The word "virtue" is a good Pagan Roman one whose meaning has changed under Christian influence. There is an air of "goody-two-shoes" about it; it has even in many cases been applied strongly to sexual matters, especially when it came to women: a "virtuous" woman is one who acts proerly in sexual matters.
But its origin is quite different. It is related to the Latin virus", "man" (from which comes "virile"). The original meaning was "that which is appropriate to a man." In the sexist Roman culture that meant both that which was appropriate to a male, and that which was appropriate to an adult. If we wanted to translate it in a non-sexist way, we could say that virtue is "what grownups do."
It was more than that, though, and for that it helps to look at the Greek. In the writings of the Greek philosophers, the word that has been translated as "virtue" is arete. This would be better translated as "excellence." An Olympic gold medalist has arete, a Nobel prize laureate winner has arete, a Pulitzer prize winner has arete.
We can see from this that the idea of virtue is a good Pagan one, if it is seen as it once was. Virtue is doing our best.
We can also see a difference here between most modern views of virtue and the ancient one. Modern virtue is about not doing things. It's about following rules that tell us what is wrong. Pagan virtue, on the other hand, is about trying to do what is best. Pagan virtues are ideals, things to be aspired to, rather than criteria by which to judge whether a person is living up to expectations.
The ADF nine virtues:
In one way it seems slightly odd to think of wisdom as a virtue. It is certainly a virtue in the sense that someone who possesses it is admirable. However, it isn’t the kind of thing that one can be said to do: “Be wise” elicits in me a reaction of, “and how do you propose I do that?” If I’m told to be hospitable, I can operate by the rules of hospitality; if I’m told to act piously, I can perform the rituals. Those virtues are pretty easy to know how to do (not necessarily easy to actually do).
Wisdom, however, is one of the virtues that refers to what one is rather that what one does. In a sense, then it’s kind of hard to see it as a virtue in a Pagan sense. However, if we view it instead as an observation of the things that certain person does, and things they say, we see how we can say that another person possesses wisdom. If someone acts with wisdom consistently enough, we call them a wise person. We don’t need to know how they decide what to do, or even if they’ve thought the question through at all. It doesn’t matter to us.
But does it matter to the individual who wants to make wise decisions? In a way, no. What we want to do in order to be wise is to act wisely. How we get around to doing that is irrelevant.
In another way, however, it matters greatly. To act wisely is to act justly, to act rightly, to act in accord with the Xártus. It is to answer the question of what is the right thing to do right now. Wisdom is, therefore, something to be desired greatly. Even if no one else thinks we have made a wise decision, if we act in accord with the Xártus we have. The desirability of acting by the Xártus therefore makes acting wisely desirable even it has no affect on others, or if that affect is seen as unwise by them.
A good example of someone acting wisely is Manawydan. He tells Rhiannon and Pryderi not to enter the castle where the cauldron is, but they do anyway and disaster arises. He tells Pryderi to leave the towns where the craftsmen are plotting against them, even though Pryderi doesn’t want to leave without a fight. He intends to hang a mouse as a thief, even against ridicule and pleading. In the second example, he acts wisely by knowing what’s really important and acting accordingly. In the other two, he acts wisely by knowing what’s really there and acting accordingly. So we can see that someone whom we think of as wise is someone who knows what’s actually going on.
But still, how do we do this? How do we come to know what the wise thing to do is? How do we answer the command “Be wise?”
If acting wisely is a virtue, so is learning to act wisely; any action to reach a virtuous role is itself virtuous. This gives one more question, though: how does one learn to be wise?
This isn’t really a mystery. One learns to be wise in the same way as one learns to be anything else: study, example, desire, practice, dedication, attention, etc. One dedicates oneself to the acquisition of wisdom. One learns and studies the stories of the wise and then from them distills what it means to act wisely. They then dedicate themselves to act that way. And then they pay attention to what comes to them, they see what’s really there, they pay attention to what their decisions are, to what their actions are, and to what the results are.
