Well, this seems as good a time as any to start gathering my thoughts on Piety. It’s another of those ADF virtues that we’re asked to consider during the Dedicant Path year. It’s also something that there’s been a lot of talk about on the internet recently, at least in Pagan and polytheist circles. To a very tedious degree. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that – however you want to worship the gods (or honour the earth or pursue spirituality) – we are currently boring the pants off the deities. I can just see the great Powers That Be now, sitting on Mount Olympus/in Asgard/under the Irish sidhe mounds/in the heavens, rolling their eyes at their devotees who are going ON AND ON about what Piety is or is not. And maybe the pantheons are having an argument about whose worshippers are the most boring. Or telling jokes to lighten the mood. Lugh, Thor and Athena walk into a bar…
So now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m going to talk about Piety.
There’s been a move, recently, for polytheists to retreat into silence for a month in protest at the way that the gods are being represented in the Pagan community. Well, this polytheist is anything but silent, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Quite apart from the inadequacy of silence as a tool of protest – see this post, by a recent guest on my podcast*, for more on that… Well, I find the whole concept of protesting other people’s forms of worship to be very distasteful. It’s as bad as Christians telling their LGBT fellow Christians that they’re living a sinful life. And I didn’t leave Christianity just to find more of that in Paganism. I’m not listening to anyone who says I’m not pious enough because I don’t do this, that, or the other.
On the other hand, I also hear a lot of sniggering from those who think my concept of religion/spirituality is too rigid, too organized, too pious. Be more free! they say. Move on from old-style ritual and worries about whether you’re honouring the gods well enough! Or even, Don’t bother with that concept of the gods at all – we’re too advanced for that, in our wonderful post-Christian enlightened paradisiacal age! Well, I’m not listening to those protests, either. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud that I’m a polytheist. I’m proud that I was called by gods, and that I don’t see them as archetypes or as social concepts, but as real, individual spirits who deserve my pious attention. I am who I am.
But having said all of that… ADF doesn’t ask me what piety isn’t. It asks what I believe piety is. And I think that’s the problem with much of the debate that’s been going on around this subject – it spends much more time on what it is not, and not enough sharing our very personal concepts of what it is. (Which is a shame – I’d really like to learn more about the wonderful diversity of opinion on how to honour the gods or live in right relationship with the land. I like the amazing range of diversity in our community.)
Today, I woke up to find that my wife wasn’t feeling well, one of the cats had pooed behind the office chair, the kitchen was a terrible mess after yesterday’s excellent barbeque, the cats were yelling FEED ME NOW, I had an upcoming meeting that was making me nervous, someone on the internet had been rude to me, and I wasn’t sure I had time for my morning ritual. I’m taking a course with the marvellous Cat Treadwell at the moment, and she’s getting us to think about integrating ritual better into everything we do. And so, always up for a challenge, I decided I’d try to do everything with awareness and in piety. I cleaned up the poo behind the chair in honour of my hearth goddess (I think she found that amusing). I tidied the kitchen and did the washing-up in honour of the virtue of hospitality that we got to enjoy last night, and the lovely people we entertained. I prayed a prayer of thanks for the abundance of the land and the lovely weather, as I fed the cats out in the beautiful, blooming garden. I asked the Morrigan and Bhearra to help me to exercise sovereignty in the meeting, and worked on feeling strong and centred in my hearth, where I begin all my work, spiritual or material. I made a cup of tea, turned on the computer, took a deep breath, and thanked the rude person for their thoughts on the subject we’d been discussing. (After all, they’re a human being with feelings and spiritual potential, not just words on a webpage.) And then, with my last five minutes before the meeting, I finally made it to my shrine, and said some brief prayers from the Celtic reconstructionist tradition.
None of that was easy for me. I find it so much easier to do an hour-long rite at my shrine than to go into the world, face the music and bring my gods along with me for the ride. I’m not good at integrating my spirituality with my ‘mundane’ life. I tend to want to get lost in mysticism. But I’m currently trying to do a ‘365 days of mysticism’ exercise, where I meditate on (and sometimes tweet) the wisdom of the great mystics – and you can tell from their writing that they lived integrated lives, rooted in the world, rather than separated from it. Yes, they spent a lot of time with their god/s, but they didn’t ignore the reality around them, either. Hildegard of Bingen wrote about the presence of the Divine in the physical world around her. Pedro Casaldaliga is a bishop in the Brazilian rainforest, where he works to defend the indigenous people and the forest. Dietrich Bonhoffer escaped the Gestapo, but then returned to Germany to oppose Hitler, and was hanged just before the Americans liberated his prison. The poetry of Rumi, a Muslim and Sufi mystic, is often about aspects of the real, physical world as metaphors for (or embodiments of) the soul reaching towards Allah. Meister Eckhart, maybe the greatest mystic of the West, was condemned by the pope for his support of women, peasants and the poor. Bede Griffiths was a sort of interfaith Christian-and-Hindu monk, who saw the Divine in everything in India, including in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and in sacred sexuality. Starhawk and T Thorn Coyle are visionaries whose activism and mysticism inspires me. The authors of the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad Gita and even the Tain, whoever they were, whether individuals or entire communities, left incredible spiritual legacies.
These people are my inspiration for piety. These are my models. They served their community, honoured their gods in everything they did, defended the victims of social injustice, protected the land, and much more. Most of them did not honour the gods that I honour. That’s not really the point, though. My gods have enough worshipers. They don’t need my evangelism. They need my work in the world on their behalf. I am their hands (and their ears and their eyes and their feet), to paraphrase Teresa of Avila (another great mystic). For me, piety is campaigning with other disabled people, speaking up for the homeless and the jobless and the oppressed, taking action to defend the environment, doing inter-faith work that helps bring our human tribe a bit closer together, helping others to tell their stories, teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, doing my PhD work where it relates to social justice, educating people, helping people, empowering people… All in the names of my gods, who give me the power to carry on with these things when I’d really rather not.
Piety, for me, involves honouring the gods, the land and the people. So here’s my personal vow of piety. I honour those Pagans who worship in different ways from me. I honour those Pagans who have different spiritual/religious beliefs from me. I honour those Pagans on different paths from me. I honour those whom I share a Pagan path with, from my grove-mates to fellow travellers on the internet – our beliefs, too, are as different as they are similar. I honour those people, in every religion, who are not Pagan, but who connect with the All in beautiful, enchanting and meaningful ways. I honour my ancestors, on whose shoulders I stand. I honour the spirits of the land, from the aes sidhe to the local river goddess whose name has been forgotten. I honour the animals I live with and those I share the land with, as well as those who are my sources of food, to whom I am very thankful. I honour the plants and trees, and the rivers and mountains, and the earth and the stones. And, in all things, I honour the gods who have called me – my household gods, the gods who act as patrons of my work, the gods of my ancestors, and the gods of my tribe.
And that’s all the talking that I’m doing about that. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get on with actual piety.
*Divine Community. Go and listen to it. We’re not being silent this month, either – there’s a new episode on the way in the next week or so!