Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

As we observe
this day honoring the life of Martin Luther King, jr., two thought come to mind
as particularly relevant, and I hope worth sharing.  The first has to do with violence and the second with the
intertwining of what I consider some of the most inspiring periods in our own
history.  My first post deals with
violence, the second with Dr. King’s place in history.


The issue of
violent language has been everywhere since the murders in Tucson, with the
usual suspects arguing that it contributed to the carnage (on that I am one of
the suspects) or that they had nothing to do with it, or that everyone does it
(That these arguments contradict themselves would bother only people who take
personal and intellectual integrity seriously, a diminishing quality on the
right.) I want to add an explicitly occult and Pagan friendly insight here.

As many of us
know, focus and intent are a part of what makes anything from an energy healing
to a magickal working have a chance to succeed.  Words have meaning and their meaning is increased when
emotional energy is behind them. 

When I visited
Pagan inmates in the penitentiary in Walla Walla I taught them how to cast a
circle as a small group with no tools because athames were not allowed unless
out of cardboard. We sat in a circle, got focused, and began breathing
peaceful, calm, blue energy into our hearts.  Once everyone had lifted a hand to indicate they had concentrated
this energy there, with every exhalation they sent the energy from their hearts
into the center of the room.  When
it had filled they enlarged the sphere to encompass the group and up to the
walls of the room where we met.

A few more steps
were required to create a firm circle which are irrelevant to the point I want
to make.  Initially I would stop
here, and ask them to return to their regular focus.  I would then ask them to notice the difference in the room’s
atmosphere.  It was quite dramatic
when contrasted with the cold hard edge to things that normally permeated the
parts of the prison I was allowed to see.

This is a
positive example of how thoughts and emotions can change even a harsh
atmosphere.

Unfortunately it
goes the other way as well.

The use of
violent terms and emotionally charged symbols poisons the environment at a
subtle level.  The right is
overwhelmingly the guilty party today, but along with the racist South the
revolutionary and usually Marxist part of the left were the primary guilty
parties in the late 60s and early 70s. 
But even those of us who were not personally violent could find the
language exhilarating as we imagined putting our opponents “in their
place.”  The energy of violence is
available to all ideologies and adapts itself to every kind of rationalization.

In such a
poisoned atmosphere weak people, people with weak boundaries at an energetic
level and holding great anger themselves can get pumped up into committing
murderous acts.  For various
interesting reasons, when this violence has an ideological coloration it is
usually on the right, but it can be left. But that is another discussion.

At some point
there is a tipping point as even people on both sides who would never initiate
violence themselves get involved in the belief they act in self-defense, as sometimes
they do.  At this point violence
rules.  I think that while the
right is more prone to committing violent acts, the left is more prone to doing
them on an enormous scale once things get out of hand. Mao’s “Cultural
Revolution” and Cambodia’s killing fields were orgies of violence and hatred
with few parallels anywhere. But that is also another discussion.

The bigger point
is that violent words and symbols are things of power able to poison the
environment and undermine the decency of those who use them as well as those
who hear them.  The shift from
strong words to violent words is a slippery one and I think that is one reason
Martin Luther King can stand as such a beacon of hope today.

King put what he
did in as big a context as he could, a spiritual one emphasizing love over
justice, but only barely so.  He
was unrelenting in his struggle for justice, but always sought to put this
struggle, which involved enduring horrendous violence from racist Southerners,
in a encompassing spiritual context of love, compassion, and forgiveness.  Ultimately he paid with his life, but
in a great many ways he won. 

Martin Luther
King  did what he did within a
Christian context because what is genuinely spiritual in Christianity is strong
enough to carry this weight.  Today
the Dalai Lama offers another example, within a Buddhist context.  The Pagan spiritual traditions have
similar strengths beginning at least with Socrates and Pythagoras. Even the Iliad is arguably not a praise of war, but its critique.  Hopefully we will seek to keep all these examples and more in mind during these
dark times.

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