Piety has a bad reputation. This is because it refers to action rather than to intent. Christianity, whose theological language has become our own, believes that what’s in the heart is more important than what is done. In fact, it often goes so far as to suggest that behavior is irrelevant. All of this means that there is a concern that those who act in a pious way do not have in their hearts the belief that their action implies. “Pious” comes to mean “just pious.” However, in Paganism the emphasis of actions over beliefs means that piety is seen as a valuable thing, even if one’s heart does not correspond to one’s actions.
Now, that person is pious who regularly honors the Kindreds in the ways in which each wishes to be honored.
Why do this? There is one reason above all to worship the deities: they are worthy of worship. There is one reason above all to honor the ancestors: they are our people. There is one reason above all to honor the land spirits: they are the beings of the place in which we are.
There are other reasons. The most prosaic is that through piety we may obtain blessings. By making offerings to the Kindreds, whether in words, acts, or objects, we establish a ghosti-relationship with them. By accepting the position of guest, they obligate themselves (we do not obligate them; the acceptance of the offering is their choice) to act as host on another occasion which they do by granting us blessings.
The blessings themselves are not the only reason for such an exchange, however. The ghosti-relationship, if entered into frequently, becomes a friendship. Friendship is itself a blessing.
By entering into friendship with the Kindreds we are placing ourselves in the context in which we are found: the Universe, our people, our local position – it is through piety that we find ourselves where we in fact are. Piety is therefore a way through which we come to know the truth.
More than that, it is a way of expressing the truth. When we act piously we act in the way appropriate to the way things are. We are acting truthfully.
The importance of regular actions is drawn from these two, from piety as teaching us truth and piety as expressing the truth. By “regular” I mean both frequent repetitions such as daily prayers (and less frequent ones such as celebrating seasonal festivals), and ones which are associated with particular moments. A secular/religious example of the latter would be swearing an oath in court. This isn’t something we do frequently, but it is something we would do each time it was appropriate.
By performing acts of piety frequently – daily, for instance – we wear a groove in which our soul may ride. We establish a good habit, which, with time, we will easily and gladly follow.
Beyond this, regular acts of piety, in both the sense of frequent acts and of ones specific to a situation, place us in the time and space in which we are. By acting piously regularly, we more readily live truthfully.
The importance of performing the sort of acts of piety destined by the beings toward whom we address them arises from a number of sources. If we believe that the deities are real beings, then they have individual personalities, with all that that implies – things they like, things they don’t like. As good hosts, it behooves us to figure out what those things are, and act accordingly. To take an extreme example, one does not serve quiche to someone allergic to eggs; a less extreme case would be the fact that is still rankles me that after being married to her daughter for over twenty years my mother-in-law, who knows that I don’t drink coffee or tea with caffeine, still doesn’t have decaf coffee or tea in her house. It is hard to establish a proper ghosti-relationship when you serve what you like, rather than what your guests do. This shows why proper action, even without belief, is not only pious, but valuable. Although I like my mother-in-law well enough, and I believe that feeling is reciprocal, even if we secretly hated each other acts of hospitality would have their own value. They would be acting hospitably, joining society together, and personally acting in a virtuous way.
If, however, we attempt to honor the Kindreds without finding out who they wish us to do that, we aren’t finding our place in the universe, in our families, in the land. We are instead imposing our own ideas about what our place should be like. We become tourists who expect the locals to learn our language and serve us the sort of food we are used to. We do not act according to the place in which we find ourselves. We act untruthfully.
There are many ways to ask piously. Often those new to Paganism, or even those who have been in it a long time (I speak from experience) decide to do some big ritual each morning or night. This often leads to failure (I speak from experience), and then to guilt. A big change all of a sudden is hard to maintain.
