Well, it’s apparently “Pagan values blogging month”,which is a good excuse to get caught up on my virtues essays. The second virtue that ADF would like me to pontificate on is “piety”.
ADF defines piety as “correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, both personal and societal, that we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty“. This seems as apt a definition as any; my Kindle definition is rather simpler, defining piety as “the quality of being religious or reverent“.
The ‘DP Through the Wheel of the Year’ suggests thinking about people you would consider ‘pious’. Interestingly, when I think about piety within the Pagan community I am actually struck by how few people I have met that I would actually say are pious. There are certainly some, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Of course, in Western culture there is a certain stigma attached to appearing ‘too religious’, and in mixed company politics and religion are considered taboo subjects. Therefore it is very likely that I have met many people who are genuinely pious but who simply keep quiet about it. However, I still think that these people are in the minority and that the majority of Pagans just aren’t all that pious. Being quite honest about it, I would put myself in that majority as well, but more on that shortly.
It is not that I think that Pagans are intentionally impious. Sure, there are lots of people who call themselves Pagan but who are really just interested in magic, or who believe that the gods are just abstract archetypes, or that the divinity is everywhere. For these kinds of people, piety either isn’t considered a virtue, or is conceived of in a very different manner than the definition used by ADF.
Beyond these people, however, I believe that there is a large population of Pagans who just simply don’t know how to be pious. They know themselves to be Pagans; they sense the workings of the Old Gods around them, they feel the calling of the Old Ways, but they just do not know how to properly honour the Gods and Spirits. They might set up a small altar in their homes, pour the occasional libation, perhaps go to Pagan festivals or Pride Days, and probably do at least something to mark the High Days. Other than that, they simply don’t know how to go about being more pious.
So the point is that I can’t point to very many role models of piety whom I personally know. However, I can reflect on some of our ancestors who were considered pious by their contemporaries. By this, I am not referring to those Christian kings for whom the moniker “The Pious” generally meant that they were inept rulers. Rather, I am thinking in particular of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, who was generally held up an example of piety by the Romans. Plutarch tells us that Numa devoted himself “not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and the rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.” It is said that Numa spent much of his reign instituting various religious reforms, including opening new temples, establishing the office of the Pontifus Maximus, and creating the order of the Vestal virgins. Plutarch further tell us that Numa decreed that “his citizens should neither see nor hear any religious service in a perfunctory and inattentive manner, but, laying aside all other occupations, should apply their minds to religion as to a most serious business.”
Based on the lessons of Numa Pompilius, I do think that I can suggest some behaviours that I think are indicative of piety. These include actively honouring the Gods, Spirits, and Ancestors on a regular basis and in an appropriate manner, devoting oneself wholly to acts of worship and not simply performing them by rote, and always acting in a manner consistent with our understanding of what is required by the Gods and the Goddesses.
It is a virtue that I strive for, but have only really begun to work on.