We as modern people aren’t the early Irish. Instead, we have a minuscule amount of information to truly work with, and no more than that due to history being what it is. As a result of that, there is no genuine way to truly know what the early Irish meant by certain things. Yet in my opinion it is at least easy to garner a rough idea when enough information has been recorded about several aspects of their Culture.
Still, despite the fact that I am a staunch supporter of retaining the emphasis on Physical Beauty as it pertains to Irish Polytheist Values… I am also a realist; I do recognize that some of those things which we do have are either incomplete, or are otherwise incompatible with modern ideologies and practices. As a result, a large and rather undeniable part of Reconstructionism is deciding what stays as it currently is, what needs to be discarded entirely from our faith, and what can stay but ultimately needs to changed in some way to continue functioning.
And make no mistake about it: Things have to be updated if they are to not only continue to survive, but continue to work as intended within our faith; as the Tumblr User Liminal Polytheist says in their rant You Are Responsible for your Religion– aimed at another, different group of Polytheists:
Old stories and old religions contain justifications for violence, slavery, racism, sexism, and a gigantic slew of problems that our culture today is still overcoming. That doesn’t make them bad, but it does mean that we should always be conscious of what we’re choosing to keep as vital to the religion and what we’re choosing to discard as outdated and relevant only to a culture that no longer exists.
Reconstruction [of Religions] is not about recreating ancient religion exactly as it was and practicing it that way, but about understanding how it was in order to make it viable today […] Reconstructionists do like their source material, but the entire point of the source material is using it to create a viable practice.
Ultimately both of these people are right… The appearance of these things in the original forms of our faith, as we have data that they were practiced by their original cultures, can pose a myriad of issues for us; in a lot of ways, many of them are antithetical to modern ideology- making them unsafe or actively harmful to continue participating in on a level which likely did not concern our Ancestors who originally practiced them.
But as Reconstructionists, Historically Oriented Polytheists, and Revivalists, there is absolutely nothing which says that we have to use them as is. Likewise, there is noting which states that we have to retain them in our modern practice in the first place; a large part of reconstructing these faiths is literal reconstruction- which means that we are free to dissect, examine, and choose to keep or remove various elements of these faith systems.
A lot of the time, though, people often choose to toss instead of Modernize during the reconstruction process. However, there are some things that must be considered before we throw things away and never look back- and this is incredibly relevant to subject of Beauty as a Spiritual Virtue in particular.
The first question to ask ourselves is whether or not it can be Modernized instead of thrown out; personally I’m not a fan of throwing things out willy-nilly, and when push comes to shove I would rather opt for Modernization as opposed to the complete discarding of ideology… But it can’t just be modernized without thought… You also have to ask another question: Whether or not it can be modernized realistically.
When modernizing values from a different time, I believe that the modernization of these ideals still has to be rational and accurate; I don’t believe in substituting, updating, modernizing, or changing things without good reason and forethought behind that change- nor do I believe in redefining and modernizing things without careful consideration as to what those things actually meant to their parent cultures.
And here, we find ourselves at the crux of the conundrum with retaining something like Beauty as a modern spiritual Virtue.
Modern ideology concerning Beauty asserts that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This is because each person, each culture, and each society defines what exactly those traits are that make something “beautiful”- or, their own Conventional Beauty Standards… But all of them define those traits differently; in one culture it is long necks, in another it is intricate tattoos, in another it is small feet and hands, for another it may be a certain hair color. Yet Beauty to the Early Irish was inherently Physical and had everything to do with the person’s adherence to the Gender Norms and Beauty Standards of Early Irish Culture.
As a result, ultimately this emphasis on a surface level is inherently antithetical to Modern Ideology- an ideology which holds that Beauty is subjective, and that cultural Gender Norms and Beauty Standards are oppressive (on top of also often being exclusionary by way of classism and abelism). By most accounts, the majority of people wouldn’t be wrong to throw it away. And yet I think there is a legitimate way to modernize it.
Unfortunately, when you look at the suggestions for Modernizing this value, many of them fall incredibly short of the mark; no one thinks to ask the second question: Is tis modernization realistic? The result is a lot of Modernization attempts which, in the scope of the Virtue, make very little if no sense at all. For instance, redefining Beauty as “Self Love” in order to bring it into the Modern realm and make it compatible with modern ideology is a change that, in my opinion, lacks substance and accuracy. The same applies to changes such as “Beauty of Character”. In both cases, instead of being realistic modern incarnations of the pre-existing ideologies and values? They are wholly modern ideas which are being applied to a religion wherein there is no historical basis for them in that form- and I’ve already made two arguments as to why (one Social and one Lorical).
But how does a person redefine and modernize Beauty as a spiritual Virtue- and do so while maintaining relevancy to the Early Irish meaning and intent? The answer, at least to me, is actually relatively simple: You strip away the fluff; you take away what is obviously dependent on cultural norms and ideologies of what makes something “Beautiful” or “Aesthetically Pleasing”, and find the common denominator that lies hidden beneath all of the personal definitions of beauty.
And personally I believe that such a common denominator is Health and Wellness– but most importantly, Hygiene.
This is Part 3 of a multi-part series detailing the reasons behind my decision to include “Beauty” as a Spiritual Virtue in my own Historically Oriented Polytheistic Religion and Faith (Irish Polytheism). For the rest of the series, please go here– or move directly to Part 4.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.