The Early Irish did place sometimes extreme emphasis on bodily wholeness alongside concepts like “Beauty of Form” and “Beauty of Face”… And that, to me, is quite possibly the most important puzzle piece when it comes to modernizing Beauty as a Spiritual Virtue.
What is “bodily wholeness”? In Lore, it’s defined clearly as being without blemish- whether that blemish is the presence of something like boils, a lost limb, a sickness or disease, or several other things… Yet this definition doesn’t work for us in a modern context. Indeed, in a modern context, such an assertion is ultimately abelist. And yet a similar idea does exist in the modern world- and its one which relates much better to modern ideas of beauty; we tend to see this described instead as “Wholeness of Body and Mind”. What it means, essentially, is achieving an optimal, balanced state of Spiritual, Mental, and Physical health- and taking care of and preserving that state of health.
The most basic method of doing so is, of course through practicing general Health and Wellness.
“Wellness” is being aware of and making conscious choices toward living a healthy and fulfilling life; a dynamic process of change and growth leading us towards a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being- as opposed to simply being free of illness or disease. “Health” itself refers to the actions and practices that allow us to do this; it is is eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, seeing your doctor, getting treatment when necessary, and a myriad of other things (including things involving Spiritual and Mental Health).
One of the core practices of health is the act of practicing hygiene; hygiene is a set of actions or practices which focus on maintaining personal and environmental cleanliness, which are performed in order to preserve one’s health (and the health of others) predominantly through reducing the spread of communicable diseases; in its fullest meaning, it includes all circumstances and practices, lifestyle issues, premises and commodities that ultimately work together to create a safer and healthier environment for everyone.
And when we look at several of the Polytheistic faiths, we find that hygiene is a core component of many of them- both in their revived and reconstructed forms in the modern era, and in their original forms as practiced by their original cultures. This is true even in Early Irish culture where- as Daimler herself notes- the use of cosmetics, dyes, and even specific bathing routines was common; the importance of cleaning yourself both physically and spiritually is a large and often intense part of Polytheistic faith. This is usually true even if they separate it from Beauty as a Virtue, or have no such concept of Beauty as a Virtue at all.
So with a shift towards the modern ideology concerning the subjective nature of beauty- and the assertion that all people are beautiful in their own right- the concept of Beauty becomes less about how aesthetically pleasing you are to others in terms of Conventional Beauty Standards. When we factor in the additional switch from the reliance on those Cultural Beauty Standards, to hygiene as a method to define beauty? Beauty instead becomes more about how well you take care of the Beauty which you already inherently possess– as well as how taking care of that Beauty can only serve to elevate both it and you, not only in the eyes of Society (which was very important to the Early Irish) but in other ways as well.
That last bit is important to modernizing Beauty and retaining emphasis on the physical appearance, because it ties into another important virtue which many of us do agree should be retained in the modern era: Community; practicing good personal health and hygiene is the base requirement that we meet in order to participate- and be accepted in– general society.
When you participate in good practices focusing on health and hygiene, you are sending a message: That you care about yourself and take yourself seriously enough to preserve your health. More than that, when you practice good personal hygiene and deign to meet the standards of appearance set out by your culture for participation and acceptance into general society? It also clearly and visibly shows that you also respect the health of others around you as well; while it doesn’t seem like it would be, things as simple as smelling nice, not wearing wrinkled clothing, looking put together… These things are all outward, clearly visible signs to your community that you invested in your own health and take yourself seriously- which means, as a byproduct, that you have invested in their health and care about your community enough to make that investment.
No one has to live up to society’s standard of beauty. No one needs to be a size 4. But what I’m talking about has nothing to do with your figure and everything to do with the amount of effort we decide to put into our appearance. Why should it matter? Because deciding to look put together is also saying, “I take myself seriously. I respect myself.” And it’s saying one other thing, too, [that I care for and respect those around me]. – Fight the Frump: Get Dressed!
In retaining the emphasis on the physical aspects of Beauty and keeping it within the context, it becomes very easy to modernize these aspects of the concept of Beauty by focusing on one’s level of Hygiene and overall Health and Wellness. Furthermore, these are concepts which are not only more in line with Modern ideologies, but which also make sense within the context of the faith system and its remaining stories.
Perhaps more important than that, though, is that putting something like Hygiene and Health into practice is relatively easy and requires very few rules and standards- much fewer than encouraging people to adhere to ridiculous Beauty Norms. While some people will still inevitably be left out for various reasons, it is still more inclusive and far more open to others to participate in… It simply means making a concentrated and active effort to practice good personal hygiene and health rituals in order to achieve a level of health and wellness- one which you determine is the best for you, your health, your safety, your ability, and so on.
And I do fully believe that such a virtue- whether expanded on to include other areas of physical appearance by an individual or not- has a continued place in modern Polytheism.
This is Part 4 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 the last and final installment, Part 5.
For a list of IriPol resources, including those I used to inform the opinions mentioned in this article, please view this page here.