I had learned many English words in the white man’s school, and could recite part of the Ten Commandments. I learned to eat with a knife and fork. I also learned that a person is expected to think with his head and not his heart, and about his money not his spirit.
— Sun Chief, Hopi Nation
quoted by Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
Today, our journey with the Graces takes a new direction. The harvest celebrations in the northern Hemisphere continue, and Euphrosyne and Her sisters will continue to guide us into the final harvest of Samhain. But it also seems the time has come to weave into our year and a day journey another of the strands, promised at the outset.
Always aware that we may seek and receive the Divine blessings of the Graces, it seems especially important at this juncture to remember that we ourselves are empowered to bless others. That power comes in many flavors and forms, but one very ancient way to describe it is, “Virtue.”
It seems to me that while Grace is a blessing given by the pure benevolence and goodness of the Divine, Virtue can be thought of as the way that we cultivate our character in order that we personally radiate that which is the Divine within us, and so bless others.
The word virtue comes to us from the Latin word “virtus,” adapted from the Greek concept, arete. Although originally simply a term for excellence or superiority that could apply to horses, houses, or people, it evolved to describe the achievement of “habitual excellence.” It is something practiced at all times, therefore suggesting that the most important and fundamental virtue, in order to be virtuous at all, is perseverance.
Overall, Virtue refers to superiority and goodness, just as vice, its contrary, denotes its absence. The term as used by moral philosophers and theologians signifies an operative habit essentially good, in contrast to an operative habit essentially evil.
Virtues are at the heart of all spiritual and even most non-religious philosophical traditions. They may be described as the essence of the human spirit and the content of our character. From the Three Jewels of the Tao, to the four vows of the Samurai, to Ayn Rand’s “rational egoism,” all human systems have attempted to define and cultivate the most desirable traits of excellence.
Our American election is reaching its climactic final days, and the rhetoric has taken a decidedly ugly, accusatory turn. For lack of other pressing matters to discuss (evidently), the dialog is now focusing on matters of “character.” So guided by the Good Graces, let us examine what, in fact, good character is, how to know Virtue when we see it, and how we ourselves may cultivate it.