As you know if you read my previous post, I am involved, increasingly passionately of late, in activism related to reproductive rights and individual privacy. This work increasingly brings into my vision the inextricably related tide of extreme sexism that has been rising in public life over the past few years. The public voice for this movement comes from the obstructionist Republicans, those who believe the Tea Party to be a worthy constituency, who feel Rush Limbaugh is a worthy spokesman, and who feel empowered to declare this a Christian nation. This faction has set about forcing us all to live by a fundamentalist, unkind (and, I believe, inaccurate) version of Christian dogma in which the big government that is staying out of their corporate crimes is empowered to evaluate all personal decisions and impose cruel consequences on those that don’t conform and don’t have resources for the fight.
I won’t go into all the ins and outs of why it is clear this nation is not now, and never has been, a Christian nation. Thomas Jefferson et al. said it better than I ever could. What is written on a dollar bill is not determinate of our spiritual zeitgeist. If it were, we would all be Masons. People who busily deny all of biological history on this earth are easily capable of revising the past couple of hundred years of social and political history without even breathing hard. Arguing against them is a waste of time.
But I will talk about speaking out, and how advocacy is part of being a priestess for some of us. And I will talk about how our community too seeks to silence voices that raise uncomfortable truths and challenging perspectives.
I am a priestess of the goddess Hekate. To me, she is a teacher and patroness. In return for her loving guidance and her teachings, I offer up my service to her. And what that really means is that I strive to bring every act and choice in my life into congruency with my understanding of how to walk on the Earth gently, with love and compassion. Clear sight, and the ability to summon strength and focus are among her many gifts (along with an unusual tendency for large black animals to come into my life). My offering in return is to be her hands, her voice, and her heart in this world. “All acts of love and pleasure are my [the Goddess’] rituals” (emphasis added) is part of Wiccan liturgy. (If you can call it that – Abrahamic models superimposed on pagan worship usually are a poor fit because they imply more uniformity and more obligation than would be accurate. We need our own vocabulary for these things. But I digress.) We are charged to move in the world with “beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence”.
Most pagans I know do really well with the mirth, and the reverence, and with honor in the sense of trying to generally treat others well. It’s the compassion, strength, power, and other forms of honor that seem to cause problems. Those of us who choose to use our power and strength and sense of personal and spiritual integrity to advocate, to speak out against intolerance, or to hold up a mirror that reveals flaws, are not always supported by others in our community.
Paganfolk tend to sort into a few archetypal categories. We have healers, we have bards, we have artisans, we have those who tend the earth and her creatures, we have priest/esses, and we have warriors. Most of us are more than one of these. Those of us who have been formally trained as Wiccans have been encouraged to develop skills and strengths in different areas.
Warriorship, though, is misunderstood by many and taught by relatively few. And warriorlike behavior is often actively squelched because, somehow, it does not conform to pagan community ideas about how to be loving. Warriorhood is seen as at best a necessary evil; a commenter on line who was seeking to support my activism said that she wished the warrior role was no longer necessary.
How can we eliminate an entire archetype? Why would we want to? Each of our possible roles has a critical part in shaping our societies; each reflects another face of the divine. Warriors don’t need to be violent, or cruel, or fanatical. Warriors can use their strength and honor peacefully and with integrity to support positive change and succor the weak. Warriors enact what we Wiccans tend to view as the masculine aspect of divine love.
Neopagans generally view Love as an important aspect of the divine. “Love is the law….”, “…[the goddess’] love is poured out upon the Earth”, and other passages commonly taught affirm this. But the understanding of love of course varies with the person.
My Hekate is a dark goddess, and her teachings are about the mysteries of the inner places, of the borderlands between light and dark, presence and absence, life and death, growth and decay. She has great compassion for all the world’s creatures, but that does not mean she will stop them from working and going through trials of learning. Her love is the active form, the one the Greeks called αδαρε. Agape is intentionally applied love, meant to bring balance and healing when events have created loss of well-being. This, for me, is the love of God Herself. Acting from a place of center, with clarity about my own roles, reactions, and ego boundaries, cultivating self-possession and reaching out from that strong core to help others, acting as a responsible steward of the beautiful earth and all its children, are the work of my priestesshood. Warrior actions, including activism, are one way to do that work.
The Goddess’ love is also, to me, often “tough love”. Balance exists in all things, and we don’t get to experience the rewards without doing the work and facing the challenges. Witches generally understand that digging into one’s own shadows, seeking self-understanding and compassion for oneself, is the central process in learning to find one’s divine strengths. But when a member of the community holds up a mirror that shows some of the less than appealing stuff and asks them to think about changing it, they tend to react with complete affront. I can’t count how many times I’ve been castigated for not being “nice” because I said something when witches were acting in ways that were damaging those they thought they were helping.
I have been recently chided again for speaking. I was told that I must have terrible and tragic “anger issues”, and then virtually ostracized through indirect comments by a pagan on-line group because I called out a member for using sexist language and assumptions as the basis for posting negative comments about a woman who most of us don’t even know. Well, what was said was, prima facie, sexist. And we are usually better than that. But how are we going to be better than that unless we allow our Warriors to speak up when they witness injustice? If we are not willing to examine our own behavior, and consider changing it, we aren’t being honest, or honorable, or humble.
Another member of said group told me that divine love is completely accepting (thus snarkily implying that I was a failure as a priestess because I did not quietly accept what had been said). He seemed to think that if I wanted to act out of love, I would just ignore the sexist cultural assumptions that are rising like alligators in a swamp all around me. Because accepting would mean I wouldn’t upset anyone by pointing out that their behavior in perpetuating these cultural assumptions is part of the problem. And upsetting people isn’t “nice”.
This version of all accepting, “nice” love reminds me most of the Buddhist concept of “idiot compassion”, where the actor’s ego issues compel them to afflict others with help that actually harms in the long run. Idiot compassion is not based on true understanding of the others’ needs. “Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good to somebody. At this point, good is purely related with pleasure. Idiot compassion also stems from not [having] enough courage to say no.” –Chogyam Trungpa (emphasis mine)
Well, I am blessed by my Goddess with the courage to say no. I am formed by many many years of working with the dying. I know that not speaking because you don’t want to upset anyone is manipulative and self-serving; you withhold valuable perspectives and truths from them based on your own desire to avoid emotional challenge. I know that being nice is not the same thing as being kind, or honest, or honorable, or strong. I know that true loving compassion grows out of respecting others enough to tell them the truth, to challenge them, to hold them to a high standard. The goddess did not charge us to have “niceness and social harmony” among us. She charged us to compassion and humility, honor and strength. She charged us to be her Love. She trusts us to be her Voice. She wants us to act as her Hands. Turning away from those imperatives because we are afraid to rock anyone’s boat, because we think preserving people’s damaging illusions helps anyone, is a spiritual failing.