Such a big thing isn’t necessary in my mind, though, and sometimes even counter-productive. Even if it’s successful, the practitioner will end up with a daily rite. Good enough, but how about the rest of the time? Is someone who performs a single rite each day, however complex, actually pious? What about the rest of their time? Living piously would seem to me to require more regular devotions.
I’ve found it both easier and more meaningful to perform little rites throughout the day. When I leave the house, I say (out loud or silently), “Sky above, I greet you; earth below, I greet you.” When I turn on my stove, I say, “I cook with Brighid’s fire.” When I turn down the thermostat at night, I say, “I bank the fires of Brighid, and when I turn it down, I say, “I fan the flames of Brighid.” I bless my doors when I lock up at night, I say rosaries using my fingers as I drive, I write and recite prayers in my spare time. When I feel anxious, or sometimes when I’m not, I recite a prayer to Cernunnos, “Calm, still Lord, may I be come.” When I notice the small bowl of water in front of the Brighid’s shrine by my stove, I purify myself. After my alarm goes off, but before I get up, I pray, “Holy Ones, I thank you for guiding me yesterday; may you guide me today.” And so on, with little prayers throughout the day. The only big ritual I do is after I go to bed, when I silently sing to the cosmos, and then pray to the Holy Ones, the Household Gods, the Ancestors, the Land Spirits, all numinous beings, Cernunnos, Rhiannon, Venus, Mercury, Xáryomen, Liberty, and Manannán. Listed like this, it seems pretty complicated, but I use set prayers, and the whole thing lasts maybe ten minutes.
The list of the things I do for pious practice also seems complicated, with a huge number of things to do during the day. But each takes only a few seconds, and quickly becomes automatic. This makes it easy to practice. Even more, it provides a sacred framework in which I can live my everyday life. Each event in it becomes sacred, and I live a sacred life in a sacred world.
Another “nice thing to have, but how do you do it?” virtue. This one’s a little recursive, though: having vision involves being able to see possibilities, including how have vision.
This virtue is a tough one for me. If it is, as the Dedicant Program’s handbook says, “[t]he ability to broaden one’s perspective,” it is something which is in one way directly opposed to what I instinctively do. I’m a big fan of order. I create wonderful patterns of data, and then proceed to live as if they’re the actual and only patterns. I get stuck easily.
Fortunately I know this. That means that I am constantly striving to criticize my own work. The more sure I am about something, the harder I try to disprove it.
There are some problems here, though. Being attached to an idea means that it takes more to convince me that I’m wrong than it otherwise would. It makes it harder to notice the evidence that would show me to be wrong. It makes me even try to avoid finding the evidence or taking it seriously. I may think that I’m doing a noble thing, trying hard as I can to make sure I’m not deluding myself, but delusion runs deep.
One thing I use to help this is telling other people. This serves two purposes. First, in order to explain something I have to make sense of it for myself. When I try, I often see problems I hadn’t noticed when things were floating around comfortably inside my head. Second, others see things I don’t. They have more information, different ways of thinking, and no emotional attachment to my being right. It helps if they are both unimpressed with me personally and unafraid of shooting me down. My wife serves as a great sounding board for these two reasons. OK, she thinks I’m smart and all, and doesn’t want to hurt me, but she doesn’t think I’m even close to infallible, and having to have lived with me for twenty-five years has convinced her that it’s safe to criticize my ideas. The fact that she’s not a Pagan is a big help, too, since she comes from outside the inbreeding that any group can create.
That last thing is a biggie. If vision is seeing possibilities, then the greatest limitation of it is limiting possibilities to see. Finding someone outside your group is a great way to bring vision to bear on a topic.
Of course, this essay is about a virtue, and the implication is that I’m supposed to be writing about how an individual can practice it. Maybe I could point out that if vision is intended to broaden one’s perspective, than the willingness to ask others for input, and to consider it fairly, is a form of vision itself. And justifiably so, I think.
