Morality, Beliefs, and Ritual

Piscinus, over at the Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum yahoo group, recently reviewed “Ancient Supplication” by F. S. Naiden. Published by Oxford University Press, 440 pages and a bit pricey at $45. for the paperback edition, although cheaper used copies are available. A worthwhile book according to the review given by Piscinus. He concludes the review by noting that “There is a lot more in this book than the little attention it will receive warrants.” 

Piscinus provides several interesting quotations from the book:

“The modern tendency to neglect the act of judgment in favor of ceremony does not lack for an ancient precedent. According to diverse ancient sources misguided worshippers might evince the same tendency. They would perform a ceremony – in particular, they would bring the gods gifts – but would forget that the gods would evaluate them and might require more of them than a gift.”

“Socrates says that a good man and a god do not accept gifts from the wicked – thus rejuecting many, if not most – offerings to the gods. The notion that the wicked may give gifts to appease the gods meets with rejection too, for other passages show that gifts are no more acceptable for this purp0se than for any other. In the same vein, Isocrates says that rites would help a good man in the gods’ favor more than they would help a bad man. Aristotle says that the rites alone would never satisfy the gods, a worshipper needed to be deserving.”

“They object to supplication by the undeserving – to the performance of a ceremony when moral requirements have gone unmet. They want ceremony and morals to conform to one another.”

Piscinus provides a number of his own comments in the course of the review that are of value:

“People who insist that Roman ritual for the Gods may be performed by people who do not believe in the Gods, by people who are impure, immoral, and who act without true good intentions, simply do not know what they are talking about.”

“Ritual purity, as Cicero tells us, has everything to do with a guilt-free mind that results only from ethical responsibility and morality.”

“Roman ritual without belief is to be condemned.”

“Performance of Roman ritual without living an ethical life is to be condemned.”

“Performing a Roman ritual without being a moral person is to be condemned.”

“Anyone with an intrinsic perspective of the religio Romana would easily understand that this is the case. Why would the Gods ever listen to the prayers of someone who does not believe in Them, or who is a wicked person and thus would have only wicked intentions for offering sacrifice to the Gods? And why would any cultor want to have such unbelievers, immoral, or unethical people offer sacrifice on their behalf? Only someone outside the religion would advocate something different or hold that immoral actions would be overlooked by the Gods.”

I say, well said, Piscinus. I will also say that these comments by Piscinus are equally applicable to Greek, Egyptian, Caananite, Babylonian, and all the other ancient religions that are being revived today.

In a conversation in the Neos Alexandria yahoo group V. Valerius Volusus made a valuable observation: “I’ve seen classical polytheists attacked by Christians who accuse us of having no beliefs arguing from the common notion of classical orthopraxy or ritualism. However, that is a complete misunderstanding of what orthopraxy means (it’s a modern classification). Orthopractic piety does not imply that we have no systems of belief and formal theologies. Indeed, it was classical polythists who invented the very theological approach that Christians later coopted for their own purposes. The difference is not that we don’t have beliefs and doctrines concerning the nature of the gods and the place of humans in the divine order, it’s simply that we have no problem with heresy (hairesis). Heresy is anathema to political totalitarian regimes, but in the ancient world choice with regard to belief was considered to be perfectly acceptable situation – since rightly anything said about the gods can be no more than human and fallible speculation. On the other hand traditional rituals were considered to be more-or-less “set in stone”. The standard of piety was not based on beliefs, but on meeting traditional duties towards the gods using the correct ritual forms. Indeed, some stoic philosophers classified the virtue of piety as being the expression of justice towards the gods.”

“So, in terms of making a transition from an”orthodox” worldview like Catholocism or the various Orthodox Churches, it really comes down to whether we can accept heresy (haiesesis: choice, schools of thought) as the natural intellectual order for frail human beings who, when all is said and done, can claim diddly-squat when it comes to a knowledge of divinity.”

Well said, Volusus.

Published in: on August 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm  Comments (6)  
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Statues for Flora and Aphrodite


Flora with roses

Flora with roses

   Sometimes it can be difficult to find just the right image to offer to the Gods. I have been looking for a while for a statue of Aphrodite but couldn’t find anything I really liked except for a replica of the Venus Genetrix, which was “out of stock indefiinitely” at the shops to which I made inquiries. I was also looking for a statue of Flora, but the only two statues that I found that were identified as Flora were not at all suitable.

Then, quite by chance, I came across the two figurines shown here. They were identified as spirits of spring flowers, or fairies of spring. I looked at the pictures for a while and then decided that I had made a discovery. The figure with the roses would make a fine image of Flora, and after some consideration I thought that the figure with the lilies would be appropriate for Aphrodite. I don’t think that there are any ancient references that particularly associate Aphrodite with lilies, but now she has a new title (in my devotions anyway) “Aphrodite of the Lilies”. Roses are associated with both goddesses but I chose the figure with roses for Flora. Aphrodite has not been a major figure in my circle of deities in the past but she has been gently calling herself to my attention so I thought that I should do something. Flora used to be a major focus of devotion for me but over time that relationship gradually faded away. Well, Flora is back!
The style of the figures is Art Nouveau, after designs by Mucha. Not classical GraecoRoman exactly, but very nicely done.

Aphrodite with lilies

Aphrodite with lilies

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mystic Babblings of Doom

The singers of Null Device proclaim: “I am transcendent! I am confined!” “Time will never stay behind!” “…have all our plans been undone?”

Zeus Ammon has been withdrawn, taken away. For the moment. Has he spoken? Did anyone listen?

Athena has been withdrawn, taken away. For the moment. Where is wisdom?

Sobek roars. He shall come upon the land, devouring. For his people are not his people anymore. The faithful are gone, almost. The unfaithful swarm over the land. The ignorant wander through the shattered temples, not seeing what is in front of them. Lying babblers stand on the steps of the Parthenon in Athens, pointing. The unholy walk upon the marble steps of Rome. 

The land of the Nile totters on the brink, as do all the lands. Shall the people fall upon each other, destroying themselves? Will any survive? For behold, the foolish ones have prepared the pit of their own destruction, and they will be impaled on the stakes they have sharpened and consumed by the flames they have set. But the innocent may perish also. 

Furrows are being ploughed, seeds are being planted. Will these seeds sprout? Will they bring refreshment and renewal to this world, or will they have to revive a demolished world?

The deeps stir. Continents can be split by the stirring of the deeps. Random rocks drift through space, sometimes striking planets. These things have not happened for a long time, but they can happen again. Doom hangs by a thread. 

I stand upon the lake of becoming, upon the sea of being. What am I? What have I been? What shall I be?


Note: I am not sure what inspired this particular piece of babble. Perhaps I should reduce my intake of diet soda and sugar cookies. Hmmmm. Null Device, by the way, is a local music group here in Madison. Great music.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm  Comments (1)