Paganism isn’t a religion of rules, it’s a religion of virtues. Instead of memorizing a bunch of seemingly arbitrary rules and then trying to figure out which one applies in a given situation, we try to embody our virtues as best we can, with the full understanding that life isn’t black and white and tradeoffs must frequently be made.
One of these virtues is perseverance.
Half of life is just showing up (that’s my adaptation of a quote from a certain movie director I prefer not to mention). But the other half is sticking with things long enough for them to pay off. It’s not quitting when things get hard or unpleasant, or when unexpected obstacles arise. It’s remembering why you started a journey in the first place, and what you expect to find when you get there. I see six benefits of perseverance.
1. You honor the Gods. Many stories tell of Gods and heroes who keep going no matter what: The Twelve Labors of Herakles, the Death of Cú Chulainn, Isis searching for Osiris, and others. How many Celtic stories involve a vow to never cease until the enemy is repelled or the quest is complete? When you persevere, you follow the examples of the Gods. In doing so you honor Them, and you become a little more God-like yourself.
2. You honor your ancestors. A meme going around Facebook says “I’m the descendant of the witches you couldn’t burn.” That may not be historical but it’s certainly inspirational. We are all the descendants of people who survived wars, famines and plagues. Our ancestors crossed oceans and mountains, rebuilt after fires and floods, dealt with conquering armies and conquered other lands themselves. Because they kept going no matter how hard things got, we’re here. We honor them by following their example.
3. You reap the fruits of your labors. Working in my father’s oversized “garden” as a kid disabused me of any romantic notions about farming, but much of life can be represented by agricultural metaphors. You prepare the ground, you plant, you weed and water and scare off the blue jays, and only months later do you actually get something you can eat. Walk away from the fields in June and you get nothing. Keep working till August and the crops will be ready.
4. You build confidence for your next project. Some of this comes from the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a difficult task: driving in an unfamiliar city, walking out of your last final exam knowing you passed, finding a new job when the old one went away.
I used to run. When I ran four miles without stopping for the first time, I knew I could run a 10K. When I ran a 10K I knew I could run 10 miles. When I ran 10 miles I knew I could run 15, and when I ran 15 I knew I could eventually run a marathon. And I did. I probably shouldn’t have (I might have avoided the injuries and weight gain that eventually forced me to stop running), but part of me needed to finish a marathon.
When other projects and activities get difficult, I can remember two times when I ran the last four miles of a marathon, and I know I can get through that too.
5. You build a foundation. The OBOD Bardic course teaches some wonderful lessons about esoteric practices and the magic of a story. It also builds a foundation for the Ovate coursework. The Ovate course is a time of introspection, and it builds a foundation for the Druid coursework. The Druid course teaches integration and leadership, and it builds a foundation for service to the Druid tradition and to the wider world.
Likewise, many things we do not only have benefits here and now, they also prepare us for something more further down the road.
6. You open doors for the future. Spending four years of nights and weekends going to graduate school got me a job at least two years earlier than I would have otherwise been considered for it. And it fulfilled a requirement to get my current job.
I started Under the Ancient Oaks on a free Blogger site in 2008. I kept writing at least twice a week, even though some weeks perhaps 20 people read what I wrote. Four years later I was invited to move to Patheos and my readership continues to grow. Because I’ve been blogging two or three times a week, every week, I’ve been invited to speak at retreats and workshops, I’ve got pieces in magazines and in two upcoming anthologies, and I’ve got other projects in the works.
I always wanted to be a writer – now I am a writer. And I’m not done yet.
What it’s not
Perseverance isn’t refusing to acknowledge failure. Sometimes failure is Nature’s way of telling us to try a different approach. Sometimes failure is Nature’s way of reminding us that life is far more random than we like to acknowledge. But sometimes failure is Nature’s way of saying “you suck at this – try something else.”
I loved baseball as a kid – I think I wanted to be a baseball player more than anything else. But I was short and slow, with a weak throwing arm and an even weaker bat swing. I played two years of Little League – I had a grand total of one base hit. No amount of coaching and practice was ever going to make me into a serviceable high school player, much less a professional. But I was good at math and science, so I figured out I would probably be a better fit as an engineer. That’s worked out pretty well.
Perseverance isn’t staying in a dangerous situation when you need to get out. If you’re in an abusive domestic relationship, or an abusive job, get out as soon as you can. Perseverance isn’t refusing to deal with harsh realities. If you have a family emergency, drop everything and deal with it. If a hurricane is coming, board up and evacuate. Doing what must be done is another Pagan virtue.
What it is about
This is about the novel you always wanted to write that you abandoned after 10,000 words. This is about the pile of OBOD Gwersi you haven’t touched in months, or years. This is about bouncing from group to group, always looking for the right teacher, the right tradition, the right initiation.
It’s about quitting because daily spiritual practice is boring, or because offerings are expensive, or because geasa are bothersome. It’s about stopping the journey before you see where the path will take you.
Keep working. Keep moving. Keep building.
Perseverance is a virtue.