You know, it's at times like this when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young! –Arthur Dent, Mostly Harmless

I had no idea how to write about wisdom, and the more I thought about it the more complicated it became. And then, looking over a couple of dictionary definitions it was suddenly very simple: wisdom is knowledge that cannot be gained through intellectual learning. Wisdom is the knowledge of experience. It is not a textbook that teaches us how to deal with difficult situations in life. Sure, some subjects may be helpful, such as psychology or logic, but in the end, they’re not going to tell you the best way to handle a difficult relationship or deal with a personal crisis.

Wisdom is not an inherent quality. It is something that we acquire with time and experience. When faced with a difficult choice, one might jump in blind and go with the first idea that comes to mind, or use the knowledge of previous experience to make a more sound choice. However not all wisdom must be learned firsthand- it is basic wisdom that teaches us not to put our hand on a hot stove burner however one need not have experienced a third degree burn to know the danger posed by the red-hot coils.
“Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Vision is literally the ability to perceive the world around you through sight. But more than that, vision is also the ability to look beyond mere physical sight and see something more, bigger, better. It is a virtue and a gift without which the world would be a dull, drab place.

It is through vision that an abandoned, overgrown and littered lot becomes a community park. And through vision, great works are created- art, literature, building, education, science, medicine…vision gives us commerce and technology. Once upon a time, a computer took up an entire building and performed little more than today’s four-function calculators. As a result of many people’s visions, there are calculators small enough to be incorporated into pens and wristwatches; computers are small enough to fit in the palm of our hands and powerful enough to create a full-length movie or replicate a symphony orchestra. Without vision none of this would be.

Vision allows someone to identify a need or a want and find a way to fulfill it. Vision has given us everything we have- from the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution to portable music players that sit on a fingertip to cures for diseases that only a few years ago spelled certain death for sufferers. Vision is what gives us new products and improves old ones
“…this Electric Monk had developed a fault and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they'd have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City.”
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency


Piety seems to be an idea that a lot of individuals in the Pagan world struggle with. It is difficult for many to reconcile with a pagan belief system this idea that is more often than not pinned solely to Christians, and brings to mind the image of celibacy and self-deprivation, monks or nuns kneeling and praying.

When I think of "piety" or "the pious", being originally from Central Pennsylvania, I initially think of a house church full of Amish people praying quietly. My mother's family is Catholic, and the other image that comes to mind is of course, monks chanting and nuns in adoration in some remote monastery. Or of martyrs: those who have died for their religious causes. Which is all well and good, but those are not the only images of piety.

For a while, I wasn't really sure myself how to see piety in a non-Christian context, and then one day I was flipping through my Dedicant's Program book and found a statement that made sense to me: "The virtue of Piety is about keeping faith, about keeping commitment to specific practices and works over a long period of time." (pg. 90) Stated this way, piety can be applied to any religion.

Recently, I was talking via Live Journal with another dedicant who had issues with the idea of piety, because she saw it as adhering to duty out of obligation.

My answer to this objection is simply this:

Personally, I don't believe that adhering to duty solely out of obligation is true piety. When one keeps obligations for no other reason than obligation itself, it opens the door for a lot of resentment- the pious are not resentful of what duties they keep. In my eyes, piety is not about obligation, but about keeping a commitment because it's in your heart to do so, because you want to, because you need to, because that is what is within you.
The word "impossible" is not in my dictionary. In fact, everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing.
-Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Perseverance is the virtue of not giving up. In the words of Tennyson, “To strive, to seek to find and not to yield.” Or as others may say in slightly less eloquent language, “keep on keepin’ on.”

The pagan community in the United States is currently living in the middle of a painful, very emotional lesson in perseverance- that of Roberta Stewart and her fight to have a pentacle placed on her husband’s memorial plaque in Arlington National Cemetery. Vowing to see its approval in her lifetime, she took up the mission- now in its ninth year-when Rosemary Kooiman passed away, unsuccessful in her attempts to have the symbol approved by the United States Veteran’s Administration. This has resulted in letters, phone calls, faxes, emails, meetings and rallies in support of the issue- even statements of support from such unlikely allies as the Rutherford Institute, one of the largest right-wing conservative Christian think tanks and lobbying organizations in the country.

