An essay by Lady Raven StormDancer
Samhain approaches, and as we attune to the increased darkness, to the bitter chill in the air, to the Earth as She quiets and draws in, we find ourselves drawing in as well. Sometimes this can manifest as seasonal depression, and sometimes it is just the darkness within claiming us for its own. In these dark and stagnant times, the question of “why me” becomes the one we reflect on the most. It is the question that pulls us down into our darkened water that threatens to drown us in our sorrow and loneliness. It is the question we ask when misfortune befalls us and what we stew on in our silent times. It is the question that chains us to the past and won’t let us go even when we scream to the gods that enough is enough and we want to move on. “Why me?” is the question of the darkness within.
It is a question no one is immune from, and every major religion strives to answer that question. Being a former Christian, I can only really speak to that group’s philosophy on the matter (besides that of Wiccans, and due to the nature of Wicca I can only really speak to my own mind set about it). Christians by and large attribute misfortune to “God’s Will.” This theory falls under the heading of predestination in that God decided a long time ago that this awful thing would happen to you and you would gain important information about it that you never would have gotten had not this situation happened in precisely this way. This could, in theory, play out to the pagans who believe in predestination as well, just substituting Goddess or the Universe for the Christian God and not exploring anything past that. But I have always had a problem with simple substitution – trading an old bearded white guy in the sky with a beautiful woman in a field of flowers. To answer “why me” we have to challenge the idea of predestination.
We all shuddered when the Japanese earthquakes hit, when Oklahoma was leveled by tornadoes, when Colorado flooded, when tsunami wiped out cities in Indonesia. The loss of life was horrific, the damage intense. It became easy to see why the ancients may have attributed such devastation with the gods being angry – an answer to “why us?” But we, in this more scientific and enlightened age, know that the gods have very little to do with this. We know, for example, that tsunamis are caused when large amounts of water are displaced most commonly from earthquakes resulting from the friction of plate tectonic forces. Energy accumulates in the plates until it suddenly snaps like a spring and the force of the energy generated flings vast amounts of water at enormous velocity which can crush anything in its path (http://geology.com/articles/tsunami-geology.shtml). This is the natural world at work. The very ecological occurrences that happened to form our world are the same set of physics and natural law that we cope with today. The Earth was made as a result of cataclysmic geological shifts which over millennium of time allowed life to crawl out of the oceans and eventually evolve into us. That is the kind of world that had to be in order for us to live, and it continues to subsist right now. We don’t live in Eden – it never existed and we aren’t in it currently. Natural disasters are just that – natural. They happen because this is the character of the world we live in and on. Consequently, we must live on the world we have, with its beauty and its terror. Tsunamis don’t happen in Kansas. But tornados do. Blizzards don’t occur in the Sahara. But they do in Cleveland. This is science, and geology. It has very little to do with Gods or Their will.
This thought is perhaps the easiest to deal with, that the natural world is made out of nature and we must bow to the laws of nature. Our Goddess IS nature, after all, and Her laws are not mitigated for anyone. We enjoy a religion that preaches the laws of nature, but we tend to paint a sunny disposition of that, instead focusing on rainbows and white puffy clouds and forgetting that none of these things are possible without the physics of the Earth and Universe as a whole. There is darkness and a fearsome side to nature as well, and sometimes it rains destruction down upon us. It reaps the “good” people along with the “bad” ones, and in our pain and confusion we scream at the sky “why?”
Allow me to digress here a little now, and examine the notion of good and bad people. I could go into a whole other blog about what makes good and what makes bad, and who gets to decide all that, but the reality is that we make it. We decide to follow what our particular societal standards are for good or bad. This is the nature of free will, another of the Goddess’s laws. We in the Pagan community preach a good game about everyone having free will and the freedom to do as they like. We tend to forget that this tenet means that everyone has free will – the free will to walk or catch the bus, the free will to say something negative or hold our tongues, the free will to kidnap, the free will to murder. If we as the peaceful free will loving pagans have this luxury, then so does everybody else. And if free will is a law of the Goddess, then everyone is subject to that unbreakable law – even those that use free will to deliberately harm and then attempt to deny or justify their choice.
What I am saying is that people make decisions based on their free will – they have the ability to decide their actions and their fates. A person, any person, makes a decision based on free will and the consequences spread out, like ripples in a pool. The refusal to encounter an addiction for example affects the individual of course – and their entire family, their friends, the people who count on their undivided attention at work. This then spreads down countless generations, even impacting people peripherally. One decision affects countless lives in various degrees of depth.
