[Dedicant Path Requirement] Courage

According to ADF, courage is “the ability to act appropriately in the face of danger.” I happen to like the American Heritage Dictionary’s spin on it: courage is “the ability to discern right action, and take it, regardless of consequences.” I think it is this second definition is closest to my idea of courage. It seems like there is something integral missing from ADF’s definition – courage is right action in the face of fear, but it’s something else, too. It’s right action no matter what, no matter the personal cost. An example I can give of it is monks who self-immolate as an act of protest; that is courageous. It is acting rightly in the interest of others, even in spite of your own well-being. Courage is often synonymous with altruism. But I think I would add that courage requires not only action, but deep thought and self-possession; resolution is integral to courage, because courage is a weighed thing. It is not courage if it is heedless. (In thise sense, the idea of ‘liquid courage’ is an interesting one, because it seems to me that you would only need to acquire it if you had assessed the situation, decided what needed done, and decided that you had to do it – and then tried to make it easier for yourself to do what needed done. It takes courage to decide that something you can’t face soberly needs done, and psych yourself up to do it anyway – even if you have to employ outside means.)
I think there’s certainly something to saying that courage is equivalent to ‘having heart’, or referring to deeply courageous people by names like ‘great heart’ or ‘great soul.’ That is because altruism and empathy are important components of courage. Being courageous is often not for one’s own benefit, but for others. It takes a great heart to move past one’s own powerful fear and act in the way that is necessary for others.
I also think in speaking of courage we should also put an emphasis on consequences – because I think the ability to not only take the right action but then ‘face the music,’ so to speak, is the core of courage. When I think of a myth that displays courage, I think of Sisyphus and his rock. Sisyphus displays courage because he defies the gods, but more importantly, because he eventually accepts the consequences. He is willing to die, but he is also willing to seize life, and again to pay for it (even if the payment is extortion).

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[Dedicant Path Requirement] Moderation

Moderation is an exercise in discipline and balance. Discipline: as St. Augustine said, ‘complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.’ Moderation is not passive; it is conscious, interactive, integrative. It takes work. It means walking in the world, experiencing extremes, and yet being grounded enough to return to center. Moderation as discipline brings to mind tempering: through an extreme process, the material being tempered is made less brittle, more flexible, less given to extremes – able to to bend instead of break. That is the purpose of moderation. Moderation is easy to explain in terms of balance: moderation is a balancing act. It means seeing all sides, trying all approaches, saving room for risks. ‘Nothing precious, all things sacred’ (Alanis Morissette) encapsulates moderation-as-balance for me. Moderation is, I think, the value I wish for most in those who would be warriors. We often think that other virtues are integral to warriors – courage, integrity, perseverance – but one of the lessons I have learned through activism is that most of being a warrior is waiting – being ready, while also being calm and still. Maybe that’s why so many martial traditions also emphasize things like meditation. The time that you spend in battle is a miniscule percentage compared to the time that you spend preparing and waiting. Without moderation, it is possible to lose touch with the way of the world, to become subsumed in the battle even when it is not ongoing. Moderation allows us to keep on speaking terms with the inner and outer worlds. This is a lesson we can carry over into spiritual practice and ritual tradition – especially today, as many people come converts from another religion, many have a tendency to push too far into worlds unknown. The lesson moderation gives us is this: ‘stay grounded.’

[Dedicant Path Requirement] Vision

When I hear the word ‘vision,’ the first thing I think of is a quote first spoken by Robin McKinley: “Come, let us build a ship of the future, in an ancient pattern that journeys far…” which falls nicely in line with ADF’s definition – “the ability to discern our role in the cosmos, in relation to past, present, and future.” Dictionary definitions are more extensive: according to Merriam-Webster, vision can be “something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy, especially a supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation,” “a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial,” “the act or power of imagination,” “unusual discernment or foresight,” or “direct mystical awareness of the supernatural.” Vision is seeing both what is here and what is beyond – what is, and what could be. It implies the ability to take the possible and make it actual. ADF’s definition captures something important – vision is never without context and history. That’s something that the other definitions fail to emphasize, but the main reason that I like the McKinley quote so much. Context is how we interpret the symbols we are sent, both historically and presently. Vision, I think, is the ability to interpret multiple contexts and a shifting flow of information in a way that is beneficial to the individual and the community.

