A dear friend asked me, “How should we strive to live?” He wanted to know what makes a good life in accordance with my faith, what influences me in my decision-making, what are my virtues, values, and visions that direct my every day. It’s impossible, of course, to speak for all pagans, or even all polytheists, because in an orthopraxic religion we allow for a wide variety of belief accompanying our shared practice (though the practice assumes certain tenets…).
The simplified ethics of permaculture – earth care, people care, fair share – are a reasonable summation of what I believe and strive for. All of these things are contained within *ghosti-, the guest-host relationship found in Indo-European cultures. By looking at our relationships, we can better see our responsibilities, and act in accordance with them.
There is a third word that arises from *ghosti-, ‘stranger’, but we have obligations there too. Strangers can become guests, or become hosts and we their guests, as we meet and move in life. We are always a guest, a host, or a stranger. Author Priya Basil examines this marvelously in Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity [Hoopla, Bibliocommons], as she shares her experiences through multiple countries, in Sikhism, and in her family.
We, like all other creatures, are guests upon the Earth. She is the ultimate host, for everything we have comes from her. To waste resources, to take more than our fair share, to impose ourselves upon others at this feast of life is not living in right relationship with her, nor with others.
What we know about climate change, industrial meat farming, capitalist enclosure of what rightfully belongs to everyone, and other unsustainable practices horrifies me. It is my duty to do what I can to remove myself from unsustainability and find alternatives. This is a striving; perfection cannot be reached.
It is also my duty to recognize injustice and to overcome my own prejudices and cultural conditioning. It is my duty to listen to stories of strangers, to seek them out, and to truly hear. There is no possible way to know everything, to think that my limited life experience would ever fully encompass enough to understand each other person’s story. This, too, is a striving; to be actively anti-racist includes turning that lens on oneself and one’s own thoughts.
Living in right relationship with the Earth and with others also means understanding my responsibility as a treaty person, as we all are. It means understanding the history of this place and the agreements made here, which my ancestral families did not know but it is my responsibility to live by.
Indo-Europeans and their descendant cultures have a concept of ‘undying fame’. What is immortality other than being remembered and having one’s name spoken by descendants and inheritors for generations into the future? To do this, we must become good Ancestors, and leave the places that we touch better than we found them. We are remembered for our deeds and actions, for what we give and how we live, lives that we touch and make better.
Living in right relationship also means understanding and following the ritual rules, to align myself better with the xartus, with rta, with fate. When I do this, my life is better, smoother, easier. I receive blessings. And so I know I am following the right path for me.
It continues to be strange to me that since my ordination as a Priest, I have retreated into a private, simple life. I had expected to become more public, to do more big works, but having a child and two illnesses have shown me what I truly value. I am finding the sacred in the ordinary, without losing sight of what is truly sacred. I continue to see how I can leverage this life at the hearth in a way that benefits others, while staying true to my own path.
Perhaps all of this has really said nothing at all. But for myself, there is no other way to live.