Cedric's Pagan Thoughts

The spiritual meanderings of a NeoPagan shaman, an eclectic Wiccan, a Celtic musician, a world traveler, a bard, and an uncompromising cat-loving Bast-worshipper

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Few Thoughts About Destruction

I'm writing this entry from Robert, Louisiana, about an hour's drive north of New Orleans. I'm here because my band, the Bedlam Bards (www.BedlamBards.com), is performing at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. In any case, coming to a place that has faced a great deal of destruction in the last few months has made me think about destruction in a spiritual sense.

As Westerners, we recoil from destruction--it is the work of the Devil. Destruction of our crops means famine, destruction of our homes means exposure, destruction of our property means poverty, and destruction of our bodies means death--the one thing we fear most of all.

I remember when I first encountered a view counter to this one. I was learning about Hinduism, at the insistence of my parents, who had decided that an education in comparative religion might shock me out of Christianity and foment a healthy disdain for all religion. (They were half-right, but that has been covered in other posts.)

In any case, I was interested to learn that Hinduism had a divine trinity, just like Christianity; and already being in the habit of drawing one-to-one correspondences between traditions, I quickly recognized the comparison:

Brahma, the Creator = Father
Vishnu, the Preserver = Son (saviour)
Shiva, the Destroyer =

What the heck? The Destroyer is part of their trinity? But the Destroyer must equal the Devil, who is >evil<, right?

That was the beginning of my awakening, the first taste of what was to come.

Over time, I came to realize that those of us in the non-Abrahmaic religions (in other words, we Pagans) have a much more Eastern view of destruction. It's there in our divinatory systems--the Tower in the Tarot and Hail in the Futhark--to show us that destruction must be accepted, even celebrated.

(I think it's fascinating that the greatest "Tower Event" in recent American history literally involved the destruction of a tower. That Tarot card became ever so much more meaningful in that moment. Likewise, the Norse rune for the same concept represents a destructive storm--and the South has had plenty of those in the last few months. I can look out the window now and see the downed trees. Reality becomes myth becomes reality.)

Looking at the figure of Loki in Norse mythology helps us understand the difference between Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion. Loki is the God of Fire. If we were looking for a Christian parallel, the Devil quickly comes to mind. But rather than being exiled from the Kingdom, as the Christian Devil is, Loki is kept close to Odin, in the very heart of Asgard. Fire's destructive power is recognized as necessary for survival.

Likewise, when we Westerners think of God, we seek comforting images. Today, many Westerners have lost touch with the image of the gargoyle--the terrifying guardian, the force of beneficial destruction. The Tibetan and Hindu gods often appear monstrous to us--even demonic.

Many a Westerner has characterized Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death and Destruction, as a demon. In fact, Hindu myth makes it clear that Kali was brought forth to combat demons. Indeed, Kali's name means simply "Time"--her worship is a recognition that time will kill us all. However, those who know that it is merely the body that dies have no fear of Kali, embracing her as a liberator. Indeed, in the myth of her generation and initial rampage, she turns her destructive might against the gods until Shiva (remember Shiva? The Destroyer?) lies down in front of her. She recognizes him as her husband and becomes his lover. By accepting destruction, Shiva transcends it. By accepting death, we transcend it.

Last year, Loki--or perhaps Kali--came to visit my own stretch of forest in central Texas. My neighbor's trash fire got out of hand, and an acre or so of forest became black with soot before the volunteer fire department contained the blaze. (Other neighbors spent hours making sure it did not flare up again.) The stretch between my forest and the road looked like a smoking ash tray.

Now, one year later, the same stretch is covered in goldenrod blossoms, which start and stop exactly where the fire did. Where one thing was destroyed, another was brought forth.

Here in Louisiana, the renfaire was struggling. I feared that Katrina would sound its death knell. Yet amazingly, very little of the faire site suffered damage. Still, I feared that the devastated population of this state would stay away.

Instead, we have found that the local population has doubled, and the newcomers are in desperate need of diversion. Furthermore, they have relief money to spend on that much-needed entertainment. In short, Katrina may have saved the festival, not killed it.

As I have listened to stories of people who have lost everything, I hear few tales of sadness. I have no doubt that they exist, but instead, I hear stories like this one: A New Orleanian woman was trapped in a loveless marriage and a dead-end job, but she lacked the courage to leave either. When Katrina washed away her home, she found the courage to leave her deadbeat husband and relocate to the Virgin Islands, where she got a great job managing a hotel. That is the essence of the Tower card.

Despite the lessons taught us by the Tarot, by the runes, the myths of so many lands, I still find Pagans who have an Abrahamic gut reaction to destruction. I knew one who, upon finding out that the pretty Shiva statue he bought at an import shop represented the Hindu Destroyer, instantly flinched and sought to remove the statue from his home. He feared the storm.

But the essence of a mystic, I believe, and especially of a witch, is a human who does not fear the storm. Destruction may come for us. It may wipe away our property, our homes, our loved ones, and our bodies--but if we have learned anything, it is that there is no destruction for our soul. So the storm brings only change, and a witch is one who does not fear change.


At 5:47 AM, Anonymous Allen said...

I really enjoyed this article. It's given me something to think about during my down time. I have to agree that our western view of destruction tends to be always negative, and that stems from our predominantly "Christian" upbringing. However, as I thought about it I came to the realization that there is a "destroyer archetype" in the scriptures that is not evil. That is to say that God the Father encompasses both creator and destroyer. Although in the Judeo-Christian view it is not destruction but “judgment.” Remember that in Genesis God destroyed the Earth and its inhabitants with a great flood. In various other areas we are told that God will again destroy the Earth, but it is suggested that this time it will be by fire. At the same time John the Revelator speaks of a new Heaven and a new Earth after this “final judgment.” Could this be the Judeo-Christian version of the continuing cycle of birth-to-death-to-rebirth that is so ever-present in the more Pagan paths? Who’s to say?
On a more personal note, your article has helped me to realize and come to terms with an aspect of myself that I always felt conflicted about. Many blessings to you…


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