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 5: Power.
Early in college, I took political science from a strange professor. He was large and blustery, with a beet red face and an intense stare. Although he identified as a Libertarian, he would often quote Adolf Hitler to us in German, then take pains to shame us for not understanding the subtle differences between the Fuhrer’s native tongue and the English translations of his speeches.
As part of that class, we read A Parliament of Whores, an irreverent take on the U.S. government by Rolling Stone humorist P.J. O’Rourke. O’Rourke’s political views differ from mine, but his book was funny, light, and mostly enjoyable. One particular section, however, still sticks with me. While contemplating the nature of power and the type of person who seeks to hold political power, O’Rourke wrote:
“Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power.”
To a young college student, not yet of drinking age, right at the height of the dramatic Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush election, this passage hit me hard. “But,” protested the young idealist in me who kind of liked that cool Democrat who wore sunglasses and played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, “some politicians really want to help people!” O’Rourke had an answer for that too:
“Politicians are interested in people. Not that it is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.”
Is it any different now? Look at this year’s downright frightening presidential race, and you almost prove O’Rourke’s points. Both sides of the political spectrum have included a battle between candidates who swim in political power vs. candidates who tap into large groups who feel disaffected and alienated by existing power structure. There is a large element on both sides that sees establishment power as the scum and the fleas that O’Rourke called them so many years ago. Certainly, they all claim to be fighting for the people, but you have to wonder if their interest in the people is sincere or whether, as O’Rourke believed, they are simply looking to siphon a little blood off their hosts.
So how can power be a virtue, as the Goddess tells us it is? We all have some relationship with power. On the various stages on which we act throughout our lives, some have power over us, and on other stages we have power over others. At work we have bosses and subordinates. In school we have teachers and peers. The police officer who pulls us over may have temporary power over us, but once she’s off duty, our powers are equal. In social groups, covens, groves, or other voluntary groups, we often voluntarily recognize a leader. Power is a part of our lives.
The problem is more about who seeks it and how they express it. As we near the Summer Solstice, we come to the time of the Wheel when The God’s power is at its strongest. He is sovereign at this time, but he uses that power to be a steward of the Earth. Solstice rituals often involve a theme of standing in our own sovereignty. Yet, with the God as well is in our lives, the king must be in harmony with the land he rules as well as its people, or his power will fade. Just ask King Arthur.
The God’s sovereignty becomes a symbol of our own control over our lives. His example helps us take charge of our own intentions, hopes, and dreams. With his reminder, we are able to “manifest our change according to our Will.” We can’t be true magicians unless we stand in our own power, in harmony with our gods and our lives, and the Green Man at the Solstice helps us do that.
It sometimes becomes fashionable in religious communities to deny your own power, to “give it up to God,” or “trust the universe.” Pagans don’t have to do that. On the contrary, for Witches, “To Will” is one of the four base points of the Witch’s pyramid. We don’t give up power over our lives to others; we strive to control our lives and manifest our intentions. You can’t do that without accepting your own power. We can acknowledge our power to work with the universe or the gods and manifest the lives we wish for ourselves and our loved ones. We can help others do the same.
We can hold power without being fleas. We can use our power to help others find theirs. We can focus our power in ways that help us live better lives. Power is dangerous, but so is electricity. It can still benefit our lives,and the lives of others, immensely.