Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens


Leave a comment

Hidden Figures and Pussyhats

The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program.  In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely.  Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.

Source: Educationworld.com

Their stories have been largely untold until now.  Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population.  Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged.  Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.

After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen.  “They didn’t complain,” said one person.  “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.”  These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome.  It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.

Someone clearly missed the point.

As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality.  We aren’t perfect.  Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people.  To the general public, we are often hidden.  They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.

No.

With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden.  What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.

One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project.  Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows.  They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power.  Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country.  It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest.  It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.

Source: thestranger.com

Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help.  The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation.  There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie.  The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books.  That leads to ignorance about their contributions.  Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.

The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education.  I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.

 

 

 


2 Comments

Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2016

2016 was a difficult year in Pagan quotes.  It has been a year of radical change.  It included painful losses of beloved musicians and actors.  It has seen the international stage struggle with surprising and potentially world-changing transformations in the status quo. Marginalized communities feel threatened and unsure of the future.

 

In the midst of mainstream lurches in the norm, the Pagan community was embroiled in political and theological arguments even as we were grasping for answers to the larger questions in world’s sudden changes.   As I prepared this annual list, I realized just how much the Pagan microcosm was reflected in the international macrocosm.

me-2016

And yet, through darkness comes light.  Our bodies heal when we sleep, and we learn valuable lessons from life’s difficult moments.  This year’s top 10 quotes embody the many struggles the Pagan community has been through, both internally and externally.  As usual, these quotes must have been said or written by a Pagan (large umbrella).  They are based purely on my reading and my tastes, so I undoubtedly missed something you loved.  Please feel free to continue the discussion by adding your favorite quotes to the comments.

 

Alright Witches and Pagans, here are my votes for the Top 10 Pagan quotes of 2016.  We’ll begin with a quote from January that, looking back, seems quite prophetic:

* * *

10. “You may not know how to embrace change, but I am here to show you the way. Let me introduce you to my Lord, Loki.”

Heather Freysdottir, January 11

 

9. “If we hope to create societies without domination, violence, and war, then we must transform the distorted images of masculinity and femininity that have been developed in patriarchy. We must insist that domination, violence, and war are no more part of masculinity or male nature than passivity and lack of consciousness are part of femininity or female nature. It may feel good to speak of reuniting the masculine and the feminine, but feeling good will not help us to transform cultures built on domination, violence, and war.”

Carol P. Christ, January 25

8. “But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods.”

Joana van der Hoeven, November 14

 

7. “I find Power in the things Christians shout at me–damn straight, I am Lucifer’s f*ggot spawn!”

-Pat Mosley, May 12

 

6. “You know who a lot of those newbs were? Young women. You ever notice how we make fun of anything young women like?

“The internet is full of people bitching about what is and isn’t real witchcraft. Jesus, just look at Patheos’s pagan section and be bored to tears after the tenth article on the subject. That hasn’t changed since the dawn of the internet, and it never will. The only thing that changes is the target everyone is trying to tear down. Pastel Instagram-worthy witchcraft is a fucking easy target because it looks shallow as hell.”

-Mama Fortuna, May 29

 

5. “We don’t run away from the monsters.  We make the monsters run away from us.”

-Greywolf Moonsong, December 21

 

4. “Seriously? When did Witchcraft become a pissing contest?”

-Jason Mankey, April 7

 

 3. “Power comes from all kinds of places, even the places you think are trivial.  Remember that when your sisters that you were so eager to step on as you were coming up get strong enough to come for you.”

-Deborah Castellano, June 1

 

2. “We are most happy to report that none of our clergy subscribe to your views on mixed race or gay marriage, and so we cannot assist you in your upcoming visit to Ireland. Fuck Off. Yours very sincerely, Everyone at the Pagan Federation of Ireland.”

-Everyone at Pagan Federation of Ireland, April 24

Source: theoutmost.com

Source: theoutmost.com

 

1. “In drawing on the momentum of emotions and saying what he pleases, with no apology, Trump has trumped American politics.”

-Taylor Ellwood, March 3

 


1 Comment

Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head.  Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States.  Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension.  Our main characters are not children, but adults.  Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.