Perseverance, a virtue that is also admired in our ancestors, is exemplified in such stories as the labors of Herakles.

Simply stated, perseverance is what pushes us to keep going when we’re past the point of giving up
"Zaphod grinned two manic grins, sauntered over to the bar and bought most of it."
- The Restaurant At the End Of The Universe

Moderation is a difficult virtue for many people to practice, so it should come as no surprise that it's also difficult for many to write about. The Delphic maxim “nothing in excess” is an excellent example of a concise definition of this concept.

The virtue of moderation is what allows one to go shopping in the most tempting store and purchase a small treat instead of spending all that’s in your wallet. It allows you to take a bowl of ice cream from the carton, not the entire carton itself, or have a glass of wine without downing the entire bottle. This is not to say that indulgence is always a bad thing- who hasn’t heard the saying “everything in moderation- including moderation”? However, a lack of control over one’s impulses and desires can be troublesome- or far more dangerous. It’s nearly impossible to turn to the media anymore without seeing news of some celebrity going into drug rehab, or advertisements for various means of help for those with any number of addictions. For those with addictions, moderation is extremely difficult or downright impossible.

In our contemporary culture in the US, advertisers and the media frequently seem to scream “More! Bigger! Faster! Extreme!” and we push ourselves to the limit in many ways- credit card debt and bankruptcy filings are out of control. Workaholics barely know their families. Cars and trucks are bigger, faster, louder. Many celebrities lead very public lives of hedonism and extreme indulgence.

We may consider a classic tale of indulgence- the tale of King Midas and his golden touch. When King Midas was granted his wish that everything he touched turned to gold, he got it…and everything he touched did turn to solid gold- including his own daughter.

King Midas’s tale and others particular to today’s society, such as the drug overdose of actor River Phoenix and the suicide of singer Kurt Cobain clearly illustrate that just because you seem to be getting everything you want does not necessarily mean that that is what’s right or what’s good and if you’re not careful, you may lose everything. These stories may be a bit more extreme than what most people face, but it is somewhat appropriate that they are a bit “larger than life” and therefore may be a wake up call or a lesson to some people that it’s not a good thing to- as the bumper sticker goes- “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”
"My doctor say that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency of moral fibre and that I am therefore excused from savinguUniverses."
- Slartibartfast, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Integrity is the quality of wanting to do the right thing- and doing it. Even when- especially when no one is looking and no one will find out. One who does the right thing only when the spotlight is on them cannot claim integrity. Without integrity, we could trust no one. We would have no families, no communities, no one to turn to in time of difficulty or crisis. Without integrity, we would never be able to leave our houses safely; life would be lived moment to moment worrying about defending ourselves from crime.

Integrity, however is not doing what’s right simply to avoid punishment, it’s doing what’s right because it’s right, even if it may result in punishment.
“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds”–Douglas Adams

At my first glance of the list of virtues, I was certain that I would have the most problems with fertility. Everyone knows that fertility is about having lots of kids, right? And I'm not particularly interested in having kids at this point in my life...even if I were, I am not in a position where it would be a realistic goal. However, this aspect of fertility is a vital one for humans, or any species to continue to exist. There is a stigma, even to an extent in the most advanced countries, on people who are unable or chose not to have children. In less advanced areas, or among the more superstitious, a woman who is unable to have children may be thought to have a curse. In some places, the very idea that one would grow up and actually make the choice to not have children is inconceivable. (No pun intended)

One other commonly considered aspect of fertility is that of the land: farms, fields, fruit-bearing trees...our lives depend on the fertility of vegetation and animals; it is how we obtain our food. We would die without it.