Acting virtuously is scary. It requires facing enemies both within and without. Some things about us we’d rather not see. There are weaknesses, prejudices, ignorance, and who knows what else hidden inside? (If we knew, we’d still have to have the courage to do something about them.) Knowing them isn’t enough, since we then have to have the courage to not try to argue them way. And even if we finally admit to the weaknesses, it requires courage to do something about them.
Courage is also necessary for outside enemies, of course. Acting virtuously will often arouse opposition. This can range from disapproving looks from strangers to discouragement from loved ones, to physical violence.
Sometimes a virtuous life is easy. Some actions don’t threaten anyone. Not many people are going to care about you practicing piety by worshiping at a home shrine kept in a cupboard closed when not in use. But what about lighting Beltane fires in your backyard when it can be seen by the Evangelical next door who has already accused you of devil worship?
I confess I’ve chickened out fairly frequently. I’ve hidden my religion because I was worried what people would think. I haven’t told people about my visions, religious or not, because I’m worried they’ll think I’m nuts. In fact, the only virtue I have problems with more than courage is perseverance.
The practice of courage is a constant struggle. I find that learning and remembering examples in both history and myth help. Historical examples certainly include those involving battle, but there are more peaceful ones – Rosa Parks sitting down on the bus, John Adams agreeing to defend the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, even though it might ruin his legal career, and such. One example that is a bit history and a bit myth is that of the defense of the Spartans at Thermopylae. Three hundred of them held a pass against thousands of Persians, an huge army driven on by whips against a small one driven by a desire to do what was right and a recognition that freedom is better than life. When the Spartans were sent a message that the Persian archers would blacken the sky, they replied that they fought better in the dark. The battle went on a long time, until the Spartans were betrayed by a Greek who led some Persians through a pass into their rear. Even so, they fought and died. After the eventual defeat of the Persians, the Greeks buried them on the battlefield, and raised a monument with the inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, passerby, that here, obedient to their Way we lie.”
The Spartans showed courage in service of integrity. Courage is not only a virtue in itself, then, but a necessary tool for practicing the others. We probably won’t have to fight a Thermopylae. But we’re faced with moral challenges every day, and many of those require courage – speaking unpopular truths, for instance. I’m ashamed to say that I have troubles living up to the virtue of courage. But then, it’s a constant struggle, and maybe courage lies in the willingness to keep that struggle up.
Integrity is being who one is. It’s truth. It’s being true to one’s word, doing what one said, living by the rules one has accepted.
Integrity is the most important virtue to me. It seems to me to be what all the other virtues are talking about, and the most basic requirement for living by them. If I accept the virtues as principles to live by, then integrity is doing what they require.
I like to think that of the virtues integrity is also the one I keep best. I think that it’s because it’s just so important to me. I trace this in large part to a chance remark by my father when I was a child. He had officiated in just about any sport I’d ever heard of – baseball, football, basketball, etc. We were watching a football game one day, and I asked him which team he was rooting for. He said, “I’m rooting for the referees.” The idea that playing a good game was more important than winning one really hit home. I know we’ve all heard, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” but it’s truth really came home to me when he said that.
Later, when I was in high school, he showed me that principle in action. He refereed basketball games, and these included ones my high school’s team was playing in. He was refereeing games involving his sons’ team, and the other teams never objected. They knew he was applying the rules fairly. My father, both by words and by example, showed me what integrity is.
The act I’m most proud of involves integrity, since it was about keeping an oath. I was in the Air Force, a lieutenant Communications Officer in a flying squadron. All of the other officers were pilots or navigators. I worked for a pilot, who worked for a pilot, who worked for a pilot, Col. Zompa. The pilot bit is important, because pilots operate strictly by rules. It makes sense; if they don’t, people can die. Communicators, however, do things in a way that’s a little fuzzier. What matters is getting messages through; if the rules have to bent a bit to do that, well, we’ll deal with the paperwork later. This fuzziness was even written into the rules. Messages were rated by priority level, with higher priorities having to be sent out in less time. The two top levels, Flash, and Flash Override, had to be sent out “as fast as humanly possible.” Yep, the regs actually used those words.