But more importantly, our new hero is very different.  Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived.  Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures.  He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.

This brilliant article explains it much better than I can.  While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff – a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts.  If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth.  Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight.  Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance.  He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards.  Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).

Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey.  Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.

Harry Potter. [Source: Playbuzz.com]

Harry Potter. [Source: Playbuzz.com]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other.  They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children.  His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning.  In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:

In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer.  One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered.  The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make.  The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost.  He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later.  But the druggist said no.  The husband got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.  Should the husband have done that?  Why?

Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning.  In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level.  The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment.  The second is more about social approval and maintaining order.  The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend.  Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men.  Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.  

This did not sit well with Gilligan.  What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias – a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” – to rate his respondents.  Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring.  She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.

“Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.  If you’re not happy, then you should leave!”

As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning.  Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top.  She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.

 

I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem.  Indeed, two men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi – famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence.  However, I do see both ethical models as valid.  And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.

The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.

We also need our Newt Scamanders.  We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for.  We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done.  As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”  

We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics.  Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth.  Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change.  The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.

It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world.  Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall.  In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love.  Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort’s fascist coup.


Leave a comment

Virtues of the Goddess: Reverence

As the calendar moves through October, our local theater options tend to turn toward plays with darker themes.  Early in the month, I was privileged to see two beautifully realized musicals that turn a shaded eye onto humanity’s condition.  The first was Sweeney Todd, the classic tale of the murderous barber of Fleet Street.  The other was a surprise: a powerful stage musical adaptation of Disney’s animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (itself adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel).  

Both of these musical feature pious, powerful men who become villains in their thirst for even more power and control over a woman who is unlucky enough to catch their fancy.  In both cases, these men result to a scorched Earth policy to force themselves upon the women they lust after, all the while maintaining an air of haughty propriety – a sense that everyone should be like them, and those who are not are unfit to live.  And yet, each show features an intense musical number where the pious villain breaks down in his weakness, turns to mush, then commits to his vile course of exploitation and murder.

Sweeney’s Judge Turpin whips himself in shame, then sexually advances on his adopted daughter.  This, of course, years after he acquired that daughter by raping her mother and falsely sending the girl’s father away to prison for life.

Hunchback’s Frollo, a Catholic priest, prays to his God, begs for help, then strikes out to burn Esmeralda at the stake if she refuses to submit to his sexual desires.  

Both excuse their actions through prayer, begging their god for mercy while offering none to the women who deny them.  Both use their positions of power and prestige as a sword to the throat of the innocent.  Both are objects of reverence in their own community who aren’t worth the ground their victims spit on.  

At the end of Hunchback we are give a powerful riddle to solve:

What makes a monster,

And what makes a man?

What Makes a monster? Wikimedia

What Makes a monster? Wikimedia

 

What makes a monster? Source: Playbill.com

What makes a monster? Source: Playbill.com

 

At the darkness of Samhain approaches, it came to me that the answer is the final virtue in this series: Reverence.  You can tell a “man” (to be inclusive, a person) by whom and what they revere.  In this case, actions speak louder than words.  Both villains make a show of revering their Catholic God, but in truth they revere power over others, control, abuse, and manipulation.  Without getting political, I think we can find a lot of people in our modern society like that.  These are the monsters.

Yet, there are others, people from all faith traditions and those who claim no faith, who revere the ideas and morals than make them “a man,” and their actions also reveal their loyalties.  Do they stand up for love?  Equality?  Fairness?  Do they live that every day?  Do they speak out for these things?  Do they truly live up to the moral code they espouse?  All of these can be done regardless of religious practice.  And if you truly revere these qualities, you live them.

And What Makes a Man? eddieonfilm.blogspot.com

And What Makes a Man?/ Source: eddieonfilm.blogspot.com

 

We get tested when things get dark in our lives.  As we approach Samhain, the time of darkness, we face toward our ancestors and we know that they know our true selves.  We come face to face with our death, and we know that what we revered in life will follow us in the memories of those who live after us, those who will call us ancestors.

What do you revere?  Would you rather be a “monster” or a “man”?

