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by Lewis Stead
The subject of emotion seems to keep coming up in my religious life. One of my friends is planning a ritual to honor Prometheus. She says she's tired of the hysterical and emotionally charged atmosphere of most Pagan rituals. She wants something based on reason. I'm not sure I agree that it's a bad idea for rituals to be gut wrenching emotionally, but she certainly has a point. More importantly to me, I've noticed that ritual is the only place where many of us feel comfortable confronting our emotions. Take anger for example. I have recently been angered by the actions of some people in the community. I 'm not "concerned" or "worried". I am very, very angry; I 'm mad as hell. All I've gotten from most people is a lesson in white light; they're worried about my "negativity".
Starhawk talks about anger in a very blunt manner:
"The power of anger is difficult to face. We identify anger with violence, and women have been conditioned to feel that our anger is wrong and unacceptable. Yet anger is a manifestation of the life force. It is a survival emotion, a warning signal that something in our environment is threatening Danger triggers a physical, psychic, and emotional response that mobilizes our energy to change the situation. Being human, we respond to verbal and emotional attacks as, threats which arouse anger. But when we cannot admit our own anger, instead of recognizing the threat in the environment, we experience ourselves as wrong. Instead of flowing outward to change the environment, our energy becomes locked into internal efforts at repression and control." (Spiral Dance, 10th Anniversary Edition, p. 95.)
Paganism is a religion that values emotions, all emotions. Most Pagans would agree that people in mainstream society are emotionally crippled, particularly men. They can't deal with feelings, emotions of love. They are filled with hatred and anger. Are we any less emotionally crippled when we can't deal with simple legitimate anger? I'm not talking about mindless hate. For example, last year a printer, who was an Evangelical Christian, refused to print Moonrise magazine. While talking among ourselves at a Pagan event, someone came up to us and chastised us for "Christian bashing". It was wrong for us to put this bigot down? We had a right to be angry. Being understanding of his religion or beliefs was not the issue: getting our magazine printed was.
Conflict is an issue very closely related to anger, and another place where Neo-Paganism has a desperate lack of ability. In the early Pagan community infighting was a desperate problem, it still is. I don't want to whitewash that, but a legacy of avoiding conflict at all costs is no better. There are issues worth fighting for, but we will not stand up for what we believe. There are so many "teachers" and "community leaders" who are totally full of shit. How many gurus do you know who do nothing for their people but collect their money and their praise? Worse, people still use training as an excuse to rape their students. 'Fuck me and I'll make you a witch." That's not a quaint community problem. It's premeditated rape. What do we do? Nothing. At best we take away their students, but leave the offender to find more. Not only do we do a disservice to those people who might be victimized in the future but we ignore our responsibility to help the offenders to get better. We don't want to create a conflict. Fighting, even when it is just and necessary, is a community taboo. Instead we spread rumors and talk about people behind their back. The Gods forbid we should stand up for what we believe and tell someone to their face what we think of them. The Gods forbid we might make it public and force people to choose sides, to say what they believe in, to make a decision.
Part of this is the problem we have, as a community, with handling conflict. Even when we do get angry and fight about something, we lose sight of our objective. The fighting becomes the focus of the conflict, rather than the issues involved. Oftentimes more energy is spent griping about the existence of a fight rather than on solving the underlying problems. Anytime we argue as a community about an issue, we must be oriented at solving the problem. Unfortunately, suggesting alternatives and solutions comes very close to telling people what to do, and this is taboo. However, there are times in reality where people's paths do cross and where one or the other must give way. Why is it taboo to say that someone is treading on your space? Instead of working to solve problems we just gossip and backbite; that's not taboo.
We need to come to grips with our anger. We need to deal with conflict in a positive and creative manner. Anger and conflict are not negative in and of themselves, but can be used for good or evil. Suppressing these emotions is no less harmful psychologically than suppressing love. You are dis-empowering yourself. You are saying that you don't have a right to your own feelings. You're falling into the trap of the wrong-doers and the oppressors. Who would like nothing more than for you to feel it is incorrect to stop them. What does it do to your karma not to speak out; to be in effect, a silent accomplice?
Behind all of this is a mistaken idea of community. We have this bizarre idea that in order to be a community we must be happy with each other all the time. We must, like the people in some Stalinist state, agree on everything. Real families and real communities fight and they have differences. Creative conflict brings issues to the front and allows change. It's a healthy practice and one that we desperately need to confront and respect.
(Reprinted from Moonrise, volume 2, No. 2. (Summer 1990).
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