Enter Col. Zompa. As a typical pilot, he wanted regs that covered exactly everything we did. He decided that it would be a good idea if we put a time limit on Flash and Flash Override messages so we could tell how well we were doing our job. His senior sergeant, who had been a communicator, was telling me what Zompa was planning to do. Apparently the sergeant thought it was a great idea.
Here comes the proud moment: I said, without hesitation, that if I were given that order, I would refuse to follow it because it was illegal. I’d never seen someone literally turn white before. I explained that it was illegal because it violated the reg about “as fast as humanly possible.” No one had the authority to put a time to that. I know I said that communicators were flaky some times, but in this case there couldn’t be any compromise. The entire communications system of not only the military, but the entire government, was based on the priority system; it governed not just how messages were sent, but how they traveled. I was simply unable to see any justification for violating the regs, so the order was an illegal one.
It sometimes surprises civilians who think that military members have to follow order to learn that they are sometimes required to disobey orders. The commissioning oath I had taken required me to follow “all lawful orders.” The point is clear – I also have the obligation to refuse to follow unlawful orders. The military has at its ethical base the principle that “I was only following orders” is no excuse. Each member of the military has the obligation to make moral decisions on each order. So when I refused to follow the illegal order, I was keeping my oath. Any other response would have been immoral.
OK, so I wasn’t refusing to execute prisoners, or torture them to get information that might save my men’s lives. But it doesn’t really matter – I kept my oath, and I did it without even thinking. I kept my integrity.
I can’t say that I’ve always been able to do that since. But my father’s words and example, and the memory of my proudest moment, continue to inspire me to try.
Wow, this is a tough one to write about. Not that I don’t know what it is, but that of all the virtues it’s the one I have the biggest problem with. It would be bad enough if I had troubles doing what the Dedicant Program says, keeping going “even when that pursuit becomes difficult.” I have troubles keeping going even when things are easy. Witness how long it’s taken me to finish the DP. It’s not really that hard; I’ve done most of the work, read the books, thought about the virtues, worked to understand the seasonal festivals, all of it, a long time ago. But after writing part of it, I just let it hang around unfinished.
Even worse, I have a severe problem with procrastination. This ties into the keeping going bit, since anything that requires more than one day of effort isn’t likely to be done. I have troubles getting back to doing it.
For a lot of people, the problem is that doing the thing they want to do is hard, so they put it off. They try to minimize the important thing, or magnify its difficulties, or rationalize that they can do it the next day. That’s now how it works with me. I can be sitting at the computer wasting time by playing a game, all the while knowing how important something else is. It can be extremely uncomfortable continuing to procrastinate. This is true even with simple things. There I sit playing minesweeper, when all I have to do is go to the Post Office and mail a package.
Like virtue in general, this is a struggle to practice. My problems with it affect my life daily. In the last year, I’ve moved it to the highest priority in my personal development.
Why bother? Perseverance is so important. It’s necessary to practice the other virtues consistently. It’s necessary to feel competent. It’s necessary to feel respected. It’s necessary to do anything worthwhile. It doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of half-finished projects around the house just because you don’t have the perseverance to finish them.
At least I found the perseverance to finish the DP. It’s a start.
The ancients took hospitality pretty seriously. The most famous story about it is probably Ovid’s tale of Baucis and Philemon, in which Mercury and Jupiter, refused hospitality by the inhabitants of a town, drowned the valley it was in. To the poor couple who did give it to them, they offered whatever they wished. Movingly enough, they asked not to die before each other.
There’s also a great example in Ireland. Among Cú Chulainn’s geasa was that he couldn’t eat dog meat and couldn’t refuse hospitality. To trap him, the Morrígain appeared as an old woman offering him dog meat. He had to break one of the geasa. He chose to take the dog meat. He did try to avoid the geas against eating dog meat by putting it under his arm, but his arm withered from it. Nonetheless, given a choice of geasa, he chose not to violate hospitality.
