Lee the Chaos Witch has a good post on virtues for the student of Paganism.
I recommend you read the whole thing, since there isn’t really a concise synopsis I can quote and I’m not inclined to plagiarize the whole thing here.
But Lee sums up five key virtues for those studying magic and Paganism:
- Humility: “There is nobility in being humble and acknowledging that you know nothing.“
- Respect: “People are going to tune out if you are disrespectful and manners matter.”
- Initiative: “Get off your butt and find some stuff out for yourself.”
- Discernment: “It might be just what you need, or it might be a load of horse shit.“
- Wonder: “Don’t take yourself or others too seriously and enjoy the ride.”
I cannot stress enough how excellent all of these are.
And Lee hammers home how important these qualities are with one simple statement:
These qualities have been specified to a ‘magical’ context but can be translated in many arenas of life.
I think it’s fantastic not only that Lee has identified these virtues, but recommended them in a Pagan context. As well as identifying their importance beyond.
Because when you think about it, the fragmented nature of Paganism as well as the distrust of anything remotely similar to anything that might be like something that resembles anything that Christianity does means that there aren’t many codified lists of virtues that Pagans should aspire to. As a group we tend to distrust textual regulations and rules that restrict our moral action, preferring instead to
act with impunity rationalize our bad behavior find our own way.
I suppose there is the Wiccan Rede, but as we know I’m not too fond of it.
But there are some subsets of Paganism that do have codified virtues to aspire to.
Heathens are really big on virtue and honor, so it should come as no surprise that they have several codes to follow, depending on what kind of Heathen you are or what tradition you affiliate with.
The Odinic Rite has Nine Noble Virtues:
- Self Reliance
In addition to this, there are also the Nine Charges to guide good behavior:
- To maintain candour and fidelity in love and devotion to the tried friend: though he strike me I will do him no scathe.
- Never to make wrongsome oath: for great and grim is the reward for the breaking of plighted troth.
- To deal not hardly with the humble and the lowly.
- To remember the respect that is due to great age.
- To suffer no evil to go unremedied and to fight against the enemies of Faith, Folk and Family: my foes I will fight in the field, nor will I stay to be burnt in my house.
- To succour the friendless but to put no faith in the pledged word of a stranger people.
- If I hear the fool’s word of a drunken man I will strive not: for many a grief and the very death groweth from out such things.
- To give kind heed to dead people: straw dead, sea dead or sword dead.
- To abide by the enactments of lawful authority and to bear with courage the decrees of the Norns.
The Asatru Folk Assembly has its own list of Nine Noble virtues:
- Strength is better than weakness
- Courage is better than cowardice
- Joy is better than guilt
- Honour is better than dishonour
- Freedom is better than slavery
- Kinship is better than alienation
- Realism is better than dogmatism
- Vigor is better than lifelessness
- Ancestry is better than universalism
I’m sure that there are many more variants depending on variants of Heathenism, but honestly I’m not too familiar with them, so I looked up stuff on Wikipedia. Anyone who is knowledgeable on Heathen virtues is invited to comment.
My own Religio Romana also has virtues cobbled together from ancient sources. There are a few more than nine, and while these virtues were seen as behaviors to aspire to, they are also considered deities, and can be appealed to, worshiped, and interacted with as such.
- Abundantia: Abundance; Prosperity, affluence in all segments of society
- Aequitas: Equity; Fairness and justice within society and government
- Aeternitas: Eternity; Infinity, immortality, timelessness of ideals, truths and realities
- Beatitudo: Beatitude; Supreme blessedness, perfect happiness that accompanies thankfulness of good fortune
- Bonus Eventus: Successful outcome; favorable conclusion, optimism
- Caritas: Affection; To love, cherish and hold dear, especially within family
- Claritas: Clarity; Brightness, luminosity, outstanding public presence
- Clementia: Clemency; Mildness, gentleness, mercy, compassion in private and public matters
- Concordia: Concord; Harmony, agreement between peoples and nations
- Constantia: Constance; Firmness, steadiness, to remain faithful in mind or purpose
- Disciplina: Discipline; Instruction, methodical conduct, to bring in order
- Fecunditas: Fecundity; Fruitfulness, productivity
- Felicitas: Felicity; Good fortune, natural happiness and good spirits
- Fides: Good Faith; Trust, fidelity, fulfillment of promises made
- Fortuna: Fortune; Fate, chance, luck, accepting good from unexpected or uncertain sources
- Genius: Guardian Spirit; Acknowledgment of a power within extending to powers of peoples and nations
- Hilaritas: Hilarity; Gaiety, merriment, cheerfulness
- Honos: Honor; Public esteem, to be held in utmost respect
- Humanitas: Humanity; Kindness, being refined, cultured and educated, embracing the best aspects of civilization
- Indulgentia: Indulgence; Permissiveness, leniency, tolerance
- Justitia: Justice; Equitable, fair treatment, guided by principles, also defined by implementation and enforcement of reasonable laws within a sound government
- Laetitia: Joy; Gladness, ability to appreciate and take delight in life
- Liberalitas: Liberality; Generosity; to give abundantly
- Libertas: Liberty; Pursuit and preservation of freedom from tyranny
- Mens: Mind: Right thinking; understanding, intellect, use of mental capabilities
- Munificentia: Munificence; Benevolent, bountiful service, charitable
- Nobilitas: Nobility; Excellence of character and actions accompanied by high ideals.