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is the final installment – Part 8: Reverence.


Leave a comment

A Powerful Sweeney at Curtis Theatre

Mythology is not confined to the ancients.  Societies are constantly developing new folklore from bits and pieces of history, rumor, and belief with a dash of morality  peppered in.  Those stories become folklore, which gets reiterated through the arts. Stories, paintings, songs, and other art forms both perpetuate and transform the tales until they settle in on a narrative sweet spot, one that speaks to the heart of listeners while also teaching a moral truth.  The myth becomes just fictional enough to be palatable and just plausible enough to be enjoyable.

 

That’s what happened with the British legend of Sweeney Todd, the murderous 19th century barber who slit the throat of his victims, then sent them down into his landlady’s meat pie shop to be transformed into a delicious treat for the masses.  Various tales of cannibalism in Britain reached back at least to the 17th century.  Over time, they evolved and ultimately were worked into an 1847 Penny Dreadful novel, The String of Pearls: A Romance.

 

From there, Sweeney’s tale morphed into a popular melodrama, at least six film versions, numerous stage plays, and most famously into the Stephen Sondheim musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  Perhaps because this version combines Sondheim’s dark and powerful score, perfect characterizations, a bit of humor, and a large dose of taboo, it has become the standard iteration of this piece of English folklore.  Last night, a compelling staging of this classic thriller opened at the Curtis Theatre in Brea, and it remains just as powerful as the first time anyone ever watched Sweeney’s razor float across its first throat.

Directed by Stephen John, this production is filled with talent.  Rudy Martinez employs a rich, deep baritone expertly as the “demonic” barber.  Beyond his voice, though, Martinez avoids the slightly wild-eyed characterization of this serial murderer that is so common.  Martinez’s Sweeney is precise, focused, and grounded in an inner strength that makes his character all that more chilling.  In the pivotal role of Mrs. Lovett, Laura Gregory also brings a more robust and self-assured demeanor mixed in with perfectly-delivered dry humor.  This is a bawdy and vocally solid Mrs. Lovett that breaks the mold of the cooky, grandmotherly character that developed early in the musical’s history.

 

Phil Nieto is appropriately disturbing and intimidating as the evil Judge Turpin, particularly in self-flagellating solo, “Johanna.”   This sequence is often seen as too dark even for this show, and its impact commonly blunted by placing the judge in darker light or facing him away from the audience.  Not this time.  Nieto’s large, powerful body faces directly at us, and we get a disturbing look into the mind and heart of our amoral villain as he prays for deliverance.  In contrast, Ryan Coon is positively jovial as Turpin’s sidekick, Beadle Bamford.  Coon also contributes a gorgeous tenor to multiple harmonies throughout the show.  In another antagonistic role, David A. Blair is also effective as Sweeney’s street-hustling competition, Adolfo Pirelli, while also bringing a gorgeous voice to the ongoing ballad that drives the show.

 

Within the murder and darkness of Sweeney, you need to have a ray of light.  Aaron Stephens and Carolyn Lupin provide this as the young lovers, Anthony and Johanna.  Both exude innocence and hope for the future, which becomes more and more necessary as the play progresses.  In particular, Lupin’s crystal soprano sings of youth and desire for freedom.

 

Their youthful hope, however, is effectively counteracted by Katrina Murphy’s mysterious Beggar Woman.  Murphy comes off as the loss of that youthful innocence, with a similar soprano voice and her long, dirty blonde hair.  Her Beggar Woman seems more than physically desperate; she is mentally unsound, making the conclusion of her sad story even more tragic.  In a similar story arc of youth destroyed, Ricky Abilez is strong in the role of the young Tobias Ragg.  In this version, we know his fate from the beginning, and Abiliez smoothly helps us see Toby’s transition.

 

Stephen John gambled a bit with his minimalist set design.  The action takes place mostly on the lower level, with the barber shop and Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop occupying the same space on stage, marked by the placement of set pieces, which is quite unusual.  The design works in the sense that it focuses the audience on the performances rather than special effects or intricate props, yet it tends to diminish some of the show’s central points.