Even today, two of the very common things that people pray for are for fertility of the body- to have children, and (depending on the area and religion)- fertility of the land. Most if not all pre-Abrahamic religions are said to have been, or at least to have started out as- cults of fertility. All cultures that I have come across in research have at least one, and usually several if not many deities relating to grain, vegetation, animals, sexuality, birth, reproduction...all of which are connected to fertility.

But these are not the only aspects of fertility. Intellectually, I know this but I was still having some problems getting past the "fertility means making babies" aspect. If I had any mental hang-ups before, this Beltane has presented the opportunity for me to better understand and embrace fertility in another form.

After doing research on Belenus and Epona, and in the week leading up to Beltane, I suddenly had ideas popping out of nowhere. I was waking up in the middle of the night, writing a poem and falling back to sleep. My invocation to Belenus practically fell out of the pen and onto the paper. By the time Friday rolled around, from out of nowhere I had a grand plan to start a local group for studying Hellenic tradition, and for things that could be done within ADF to facilitate other people's study. I have a list of things that I want to accomplish, books to read and interests to pursue. How I will work this all into my life in a realistic way, I'm not sure...but that, I have no doubt will be at least a part of my lesson in moderation.

Creativity and ideas are often not thought of immediately when one hears the word, however they are vital aspects of fertility as well, without which we would not have any of the things which we do- no one would design and build our houses, offices, schools, modes of transportation. We would not have conversation or telephones or computers- communication, We would be without music, art, books, movies, television, plays, dancing- no entertainment or ways for learning...we simply would not be.

I believe that it may be concluded that of the nine Pagan virtues, fertility in its many forms is the one that without, the human race simply would not exist. Without any of the others, we would live greatly diminished lives, but we could still survive and continue. Without fertility...we would have nothing.
“Don’t panic.”- The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

There was, a few years ago, an urban legend circulating amongst college students of a philosophy class at an unnamed college, with a particularly eccentric professor. For the final exam if this class, he handed to each student a single sheet upon which was printed a single question: What is courage?

Legend has it that one student answered this question with an equally brief answer, two words simply stating: "This is." Legend also says that this student received the only A.

Such a stunt would certainly require a good deal of courage, however this student did not define courage, he demonstrated an example. Courage is taking action despite one's fears, anxieties or inhibitions. Greek mythology is littered with heroes who performed great tasks...there is the story of Bellerophon, a young Corinthian prince who goes off in search of adventure. Proteus, a jealous companion wishes for the death of Bellerophon, request that the king of the land kill him but the king, thinking it not wise to kill the prince outright, arranges for him to be sent to kill the terrible Chimera thinking that Bellerophon could not possibly survive. Bellerophon did the unthinkable, slayed the Chimera and won the favor of the king, wedding his daughter and later inheriting his throne.

The ancients lauded acts of bravery and courage, and it is an admiration that is not diminished in contemporary society. One of the most popular fictional characters today, Harry Potter, faces all manner of challenges, from dealing with a nasty, ill-tempered Uncle Vernon to a war with Lord Voldemort, the most powerful, evil wizard that ever lived. On a more serious note, our country, referred in song to the "land of the free and the home of the brave", is dotted with monuments to soldiers who have served and died in wars and battles. In many towns and cities, parades and other festivities are held on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other occasions to recognize the service of those in the armed forces, an occupation which, by its very natures requires courage of its people. In 2001, after the tragedy of September 11th, memorials and tributes were offered around the country- and around the world- to the victims and survivors. Special attention was also paid to law enforcement officials, fire fighters, military personnel and those who died while trying to stop the hijackers.

On a smaller scale, courage is shown by people every day- elementary school children standing up to playground bullies, office workers risking their jobs to face a tyrannical boss, homosexual men and women coming out to their family and friends, a small child sleeping without a night light for the first time...these are all events which require one to move through and beyond their fears and anxieties, despite the risks getting beaten up, losing a job, being shunned by one's family, being eaten by the closet monster.

Often we find that when faced with a tough situation, we are able to act in a manner much more courageous than we previously thought possible, innumerable folks have found in everyday situations such as the schoolyard bully, as well as under much more dire and widespread circumstances.

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asthefiretree

March 2010

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