Purification and Harmony
To be honest, I gave up on purification, per se, quite a few years ago.
Now, I didn’t just wake up one morning and say to myself, “Self, we aren’t going to do that whole purification thingy anymore.” Rather, my whole concept of what constituted purity changed, over the course of time, as a result of the evolution of my personal life philosophy and spirituality.
What actually occurred was a shift in my thinking from dualistic to monistic thinking. It is in dualistic thinking that we find polarized and incompatible concepts such as pure and impure. These concepts are, for most people, very binary: you are either pure or you are impure, there are no shades of gray. Same goes for an object, a physical location, etc. Hence we have rituals in many religions and cultures, to purify everything from our bodies to our foods, our living and working spaces, our tools, our objects of worship, our thoughts, feelings and emotions and so on.
Having been raised in dualistic thinking, I naturally brought a lot of that baggage to Paganism with me, notwithstanding years of exposure to Taoist philosophy, which is fairly – although not purely – monist in its approach. (Taoist internal alchemy deals quite a bit with the “purification” of the physical and energetic bodies, to achieve full potential, health and long life.) In my early Pagan practice, I performed elaborate rituals to purify everything from my mind to my athamé, seeking through that purification to become somehow more “worthy” of communion with Deity. This is, of course, an obvious holdover from my Christian upbringing, wherein one must be “pure and without sin” in order to be loved and accepted by God.
Over the years, however, my philosophy and my beliefs have changed a fair bit. While I now recognize that physical and spiritual pollutants do exist, and often cannot be ignored for obvious reasons of physical and spiritual health, I’m more concerned with harmony than purity.
Energy is energy: It is neither good nor evil, white nor black, mine nor yours. It simply is. “Positive energy” and “negative energy” are simply two ways of describing different frequencies, if you will, of energy. In the case of electricity, “positive” and “negative” are simply descriptions of the direction in which electrons flow. The electrons themselves remain, simply, electrons. And “flow” is, in this context, a synonym for harmony. We often hear the same case made regarding magick: There is no “black” or “white” magick; there is only the intent behind the use of the basic technology and energy. Indeed, careless application of helpful magick can have very harmful consequences for the user and/or the recipient.
I have lead and participated in rituals wherein great lengths were taken to “banish all negativity” from the ritual space, the tools and the celebrants. But what would that really have accomplished? In a religion where the “balance of Nature” is sacred, isn’t a “positive only” environment a bit, well, unbalanced? And I’m not talking about one or two rituals in a brief period of time – like many of us, I did this consistently for years.
Until one day, as it so often happens, someone brought my attention to what I was really doing. I’m not sure, in retrospect, if that individual was an author, an email correspondent, or even someone in the Pagan community – it might well have been an outsider commenting, objectively, on our practices and beliefs. Whatever the case, when it was pointed out to me in that fashion, I had one of those “V-8” moments. (By the way, be very careful when slapping yourself in the forehead whilst holding a ritual blade…)
It was a true moment of clarity in which I realized that my practice and my philosophy were not in congruence. I professed to believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of Everything, and yet sought in my rituals to exclude, to cut myself off from, a sizable chunk of Everything.
And yet, I cannot simply open myself up to and blithely accept all of the physical, emotional and spiritual energy that comes my way, just as I cannot consume just any old solid or liquid that is placed in front of me. Some of those substances may harmonize with my physical being, whilst some may not, with extremely serious consequences. In the Dune books, the Bene Gesserit “witches” are said to have the ability to alter ingested poisons to nullify their effects. I have yet to develop that ability, and won’t be holding my breath until I do so. However, I do have the ability to do something of the sort with energy that is directed at me, whether by other individuals or the environment itself.
At the most basic level, I have some skill at dealing with negative physical energy directed at me: I can (hopefully) redirect or deflect a physical attack, or get out of the way of a falling or hurtling object. Failing the above, I can roll with the punch or break-fall, to dissipate the energy. In each of these instances, what I am really doing is harmonizing my physical energy with the incoming energy. To simply accept that energy as it is might well be disastrous, and the same might be said of resisting it directly, i.e. meeting the incoming energy with equal energy of an “opposite polarity.”
