A while back, John Halstead wrote a rather interesting and inspiring post about sharks.
Watching footage of great whites attacking dummy seals reminded me of a passage from Moby Dick in which Melville describes a pod of sharks feasting on the carcass of a sperm whale. He sums up: “If you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.” As a Jungian, I read invocations of the devil like this as references to the dark side of God/dess or Nature. Watching the great whites sharks, the dark side of nature is evident to me; and since nature is my god, I see the dark side of God/dess in sharks.
Darwin has a similar sentiment: ”I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars,” he wrote. The key word there is “beneficent”. A god who is wholly beneficent could not have created great white sharks. But God/dess is not wholly beneficent. The lions are not lying down with the lambs. God/dess is also maleficent. Sometimes God/dess wants to kill you.
My very first published essay criticized the hypocrisy I saw among many pagans who wanted to worship nature, but only if that nature were calm, tamed, tended, and pleasant.
What seemed apparent to me is that many Neo-Pagans only engage nature according to their own convenience and comfort, tending to do so because they have idealistic and romantic notions of what nature consists. Ignoring the darker aspects of nature such as severe weather, natural disasters, and the predatory nature of many animals — humans among them — allows for a sense of nature expressed in terms which are more pleasant to deal with. This romanticized conception of nature tends to posit a natural system that is good, calm, and balanced, and which is opposed by human civilization and technology, the modern forms of which are typically viewed as an unbalancing and morally corrupting.
Obviously, nature can be very calming, relaxing, and sustaining, both spiritually and physically. The beauty and awe of nature can be very inspiring, especially to those who regularly interact and commune with it, and the gods that represent those natural forces can offer guidance and comfort on one’s spiritual path. These aspects of nature, however, must be tempered by its more violent aspects, which include many examples of death and destruction. Even the most compassionate, light-hearted gods have their darker sides, and even the most violent catastrophes can bring about positive change. This is doubly important for anyone who seeks to harness natural forces for magical ends to keep in mind.
I was aware of the hypocrisy and futility in ignoring the harsher aspect s of nature, and in embracing too fully the romantic notion of balance and harmony and peace that pervades Paganism. Halstead takes this a little farther: where I called for critique, he calls for outright defiance.
I read a post by Joseph Bloch at PaganSquare entitled, “Mine is not a religion of peace.” Bloch is a Heathen (and a Libertarian) and so his is not a religion of pacifism. On the one hand, I have never embraced the Wiccan Rede (“Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”) or the Threefold Law of Return. On the other hand, neither do I share Bloch’s warrior values. I like civilization too much. But I do appreciate Bloch’s challenge to hegemony of harmony in Pagan discourse. There is a lot of talk in Paganism about harmonizing ourselves with nature and its rhythms. But how do we harmonize ourselves with a nature that is both Dea Nutrix (the nourishing goddess) and the “sow that eats her farrow”, both the Good Mother and the Devouring Mother? Is surrender the only path that Paganism offers?
I adore the phrase “Hegemony of Harmony.”
[T]he narrative of Moby Dick can be understood as the story of one man, defiantly throwing himself up against fate (in the form of the whale). Should Ahab be our role model, then? I think Ahab’s path is better than the path of universal harmony advocated by many Pagans. Just because the shark is playing its part in the cycle of life does not mean that I should stop swimming for shore. To much of Pagan talk about God/dess as loving and caring sounds to me like the one-sided (and therefore neurotically repressed) God of Christianity. Of course, we are all part of God/dess. But the same power that runs through each and every cell of our bodies will, in the words of Gilbert Murray, bring us bliss or tear our life to shreds without a break in its own serenity. In my experience God/dess may love you, but She also wants to eat you. And, as Starhawk explains, when God/dess happens then “the rivers of life-force burst the dams and it’s paddle-or-die.”
This has been a major complaint of mine against Wicca and many Wicca-based traditions: Many of them sound like Jesus got an assertive girlfriend, but it’s all love and forgiveness just the same. The arctic cold does not love you; the depths of the ocean do not forgive.
We are God/dess’s prey. In the end, we all must surrender to God/dess. But in the meantime, let our worship be defiance. Let us kneel in acknowledgment of all that we cannot change, and then stand in recognition of all that we can. We earn the right to bow our heads to God/dess only after we have fought the good fight with Her. To me, Paganism is not a religion of consolation — it is a religion of action, a religion of struggle, a religion of defiance!
Sure, we are all manifestations of some divine source. But we are very low in the pecking order. The reason we worship greater forces is so that they won’t crush us too casually. Our hope is, at best, we can be favored playthings for a while and not the old toys lit on fire for amusement.
Nature is about chaos and struggle. Life is about resiliency, defiance, and the will to continue. We ignore this at our own peril. To lose sense of that is to lose a sense of the importance and vitality of life, to get mired in the banal, and to rot in our own complacency.