Friday, May 02, 2008

Maybe: Pagan Thoughts on the Limits & Uses of Duality

This post is part of a syncroblog on dualty: (It is a day late, as we were celebrating May Day) The other bloggers involved are listed below.


I would like to share a story with you today which speaks to how I, as a Taoist Pagan and a celtic Green Witch, view the issue of duality. It comes from an old Chinese folktale called The Lost Horse.

This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over her terrible loss. The farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no"

A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no"

The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no"

A war came, and the King sent out word that every able-bodied man would be rounded up, given armour and sent into battle. Many young men would die. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained behind. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "Maybe yes, maybe no" said the farmer.

In the nature of such stories, this is not the end, it can go on as long as the teller has the imagination to continue. The point of the story is that we do not always know what is good and what is evil in our lives, we only know how things seem to us in the present moment.

On the whole Pagans and Taoists reject the limits of duality (or, if you prefer dualism), a rigid up/down, right/wrong, either/or view of both morality and the physical world. Dualism argues for a separation of mind and body, viewing the mind as superior. Paganism sees these as two as beautifully linked. We can celebrate their unique functions while keeping a holistic view, one which also sees us an intricate part of the natural world. We see our place as caretaker, not despotic ruler, and believe that we are called to use our gifts for the greater good of all. While Pagans search for connection with the natural and the sacred (often viewing the two as one) a Taoist seeks harmony with the life force, knowing what she does not know, she never stops asking questions. Taoists are like dolphins, we surf the wave we are sent. On my good days, I can do this with joy and courage. Pagans perceive that we are at once the wave, the wave rider and the shore itself, and on my good days, I am in tune with my own sacred flow, my balance of power and my limits.Those who subscribe to dualism tend towards a rigid, judgmental, authoritarian, black and white view of the world which has them standing on the shore, vainly trying to control the tides.

I am often asked how I can be both a Pagan and a Taoist. It is because neither path rejects the world. Rather, both seek balance within and without, believing that such balance fosters enlightenment, a desire for justice and peace. Neither path claims to have the one, true way to enlightenment. As a Taoist, I view the journey as a mountain I can climb, knowing that other seekers are climbing toward the same goal but using different routs to get there. As a Pagan, I know that enlightenment and my connection to the sacred comes from within and without. I can celebrate my life and my body as sacred, and as a small part of a greater whole.

How then do seekers who reject a dualistic approach deal with the question of morality? The answer, typically, is both simple and complex. Some years ago, I wrote an article on Pagan teaching called The Shadow Knows. My central theme is that deeper forms of Pagan teaching involve an understanding of three things: Consciousness, Choices, Cause & Effect. As the story above notes, we cannot always know if something is good or bad, because our vision is limited in time and place. We can, however, broaden this vision to include an understanding of positive and negative energy. As I wrote in Shadow, we can choose to learn our lessons using positive energy or we can choose to learn them using negative (and often unconscious) aspects of our nature. The farmer knew enough to know that she did not know. She used what she did know, to make her next, best choice, and her next and her next, keeping in harmony with the ever changing river that is our reality on this earth.

This is not to say that we cannot understand and use contrasts in our work. Much of Pagan thought is (whether we like to admit it or not) a study in such contrasts. When contrasts are perceived as a part of a greater whole, they are useful. For example, I wrote an article called The Bard and the Poser specifically as a study in contrasts to make a very particular point. I wrote:

The strength of the Bard is that of brilliant story teller, learned advocate, truthful historian, imaginative teacher, wise counselor and creative artist. From song writers to programmers, within groups and as solitaries, our people use this Companion archetype to create in many ways and forms. Bards inspire others to reach for their fullest potential and they show us how to tap into our creative being.

The Bard archetype is honorable, trustworthy and truthful. This Companion has the necessary talents and skills to perform well on a variety of Life's stages. When in effect, the Bard shows our community to best advantage.

The Shadow Side of the Bard is the Poser, the Con Artist, and the Liar. This Shadow re-writes our personal and collective history so that we always appear to be wiser, kinder and greater than we really are. This part likes to put the blame for our bad behavior on the other person, on circumstance or on the culture at large. It tends to give us far too much credit for what we have accomplished and is not grateful to those who have helped along the way.

Where the Bard sees abundance, the Poser sees lack. Where the Bard offers friendship, the Poser uses people. The Poser is that part that excuses, rationalizes, evades, forgets, and denies.

As you can see from this, I do not reject using contrasts as a teaching tool. It is only when they are used too simply - and we've all seen this in action - that we fall down the rabbit hole. How many times have we heard Pagans makes ill-conceived pronouncements which show that, at their core, they believe all nature good & technology bad, all Christians bad & Pagans good, all men potentially abusive & women inherently peaceful and, my personal favorites, all hierarchy bad, money bad and power bad. Such spiritually immature views lead us to fear (and thus psychically reject) interfaith work with others of like mind, our own prosperity, useful organisational tools, and the right use of our power, which explains, I think, why certain Pagan groups are where they are today.

On the whole (and holistically speaking) many Pagans are moving past the politics of simple rejection and heading towards a spirituality that is less angry, less fearful and more open. Paganism, like feminism, needed to name the problem in order to confront it, and move past it. Spiritually mature Pagans are moving past blame and have taken on the duties of compassion and understanding. We will not forget the past, lest we repeat it's mistakes. We remain vigilant in defense of our freedoms because we know as well as anyone how fragile these freedoms are. Knowing what we know, and also what we do not, we choose to take our life lessons into the future. My personal motto is not couched as either/or speak. In Pagan fashion it is tri-part in nature:

What matters? What works? What's next?

I look forward to finding the answers, even if they come, like the horses in the story, as difficult gifts.


Here are the other blogs involved:

Between Old and New Moons
Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism
Goddess in a Teapot
The Aquila ka Hecate
Full Circle Earthwise News
Mythprint (all the myth that’s fit to print)
Stone Circle
Women and Spirituality
Frontiers of Wonder
Paleothea - Sing, Goddess
Quaker Pagan Reflections
Heart of Flame
Pitch 313
Executive Pagan
Druid’s Apprentice
The Druid Journal
Manzanita, Redwoods and Laurel
Dream Builders


Donna L. Faber said...

Hi ... I enjoyed your post immensely and also participated in this synchroblog. I hope you have time to stop by.

Surfin' the wave,


Dj Connell said...

I certainly will :-)


Anonymous said...

Hey! I like your post, particularly when you say, "As you can see from this, I do not reject using contrasts as a teaching tool. It is only when they are used too simply - and we've all seen this in action - that we fall down the rabbit hole."

I tend to feel like the better I know a subject, the less useful it becomes to try and apply concepts like "duality." Given this experience, I have shied away more and more from using the idea in my teaching, but your post helped me think about it a little differently.


(P.S. You can, of course, check out my own post on the Dual at Paleothea: the Ancient Goddess.)