Divided for Love’s Sake – Reconnection and Commitment
It is sadly true that in many pagan and magical communities, individuals who have much to gain from working together are spending too much time and energy in pointless arguments, paranoia and hostility. We’ve all seen it — the “witch wars,” the malicious gossip, the fragmentation of communities over issues both great and small. Writing about the disconnections we encounter, as I did in the last issue, can seem like nothing more than complaints and accusations, but it’s necessary to look at our communities and groups with discernment, and to be honest about what we find there.
I feel this is doubly important now, because of the fractious and divisive tone the over-culture has adopted. You see it everywhere — from political discourse to mundane interactions. Media portrays a country divided, with the rhetoric running hot, violent and hyperbolic. Casual violence — in word and gesture if not outright blows — seems to be in the air we breathe. There are many reasons for this, but the illusion of separateness is at the heart of this phenomenon. Only by refusing to view other beings as worthy of respect, forbearance and compassion are we able to do and say the hateful, hurtful things that have replaced common civility in public discourse. I’ve done this myself, and I know it was my inability to trust, my unwillingness to see others as more than obstacles in my way, that was at the heart of my hatefulness.
Lately I found myself becoming enraged at the terrible traffic in my neighborhood, and “talking smack” about mutual friends with a colleague, for no reason at all. The negative emotional charge behind my reactions to both these events was shocking to me, and caused me to look further. My feelings of powerlessness and incompetence were at the base. Disconnected from my own sense of power and worth, it was an easy task to disconnect the very real humans in front of me from their own right to courtesy. Lacking respect for myself, it was easy to deny it to everyone else.
Alienation is the primary mental state of our culture, and the mechanisms that should be acting to bring us together are instead fostering the alienation and isolation, the outright paranoia of the other. “We” (i.e. “us”) are not “them,” and you can’t trust them. This wariness may be a logical precaution, but as magicians, we have to see look more closely at this message. Fostering this illusion of separation and hostility is in the interests of the dominator culture for various reasons — it distracts us from important things with red herrings; it discourages the building of alliances and coalitions; it reduces public discourse to the most infantile of bickering. All of this distracts us from the most pressing matters that demand our attention. We as magicians must be able to peer through this illusion of separation to see things as they are, connected in a web of interdependence so subtle and grand that we can only perceive tiny portions of it.
Connection is the natural state of life, not isolation. Predator and prey, seed and sower, flower and pollinator — it’s all about relationships and connections, give and take, a delicate balance that demands participation from all beings.
Of Wolves and Willows
I heard a report on NPR years ago that brought home to me the vast webs of connection that all Earth’s species share. In a move that is still controversial, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. Years later, biologists assessed the wolves’ impact on the terrain.
What they discovered surprised them. Creek beds that had been dry for years were suddenly full of water and wildlife. With wolves absent from the area, the elk had come out of the high country to graze in the low-lying willow stands along creek beds. Thus stripped of cover, the creeks would dry up. But with the wolves back in the landscape, the elk retreated back to the hills, and the willows were able to reestablish themselves, bringing along mink, otter, frogs, amphibians and songbirds. No one could have anticipated that reintroducing apex predators back into their former food chain would reestablish songbirds and crayfish as well, but it was true. We removed the wolves from the landscape long ago to serve human needs, and there were negative consequences we had in no way anticipated.
If those connections are rampant in the natural world, why do we think they don’t apply to us humans, and to human interactions and endeavors? The over-culture wants us to believe they don’t. Case in point: Many years ago I attended a lecture by Robert Bly, poet and a founder of the Men’s movement, and Deborah Tannen, linguistician and feminist scholar. The media hyped this event as the “battle of the sexes” and a “shouting match” between two polarized opponents. It was nothing of the kind. It was a lively discussion about gender, sex and power, where the tone stayed respectful and amiable, even when they disagreed. Bly and Tannen were able to discuss sensitive topics without degenerating into name-calling or antagonism, and were able to find more common ground than not. But that illusion of separation was what local media chose to focus on — men and women have different agendas, therefore they cannot be on the same side. Since they disagree on some things, they must disagree on all things, and what’s more, they must also be determined to destroy the other’s credibility. The over-culture sees anger and antagonism as logically following any kind of difference — if people aren’t the same, they must be in direct competition. This assumption that everyone is in an adversarial relationship has had a negative impact on all of us. This philosophical stance informs our thinking, if even on the most subtle level. It is our responsibility to look for a higher truth, and to find ways of coming together.
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis
This is the promise of the Aeon. If we live in polarized times, with the discursive pendulum swinging wildly from one extreme to another, we as magicians have a responsibility to find that new middle ground that is informed by both the wisdom and follies of the past while creating something better. With clear-eyed discernment and openhearted compassion, we see through the illusions of separation, and resolve them in our own psyches. It is our responsibility to look beyond mere surfaces and to not fall prey to the prejudices and hatreds socialized into us. Each conscious soul must part the Veil of this illusion themselves, in order to fully integrate this lesson. The illusion of separation exists as a test to us and a challenge to our imaginations, to see if we can transcend our pain and powerlessness, to create something better. After all, we are divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.
How do we get past this illusion of separation? Through engagement with the “real world,” the mundane, our dharma. For the next month, try to discover those connections in your life that are rendered invisible. Where does your tap water come from? Where does your garbage go? Where does your food come from? How well do you know your neighbors, your town? You might be surprised at the answers. You might also find new ways of connecting with the world, with other people, new ways of creating a better, more conscious life. And wouldn’t that be powerful act of magick?
©2010 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.