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.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.
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.”
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.