Belonging and Believing, Revisited

This video clip from trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté about authenticity versus attachment took me back to a Reiter’s Block post from 10 years ago. Maté discusses two survival instincts that are put in tension when the family doesn’t accept their child’s true self. On the one hand, with our long maturation period, the human animal needs to stay securely attached to caregivers. On the other hand, trusting your intuition keeps you alive in the wild. A person who learns to suppress his perceptions, in order to preserve relationships, will suffer in other ways.

Is this dilemma avoidable, I wonder? Is the effect significant only in narcissistic or abusive families, or is it the human condition to be torn between loyalties to internal truth and external bonds?

Back when I went to church, I couldn’t find a satisfactory balance. In a consumer society, where free choice and competition rule, a lot of institutions focus on getting you in the door. Have fun, feel welcome, get invested in social relationships, and only later find out what’s expected of you and what the community’s real values are. Or maybe that’s just a description of neurotypical socializing. IDK.

The Temple of Witchcraft is pretty different! The foundational training is all about mind/body self-awareness and discernment of your unique highest goals, what we call True Will. The techniques are highly structured, but your encounter with the divine (theistic or not) is expected to take a form that is personal to you. The ethics resemble Buddhist precepts, not lists of forbidden acts and impure behaviors.

I can only speak to the experience of studying online, which is mainly solitary. I don’t know what it’s like to belong to a coven. Probably some of the same individual-versus-collective tensions arise, because people are people. I’d like to think that our nondualistic and dynamic worldview would make us more flexible in adjusting to these tensions than a church that thinks it has a perfect eternal formula for life.

On the level of spiritual warfare, however, I am taken aback by the short-term effectiveness of authoritarian religious unity. When everyone directs their willpower toward the same image and the same objective, that can create more powerful magic than the scattered journeys of maverick witches. I don’t know what to do about this without changing our core values of freedom and diversity.

Maybe that too is the human condition: “truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne,” as the poet James Russell Lowell said. (For a more concise version, because the Victorians sure could info-dump, the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” is adapted from this poem.) Something they didn’t tell us in church is that this is an anti-slavery poem, urging antebellum Americans not to stay stuck at their ancestors’ level of virtue, but to emulate their countercultural courage by moving beyond their beliefs. Sounds more like us witches than a lot of churches today.

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