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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pagan Piety

  I'm in the mood for a bit of a rant today, so you've been warned.... 
   There is probably no faster way to start a fight on a pagan discussion board than to bring up the subject of piety in any form. For some reason the topic itself seems to immediately put people on the defensive, as if even discussing it is implicitly judging everyone. If I could have one wish relating to how the pagan community interacts among itself (hey a girl can dream) I think I would wish that each individual would stop judging everyone else based on what works for the individual.
  For example if you bring up the topic of devotions on a discussion group, instead of an actual discussion about devotional practices many times it very quickly devolves into more-pagan-than-thou pissing matches. Not everyone sinks to this level, but inevitably someone will comment on how essential frequent devotions are and someone else will react by accusing anyone who does devotional work of having Christian baggage, and then it just becomes a big argument. There doesn't seem to be any respect for the natural variation that occurs within any community; no acknowledgement that with such a personal thing as connection to the gods and spirits what works for one person may be useless for another. And it doesn't seem to matter at all how valuable the practice is for the people who like it, which makes no sense to me. I understand discussing how historically accurate something is or how a practice fits into reconstruction, but the idea of ignoring evidence in support of something and condemning a practice entirely as "unpagan" just because the speaker doesn't like it is ridiculous.
  This is also seen a lot when the subject of dedication to a deity comes up. Within the pagan community you'll see the full range, from people who aren't sure the gods exist and only acknowledge them on holy days to those who feel enough of an affinity to a deity to dedicate themselves to that Power. Actually even within the sub-culture of those who have chosen to dedicate there can be a lot of judgment based on each individual's definition of what dedication means. But one way or another it always seems to come back to some people feeling threatened by others who do things differently, as if the other people's different practice is a judgment on the individual's own piety. A heathen who only acknowledges the gods at blot is no more or less "right" than one who is fulltrui with a deity - the relationships are just different ways to connect to deity based on what works for that individual (and of course what the gods want from them). In the same way a CR who does daily devotionals to the deithe and an-deithe is no more or less right than one who doesn't.
  None of this is to say that there aren't legitimate issues within the subject of piety that are worth arguing over; however it seems like whenever the subject comes up people lose all perspective and let their own bias take over. The community might judge our actions to decide how well or poorly we fit into the community, but in the end it is the gods and spirits themselves who will decide the value of our efforts.
  Piety isn't a competition to see who can get the most god-brownie-points, it's a way to live in right relation with the gods and spirits around us. And, however tribal my overall view of religion is, when you get down to it how we each individually relate to those gods and spirits is unique to each of us. Actions are meaningless if they are being done without the right intention or as empty duty, and not doing what we feel moved to do out of piety because of community judgment also detracts from our connection to deity.
    For my own part I think the most important factor is the spirit any action for the gods is done in, because piety, true piety, is the inner motivation that moves us. Although there can be value in pushing through spiritual dry periods by continuing to practice even when we aren't feeling very connected, in general I don't think we should do what we do not feel in our hearts nor should we hesitate to act when we feel called to if we want to build a real connection to Powers outside ourselves. So I will leave you with this quote I stumbled across on "Are you not aware that all offerings whether great or small that are brought to the Gods with piety have equal value, whereas without piety, I will not say hecatombs, but, by the Gods, even the Olympian sacrifice of a thousand oxen is merely empty expenditure and nothing else?"
- Flavius Claudius Julianus the Pious and Philiosopher


  1. You are awesome, "god-brownie-points" lol. I agree with what you are saying. Intent is everything, and people get too caught up in how other people's practices differ from theirs. I don’t want to be one of those people who “blames it on Christianity” so to speak., but I think worrying about how another’s practices makes you feel about your own (if she does things this way, does that mean what I do is wrongs, that kind of thing) does stem from a mind set many have encountered within Christianity. The concept that there must be one right way of worship. I don’t think it has anything to do with having Christian baggage, its just a mindset many of us have learned, and need to unlearn.

  2. Very nice rant with a lot of great points.

  3. Piety (I had to look it up)1.The quality of being religious or reverent. 2. The quality of being dutiful.

    Human beings being what we are, we seem to have self-centric worldviews which take some work to get out of. Therefore the Witch-Wars. Charge of the Goddess says "All acts of Love and Pleasure are my Rituals". Our Eclectic motto has always been "Mirth and Reverence--Heavy on the Mirth" These two work for me ! Your mileage of course may vary, is what I tell others.