Nine Virtues: Wisdom

Wisdom by Frederic Bisson on Flickr (CC2.0)

Wisdom by Frederic Bisson on Flickr (CC2.0)

Wisdom is the first of ADF’s Nine Virtues, which together form the ethical framework of ADF Druidry. Our Own Druidry defines wisdom as “Good judgement, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide the correct response”. The Oxford Dictionary for Students defines it as: “The quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement”, which is a very similar definition.

Wisdom may seem odd as a “first” virtue to write about, as it can be seen as the culmination and integration of all the other virtues, but it can equally be considered to be the foundation of any other virtue. To live a virtuous life, to participate in Aristotle’s eudaemonia, is to be both grounded in, and reaching towards, wisdom. The path of philosophy literally means “love of wisdom”, and wisdom itself seems to be something that comes with reflection, knowledge and experience. Plato’s Theaetetus quotes Socrates as saying “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and wisdom begins in wonder”.

As the philosophers of the Celts, wisdom was undoubtedly important to the ancient Druids, and should be important to modern Druids as well. In Celtic legends, wisdom is often sought for, but seems to be gained by those not looking for it. Finn MacCool accidentally gained the wisdom of the Salmon of Wisdom when he burnt his thumb cooking the fish for his mentor Fintan. Likewise, Gwion Bach received the Awen by accident, also burning his finger when three drops of the boiling potion flew from the cauldron he was tending for Ceridwen. Perhaps this hints that the way to wisdom is pradoxically to not seek after it. By contrast, in Norse mythology Odin gives up an eye and hangs himself from a tree for nine days and nights to gain the wisdom of the runes, suggesting that wisdom is hard to achieve and worth making sacrifices for.

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Wisdom is more than simply knowledge of accumulated facts, as it implies a deep understanding and the ability to discern and make good judgements about your actions to bring about the best consequences. In this way, it is linked with the Buddhist concepts of right thought and right action. Being wise requires years of experience of the world and it is no coincidence that when we think of a wise person, the image that often springs to mind is of an aged sage, a Gandalf, Merlin or Obi-Wan type figure.

Wisdom is not a “thing” to gain once and for all, but a process of acting, reflecting and growth.

References:

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

Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Delphi Classics, 2012

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Ancestors

Celtic cross gravestone. Image from geograph.

Celtic cross gravestone. Image from geograph.

The Ancestors are one of the “Three Kindred” in ADF Druidry, and are honoured at every rite. It is tempting to think of ancestors as only one’s own parents and grandparents, the immediate family. However, the ancestors can be thought of as being in three categories.

The “Ancestors of Blood” are those of your own genetic lineage, not just immediate family but ancient ancestral groups like the Celtic peoples as well, all those who made *you* possible. In my case, this involves mostly Irish, Spanish and Polish ancestors.

The “Ancestors of Place” are those people who lived on the land you now live on, whose bones lie beneath the soil on which we walk. Here in the South East of the UK, this includes not only about a thousand years or so of Saxons and  Normans, but also Celtic tribes such as the Iceni, led by Boudicca.

The “Ancestors of Spirit” are all those whose lives and works inspire your heart and your path. These can be ancient Pagans, but they can also be people who have influenced us, including philosophers, scientists and writers. For me, this would include Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Charles Darwin and others.

As a naturalist, I do not believe the ancestors live on after death as spirits. But they are ever-present in our thoughts and memories, as well as (for ancestors of blood) in our own bodies and genetic heritage. Philosopher and Druid Brendan Myers writes in Paganism 101:

A scientifically-minded person might want to deny that [the ancestors] live on as disembodied spirits…As an alternative, we could say that they live on in the form of a discernible presence embodied by the habits and characters and stories of their living descendents today. This alternative requires no supernatural element to be intelligible. Yet it seems to me no less spiritual.

Evolutionary tree. Image from "all creatures"

Evolutionary tree. Image from “all creatures”

Besides all of our human ancestors, I like to think about our evolutionary ancestry. Darwin’s glorious revelation showed that we are all related, and we share a common ancestor with all humans, an older one with all animals, and an even older ancestor (the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA) with all life on earth some 4 billion years ago. Looking at the deep roots of evolution’s tree of life, we can honour all our ancestors right back to thee origin of life itself, and recognise that we are kin with all that lives today.

Honouring the ancestors, whether by rituals such as leaving offerings for them at Samhain or visiting their graves, or by simple acts of remembering and telling their stories, is a vital part of being human. The ancestors literally and spiritually connect us to our history and tell us where we came from and who we are.

References:

ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009

Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth. Bantam, 2009

Trevor Greenfield (ed.), Paganism 101. Moon Books, 2014

The Two Powers

"Can you tell?" by Tony Alter on Flickr (CC2.0)

“Can you tell?” by Tony Alter on Flickr (CC2.0)

Last week, I was introduced to the “Two Powers” meditation, a key concept in ADF, and a meditative practice to work on. I added the meditation into my daily mental discipline work in the mornings, and found it surprisingly easy to work with.

The “Two Powers” refer to the currents of the Earth and the Sky, which the meditator visualises as flowing through their body and mingling together.  I have some experience of similar energy visualisation from my studies with OBOD, so it was easy to adapt to this form.

The Earth Power is understood as cool, soothing and nourishing; the Sky Power is understood as bright, electric and ordered. Dangler refers to a verse by Ceisiwr Serith in A book of Pagan prayer, which sums up these Powers and their associations well:

World below, watery world, with chaos and order overflowing;
Bring true creation into my life, with order and beauty,
With wisdom and grace.
World above, far-flung heavens, ordering the world with might and law;
Bring true stability into my life, with law and structure,
With clarity and reason.
World about me, far-extending, with land well-set;
Bring true being into my life, with help and love,
With health and prosperity.

The Two Powers do not need to be seen as anything supernatural. They could be seen as the solar and telluric currents, or as simply a psychological exercise in balance and focus.

For me, I find that meditating is more difficult without something to think about, so I found the Two Powers useful in giving me a focal point to direct my thoughts, and I will definitely keep it as part of my daily mental discipline practice.

There is a guided meditation audio available for you if you want to try it out. I found it quite distracting having sound, but it might be useful to some.

De Natura Deorum: “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa Greenwolf

I have nothing to add to this…simply beautiful.

Humanistic Paganism

De Natura Deorum is a monthly column where we explore the beliefs of Naturalistic Pagans about the nature of deity. This essay was originally published at Paths Through the Forest.

When you think of the gods of nature, who do you think of? Do you think of the Wiccan Lord and Lady (also beloved of many non-Wiccan pagans), she a long-haired woman wrapped in vines and fruits and grain, he a man hirsute and burly and surrounded by large, wild mammals? Do you imagine Artemis or Diana, huntresses and maidens and carriers of the moon? Or perhaps Gaea, her swelling belly the Earth itself? I wager that nine times out of ten, the deity you first thought of took the form of a human, female or male or otherwise, but almost certainly formed in our own image.

But I want to tell you about the forgotten gods of nature, the…

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