The same concepts apply to emotional energy: I can meet anger with anger and the energy remains polarized, or I can attempt to meet anger with compassion, and encourage harmonization. I can choose to react to dysfunctional behavior, or I can deflect it with detachment and love.
So when I find myself full of “negative spiritual energy,” what I am really saying is that I am full of dissonant energies that have accumulated from many sources. I can attempt to “purify” (i.e. rid) myself of these energies, but if all energy is basically the same, am I not expending energy to get rid of energy? What sense does that make? And what do I use as the baseline for determining what “dissonant” or “impure” is? My own “personal” spiritual energy? What if I’m having a really bad day? What if I am physically, emotionally or mentally ill? Do I really want to use my personal baseline to judge what is good for me and what is not? Might I not then end up “purifying” myself of energies that I really need, but that only feel “negative” because they aren’t in harmony with my unhealthy baseline? (Now you know why the topic reads as it does…)
Rather than attempting to purify myself of dissonant energies, I now attempt to substitute the process of harmonizing those energies within myself, my tools and my sacred space. To be blunt, if I am getting ready to curse somebody (hopefully someone who actually deserves it), I want my self, my tools and my ritual space filled with pure hate and/or anger, so that I may make the most “productive” use of that particular frequency of energy. In my current martial arts practice, we focus a lot on harnessing the fear, anger and hatred that are evoked in us by an unprovoked assault – we consciously and purposefully grab onto that pure “negative” energy, and use it to fuel our defense and counterattack.
To use another martial arts analogy (RuneWolf? Martial arts analogy? Say it ain’t so…), it takes more energy and less skill to block a punch than to redirect it, whereas it takes somewhat more skill, but significantly less energy, to deflect or redirect an attack. This is one of the fundamental reasons why people, on the whole, advance faster in arts such as karate than in those like aikido. It is my experience, and my contention, that it takes more energy and less skill to banish unwanted energies than to harmonize existing energies into a homogenous construct, and that in banishing such energies, to whatever degree we are successful, we are really depriving ourselves of the true harmony inherent in the multiverse.
Again, my practice does not ignore the existence and effects of physical, emotional and spiritual contaminants. But, on the whole, physical impurities tend to be more problematic, and at the same time easier to deal with. One cannot “harmonize” with rotten food – it’s a lost cause. Nor can one really “harmonize” with contaminated drinking water. The water is fine as it is – it feels no need or desire to change. But we must change it, i.e. filter or chemically alter it, in order to make use of it. But the odds are higher that I will suffer immediate and drastic consequence from rotten food or impure water than I will from anger, spite and bitter words. And yet, over time, even those can have serious repercussions if not addressed.
When I have the chance, I use seawater in my rituals. Does it need to be “purified?” It is the blood of the Great Mother – whether it is laden with industrial contaminants or not, it is what She gave to me when I filled that container. Would it not be arrogant of me to believe that I can somehow make it better by my nattering formulas? And yet, even if it were the purest of ocean waters from the Abyssal Plain itself, I still couldn’t drink it without getting sick. So how pure is it really?
Makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?
Another aspect of ritual purification that I am not discounting is that of “setting the mood.” As with so many of the things we do before and during ritual, acts of purification can enhance and help to precipitate our entry into “ritual consciousness.” Whether these acts actually result in any “real” purification of our physical, emotional or spiritual selves or environments is perhaps not as important as the fact that they promote that particular shift in consciousness. I would as soon be covered in manure, and in the right state of consciousness, than pristine and still walking in this world alone.
There is, perhaps, a continuum here that is worth looking at. Perhaps those who come to Paganism with a little baggage do indeed need to go through a period of “purification,” so that they may feel as if they have in fact and finally set that baggage down. Having gone through that process, perhaps they may come to recognize that not everything that is uncomfortable or unsightly needs to be thrown away out of hand, and that, perhaps, they can even go back through those old bags, and see if there is anything there that can be adapted to their new life. And if they can, indeed, reclaim elements of their past that they thought they could never live in harmony with, what then of the future?