It seems at times that there is no end to it in sight; in a religious movement as diverse and passionate as modern Paganism we’ve perhaps even come to expect it. Disagreement, controversy, conflict. We have all experienced them within our religious circles at one time or another, though they often manifest in a myriad of different ways.
Certain subjects are rife with controversy, and where there is controversy there is often passion. Passion is something that in the Anderson Faery tradition (aka Feri) we are specifically taught to encourage, though I suspect it plays a large role in other forms of Witchcraft as well. Part of the great work of knowing ourselves is also to experience –to the fullest extent that we are able—that which moves us to our core, those things that inspire us toward actions perhaps previously thought unachievable, that serve to deepen our understanding of ourselves, as well as the world in which we live, move, and have our being. Simply put, passion is our ability to feel things deeply: to allow ourselves to surrender into our emotions and to follow their currents into new vistas of consciousness.
Ideally we seek to cultivate passion so that it manifests in our lives in ways that are pleasant and uplifting. Joseph Campbell’s famous quote, “Follow your bliss!” seems a most appropriate phrase to use as a sort of compass, pointing to that for which our spirit longs if only we were “freed from the drudgery of mundane concern.” This might be the yearning to become an artist, or a writer, or a doctor, but it might be to become a parent, or a priest, or a Witch. Whatever the desire, the fact that it is deeply felt and surrendered into effectively enables us to experience passion that along with training can provide us entrance into a deeper level of consciousness in which our magic is made more potent.
Passion gets us up out of bed in the morning. It guides us through those areas of our lives in which our responsibilities might curtail our freedoms or restrict the time we have to devote to those things that call to us, or otherwise drain our life force. Passion renews us; it is a healing force that can restore our spirit and bring us closer to the divine.
Passion can also lead us astray. A “crime of passion” might invoke the image of a spurned lover striking out at those who betrayed them with heart wrenching pain; we might find it in our deep and terrible grief in which we lose our connection to the outside world and waste away, neglecting ourselves and those we love. In this the dark side of passion rears its ugly head, threatening to consume us and destroy everything that we have ever worked for.
As different as these extremes seemingly are they each hold a common element at their heart; through the heights and the depth of emotionality that they each invoke they transport us out of our ordinary localized consciousness and deliver us into largely uncharted territory; as the Iron Pentacle of Faery Witchcraft teaches us, passion is the gateway to ecstasy. To this I would put an even finer point on it and say that passion is the emotional process of achieving ecstasy.
1: a : a state of being beyond reason and self-control. b, archaic : swoon
2: a state of overwhelming emotion; especially: rapturous delight
3: trance; especially: a mystic or prophetic trance
For the purposes of the Shaman, Witch, or Warlock, ecstasy is a state of the soul-mind that enables us to reach a type of non-ordinary, non-localized consciousness. It is most easy to recognize passion when it is concentrated into a single issue or moment; the experience we might have of “seeing red” when anger turns to rage, or the feeling of heart-struck longing that overtakes us when we fall in love. To see how this might have an application in the realm of spiritual technologies one need only look to the practices of African religions, such as Vodou or Lukumi (though every Indigenous culture engages in somewhat similar practices) to witness clear examples of ecstatic work in the form of wild dancing, singing and chanting, drumming, consciousness-displacement, and divine possession. Even when engaging in simple spell-work we are taught that our emotional investment in the outcome is a necessary component of that work, acting as impetus for the energies of the spell to move toward their intended goal. Passion makes it all happen.
Sometimes, and perhaps because of that very passion we are taught to cultivate, we can find ourselves shying away from conflict, seeing it perhaps as a source of stress or of pain, or as an unnecessary drain of our personal resources of time and energy. How many times have we asked ourselves, why? Why, do we seem to need to fight with each other? Can’t we all just get along; agree to disagree?
In some cases, yes, we can certainly agree that we each have a unique view based on our personal experiences and that that unique perspective lends us certain advantages and disadvantages that help or hinder our arguments and the expression of our particular worldview. But when worldviews collide, how do we hold true to our vision while honoring those who do not share it? Do we simply avoid conflict at all costs in the name of peace?
Conflict, far from being a constant negative in our lives, can actually be a rich and potent source of creativity. How many different ideas would never have been considered had not an opposing viewpoint presented itself? Healthy debate provides us a golden opportunity to allow our viewpoints to evolve, to actually adapt and change as new information is brought to light. The sword of our will is swung, striking against the sword of our opponent, and as the metal clashes and sparks begin to fly, we see in them divine potential; they fall upon the dry tinder of our fertile minds, hopefully igniting our awareness with creative power.
