Numinous and Concrete
Honor: From the Inside Out
Author's Note: We are at the tail end of Pagan Values Month. I've been writing about many values—success, awareness, love, self-knowledge—over at my journal this June, but am finally sitting down to write about one near and dear to my heart, and one with a long history in Pagan thought: Honor.
Do your own useful work without regard to the honor or admiration your efforts might win from others. There is no such thing as vicarious merit. ~ Epictetus
Ancient stories are filled with descriptions of men and women of honor. Honor was important to the ancient Greeks and Romans and weaves through Celtic legends, the Vedas, the Eddas, in medieval poems of chivalry, and Samurai tales. Those who did not speak or act with honor were treated with derision and scorn. Without the will and power to make good on promises, or follow through on boasts—sometimes resorting to blame or trickery—those who lived without honor were seen as weak. Central to societies, we are told, were the honorable.
One contemporary tale that illustrates this well is the movie Redbelt. In it, the protaganist struggles to get by, refusing to play the rigged games of those who are seen to hold positions of power. I won't spoil the ending for those who have not seen it, but suffice to say: Our hero holds fast to his honor, and eventually triumphs.
We can too.
Honor arises from within; it cannot be cajoled or taken by force. When we act honorably, we are acting from our best nature. When we honor a being, thing, or place, we are recognizing its best nature with our own. To live honorably requires both immediate and long-term thinking: who am I, and who do I wish to become?
Honor is a Pagan value, not only because of its importance in early pagan cultures, but because it requires this recognition of worth from the inside out, rather than worth granted from the outside in. This brings me to another Pagan value: autonomy. Contemporary Pagans are not big on creeds or top-down authority, tending instead to give power to those with a track record of showing up and following through. These people, through their actions, live from a place of honor. Our deepest selves respond to this, and wish to lend them some of our honor, as well.
I have a lantern. You steal my lantern. What, then, is your honour worth no more to you than the price of my lantern? ~ Epictetus
Stoic philosopher Epictetus enjoins us to consider our actions through the lens of honor. In Kissing the Limitless, I work with honor via the Pentacle of Autonomy: "Honor is taking responsibility for our lives and actions. This serves the work of the Godhead within us." When we stop giving away our power, when we cease blaming others for the state of things, we claim something in ourselves that is true and fine. To live with honor is to claim one's place with pride and act from that strong center. We access the core of ourselves, rooted in pride, and knowing our place in the world we can act in a way that honors ourselves and everything around us. To live with honor is to shine with our own light, not needing to steal a lantern from anyone else.
T. Thorn Coyle is an internationally respected visionary and teacher of the magical and esoteric arts. The author of Make Magic of Your Life, Kissing the Limitless, and Evolutionary Witchcraft, she hosts the Elemental Castings podcast series, writes the blog Know Thyself, and has produced several CDs of sacred music. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook!