The Heroic Path (and What It Isn't)

Don't ask me why I was invited to write a column here, because I don't know. Star Foster read what I had to say over at my Rogue Priest blog and asked if I'd write for the pagan portal.

"I'm not a pagan," I told her.

"Lots of people aren't," she said.

Okay, lots of people. Here's my story. I became an Irish polytheist priest many years ago and helped found Temple of the River. In time we realized that what the Temple does is so different from what most Neo-Pagans do that it was a little misleading to call ourselves pagan. So we stopped.

Eventually I discipled myself to the heroic god, Lugh. It took a long time for me to make this decision because Lugh is a daunting deity. But as I told the sacred myths, I realized that moments of heroic sacrifice were the scenes that moved me most.

Much of what I have learned from Lugh has to do with taking action. He is a distant god who will not fix my problems for me. But by his example I learn to defeat my problems and win everything. Daunting, yes, but also a pretty sweet deal.

Following this philosophy, at some point I no longer wanted to tell the sacred stories. I wanted to live them. So, with time, effort, and contemplation -- the Heroic Path was born.

The Heroic Path

The basis of the heroic path lies in four simple ideas.

  1. Everyone has a purpose in life. There is something you're good at, that you love doing -- something that gives your life meaning. Know what that thing is, and pursue it.
  2. If you don't know your purpose, you should travel. Travel changes the mind and it also introduces you to exponentially more possibilities than staying put. If you don't yet have a passion in life, go on a journey. You'll find it.
  3. Ideals, not rules. Rules are a poor substitute for a moral compass, and they don't require critical thinking. So choose your values, your ideals. Maybe Respect? Bravery? Peace? You get to choose, but choose. And then stick by them.
  4. You can do amazing things. Has anyone ever said something that stopped you in your tracks? Have you ever seen a master at work -- a musician, a martial artist, anything -- doing something better or faster than you thought possible? It's almost supernatural. But you can cultivate those amazing moments. You can become so good at something that it's uncanny.

This last one is especially worth talking about. When you think of heroes, you think of people who do great things against impossible odds. In movies, that might just come from luck -- movie villains are surprisingly bad at aiming guns. But in reality, accomplishing great things is a matter of skill.

Knowing your purpose and your ideals doesn't make you a hero; it just makes you a decent citizen. There are billions of decent citizens in the world, but heroes are rare. To be heroic, you have to be able to succeed and overcome difficulties.

You do that by getting good at things.

So "you can do amazing things" is not just a motivational saying. It's a call to action, a reminder of duty. You can do amazing things, so get your butt in the seat and practice. I don't care if it's fencing, painting, or running triathlons. Whatever skills are needed for your purpose, aim to be the best in the world.

Living the Heroic Life

This philosophy is my religion. I try to live it as a way of life and it's already taught me a few valuable lessons.

Forget the afterlife. It really doesn't matter if there is a heaven, reincarnation, or nothing but oblivion. If you follow the Heroic Path, you do the absolute most with the life you've been given and don't worry about the rest. If there is another life afterward, you'll conquer that one too when you hit the shore. Heroes deal in the present.

Learn to talk to people. This is the most surprising skill I've needed. I used to be a serious introvert, and had to force myself to practice talking to people I barely knew. But to really make changes in the world, you will need to be able to communicate -- and not just with friends or like-minded people. Social skills rock.

Get ready to be famous. The goal of the classical heroes was to build reputation and gain undying fame. Even if that's not something you want, be advised that doing extraordinary things is going to get you a lot of attention. I'm not famous, but just a few months of talking about these ideas and making changes in my own life has brought me a lot of attention. So get ready.

You don't have to believe in the gods. Good gods are not jealous gods, and they don't care if you believe or not. Your goal is to try to be like the gods -- wise, honorable, and heroic -- whether they're real or just a nice story. The heroic path is for atheists and polytheists alike.