The Virtues Project—Piety

“I, mortal-born, may not despise the Gods.”

Euripides, Bacchae, 199

“Correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, (both personal and societal), we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.” (Our Own Druidry: an introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path, p. 82).

The Greek tragedian Euripides was great at describing the price for impiety towards the Gods. In the Bacchae, Dionysus himself deals with those who deny he is a god. He drives the women mad and sends them into the mountains where they attack villages and tear apart animals. Pentheus, the king of Thebes, is also sent slightly mad and is convinced by Dionysus to dress as a woman to spy on the women on the mountain. He is caught spying on them and is torn apart by the women, including his own mother, Argive.



Pentheus torn apart by Agave and Ino. Attic red-figure lekanis (cosmetics bowl) lid, ca. 450-425 BC.

In Hippolytus, the eponymous character is a devotee of Artemis and remains chaste, which angers the goddess of love, passion, and sexuality, Aphrodite, who Hippolytus says is “the most vile of divinities” (Hippolytus, 12). For this, Aphrodite filled Hippolytus’ stepmother Phaedra with a deep passion for him and when he spurns her, she accuses him of rape and kills herself. Phaedra’s husband and Hippolytus’ father, Theseus, who is the son of Poseidon, banishes and curses Hippolytus, who is killed by a bull from Poseidon’s sea.

Hippolytus, Phaedra and Theseus. German School, 18th Century

Artemis saw Hippolytus’ actions differently. “She found fault with your homage (to me), and she was vexed at your virtue” (Hippolytus, 1402). Even though, as Hippolytus says, “Among both gods and mortals one cares for one, another for another”(104), as his servant says, “One must, child, engage in the honors due the gods” (107). So, the lesson here is that while you may have a favorite god, you should not disparage any of the others.

Piety: 1. The quality or state of being pious. 2. A pious act, remark, belief, or the like.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Is Piety an act or a quality? The Random House definition show it as both. Among Grove members we can’t come to a consensus. One says Piety is action, one says Piety is from the heart, which implies intent, and another says it shouldn’t be entirely tied to action, because actions can by hypocritical and the most pious seeming are really not pious at all.

I think that we are influenced by two thousand years of Christianity and are more concerned these days with what we believe and what intent or thought is behind the action. Our knowledge of psychology may have a lot to do with that too. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors. The question comes down to what do the Gods care about? The Greeks thought it was the action, the libation, the sacrifice, or other offering that mattered. In the Bacchae, Cadmus, Pentheus’ grandfather, explains that it doesn’t matter what Pentheus believes. “Even if this god does not exist, as you claim, let him be considered a god in your eyes. Lie for a good cause, say that his is Semele’s child. In this way she might seem to have given birth to a god and honor might accrue to our entire family” (Bacchae, 333-336).

The Romans were antagonistic towards Christians because they would not give offerings to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, the primary Gods of the city. They didn’t care if they worshipped Jesus and they weren’t asking for Christians to believe in the other Gods, they just wanted them to make the sacrifices, because giving offerings to the Gods was essential for the protection and flourishing of the city. For the Romans too action was piety.

Minerva (with owl), Jupier (with eagle), and Juno (with peacock)

Today, we have many different flavors of Neopaganism with beliefs ranging from soft polytheism, hard polytheism, monism, pantheism, panentheism, animism, to atheism. Black Bear Grove will be celebrating the coming Summer Solstice by honoring the Roman Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva and all we ask is that you join our ritual with respect and participate as much or as little as you want, but we don’t care what your underlining beliefs are. Whatever you think Piety is, it is between you and your Gods.

–Koronis, Black Bear Grove, ADF

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