[Dedicant Path Requirement] Fertility

In my mind the crux of fertility lies in this definition, from Merriam Webster: “affording abundundant possibilities for growth or development.” Most dictionary definitions of fertility bounce back and forth between productivity and innovation – a balancing act we face every day as neopagans searching for the sweet spot between wisdom, vision,and right action. But in the main, fertility requires embodiment and action; it is the translation of potential into actual, the realization and disemination of things. I think the ADF definition does right in adding an element of sensuality to the idea of fertility, because fertility also means richness and diversity. Fertility is, in the most basic sense, about reproduction. But reproduction can be more than simple sex – it can mean reproduction in the sense of teaching students or sharing ideas. There’s an outward-reachingness in fertility – not only productiveness for yourself, but enrichment and nourishment for others. It means dropping roots and setting blossoms, offering nectar.

[Dedicant Path Requirement] Integrity

Almost every American schoolchild is familiar with the story of how George Washington unknowingly cut down a cherry tree as a child . This story is told to illustrate the virtue of integrity, which Washington showed by admitting that the loss of the tree was his fault even though his father was furious about it. Washington’s honesty illustrates a common definition of integrity: “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” ADF says integrity is ”honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence.” But I think that the integrity might be closer to a second definition: “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” To me, integrity is holding on to one’s core self and values even in the face of ridicule or threat. I think we can call integrity a sense of certainty, an unshakableness. Someone with integrity cannot be compromised or adulterated – they will always tell you their truth, always show you themselves. Integrity means there are things that cannot be taken from you – that you cannot be changed from the outside by things that are done to you. The most memorable example of integrity for me is the character Valerie from V for Vendetta. She says, “our integrity…is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free. …It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years, I had roses, and apologized to no one. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. It is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing the world worth having.” She maintained her essential self, even though so much had been done to and taken from her – that, to me, is integrity.

[Dedicant Path Requirement] Wisdom

The Mother Grove defines wisdom as “good judgement, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about, and decide on the correct response.” While I don’t object to this definition, I do think that it is incomplete – too dry and intellectual. In my experience, wisdom tends to be a little more intuitive – breathless, less than logical. Wisdom is knowing, that’s the common thread: knowing secrets, almost, or being able to read the signs. I agree wholeheartedly with ‘the ability to perceive people and situations,’ (and I don’t really object to ‘good judgement’ although I like ‘good knowledge’ better,) but I think that ‘using courage and vision to discern the correct action’ would be more accurate ending to the dfinition. In my experience, wisdom is about knowledge (both hard and intuitive), insight, and discernment. In mythology, I think, people are considered wise when they are able to respond appropriately and sensitively to any situation, no matter how unfamiliar. Wisdom is also associated with age, and when someone is particularly wise we say they are “old souls” or “wise beyond their years,” but wisdom is also associated with the honesty, curiosity, and wonder of children.  Wisdom is a mix of good observation, sensitivity, openness, practicality, and experience. One of my favorite examples of wisdom is the character of Sophie in the movie Howl’s Moving Castle, at the end of the story, when she’s trying to get a witch to give back a stolen heart. Sophie eventually manages to convince her to give up the heart, and when she does, Sophie thanks her – not because the heart was the witch’s to give or keep, but because Sophie knows how difficult it was for her to give it up. The way Sophie dealt with that situation – explaining why they needed the heart in a way that moved the witch, and acknowledging her experience and her pain after she gave it up – shows wisdom, in my mind.

[Dedicant Path Requirement] Yule 2013

We celebrated this year’s Yule in a time-honored fashion: we ate, drank, and were merry. There’s a slowly-solidifying group of pagans-and-heathens (in the inspecific sense of the word) that’s beginning to make a habit of celebrating together – one of the things that came out of this  Yule was an invitation to share practice, experience and workings with another solitary. This time we were seven: four pagans, two atheists, and a Jewish friend. We met in a candle-filled house for a potluck, games, and enthusiastic but somewhat dismal renditions of paganized Christmas carols (This Solstice Night, Silent Night, Solstice Night, Have Yourself A Pagan Sort of Christmas). Our resident bard brought her guitar (as usual) and sang us through some divination. While I prefer slightly more structured ritual celebration, it was a good change to have a more organic experience led by the group.