 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).
In a recent discussion on a previous post of mine here, the subject of “family” came up. I don’t often talk about family, but this is a blog in part about things relevant to contemporary polytheisms, to their restoration, and their longevity, and to the nurturing of devotion. As such, “family” is an important topic, one which, in my ham-fisted way, I’m going to touch on it here just a little. I spent most of my twenties hostile to the whole idea of “family.” My own experience with my birth family had been less than pleasant (1). It took having a deeply devout adopted mom to help me sort all of that out and learn to cherish this idea of “family” as something good and necessary to healthy communities.
When I say family, I do not necessarily restrict that to father-mother-children. In fact, while I believe there should be male and female role models in the family to help guide and nourish the children, I think restricting that to just the parents is deeply divisive, stressful, and destructive. It puts a tremendous pressure on the parents while providing little to no resources or accountability. We need our extended family, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and more; and on top of that, we need to situate all of this in an awareness of our ancestors – that there is that family going back as far as we could ever imagine, of which we too will be a part one day. The nuclear family is an aberration. If you look just throughout the world today, and most certainly throughout history, it was and is more common to have extended family living together and helping each other out, instilling intergenerational virtues and building up functional, healthy, pious adults (2).
It’s become the vogue today, especially amongst those who consider themselves “woke,” who draw a good deal of their rhetoric and raison d’etre from Marxism, to dismiss the family as a wicked and patriarchal institution that serves no purpose but the abuse of those within its confines. What nonsense. Yet, this nonsense is gaining traction in our communities. Mind you, I’ve yet to see a workable alternative presented, because there isn’t one. Family is fundamental (especially when you expand the definition of family beyond the nuclear. (3)). Of course, “family” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists within a culture, a society, a community that may or may not reinforce the values of one’s kin. In our modern world, family can be a fortress in which piety may be nourished and allowed to grow, a curative and medicine for the spiritual pollution infecting our world (4).
Personally, I’ve come to believe that family is an absolute essential building block of any sustainable tradition. It is the way that a proper …I’ll use a Roman term and if that hurts your brain, too bad …pax deorum begins: first in the individual, then the family, then the community, then the city and outward in ever larger circles. It is a sacred thing, something to be cherished and nurtured. “Mother” and “Father” are sacred titles and should carry with them an awareness of the power and responsibility of those roles. What is it that Swinburne wrote? “Mother is the name of God on every child’s tongue…” (5). Family is the best means of passing a religious tradition on to the next generation, and the best way of rooting it as a long-term societal presence. A healthy family is also the best way of correcting societal ills; it starts at home.
- For a number of reasons, mostly having to do with intergenerational trauma; happily though, in my thirties I was able to heal some of those rifts and make peace with my biological family.
- If you’re not pious I don’t think you’re actually healthy. That piety may look different in each person depending on tradition/gods/etc. but part of raising a healthy child is exercising their spiritual muscles and teaching them what it means to be in right relationship with the Gods, i.e. passing on your tradition.
- Sometimes we make our families. Envision it how you want and create it but understand it’s an essential building block for sustainable polytheistic communities or indeed any community.
- No, I don’t think that we should keep children confined and away from any interaction with the world at large. What I think is that we should be providing them with protection – emotionally and spiritually- from the forces of uncreation. We should be nurturing them in ways that allow them to develop strength and courage, devotion, and goodness. We should be making space for them to bring their questions and to share what they are receiving from the world at large and how and why that may or may not accord with our values.
- Which is why child abuse of any sort is absolutely anathema. Healthy communities, religious or otherwise, root that shit out assiduously. There is no room now or ever in our communities for someone who would sexually or physically assault a child or a spouse.
Today my household cancelled its Netflix subscription. They are promoting a French film “Cuties,” apparently, a movie about the dangers of oversexualizing children. The movie isn’t the problem. Netflix, however, chose to promote it in ways that grossly oversexualize children (and by children, I’m talking eleven year olds). When called on this by customers on twitter, email, and elsewhere, they doubled down, refusing to condemn pedophilia, refusing to condemn the hyper-sexualization of children, and saying only that they “respect all religions and cultures.” Bullshit, Netflix. Bullshit. Child abuse isn’t culture.