In a religion that preaches personal responsibility in all things, this is a particularly important concept. We preach a dichotomy of sorts, the idea that we are personally responsible for our lives and that we are ultimately in control of our fates. But I have just spent a blog here telling you aren’t, necessarily. You cannot control plate tectonics. You can’t control someone else’s decisions or behavior, even if they impact you, because that person has free will. So what is a good Pagan to do?
Magick is the art and science of creating changes according to will, according to Aleister Crowley. This statement implies that my will is all that matters, that my will should be strong enough to create the changes I wish to achieve. And in the past, it has been. I have succeeded in magick using my art to create change. I have also failed in magick, using my art to attempt to create change. My will it would seem, was not enough. And perhaps it wasn’t. One might argue that it wasn’t in the Goddess’s design to let me have that new job, and my magick was going against the grain of Her desire for me. One might argue that I didn’t want it bad enough to make it happen. And for all I know, perhaps they are right. Does this mean I stop my magicks? Or do I look at them harder and more globally, seeing what my intention is in the work I’m doing?
In the macrocosm we see the Universe in a sloppy display of life and death. Stars go supernova and die, while at the same time nebula are nursing along new stars that are trying to form. There is matter and dark matter in an eternal dance of balance, always creation and destruction. In the microcosm, we have the same thing. Life is nurtured all over the planet, and volcanoes will erupt, killing off animals and plants. We will pour energy into our Work, and watch our lives crumble around us, a terrible destruction that might prove to be the fertile new growth we were looking for originally.
And down in the darkness of our destruction we wait. We mourn our losses, lick our wounds, and wallow in our depression. And we wonder, why me? And we wonder if anything matters anymore. And we wonder why we bother with our magick, since our attempts to be in charge of our lives fail over and over, and sometimes because of how another acts, or by something that isn’t our fault. Do we matter as individuals? What is our purpose?
If you ever doubted that you mattered, if you ever wondered if what you say or do affects the world at all, I urge you to try this practice. Try it with an open heart and open mind.
Sit before a pool of water. This can be your bathtub, a pond at a local park, or a cereal bowl you fill up. Take a handful of pebbles, stones, or even Cheerios if you are using the bowl. Contemplate a decision you made recently. Toss in a pebble. As the ripples fan out, reflect how each part of that decision affected someone else, in every small way.
Once you have completed that, focus on just one of the people that your decision affected. Toss in another stone. As those ripples fan out, think about how your decision affected this person, and how your interaction with them flavored their reaction to others. Imagine how if your decision affected so many others, how many more are affected by this one person, and see how one action on your part can have such varied impact.
Now work backwards. Consider the reason you needed to make this decision. What was the catalyst? Did someone prod you into this decision? Was a situation such that a decision was necessary? Where did your need to act come from? Throw in a stone and imagine it going backwards to the person that affected your decision. Now imagine how many individual choices it took to cause this one person to affect you. Can you see how the ripples affect you and you affect the ripples? Can you conceive yourself as a part of a web of decisions and interactions that are in constant motion, but whose course is totally influenced by what direction we throw a pebble?
We matter. Each of us. We influence each other in ways we can’t conceive of, and probably wouldn’t believe. There is power in that, as what you put out in the world has the ability to affect and change it. And sometimes it doesn’t matter, and even living in a good and positive way is no talisman for getting only goodness back. Sometimes really awful people win. Sometimes really good, decent people lose.
So why do bad things happen to good people? Because they do. Sometimes life will just crap all over you for no good reason whatsoever, because there are a thousand random variables you don’t have a hope in hell of controlling. We can’t control the decisions other people make, even if they affect us. We can’t control natural phenomenon, even if hundreds of lives will be lost or damaged. We take an incredible risk in this journey of life. We must risk death in order to embrace life. We must risk heartbreak to embrace happiness. At this time of Samhain, we feel the quietness of the Earth, and we can choose to dwell in the darkness, or embrace the light of hope.
Where is this light? It is us. It is us deciding to take responsibility for how we choose to react in the wake of what is beyond our control. It is us choosing to take responsibilities for our ripples in the pool and moving on. It is us, recognizing the world we live in for what it is, recognizing the people that surround us for who they are, and getting up anyway and living life courageously. We get to choose to surround ourselves with what and who we want to and when we are intruded upon, as we will be since everyone has free will, we get to choose how we handle ourselves in the wake of that encounter. This is our hope, this is our light, and it is what we cling to when the darkness wants to swallow us whole.
So as to the question “Why me?” I answer again, because it did. And we will be ok, eventually, because we will choose to be.