|Posted by Éirinn bean mac Iain on May 24, 2014 at 1:45 PM|
Article author Manuela Simeoni discusses the nature of the ancient polytheistic ethic from a Roman perspective, and how it can be applied to contemporary polytheist traditions today. In examining his three points from a Gaelic polytheist perspective, one can appreciate how they align with the body of Gaelic religio-cultural polytheist tradition, and practice of its folk religion in today’s world. The article may be read here:
What I most appreciate about Simeoni’s perspective is that it is firmly grounded in the bedrock of Tradition, which I find uncommon in a lot of Celtic polytheist discourse today. Granted, this may be because Romans recorded and preserved much of their polytheistic tradition, while Celts did not, but this article also presents a true reverence for Tradition, which I find refreshing, and something with which I personally relate. Being grounded in the ways of my Ancestors, Tradition is the means through which they lived and expressed their ancestral ways, and passed them on to future generations. Understanding oneself as a part of this ancestral thread, even still with so much having been lost, never-the-less provides a strong anchor into something lasting and firm, and a faithful guide as to how to embody that thread as Living Tradition in my life today. This orientation also provides a spiritual attitude towards Tradition, creating an ethic which differs from the social ethics typically discussed in historical polytheist contexts, which creates an adjunct to them, if not a more encompassing context for them.
Taking Tradition as his starting point, Simeoni’s three bases can be summed up as: a) mindfulness to tradition and religion; b) respect and harmony towards the land in this world; and c) relating to tradition as both a body which one receives, and one which one passes on to future generations. Here is now I see these three bases reflecting in the body of Gaelic tradition.
The mindfulness indicated in Simeoni’s first basis comes from the Latin definitions of religio vs superstitio, roots of our words religion and superstition. According to Cicero, the difference between the two is knowledge and mindfulness of that knowledge. Superstitions are repeated without understanding the reasons for the actions, but religious acts are done with attention given to the reasons for them, creating this distinction. So the first ethic in guiding spiritual behavior is to always remain mindful of tradition, ones gods, and ones religious acts. In practicing the Creideamh Sidhe, the pre-Christian Gaelic folk religion, we can maintain this mindfulness towards Gaelic tradition by studying and engaging with Gaelic myth, folklore, faery lore, Irish Triads, Gaelic proverbs, Brehon Law, song, poetry, and folkways. When our religious practices and concepts of the gods flow from Tradition, remaining mindful of it is built in. We can remain mindful of our gods and religious acts by bringing all of our focus and attention to those acts, to deepen their relevance and meaning in our lives, and how they connect us with our gods, ancestors, and land. This suggests to me both a cultural and a spiritual ethic, and I like the way they are seamlessly blended, and inform each other.
The respect and harmony in Simeoni’s second basis stems from how we talk about the gods- a god of this place, or goddess of that river, etc. They are discussed as being of the land, and indeed it is in this life, upon the land, through which we come to know and interact with them. Therefore, he concludes, we ought to respect and seek to be in harmony with the land. In Gaelic myth, our gods first come to the land from otherworldly isles, and then after a final battle, go into the land, dwelling in its hills and mounds. So, we can see how our gods are literally within and of the land, and we can then appreciate the suggestion to honor the land for this reason. This ethic is also evident in the ancestral tradition of the King’s Truth, in which the tribal leader who ritually married the sovereignty goddess of the tribe’s land was bound to rule with justice and generosity, which was the expression of Firinne, or Cosmic Truth. While he did, the land goddess approved, and provided peace and plenty for the tribespeople. When he failed to live up to Firinne, through stinginess and injustice, the land goddess withheld her blessings of bounty, causing famine and drought and strife among the people. The land literally blessed or rejected the rule of the tribal leader. Each of us today lives on land which is properly viewed as sovereign in its own right, and each of us can choose to live in accordance with Firinne, which harmonizes with and upholds Cosmic Truth or Natural Order. When we do, we demonstrate respect and harmony, towards the land and its beings, and towards each other, with whom we share the gift of life.
Simeoni’s third basis returns again to the theme of Tradition, and emphasizes our place and role within it, and our duties towards it. This third basis is the one I find most lacking in contemporary polytheist discourse today. In his examination of what Tradition is, he looks to its Latin root, traditio, which comes from the verb tradere, to deliver. Mindfulness towards this inherent meaning shows us that Tradition is something delivered to us from Ancestors and Elders, and is therefore in turn something we are intended to deliver to our own future generations. Tradition is meant to be the thread which connects the generations, and which is meant to be delivered on in perpetuity, to preserve the knowledge, wisdom, and identity it contains for ones descendants. Though there have been disruptions in this deliverance, we still receive delivered tradition all the same when we research and study the traditions of our Ancestors, from where we are, as far back as we can go, and connect those to wider cultural traditions which can be followed back to their ancient roots. In this sense, we still receive, although the method of delivery is indirect, and not ideal. But what this ethic reminds us is that what has been delivered to us comes with a responsibility and a duty- not only to practice it today for ourselves, but to deliver it again to our own future generations. This constitutes our role towards Tradition. Tradition will be naturally evolved and adapted by each generation to suit its situation and subsequent needs, but its basic elements and roots will still be intact and traceable. This is what constitutes Living Tradition, and our adaptations per our own situations of our times then becomes a part of that thread. That thread is meant to perpetuate itself through the reflections of the generations, and it is our role to ensure that this thread carries on. So what we practice today is not only for ourselves, to suit our own personal fancies, but are spiritual and cultural lifeways belonging to a Tradition, which began long before us, and is meant to extend far beyond us. As a part of the gratitude and humbleness we express towards those Ancestors and Elders who delivered the Tradition to us, we in turn deliver it, with honor and integrity, to our future generations, because, Tradition does not belong to us, we belong to Tradition. And because Tradition is communal, we need not feel that sharing traditions with ones own children is the only means to this end. Our community can also be thought of as broader than those we know in our face-to-face lives, since we regularly communicate with others of like mind in other means. One can be a part of adults or elders in a religio-cultural community and deliver tradition to the youth of that community communally; one could write stories for youth to share online which deliver Tradition; one could share customs with extended family like cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren which deliver Tradition, in addition to raising ones children at home with Tradition. The important thing is to understand the role, duty, and relevance of delivering it to future generations, as a part of respectfully and humbly engaging with Tradition.
I think Simeoni’s three bases deserve to be held as a basis for engaging with Tradition in our religio-cultural traditions, and a means of shaping our Ethic as traditional pagans/polytheists.