In addition to the over-sexualization of children, they also advertised this movie as one in which the heroic child “defies her family’s traditions” (not something I find admirable. In this case, it’s clear that Netflix meant defying religious protocols and morality). Maybe they meant the tradition of not prostituting their kids. The movie itself is condemning exactly this type of thing. It’s the story of a young Senegalese girl age eleven who finds something she likes (hip hop) and then sinks further and further into inappropriate, sexualized behavior when she starts getting online attention for this, and pimping herself out on social media. It’s intended to expose the societal dangers inherent in such over-sexualization of kids and inherent in unsupervised social media access. Thanks to Netflix’s marketing strategy the movie is now under fire, and there are calls for boycotts. Don’t boycott the movie. Boycott Netflix.
This type of thing matters. The media we expose ourselves to matters. It conditions our behavior. It slowly shifts our moral center. It influences what we consider appropriate and acceptable even when we don’t realize it. It inures us to things that should be considered, at best, inappropriate.
A friend told me today that in “Pagan” circles, he was routinely called “reactionary” for insisting that where sex was concerned, “consenting” and “adult” were non-negotiable. He recounted an incident on facebook wherein someone posted a meme, showing a disgusted kid staring at a naked guy in a cowboy hat. The overwhelming response from “Pagans?” They didn’t understand why a child shouldn’t be exposed to nudity. “It’s non-sexual after all,” was repeated again and again. What they were really saying, as my friend so eloquently articulated was this: “Why should a ten-year-old be disgusted when I give him an uninvited view of my dick?” Well, right thinking people consider this borderline sexual abuse of a child. THIS right here is precisely the type of degeneracy – there is no other word that I can find that is quite so appropriate as this—that fills so much of the “Pagan” community, and it’s precisely the reason so many Polytheists eschew them.
It’s a really, really low bar, people: don’t fuck children. Apparently, it’s a bit too high for some.
The other day, I posted this documentary on facebook with the comment that I wish our communities were as committed to intergenerational longevity and growth as the Jewish communities depicted in this documentary seem to be. Part of that, I noted, indeed one of the most crucial parts, is firmly being unwilling to marry outside one’s faith and being absolutely committed to raising one’s children within one’s faith. The inevitable pushback to these ideas never ceases to amaze me. Yet, it’s the only way that any type of sustainable restoration is going to happen. This is one of the reasons I think it’s so important that we establish in-person, geographically distinct communities where we can practice our traditions and raise our children in ways that reinforce our religious and cultural values. Religion doesn’t happen without culture and right now, we’re all living and working in a post-modern culture deeply antagonistic toward the very idea of Gods and devotion and especially toward challenging the status quo in the way that true restoration would do.
One of the biggest push-backs I get on the subject of marrying within one’s faith is that the pool of viable mate-material is sadly very small and scattered. This is true. See my point above. In the facebook conversation about this documentary, someone also mentioned the sad fact that finding a “Pagan” man/woman who isn’t an “utter loon” can seem a downright impossibility. (Maybe it’s time good, devout polytheists reclaimed the word ‘Pagan,’ away from non-theists, new agers, atheists, and the terminally confused). That it is difficult does not change the fact that it is essential. It’s less of a problem when one is not planning to have children, though even there being what some Christians term ‘unequally yoked’ can be problematic; but when one plans on having children, issues of religion and religious upbringing that may not have seemed a problem when it was just the couple, quite often become a divisive issue. I’d go so far as to say that if one must marry a non-polytheist, have a pre-nup that specifically states the children will be raised polytheist. I’m a big fan of marriage contracts. So many issues can be countered by a well thought out marriage contract.
