Belief, Ritual, and Morality: part 6

This is the final post of this series on a Montesquieu and Religio Romana inspired threefold division. It had its intro, a look at each of the three parts and a presentation on their grey areas of interaction. What follows is a tying of some loose ends to wrap it up.

1. Even in an orthopraxic religion, it’s true that there is a community of belief; basic, yes, but still there. Different people may have different views on the Gods, the cosmos and the afterlife, but they all share the belief that the Gods are somehow real or, at the very least, the belief in the usefulness of the rituals. That can bring people together of their on free will to form religious communities, and the creation of an orthopraxy arises with the need to have a ritual common ground in the midst of a diversity of opinions or personal, family and group traditions.

2. On the matter of personal ethics and social morality, what happens if you live in a country whose dominating moral standards are in direct opposition to the ethos of the God(s) you’re closest to? Well, I guess that depends a lot on the specifics and your own sort of “moral fiber”. Take the issue of homosexuality: your religious beliefs influence you to cherish sexual diversity, but the country or State where you live in is heavily dominated by homophobic and transphobic feelings. Whether you decide to uphold the ethical trend set by your favourite Gods or to accept social morality as yours is really up to you. If there’s enough legally established freedom for it, you may fight for greater tolerance and LGBT rights; if not, the choice is between adapting to the dominating social standards or moving to greener and more free pastures.

3. Finally, the question of an orthopraxic ritual tradition. Imagine that Svartesol, Nicanthiel and I were to meet for a group ceremony for Frey. Now, Svartesol is a wiccan and I’m more of a recon; I don’t know if Nicanthiel blends heathen and Celtic material in his rituals, but let’s imagine he does for the sake of argument, and add the fact that we all have our own personal or group traditions as a result of growing up in different places where we faced different practical needs. What ritual plan would the three of us use together at a group ceremony? This is what I’m addressing: not the imposing of orthopraxic uniformity, but the creation of a ritual common ground that allows people from diverse walks of life and religious paths to worship together common Gods. Every individual and group is of course free to create and have its own settings and practices, but reaching across the isle in the midst of that diversity requires a sort of ritual protocol that can be used by different people when they meet around a common altar. And the starting point to its construction are the old ways, followed by comparative religion and shared UPG to fill in gaps, adapting where necessary and creating close alternatives when modern demands and practical needs arise.

To end as I started, this was not a presentation of a putative pan-polytheistic system. It’s mostly a personal take on ritual and morality inspired by the example of Ancient Roman religion, and two cents on some of the questions facing modern day pre-Christian religions, recon or not.


3 thoughts on “Belief, Ritual, and Morality: part 6

  1. Svartesol, Nicanthiel, and Helio walked into a bar… 😀

    But seriously – I agree that in a situation like that, when people come together for group ritual it’s important to find common ground. This is something I’m still mulling over with my upcoming public ritual to Frey. I have a basic ritual outline which is neither specifically Wiccan nor specifically “standard Heathen” format as a number of people from different traditions will be showing up. There should be some common ground that is reasonably accessible to all. I think the simple act of thanking the Deity and sharing a drink with Them is one that transcends different traditions as you’ve got cakes and ale in Wicca, passing the horn in Heathen rituals, making libations in Greek and Roman religions, etc. So that’s common enough that a number of people from different religious backgrounds can see that and relate to it as a reverent act.

    This has been a really good series of posts, thank you again for posting them. Lots of good points raised 🙂

  2. LOL! Now there’s a start I hadn’t thought of 😀

    A couple of heathens I met online some years ago posted on a webpage a modern reconstruction of the historical Winternights feast. It’s a balanced rite, made for a moderm group of people and I think it supplies us with a good example of a common ritual ground for common worship based on old Norse traditions:

    As you said, sharing a drink transcends traditions and it is one of the most ancient forms of honouring both the Gods.

  3. In my book at I wrote a chapter about morality and conscience, called “Duel of the Dual.” Here is an excerpt:

    “Conscience” is a misused and misunderstood word. “Have you no conscience?,” ask people of a person who does something which seems to them to be so obviously wrong. Each person has a dual conscience and, occasionally, these two sides do engage in a duel.

    The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines conscience as “a reasonably coherent set of internalized moral principals that provides evaluations of right and wrong with regard to acts either performed or contemplated. Historically, theistic views aligned conscience with the voice of God and hence regarded it as innate. The contemporary view is that the prohibitions and obligations of conscience are learned…” Individual moral development is based on both.

    Socrates said that conscience was the inner warning voice of God. Among Stoics it was a divine spark in man. Throughout the Middle Ages, conscience, synderesis in Greek, was universally binding rules of conduct. Religious interpretations later changed in psychiatry.

    Sigmund Freud had coined a new term for conscience; he called it “superego.” This was self-imposed standards of behavior we learned from parents and our community, rather than from a divine source. People who transgressed those rules felt guilt. Carl Jung, Freud’s famous contemporary, said that conscience was an archetype of a “collective unconscious”; content from society is learned later. Most religions still view conscience as the foundation of morality.

    Sri Aurobindo said “…true original Conscience in us [is] deeper than constructed and conventional conscience of the moralist, for it is this which points always towards Truth and Right and Beauty, towards Love and Harmony and all that is a divine possibility in us.” Perhaps conscience can be viewed as a double-pane window, with the self in between. On one side, it looks toward ego and free will to obey community’s laws. On the other side, it is toward the soul and divine will to follow universal law. They often converge to dictate the same, or a similar, course of conduct…and sometimes not.

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