Hospitality being so important makes sense in an ancient society. Towns or homesteads might have been far away, and not providing it might result in the death of the visitor turned away from the door. Politically it was equally important; a lord gained the loyalty of retainers by offering hospitality to them. There are a variety of practical aspects to this as well – a warrior hanging around a lord’s court, ready to fight at a moment’s notice, couldn’t be expected to be farming, so he needed to get food somehow.
But the intensity of the ancients’ view goes way beyond the practical. It goes into the basis of order. Order is important to everyone. It starts right from the beginning, with the job of a baby being to make sense of the world. A group of people without order is not a society, a world without order is not a cosmos. Without order, there is only danger and confusion.
Granted that hospitality is important, what is it? We can think of providing hospitality as a single act, specifically an act of giving by a host to a guest. That isn’t the Indo-European view, though. Indo-European hospitality is reciprocal. The provision of hospitality establishes a relationship between host and guest, both of whom are inseparable, from each other and from the act. The Proto-Indo-Europeans expressed this with the word *ghosti-. A ghostis is someone with whom one has a reciprocal obligation of hospitality. Ghoste:s are those involved in this reciprocity. Host and guest are ghoste:?s to each other.
Here’s the big point, though: the ghosti-principle isn’t just between people. It’s between everything. Offerings from people to deities are ghosti, blessings from deities to people are ghosti. Most amazing of all (cosmic, really) is that the relationship between Cosmos and Chaos is ghosti. The order which could lead Cosmos to brittle death is fed by bits of Chaos. In turn, Cosmos gives Chaos the very elements which are chaotic. In fact, a true Chaos has to have bits of Cosmos in it, or it would be ordered in some way, so Chaos owes its continuing existence to Cosmos.
By acting hospitably, then, we are doing just what the universe about us is doing. We link ourselves with the universe at the deepest possible level, the processes by which we and it operate.
Pretty wild, huh? But how do we do it? The relationship between Chaos and Cosmos goes on whether we act hospitably or not, and the relationship between the divine and the human is part of piety. What I’m talking about here is the relationship between people and people.
More than any other virtue, hospitality depends on context. Different cultures, and different subcultures, demand different rules. My wife says that if you go to my parents’ house and don’t drink tea it doesn’t count. Bring flowers to a host in some cultures, and he might think you’re hitting on his wife; bring scotch to a host you know’s an alcoholic, and you probably won’t get invited back. A large part of hospitality is paying attention, then.
Hospitality’s not easy for me. Empathizing is hard for me to do, and empathy is the easiest way to know how to act hospitably. Learning the rules by which our society’s hospitality system works isn’t much easier. There are too many variables, and they change from group to group and even from person to person. However, the basic principle remains that the goal is to make people comfortable and happy. In a previous grove, there were the attitude that guests weren’t supposed to bring things for the post-ritual feast, because that would imply that we weren’t giving enough hospitality, or even show that it was actually true. In my own home, I used to think that hospitality required that I not allow my guests to help out in the kitchen. But eventually I figured out that people enjoy making themselves useful, and that in our culture it’s usual to bring food to the kind of party that a post-ritual feast is. So it turned out people were more comfortable once I let them do the things that I thought I shouldn’t let them do. By changing my rules, I was actually being more hospitable.
Hospitality’s a funny thing that way. The goal is to make others feel comfortable, not yourself. In one’s home, that might mean asking guests to help out. In ritual, it means finding out what a particular god wants, not what you think is wonderful. In the universe, who knows; it’s a bit out of my depth.
But hospitality is most of all about paying attention to what guests want, and doing it.
In Time Enough for Love, Robert Heinlein wrote, “Everything to excess. Moderation is for monks.” He’s my favorite writer, and I have often relied on his wisdom, but I have to disagree with him here. Aristotle, on the other hand, argued that it was exactly moderation, the following of the path between the extremes, that was the essence of virtue. I’m not fond of Aristotle (he has a lot to answer for), but I mostly agree with him on this point.