I think it also challenges us to re-evaluate what we think the purpose of marriage might be. In a tribe, a unified community with a shared tradition of piety and faith, it’s not just about the happiness of the two people involved (though that is an important factor to consider). Marriage is the building block of a healthy civilization and it ensures uninterrupted transfer of one’s tradition to the next generation. It’s there to unify houses and strengthen the community, to provide for the next generation, and to be a stabilizing force within the community. In a healthy community, I’d actually support arranged marriages (provided no one was forced. That arrangement would, of course, involve consultation with elders, diviners, senior family members, careful evaluation of compatibility, goals, working out of the dowry, etc. and the marriage contract). This is not to say that everyone must have children – far from it. Those who choose to remain happily child free have important roles to play within the community as well. I would think that even if one was not planning to have children, one would not wish to be unequally yoked to a non-polytheist if one could help it. Our generation may have no choice but I’m thinking ahead to future generations, to fully functioning communities, to the restoration of tribes and traditions and what it will be like then. Furthermore, the non-polytheist (in polytheist-monotheistic marriages) must submit to polytheism. After all, unlike monotheism, there’s nothing in polytheism that says they can’t worship their Gods but to reject the Gods wholesale is to challenge the very foundations of a community and that community is more important than individual needs and happiness.
The other issue brought up was that there are different polytheisms and then the question arises of which one gets elided. This is easy to answer: neither. There are more parallels between the various polytheisms than there are between that and secularists or monotheists. I think that within polytheism, if we look at how it was practiced in the ancient world, there was zero conflict in honoring the Gods of two different *polytheistic* traditions. Neither would have to be diluted. but there’s a huge breech between polytheism and monotheism in outlook and an even bigger one between that and secularism. It’s a question of shared worldview rather than specifically shared Gods, one of shared worldview and religious values.
That being said, when it comes to polytheism vs monotheism, all religions are not the same and frankly, we should consider our own to be the best and most necessary. They’re not interchangeable. If we are devoted to our Gods and committed to practicing our traditions for those Gods then it should, in a rightly ordered mind, be absolutely unthinkable to raise one’s children any other way.
I think the push back against these two ideas really shows us how far we still have to go in building communities and restoring our traditions. There is a necessary shift in worldview that happens when one is rooted fully within one’s polytheism. That polytheism becomes the lens through which everything else is viewed and the thing that delineates our priorities. It’s a very different way of living than what we’ve been raised with in monotheisms within a secular state. We will never have proper restoration and reconstruction until this is no longer an issue, until it will be unthinkable to either marry outside polytheism or raise our children outside of it. We struggle now because we lack intergenerational transmission of tradition, well, this is precisely how that intergenerational transmission happens: by marrying within the religions and by raising children within them. There is no other way, short of conquest and forced conversion, and I don’t think anyone wants to do that.
I’ve been seeing a lot of push back lately on the nine noble virtues including dismissals that they are Nazi-ish, racist, homophobic, etc. etc (insert buzzword of the year). I remain confused by the pushback. (There are blogs both pro and con here). It’s as though having any ethical guidelines at all offends some people. Note, they’re not trying to replace them with a different set of values, but rather to negate any values that might in any way constrain or shape their character.(1)
For my readers who aren’t familiar with them, here is the list of the commonly accepted NNV:
Shocking, aren’t they?
These are very Protestant virtues, but examples of them can easily be found in the Havamal and Sagas too. I think they are fitting exemplars for a society in which existence was a constant struggle. If you think that isn’t applicable today, try living below the poverty line. These guidelines are meant to develop a strong character. None of these virtues are objectionable to a reasonable person. Do you really want to be the kind of person without honor? Without courage? Who is incapable of hospitality or personal discipline? The kind of person who lacks fidelity in relationships, or who is incapable of telling the truth or holding to his or her word? The NNV may be simplistic, but they are meant as touchstones to aid in the development of character. Note that they do not tell you how to be courageous, or how to be truthful but one is encouraged to be introspective in discovering this for oneself. I rather like that. It’s not the end of the conversation, but the very beginning. What is truth? What does it mean to me as a devotee of Deity X? How can I cultivate that in my life? Yet, those throwing out these virtues without consideration or without providing an alternative don’t want to have that conversation. To hell with the Socratic method. We don’t need no stinkin’ philosophy here. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Everybody needs philosophy).
