Piety is defined by ADF as “Correct observance of ritual and social traditions, the maintenance of the agreements (both personal and societal) humans have with the gods and spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and study”. The dictionary defines it as “reverence for God and devout fulfillment of religious obligations; dutiful respect or regard”.
I struggle with the inclusion of this particular virtue in the list. As an agnostic, naturalist and sceptic, I tend to think of the gods as mythic personifications of immense natural forces, which while I can feel reverence, worship and piety towards, I cannot “make agreements” with. It is interesting to note that neither Ian Corrigan’s list of virtues, nor the Asatru Nine Noble Virtues, both reproduced in the ADF handbook, include piety in their lists, which show that it is not a “universal” Pagan virtue in the same way as wisdom, for instance.
Coming from a background of strict Catholicism, piety has always been bound up with notions of guilt and sin, and abasement before a moralising, judging god, which makes me somewhat uncomfortable to say the least. Of course, this is not how piety is understood in Druidry, but words carry powerful associations.
The phrasing of the definition above is also a slight concern. If keeping societal agreements with a god is part of piety, then should I be going to the Church of England, as it is my society’s official state religion?
I feel much more comfortable with the latter half of the definition, “keeping the Old Ways through ceremony and study”. In this case, regular meditations, rituals and study can be seen as a manifestation of piety in themselves. Rather than the archetypal monk at prayer, a pious person can be one who searches, questions, looks inward to the self and outward to the world.
It is worth noting that the word “piety” comes from the Latin pietas, which meant something like “devotion” and was applied to parents, kin and country as well as to the gods. It seems fitting, then, to apply pietas to nature as well.
I think that “piety” might better be construed as “reverence”, for something greater than oneself, whether this is thought of as a god, or a force, or simply nature itself. This reverence, to be of any value, has to be expressed through our actions. This is the heart of what I would think of as true piety, which is about how we act in response to the great mystery of reality.
Piety in this way can be about respect and building relationships, and encompasses the Buddhist ideas of “right action” and also “right thought”.
ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009
Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford University Press, 2006
Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010