I have certainly seen how a healthy and respectful debate can bring about new awareness on all sides, making the conflict of the moment (as stressful as it might be to challenge our previously held opinions and worldviews) give way to an even greater understanding. In this I find that conflict can not only be healthy, but even necessary to the survival of a person or group. Through conflict we learn new ways to solve our problems and in an ever-changing world this skills engendered by navigating conflicts become essential to our continued growth and well-being.
We swing the swords of our positions not out of violence and hatred toward our opponent, but in the spirit of the art; together we spar and allow the art of the warrior to unfold; point and counter-point, opinions are met with facts. These facts are then met with more. In all of this we strive to keep ourselves clean, forgoing the temptation to descend into attacks of a personal nature. Personal attacks have no place in a healthy debate which should remain focused on the issues at hand and not the personalities behind them. It is this point which I fear so very often gets lost with those who debate their views, especially it seems in online forums.
Sometimes our passions will lead us to places in which conflict is inevitable. We may then choose to use this conflict as an opportunity for our own growth, as well as a potential opportunity for the growth of those other participants or members of our communities, especially when we find examples of injustice we may be called to speak even if that places us in opposition to other community members. Other times it may simply be our own egos that demand we take a stand. Perhaps innocently enough begun, the wars of righteousness draw blood just the same and those who perpetually draw lines and invite discord often find themselves drained and burnt-out before too long. There is always a price to pay. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We have to ask ourselves what our ultimate goals are. Do I want to fight for something worthwhile? Or do I want to simply fight? Sometimes the line is hard to see.
If indeed we find that the line is blurred we may wish to take some time before action; to “cool off,” before we use our swords in battle. Issues of theological beliefs, practices, history, or lore are (in my opinion) not worthy of spilling blood, metaphoric or otherwise. In these we can “agree to disagree.” A true warrior tries every other option before it comes to a fight.
In other cases, such as those that involve issues of equality, safety, and human dignity, we might find ourselves in a situation in which the views of another directly seek to oppress or denigrate us or others. In these cases it might not be possible to honor the opposing vision, and we may find it quite difficult to hold a space of respect for those who perpetuate such beliefs. If I may be so bold as to submit that respecting a belief that includes condoning inequality and oppression is never an appropriate stance. In these cases we are being asked what is more important to us: conformity and acceptance, or justice and integrity. But even if we do not respect the views of our opponent, it would serve us well to remember to practice basic respect for the person, even if they do not offer it to us, and even if we feel they do not deserve it. In this we are certain we have taken right action and –even as we find ourselves in a fight –we know that we are fighting for the right reasons, and not simply to satisfy our own egos.
One thing that makes issues of equality so tricky is that many times the oppressors are at least marginally unaware of the positions of power that they hold. Thinking that the playing field is already fair, they often dismiss voices that would say otherwise. The tyranny of the majority has often (and at times oh-so-politely) sought to suppress the views of the minority. For example, consider the issues of sexuality and gender identity that have been debated in Pagan circles since the modern movement began and continue to this very day. To this, some might argue that same-sex couples or groups cannot form a working magical unit as the male/female polarity (much prized in the traditional Wiccan model) is not present to create the current of energy. Some “get around” this argument by stating that this heteronormative pairing is internalized by the working partners in question, and so the gender polarity condition is explained to have been thusly satisfied. Still others (like myself) who are either completely outside a traditional strain of the Craft that would make such requirements, or who have been inside such a strain but who have “reformed” their practices to suit their ideologies, might see the concept of gender polarity itself to be irrelevant or insignificant to our personal lives and/or practices. (Shameless plug: this is a significant motivation for my upcoming book, The Satyr’s Kiss, to be released this coming May.)
To some, issues such as these may hold little or no interest; indeed if you are a white, heterosexual male, for example, you may decide that the issues of race or gender politics are unrelated to you, and in declaring it so are unlikely to really explore it in a deep and meaningful way. Issues that are not explored will be more likely to be dismissed outright, which then creates an environment in which those who are in the minority often are left feeling as if their concerns are unheard, which can result in the unequal distribution of resources, and prevailing societal attitudes that –either consciously or unconsciously –seek to undermine and suppress the avenues toward equality that those minority groups have hard-won. It is through continued and respectful debate that we are able to open our minds to new ideas, the very conflict that sometimes we would seek to avoid being the catalyst for change, growth, and evolution.
When passions rise and swords are drawn
Let reverence temper words of steel
and as they clash and strike the spark
That catches flame; we feed the fire.