 

An important piece of the action revolves around Sweeney’s victims dropping from his chair directly into the bake house below, and so the design somewhat cuts off this layer.  Both the barber chair and the bake house oven are in many ways vital characters in their own rights, but we are unable to feel their full effect without the extra layer.

 

And yet, with such strong performances, that is only nit-picking details.  This cast delivers the Victorian legend of Sweeney Todd with faith and strength.  There is a precision in their demeanor and purity to their vocals that easily pours through the entire evening and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats.  This October is a wonderful time to return to the foggy streets of London, sit back in your favorite barber’s chair, and Attend the Tale of Sweeney Todd.

 

 

Production Details:

What: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

When: October 8-23. Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 pm; Sundays 3:00 pm.

Where:  Curtis Theater

1 Civic Center Dr.

Brea, CA 92821

Tickets: Can be purchased Here.

 

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Virtues of the Goddess: Mercy

In October 2014, a podcast called Serial was released.  Hosted by NPR’s Sarah Koenig, Serial tells “one story, week by week.”  That first season told the compelling story of Adnan Sayed, who was convicted during his senior year of high school for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but who has long maintained his innocence.  The use of Sayed’s voice, intriguing plot points, and the brilliant weaving together of all the aspects of storytelling made Serial an instant smash hit.  It was the first podcast to reach 5 million downloads.  Serial was an overnight cultural phenomenon.

 

Which is strange.  Here was a show that, while officially objective, was sympathetic to a convicted murderer.  Here was that murderer’s own voice, not a secondhand caricature of him.  The gripping story and questionable evidence helped spawned multiple spin-off podcasts, all of which examined the details of the trial and advocated for the overturning of Sayed’s conviction.

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Source: Flikr, labeled for reuse

Somehow, by painting the picture of a real man suffering for a crime he may not have committed, Serial turned “tough on crime” America into a merciful nation of podcast listeners passionate about righting an injustice.  Not only that, but Sayed is Muslim, and much of America was being kind and merciful to him, and that’s not something often seen in the media.  We have that that quality in us, somewhere.

 

As the Fall Equinox approaches and we look into the time of darkness, it can be important to remember that many people’s darkness is deeper than our own.  While many of us watch the sunlight slip away as we sink into winter’s coldness, others don’t have homes in which they can take shelter from that cold.  Others, like Sayed, who may very well be innocent, don’t even have the freedom to leave the walls that surround them.   To me, the way we treat those people, people over whom we have much power, is the essence of the virtue of mercy.  And who has less power than prisoners?

 

Helping prisoners is hard to swallow for some.  Despite the reaction to Serial, many in America still have a “throw away the key” attitude toward the incarcerated.  There’s still an attitude that prison should be for punishment, not rehabilitation.  There is still a clear lack of mercy toward prisoners.

 

Leslie Hugo, the Lead Capricorn Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, would disagree.  She has been doing prison ministry, mercifully reaching out to the least powerful people in her home state of Utah, for almost three years.  She explains that, “Most of the over 200 inmates I work with are under 30. They made mistakes when they were young, usually still teenagers, involving drugs or gang related activities. At this point, they want out of the lifestyle they had been involved in. Many have expressed their dreams and desires to get out of prison, get married, find a good job and raise a family.”

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Leslie Hugo [Courtesy Photo]

Counterintuitively, mercy toward the incarcerated may actually help society in the end.  Once someone has experienced prison, they usually don’t want to go back, yet recidivism rates are high.  One possible explanation for that is the lack of monetary, spiritual, and physical resources for released prisoners to make a life for themselves. By helping to provide them these things- spiritual training, job training, education- we help ourselves.

 

Hugo emphasizes that, “more than 80% of these inmates will be released, and they will be living and working in a community side by side with us.”  With that in mind, it makes little sense to take all spiritual and societal resources away from them.  “It is in everybody’s best interest that these individuals have a strong spiritual path that can help and give them support when they are released,” she said.

