Seriously, folks, argue and disagree with me all you want, but do so based on what i say, not the misinterpretations you project onto what I say. I find it particularly interesting that in the course of the comments to my two articles on ritual (both those posted and those I received privately), quite often I'm being accused of everything BUT promoting piety and respect in ritual. Why is that such a difficult and challenging concept? It certainly wasn't for our ancestors. Piety was a central concept to the majority of ancient polytheisms, though of course the words used to describe this behavior varied from culture to culture. Plato, for instance, wrote an entire dialogue ("Euthyphro") in which the definition of piety was the central issue under discussion. The ancient Romans considered it a necessary and sacred virtue and one simply cannot read writers like Cicero, Pliny, or Seneca (to name but a few) without finding exhortation after exhortation to pious behavior both within one's temples and without. Why is it so difficult for us moderns? Because it is. I don't quite know why, though I have my suspicions, but it really is.(1) 

Unlike Plato, who had his character Euthyphro define piety in part as 'what is dear to the gods,' i would, in addition, define it as 'right behavior toward the Gods.' Piety is a curb and a guide to our behavior.  Of course, right behavior implies precisely that: that there is a right and wrong way of behaving, that there are standards. Standards do not imply tyrannical theocracy. They imply behaving properly and mindfully as the occasion and interaction demands. Now I've written about the opposite of piety here: for those who might want to take a peek. I'm going to let that stand and speak for itself, because there actually is a right way of doing things and it's not that difficult to figure out.  You know what else? The Gods and ancestors are more than capable of telling us what it is if we do the work and listen. Of course that might lead us to a reordering of our priorities but c'est la vie.

Piety, by the way, is a far, far different thing from orthodoxy. In nothing that I wrote on ritual, did i demand any particular orthodoxy beyond piety and respect.  I did not mention what Gods people should honor.(2) I did not exhort readers to any particular ritual style or practice. It's not about any specific action or belief. It's about attitude and awareness, about the way we approach our Gods and ancestors. By exhorting piety, i'm not demanding that everyone become a mystic. I'm saying that we should behave with proper decorum and respect when in the presence of the sacred. What it comes down to, I suspect, is that many people simply don't *want* to be pious. They don't want to be respectful. They don't want their spiritual world to revolve around anything but themselves. Otherwise instead of bitching when I mention piety, we could start talking about ways to show it; because really,  if right behavior toward the Powers isn't valued in our communities, then what is? That's the seed from which all good things flower. 

One of my readers complained that I constantly bring up monotheism. Well, yes I do and I shall continue to do so. Our world is poisoned with it. Our world is poisoned with it and we have been conditioned to never question the consequences of that infestation. We all grew up in a nominally secular culture that in reality was deeply informed by a very particular brand of protestant christianity. For generation upon generation we have been shaped and formed by monotheistic thought, and by what i believe is a very malignant sentience from which what I call the [monotheistic] filter flows. 

Let me be clear: this filter is something different from the religions it overtook. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are also victims of this thing, which I have had ancestors and allies refer to as an ancient enemy. Writer Paul Levy discusses precisely this in his book "Dispelling Wetiko," using a Cree term in place of what I call the 'filter." (Sadly I find this book to be so poorly written as to be nearly unreadable, but the term itself is useful and kudos to him for having the courage to write about it). He draws on the work of Jack Forbes and several other writers,  who connect this spiritual disease right back to colonialism and the destruction of indigenous cultures. You know what? One time Northern Europeans had indigenous cultures and religions too and then monotheism, wearing the guise of Christianity swept over Europe in a religious genocide. This thing is a cancer. Until we shatter our internal filters, until we shatter the lens through which it distorts our world, we're spinning our wheels. It's not enough to suddenly decide to become a polytheist. There's a whole process of mental deprogramming and restoration that has to occur and the most important part of that is learning to see the filter and to root it out in our own minds. That's no small task. 

This thing i call the 'filter' is everywhere. It's more pervasive and runs more deeply through the veins of our world than most of us realize; and we are all poisoned by it. When i saw it, truly looked it in the eye for the first time, saw how deeply it ran into the foundations and fabric of our world, i was devastated for days. It seemed an overwhelming task to undo what this destructive juggernaut had wrought. This is the thing that gave us the doctrine of discovery. This is the thing that breeds that Taliban like violence that was mentioned in a comment to my previous post. This is the thing that  twists our faith and praxis into weapons. This is a thing that makes us eschew ecstasy and joy in favor of narrowness and fear. Mind you, I'm not saying that we didn't see conquest in polytheistic cultures, but what one didn't find was the type of obsession with orthodoxy and targeted attack of differing faiths. Polytheism by its very nature was open to diversity. Freud posited that religious intolerance began with monotheism and I'm afraid I have to concur. What's more, I think that behind that filter, that lens through which we have been raised to view the world, is a sentience, a disease, an intelligence, a contagion rooted deep in our minds. So you bet your sweet ass I talk about it all the time. I will call it out every chance I get. It is my sacred obligation to my dead, to my Gods, and to those who come after me. 

So agree with me or don't agree but I will hold the line against this thing, this ancient enemy, this curse, disease, and corruption as long as I can. i will fight it with every breath, every action, everything I write, and every ritual I do. This is the work to which our Gods and ancestors call us, all of us. So take it up or get out of the way but do not come whining to me because I have standards, because i'm willing to engage with those who disagree with me without seeking "consensus" (oh how so many Pagans fetishize consensus), because as both a scholar of religion and a wyrd worker, i am   capable of connecting the threads and seeing precisely how deeply influenced we all are by the monotheistic tropes and attitudes that have seeped into *every corner* of our world. There's no escaping it and if you think you are free of it, you're sadly mistaken. So I will point out the monotheistic influences in what I'm reading, or what someone else is saying, and sometimes in my own attitudes and work as well because it's there and it needs to be brought to light. 



1. As to my qualifications to determine whether or not we have good role models -- which is a fair question to ask--I hold a Masters Degree in religious studies and a diploma in interfaith studies. I've studied ritual practice for over twenty years. I've trained in ritual work not only within religious settlings but also academically in the field of liturgical and ritual studies. I've taught liturgical studies at a seminary where  part of my job was critiquing student-led rituals. I've probably facilitated more rituals than most of you reading this combined (at one point, I was doing at least two per day, along with weekly rituals, a full and new moon ritual, and holidays). I do indeed have the wherewithal, training, and knowledge to determine whether a ritual sucks or not. Ritual isn't difficult. Leading a good, well structured rite is a learned skill; but it takes the time, effort, and study in order to learn those skills. Moreover not every clergy person is a good ritualist. (I have no issue with that. There are lots of areas in which a clergy person can specialize, ritual is only one of them). 


2. Though it should be noted that for our ancestors, including our Roman ancestors, the Gods were indeed viewed as higher than us in the grand scheme of things. It is only the modern era that eschews hierarchy. The Romans especially had very definite ideas of what constituted proper behavior before the Gods, centering around not only 'pietas' but also 'nefas.' I suggest "Orientalism and Religion" by Richard King, "The Matter of the Gods" by Clifford Ando, "Roman Religion" by Clifford Ando, "Roman Religion" and "A Casebook of Roman Religion" by Valerie Warrior for further reading (there are many more good and informative texts on the subject but these will get a diligent reader started). For those interested in reading more on American secularism and its Christian character I suggest "Love the Sin" and "Secularisms" by by Ann Pellegrini and Janet Jacobson.