One of the useful things about Druidry is that it works with the cyclical patterns in nature and in doing so understands that moments of growth and creativity will be followed by a breaking down and dissolution. Balance gives way to chaos and back again. This process happens not just in the natural world but in our political and social systems too. Whilst we can never remain complacent about social problems and the unease and pain they can cause – some things need to be addressed and changed – but when we feel fear about world events, rather than feeling paralysed by anxiety, it is useful to hold onto the idea that all things move in a cyclical fashion.
The longer we live, the more we realise that there has never been a time when the world has not been facing massive problems. Somehow, we keep going and life unfolds and changes, sometimes painfully, sometimes more positively. The challenges, although difficult and scary, have the potential to change us all for the better because they force us to embrace the possibility of transformation. We don’t always achieve this quickly or easily, but the potential is always there at the heart of these worrying times.
I think the best advice is to find a balance between what we as individuals can achieve in making the world a better place and acknowledging those wider forces of creation and dissolution that we have little control over. Sometimes we cannot change those wider forces because the events that have put them into motion are too complex and far reaching – they have a momentum all their own. However, we do have a choice as to how we react to those events and that choice is empowering.
When I was in my twenties, I worried terribly about the state of our world. There was a massive nuclear threat at that point (we are talking over quarter of a century ago) and a good deal of economic and political turmoil. It felt like the end of the world was coming. I have seen this happen again and again, and so now, although I still passionately believe in the creation of a fairer, more equal and peaceful world, I feel less fear when the those darker times strike – I have seen them come and go too many times.
For those of us who feel drawn to spiritual exploration, it can be difficult to find a comfortable place for fear, difficulty and suffering, whilst continuing to believe in the benevolence of deity/life. I have wrestled with this issue, my spiritual beliefs rather shaken by it at times.
Paganism drew me because it allowed a more complex (perhaps to human eyes even ambiguous) view of the Divine. If you embrace the idea that the Divine resides within creation, pretty soon you have to acknowledge the fact that a solely all loving and benevolent Divine is a tricky concept. Nature and humanity is magical, beautiful and miraculous; it provides and sustains but it is also darkly violent, destructive, and even cruel. It is easy to embrace a loving God who protects from all harm, and yet, if we live long enough, to varying degrees we will all find out that pain, loss and tragedy are as much a part of the deal, regardless of how we choose to portray our deities.
I have come to realise that although I might feel drawn to the deities that personify creativity, love, abundance and peace (who wouldn’t), the gods of shadow and painful transformation cannot be avoided or ignored by any of us. We don’t necessarily have to set up shrines to them but it seems psychologically healthy to honour their presence in life.
When I witness the horror and unrest around the world, my thoughts are drawn to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Her iconography is challenging: she looks terrifyingly fierce and merciless, wearing her necklace of human skulls and her skirt of severed human hands. It is not a comforting image of the Divine but it has a psychic truth about it that is hard to ignore. Our heads and hands are those parts of us that we use to shape our world; our hands used to actualise our thoughts, to build our visions, and enable our plans. These parts of us allow us to feel that we are in control of our destiny; with our intelligence and our skills of materialisation, we move through the world and time with the notion that we are steering our own ship.
When Kali – the energies of dissolution and destruction – arrives in our lives, either through natural or social disasters or more personal and individual loss and tragedy, it soon becomes apparent that our notions of being in control crumble. The image of a Goddess who wears severed human hands and heads speaks brilliantly of how impotent we can feel in the midst of such immense crisis. We are stripped to our core and from this place of powerlessness we are confronted with our most vulnerable and broken selves. It can be a living hell but nature is nothing if not balanced. Hindu thought tells us that destruction, creation and preservation balance themselves in favour of the continuation of life; that life couldn’t possible thrive on preservation alone.
It is not a totally comforting thought to the human mind but when we stand back far enough we see a different take coming into view. An earthquake, for instance, is merely the earth stretching herself that she might stay healthy and fully functioning for the continuation of life on this planet. It can be so difficult to accept this when the result is such a massive loss of human life. We can feel incredibly small and insignificant and a loving Divine presence can feel rather absent.
Buddhists advise us to first accept that suffering and struggle are a central part of life and from that standpoint, transcend this suffering through compassionate detachment. Paganism encourages us to engage with both the joy and the pain with as much connection as possible, viewing both
as valuable life experiences. Both of these approaches have value I think.
I am still trying to work out my own spiritual approach to suffering and fear – it is a work in progress. Hindu devotees of Kali believe that when you have the courage to stare into her terrifying face you will then see a face of immense compassion; that all fear of death and suffering vanishes. Perhaps when we are forced to dig into our own brokenness and vulnerability, we too find a deeper compassion and understanding of life.
I am always deeply touched by how humans risk their own well-being to save others in distress; every natural disaster or war has story after story of people’s courage in rescuing and caring for others. Kali may confront us with our worst fears; she may almost break us but she also draws from us the deepest empathy and shows us that in the darkest moments there is always love.
In searching for the practical solutions to our problems, keeping faith in love, courage and the powers of transformation are key.
There is a path of sorrow; there is a path of joy – we have a foot on each all our lives and when reason struggles to bridge the gap, love makes sense of both.
Maria’s Blog – A Druid Thurible – can be found here