 

 

Thanks in large part to Serial and the effort of its listeners, Adnan Sayed’s conviction has been overturned.  He will get his day in court again, and it all came about because millions of people took mercy on this one unlikely person.  Others, both behind bars and on the outside, don’t have that same opportunity.  Homeless people suffer in America every day.  A racial divide still eats away at our country.  There are opportunities for mercy all around us.

 

If you think about it, human beings are the only animal that truly demonstrates mercy.  It’s not easy for us to do.  It’s often not our natural reaction, but we are capable of it. That puts us in a unique place.  Think of what society could be like if it were structured around mercy for those who struggle rather than turning a blind eye.  We are special.  Mercy does exist within us.   It can make the world a better place, but only if we all find it within us.  If we can’t, we will never find it outside us.

 

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 7: Mercy.


Leave a comment

Virtues of the Goddess: Strength

Strength may be the most misunderstood of the Goddess’ virtues.  She advises us to be strong, but the tricky part is what exactly is strength, and how can it be used appropriately instead of abusively?

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is by pushing down, the other is pulling up.”

-Booker T. Washington

 When animals are attacked, they often react with a show of strength.  Dogs growl and bear their teeth.   Cats arch their backs and hiss.  Humans brandish weapons, puff out their chests, and lash out at others in all caps over social media.  It’s natural.  It’s automatic.  And it’s usually false.

dont_know_whats_comin_3926784260

Photo Credit: Prevetz Partensky, “Don’t Know What’s Comin'” [Source: Wikipedia]

These are instinctual reactions usually meant to scare away a threat by showing it how big and tough they are, but the point is to scare the intruder away by pretending to be strong.  If an actual fight ensues, the big scary animal often backs down.  These are natural reactions to threat – meaning that the bear on all fours or the hissing cat are actually feeling frightened, not strong.  In an attempt to avoid a fight, they make themselves look scary and aggressive, when really they are feeling insecure.

Humans do it too.  How often have you seen an argument devolve into a personal insult match, either in person or online?  It’s the same thing: a person feels threatened so they lash back with belittling ad hominems or long strings of paragraph-free text filled with ALL CAPS instead of defending their position.  It’s not real strength; it’s insecurity. And it’s the sign that your argument is weak.  It’s the opposite of strength.

 

size-of-a-blowfish

Blowfish [Source: Yahoo Images]

To put it in a more practical light, imagine a teenager coming home late from a big party.  Instead of listening to her child’s side, the mother leads by confronting her/him at the door and accusing the teen of all kinds of offenses (shades of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” are ringing in my head. If you know the song, you get it).  Her daughter isn’t going to back down.  She’s threatened, so she launches right into her own argument, and things escalate from there.  It’s the easy, natural road to take, but the escalation leads only to a painful outcome.

Instead, what if mom listened to her daughter?  That doesn’t mean let her get away with it.  It means to lead from the heart with how concerned she was, and the two move toward a discussion of the offense.  Punishment still happens, but it’s a measured punishment that fits the crime, coming from a strong position rather than the excesses of anger, and the child fully understands what is behind it.  In psychology, this is called an Authoritative style of parenting.  It has been shown to be the most difficult, yet most effective method.

 

“It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate,

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

-The Smiths

Strength is doing what is right, despite your fears of the outcome.  It’s doing the right thing, even when it is hard.  In the Wheel of the Year, Lammas is the time where the God is seen as sacrificing himself for the good of the community.  Acting with strength often takes some form of self-sacrifice:

 When we listen to opposing arguments without attacking the opposition personally, and we take the time to deliver a measured response.

When we ignore trolls.

 When we apologize for something we did wrong and accept the consequences.

 When we calmly and reasonably stand up to someone who has wronged us.

 When we see injustice on the internet and do our research before unleashing our inner hissing cat.

The list could go on and on.  These all take some form of sacrifice, and in each our natural reaction is to puff up like a frightened blowfish.  Doing what is right is difficult, especially when you are being asked to act against your own self-interest. One of the things that make humans special is our ability to overcome our instinctual fight-or-flight response, and it is in exercising this ability that we show our greatest strength.

 

Virtues of the Goddess is a series on the eight virtues mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess and their relationship to the sabbats of the Wheel of the Year.  This is Part 6: Strength.