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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Maxims and Admonitions

“Know yourself” and “Nothing in excess” are the best known of the Delphic Maxims once displayed at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. The contemplation of these very short phrases can be very instructive and inspirational. Here are my own versions of these ancient maxims.

 

Know Yourself

Know who you are and what you are.

Know what you can be, and what you can do.

Know what you can not be, and what you can not do.

 

Nothing in Excess

All things in moderation, including, sometimes, moderation.

 

Heaven helps those who help themselves.

The Gods will not do for Man what Man must do for himself.

 

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The stoic philosophers are advocates of the idea that one should accept the meanderings of fate and live a quiet and resigned life, detached from ordinary everyday concerns. The philosophers are not always correct or even practical in their ideas, and the pursuit of a resigned detached life is not necessarily a good ideal. Sometimes, rather than going quietly into the night, you need to go fighting and screaming all the way. Sometimes you should defy fate, as best you can. I rather like the old poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley, which can be viewed as a hymn to the virtues of persistence and determination.

 

INVICTUS

by William Earnest Henley

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance,

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishment the Scroll,

I an the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.  

 

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Some general advice, culled from various sources:

 

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.

 

Find a way, or make one.

 

Stay motivated and never lose hope.

 

Never, never, never give up.

 

Of course, advice is easy to give and hard to take, and even the best intended advice sometimes doesn’t work.

Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 11:06 am  Comments (1)  
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