Piety and Devotion… Devout, Reverent, Respectful… I see these words thrown a lot in certain Polytheist spheres- often as a sort of buzzword; something to be slung at people to the point that they’ve practically lost all meaning in today’s religious climate. And quite frankly? When I see someone spouting off about how pious or devout they are, I’m more inclined to believe that they’re not really as pious and devout as they claim to be.
What a pious person looks like will vary from faith to faith as all traditions have their own tenets, virtues, and images of piety looks like according to them. But in simple terms? Piety itself is the state of being religious or reverent; of showing deep respect, devotion, commitment, love, and loyalty for and towards the Gods of your faith.
It is the foundation of all other virtues; a foundation which sets the stage for them, and without which the journey to embody the other virtues (whatever they are in our respective Traditions) might well be meaningless… How do you endeavor to embody Beauty, after all, if that foundation is not there to tell you why you should strive to do so in the first place? To add meaning or reason to that pursuit?
Being a truly pious person is simple… Or, at least it is simple in theory– though not always in application; being pious requires many things from us, some of which are not always easily given.
First and foremost, it requires that we respect the Gods, love them completely, and remain loyal to them; that we are their devoted children (or their devoted Ancestors, or however else our respective faiths view us in relation to the Divine). It also requires that, as their devotees, we participate in the appropriate worship of them according to their traditions- those traditions which we seek to revitalize in the modern era (at least as Revivalists, Reconstructionists, and those who are otherwise Historically Oriented).
As far as piety goes, these are often the most straightforward and simple requirements that we can fulfill as practitioners. After all, faith is an easy thing to achieve for most of us; we may struggle with that faith on occasion, and it may waver or wane when times are hard… But it is not often difficult, by extension, to carry these core aspects of faith into our worship. And yet if piety were that easy, it wouldn’t be such an accomplishment now would it? And it is. It is an accomplishment that demands more from us that simply loving, respecting, and worshiping the Gods.
Piety also demands that we strive to do better and be better as people- both in the spiritual and in the mundane; that we follow the tenets of our faith and strive to embody its virtues; that we follow the example and leadership of the Gods we turn to, and submit to their will. Yet this is not always easy to do.
Sometimes we don’t have the energy to be hospitable. Occasionally we have a bad day and it’s easier to snap at someone than it is to be kind to them. More than once, even, we might choose to skip our devotions in favor of a few extra minutes in front of the tv before work; sometimes it is easier to place our Gods and our faith on the backburner, and this is where people often stumble when it comes to piety… But piety- true and genuine piety– demands that we don’t. It demands instead that we mold ourselves in the image of our Gods, and live our lives devoted entirely to them in heart, body, mind, spirit, and action.
Action is important. When I speak about it, however, I don’t mean giving our Gods the most expensive wine or the highest quality oil; I don’t mean showering them with offerings and gifts, never asking anything of them, or praising them to every passerby. These things are nice if you can accomplish them- and I’m sure the Gods appreciate it. But these are not the kinds of actions the Gods care about. These are not the actions that make you pious.
I do want to touch on something else that kind of folds into the subject of action, though. And that is that earlier, in the opening of this post, I spoke about the fact that piety was often thrown around as a sort of buzzword in certain circles of the Polytheist internet- often as a proclamation of how pious they really are compared to everyone else. And yet, to borrow a quote from Game of Thrones:
“Any man who must say ‘I am the King’ is no true King”.
The full scene in which this occurs (not just the snippet that quote comes from) is truly a wonderful one and is one of my favorites as far as the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s work goes. In it, Joffrey Lannister is throwing one of his famous temper tantrums when his uncle, Tyrion, makes a vague threat that further upsets him. In the throws of his anger, Joffrey yells that he is the king- to which his Grandfather, Tywin, responds with the above quote.
While they may have been talking about Kingship in that scene, however, I feel the quote is just as applicable and relevant to the subject of piety… Because there is something else about piety- and that is that, while piety looks different for every faith, genuine piety is still something which is evident.
In other words the truly devout, truly pious, live their lives in such a way that their piety is obvious to anyone who happens upon them; they are easily distinguishable from the rest of the crowd. They do not need words to confirm their piety. They do not need to scream at anyone who will listen, about how devout and pious they are. This is because genuine piety is something which transcends words; it is obvious. It shines around them. It is shown clearly in their manners, the way they treat their fellow people, and the grace with which they handle life and everything it throws their way- and this is true regardless of the faith they come from.
Now I don’t claim to be a pious person. I slip far more- and far more often- than I care to admit even to myself; I do not always do my Gods the justice they deserve… Yet I do know that if we seek to be truly, genuinely, pious practitioners of our faiths? Then this is an example we should strive to follow.
Why? Because piety and devotion is something which is between us and our Gods. Our fellow Humans are not our judges, they are– and they are the only ones who can judge how pious and how devoted we truly are… But our Gods don’t care about words, they care about action (see how that circles around, there?). If we are concentrating most of our efforts on screaming about how pious we are to anyone within earshot then that is far less time, less effort, and less attention that we are giving to actually becoming as pious as we claim to be with those words. As a result, our words become hollow and empty- and hollow, empty words are meaningless to our Gods.
So do not simply talk about being pious- nor praise your “piety” to every passerby that you can get to pay some vague form of attention to you. It serves no purpose other than to feed our own egos and make us feel better about our failures and shortcomings as practitioners…Instead, be pious. If you are pious, your Gods will know it and your fellow man will know it- and no words will be necessary to confirm it.