Of course, given how pervasive the NNV are within Heathen traditions, it is inevitable that someone holding alt right views will subscribe to them. So do many people holding the opposite. To say that they are racist, is to say that there is something inherently racist about the concept, the abstract ideal of truth or fidelity or hospitality, etc. It also implies that people who are not white, are incapable of upholding these ideals, which is utter nonsense.
Yes, they were created by (depending on your source) the AFA or Odinic Rite. So what? We have space travel because of the work of Nazi scientists. I remember when I found out as a seventh grader, that the US imported Nazi scientists to work on its Manhattan project and later the space program and I was ashamed, horrified, and appalled. I still wrestle with the ethics involved in such a thing. Can good come from evil? Is necessity motivation and justification enough? And that opens up a whole other ethical can of worms. We still use Volkswagens though, and they were made by Nazis too. Same with Hugo Boss and Ford, who was a rampant anti-Semite. By the standards of some of these people, we should be eschewing birth control too because Margaret Sanger was pro eugenics. Strange how the same logic that allows for the dismissal of fairly common virtues doesn’t apply to our technologies. Yet I’ll bet more blood was spilled with the latter.(2) Hell, the internet was made by the US military. Are you cool with the hundreds of thousands of people who have died because of the military industrial complex? If this is a problem, why are you online? Oh wait, I guess one only objects when such things are inconvenient. Convenience allows for a great deal of overlooking I suppose.
I’ve also often seen the NNV condemned as ablest. As someone with physical disability, let me tell you, you need a metric fuck-ton of courage to get through life. Those disabled in some way can fulfill every one of these virtues, otherwise what the detractors of the NNV are actually saying is that disabled people are disabled not only in body but in mind, heart, and character. That’s pretty foul. It’s infantilizing and really quite disrespectful to the struggle of differently abled people in our communities.
We should be encouraged to define the NNV for ourselves in our own lives, with respect to our own relationships with the powers. Or we should be encouraged to come up with our own system and values sustainably within and coherent with our traditions. Either way, character matters and it’s often difficult for people coming from monotheisms where they’re told what to believe and how to act, to encounter a system of ethics that encourages self-reflection and independence. I’d love to see discussions of other philosophies and ethical guidelines but it’s a whole lot easier to criticize and condemn than to create something positive. The NNV are situational guidelines and principles. I would love to see discussions on what it means to have courage in the modern world, what it means with respect to each person’s individual circumstances, what it means to have hospitality, to show hospitality, especially when one is impoverished or in the midst of scarcity. How does the hospitality shown to one’s Gods differ from what one shows to one’s friends or to strangers? Where are those philosophical conversations? Maybe we should all go back to Plato.(3)
- What amuses me the most is the people protesting the NNV often do so on the grounds (in part) that’s not ancient and yet, these are often pop culture pagans. So either antiquity is a valid criterion across the board, or this particular objection is bullshit.
- Not that I expect logical coherence from the pop culture crowd.
- Ironically, I’ve never been a fan of the NNV, because they are simplistic. One has to start somewhere though and it was only after reading The Six Questions of Socrates, that I began to look at them as more than formulaic.
I was skimming over a blog about the misguided (read: idiotically stupid) self-esteem movement of the late ’80s. The author is discussing the unfortunate consequences of this nonsense and the damage it has done to our children, etc. etc. In the middle of it, she offers a one line about modesty that I think is absolutely brilliant. It encapsulates what to me is the core meaning of modesty better than anything else I’ve ever read:
“Modesty is not shame but decorum. Humility is not self-abasement but respect.” — Anneli Rufus
As a polytheist, modesty is very important to me as part of right behavior and right relationship with my Gods. I really found this description particularly helpful in describing the core of a concept that seems to always evoke heated debate from various contingents.