Our Planet, Our Town: Myth, magic, superstition
Funny thing about superstition … It never is one, until it isn’t! When it’s an operating superstition, it passes for truth. Only when burning witches was called a superstition did we stop burning witches. As long as the majority of people believed that the earth was flat, people with the absurd notion that it might be round were persecuted. How many other superstitions do we hold as truth, not realizing that they are, in fact, superstitions?
Eco-philosopher and cultural historian Father Thomas Berry asserts that we have become caught in a superstition he calls “species isolation,” which has led to “a savage assault upon the Earth such as was inconceivable in prior times. The experience of a sacred communion with the Earth disappeared … Such intimacy [with the planet] was considered a poetic conceit by a people who prided themselves on their realism, their aversion to all forms of myth, magic, mysticism and superstition. Little did these people know that their very realism was as pure a superstition as was ever professed by humans, their devotion to science a new mysticism, their technology a magical way to Paradise.”
Berry believes that our society does not grasp the nature and depth of our fixation. How else can we explain the escalating human-induced degradation to all of our major life-support systems – our air, our water and our land. We tend to point fingers and blame the “someone elses,” the governments and the “thems of the world” for the major problems we are confronting. But perhaps it is our own unexamined and fixed ways of seeing the world that are at the root of our growing social, ecological and psychological maladies. Myth is a place from which we see the world. By its very nature, it is challenging to reveal because it is a filter through which we are viewing the world itself.
“A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world, which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports the myth.”
– Edward De Bono
When I began writing this Halloween article I had planned to talk about witchcraft, paganism and magic, but as I began my research, I was shocked at my own unexamined beliefs and myths about the subject. Starhawk, a self-proclaimed witch who will be on my KVMR Halloween show today, has traced witchcraft legends back some 35,000 years to what is referred to as the “old religion.” This was the time of the feminine goddess culture, which predates Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even Druidism, Buddhism and Hinduism. It is closer to the traditions of Native Americans and early shamans. According to Starhawk, “Witchcraft takes its teaching from nature” and is based on the movements of the planets and the changing rhythms and cycles of the seasons.
“Love for life in all its forms is the basic ethic of witchcraft. Witches are bound to honor and respect all living things and to serve the life force. Serving the life force means working to preserve the diversity of natural life, to prevent the poisoning of the environment and the destruction of species.” It is hard to imagine how this philosophy led to the brutal extermination of nine million suspected witches!
Early 20th-century writer Dion Fortune calls magic “the art of changing consciousness at will.” When I look at the current state of the world, I think we could really use some magic right now. Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we examine and change our own myths about scarcity, progress, separation, alienation, not enough-ness, and the many beliefs that keep us locked into behavior that causes so much pain, suffering, and damage to others, our world and ourselves? Perhaps it is fear that keeps us from questioning our own superstitions, from listening to our hearts rather than our over-taxed minds. Is it fear that keeps us from pulling the rug out from under the beliefs of our heritage, the mysticism of our culture and the destructive fanaticism of our race?
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Bertrand Russell
How can we interrupt our illusions of control and security and open to the wisdom that it is our fears that keep us immobilized in the face of escalating change, and degrading economic, ecological and psychological conditions? Perhaps we could become curious about our fears and begin to pay attention to how they might be shaping our lives and impacting our world. It is awareness that alleviates fear. It may cost us being right to try on the points of view of others, but it could reward us with the bounty of a greater sense of connection, compassion and relatedness. Maybe it’s time we began to reassess our basic assumptions about the world we live in and our own unexamined truths. Maybe it’s time for some good old fashion magic!
“Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Michael Stone is a concerned citizen who hosts a program called “Conversations: Possibilities and perspectives on local and global issues” that airs at 12:05 p.m. every other Tuesday on KVMR, 89.5 FM.
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From all the residents of Grass Valley Senior Apartments, thank you to the firefighters, police department air support and everyone who responded to the Bennett Fire. God bless you all. You are all heroes.