Today, I would like to take a moment to talk to you about zeal, which should really be a positive word, but tends to end up being something decidedly negative. Zeal is defined as:

"Enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance."

At it's core lies deep love, and especially in relation to religion, zeal is a beautiful thing. It allows you to live, breath, your religion and helps engrain it into every single part of life. Especialy when first joining a religion, a good bit of zeal to drive your research and practice is a good thing. Yet, we have come to associate zeal with 'zealot'; an immoderate, fanatical, or extreme adherent to a cause, especially a religious one. When we think of 'zeal', I have found many flash back to time spent in Christian churches, or to news images of planes flying into towers. Zeal has been dropped from our vocabularies in favor of kinder--less treathening--words. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself; there are many ways to describe love for a religion or cause, but we have lost something along the wa, I feel. When deep love and devotion bcome synonymous with hate and terror, something went wrong along the way.

The word 'zeal' comes to us through the Old French word 'zel', which comes from the Late Latin word 'zêlus', which comes from the Greek 'zêlos'. It's the name of a God; Zêlos is the daimon of eager rivalry, emulation, envy, jealousy and zeal. He is siblings with Nike (Victory), Bia (Force) and Kratos (Strength) and stands by the throne of Zeus as one of the enforcers of the God King. He was closely linked to sporting competitions and may have even been worshipped in Olympia in that capacity. He was also closely connected with the Eris, Goddess of strife, as the driving force of competition. Oppianos, in his beautiful 'Kynegetika' wrote:

"O father Zeus, how fierce a heart hath Zelos! Him hast thou made, O lord, mightier than nature to behold and has given him the bitter force of fire, and in his right hand hast vouchsafed to him to wear a sword of adamant. He preserves not, when he comes, dear children to their loving parents, he knows nor comrade nor kin nor cousin, when he intervenes grievous and unspeakable. He also in former times arrayed against their own children heroes themselves and hobble heroines." [3. 236]

I think we often forget the power zeal can give us; the strength it provides, and the pride it allows us to feel about something we love. Zeal is perfectly acceptable anywhere else (seriously, have you ever been involved in fandom on Tumblr? Anything goes!) but when it comes to religion, we tend to shut our mouths and downplay its importance in our lives because we fear the judgement of others. I am guilty of this myself and there are days when I get angry about it. When I find myself talking around the terms 'Hellenic polytheism' in job interviews or at birthday parties, I remember the time when I wasn't out as a lesbian yet and I made my own life miserable by speaking solely in gender-neutral terminology in the hope no one noticed I had recently realized I was different than they were. I got over that, and I hope one day I will get fully over my habit to downplay the importance of my religion as well.

I value the zeal I have for my religion, but I am not a zealot. I love my religion, the time I spent talking about it, practicing it, thinking about it, discussing it--I am defined by my religion in a way that goes far beyond casual practice. Yet, I am far more than that; I have a wonderful relationship, an active job-hunt going on, ahealthy Once Upon A Time obsession I spent far too much time on, and wonderful friends who take me to hold their hand when they get a tattoo done or dye their hair purple. all of these things define me just asmuch as my religion and if I can speak out about the others proudly, I must learn to do so about my religion as well, because in the honest life I want for myself, religious freedom is a major priority.