- Ops: Wealth; Abundance, power, possessing resources to bring aid
- Patientia: Patience; Endurance, forbearance, quiet steady perseverance
- Pax: Peace; Truce, freedom from dissention, celebration of world peace
- Perpetuitas: Perpetuity; Continuance, uninterrupted and enduring existence
- Pietas: Piety; Respect, duty and devotion toward religious, social and political observances, involves working toward a universal order
- Providentia: Providence; Foresight, forethought accompanied by preparation
- Pudicitia: Chastity; Modesty, decent and moral behavior
- Quies-Requies: Peace; Quiet; restful state of mind and body
- Religio: Reverence; Devoutness, public veneration of the gods
- Salus: Safety; Preservation of health and well-being
- Securitas: Security; freedom from danger attributed to a competent government
- Spes: Hope; A belief in favorable outcome particularly in times of struggle
- Strenia: Strenuous; Vigor, health, vitality
- Tranquillitas: Tranquility; Stillness, serenity, calmness in thought and manner
- Tutela: Tutelage; Protective care and guidance in guardianship
- Ubertas: Abundance; Bounty, fertility and plentitude especially pertaining to agriculture
- Utilitas: Utility; Usefullness, advantageous, to be of service
- Virtus: Virtue; Physical courage and mental strength, especially within social and political leadership
There is an awful lot to work with there, and it can seem kind of daunting. But as Antonia Traiana Severa reminds us:
Although no one is expected to assume all aspects of these Virtues they are used as a source of inspiration and ultimate achievement toward self-fulfillment, harmony and happiness. It is the combined practice and worship of these qualities that are emphasized as being conducive toward an individual’s personal growth and in achieving pax Deorum (peace with the Gods).
There is some leeway. It is not expected that even a very devout and pious individual will embody all of these qualities. But he will certainly respect and honor them both as divine entities and when demonstrated in the world.
I’m honestly not too up on my Hellenism, and I haven’t been able to find much like the lists above, although I do know that the ancient Greek had pretty solid notions of virtue and excellence. Aristotle had a set of nine virtues, give or take a few, which he saw as midway points between vices of excess and absence, but I’m not sure how that applied to your average Greek.
Although there are more than nine listed, and the variants of Wisdom are not present, here are some of Aristotle’s virtues:
- Righteous Indignation
See the link to see what areas of life these apply to and what the associated vices are.
One common trait of these systems of virtues so far is that they embody cultural values from ancient cultures. Reconstructionists research and revive these virtues. But most modern virtue and ethical systems are related to or derived from Christianity. As such, Paganism doesn’t seem to focus on them much, even if they agree that certain behaviors are virtuous.
But there are other Pagan (or Paganish) groups out there, and some have developed their own modern codes of conduct and virtue. And some of those have arisen in direct opposition to Christianity.
And so we come to Anton LaVey.
LaVeyan Satanism has plenty to say about what it is and isn’t. I’m not sure that the Nine Satanic Statements can be considered virtues so much as statements of affirmation for what Satanism is. But the actions they describe certainly represent some manner of ideal behavior.
- Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence.
- Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams.
- Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit.
- Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates.
- Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
- Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires.
- Satan represents man as just another animal (sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all fours), who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development,” has become the most vicious animal of all.
- Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.
- Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as He has kept it in business all these years.
If these qualities are not Satanic virtues, then they at least establish Satanism’s relationship with Christianity and its virtues.
In addition to the Nine Satanic Statements, there are also the Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, which outline fairly specific codes of conduct:
- Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
- Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
- When in another’s lair, show them respect or else do not go there.
- If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat them cruelly and without mercy.
- Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
- Do not take that which does not belong to you, unless it is a burden to the other person and they cry out to be relieved.
- Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
- Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
- Do not harm young children.
- Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
- When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.
These rules of conduct are a bit more antisocial and self-serving compared to what we’ve seen. But why not? These rules are designed for the outsider to establish himself as apart from the herd, rather than for one who seeks to fit in to society.
But there are some who argue that this code of conduct is quite relevant to Neopagans. I’m convinced.
But all of these codes of conduct are religious or cultural in context. Lee’s initial list of virtuous behaviors was not necessarily religious, but advice for how to be an effective student.
And there are other lists of virtuous traits for the practice of magic.
Phil Hine (Condensed Chaos, 1995), after outlining some of the potential hazards of practicing magic, lists positive qualities that a magician should seek to develop. Says Hine, “Being a ‘good’ magician, at least from the relativistic perspective of Chaos Magic, is being effective and adaptive in as many areas of one’s life as possible.” And since it’s Hine, the qualities he presents make up a cute acronym: CHAOS
- Confidence: “being confident is the ability to relax when faced with unfamiliar or anxiety-creating situations.“
- Honour: “A sense of honour determines ones actions, and it is usually by actions, rather than words or postures, that one is judged by others.“
- Attentiveness: “You must be able to distinguish between the world as it is, and how you would like it to be.“
- Organization: “Your ability to structure your thoughts, and identify key areas in a situation which require particular attention is also a key to practical sorcery.“
- Sensitivity: “To be sensitive requires that you have an awareness of the needs and emotions of other people.“
Like Lee’s virtues listed above, these are applicable to life beyond magic. These traits are skills that will make you more effective in life, which in my book (figuratively) and in Hine’s book (literally) is one of the primary functions of magic.
There’s a lot to look over here, and I haven’t really discussed any of the individual traits in detail. It may seem that there are high standards for human behavior expected, but prefer to think of it as having many options and opportunities to inspire virtuous behavior.
But something that Hine said in his book is very important as well. Hine’s list of positive qualities are all skills. And if you look at Lee’s list above, so are those. In fact, with the interesting exception of the Satanic rules, all of the above virtues are skills.
(Perhaps this is the difference between a rule and a virtue. A rule advises what to do or not to do. A virtue presents a skill for engaging in helpful or avoiding harmful behavior. Perhaps a virtue is a skill learned to better follow a rule? Or to not need the rule?)
The fact that these virtues are skills is important. Because skills can be learned. They can be taught. They can be practiced and improved upon. And with time they can be mastered, until they become second-nature.