Why reject my favorite for one of my least favorite writers (and philosophers)? Especially why when we have so many Pagan examples of men held up as models who are extremely immoderate? Because without moderation we aren’t in control of our lives.
Moderation can be defined, along with Aristotle, as that which is between extremes. Now Aristotle didn’t give us enough information to go on as to what the extremes are. We even have to wonder if we can immoderately practice moderation, or moderately practice immoderation. (More on the latter later.)
The biggest point is that moderation requires choosing. If we just go along with what we feel, we will likely tend towards the extremes. It is only when we stop for a moment and consider what is really important that we can choose. The most important value of choosing is that we are able to practice self-control. I used to ask, “When we are practicing self-control, who is controlling, and who is controlled?” This seems like a koan, but it’s a good old-fashioned linguistic confusion. “Self-control” is a bad term, that confuses rather than illuminates. It would be better to say that what we are doing when we practice “self-control” is weighing priorities, and refraining from choosing the immediate, but less important, action, over the more far-ranging, but more important, one.
There’s a military principle that expresses this perfectly: the first question to always ask is, “what’s the mission?” So when I’m arguing with someone, what’s the mission? Is it to get my frustrations out? To make the other person look bad? To win them over to my side? The first two require no moderation at all, they’re just acting on a current feeling. The last is a beautiful example of moderation – what’s the middle ground where we might agree? Can I make the other person feel good about agreeing with me?
We can’t focus on the Cú Chulainn’s of the world without looking at the Cormacs. Cú Chulainn was all about power, and about wielding it in the most flagrant sense. He was about battle rage, which disfigured him physically as well as mentally. In this rage, he would lose himself.
Cormac, on the other hand, was about judgement and wisdom. He knew what was right. He knew that making the person whose sheep had cropped the queen’s woad garden give them to the queen in compensation was extreme, but that giving the wool of the sheep to the injured party was moderate, the perfect balance between the extremes.
Manawydan is another example of moderation. When in danger by a town’s craftsmen, he moved out. Staying to fight would be an extreme, staying and submitting would be an extreme. Faced with only those two choices, he went outside them, and outside the town.
It is possible to be immoderately moderate, however. Some situations require immoderation. Cú Chulainn is a good example. He was required to defend Ulster. That was the right thing to do. But moderation wouldn’t have served him here. He needed his battle frenzy if he were to do his job. The same thing is true of Indra; if he were to kill the Serpent and bring order to the world, he needed the ecstasy brought on by soma. In both cases, moderation would have been immoderate; it would have been losing control of the actual situation. In Cú Chulainn’s case, he ended up dead, in Indra’s, he ended up being the most worshiped god in the Vedic pantheon. Immoderation usually leads to extreme results. But moderation can lead to the extreme results too, such as the destruction of one’s land, or of the world, or generally inaction. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Stopping to reflect a moment before doing it, if you can do that and still perform your mission, is still a good idea.
I must admit that when I saw that fertility was on the list of virtues, I doubted the list’s wisdom, or even its sanity. Fertility seemed to be a result of the virtues – Ireland under the true king, “We the People” following the Constitution to “promote the general Welfare,” not dissipating resources because one practices moderation, investing well because of both wisdom and courage, etc. Result isn’t a virtue.
A process however, can be, and it’s as a process that fertility is a virtue. “Go forth and multiply” is fertility as a process. Am I wise? Big deal. Now what? Am I a visionary? Big deal. Now what? Do I have talents, resources, intelligence? Big deal. Now what? What are you going to do about it?
Doing something is what fertility is about. Make something. Do something. Contribute. Make a difference. Use your time, talent, and treasure.
“Fertility” is a great word for this because of its sexual meaning. The message of fertility as a virtue is “don’t masturbate. Go make some babies.”