In the Denton CUUPS Yule ritual, Dolores (who was coordinating) included a Charge of the God that ended with this line: “Keep this ever full in your mind, it is better to fall upon my sword than to live with fear in your heart.” Though I’m familiar with this line, it struck me as inappropriate for a Yule circle. I started to ask her to use something else, then I decided that if Dolores (who is one of the strongest intuitives I know) put it there, it was probably there for a good reason.
It was. It was there for me.
In his 1949 Book of Shadows, Wicca founder Gerald Gardner included this challenge at the beginning of the First Degree initiation: “O thou who standeth on the threshold between the pleasant world of men and the domains of the Dread Lords of the Outer Spaces, hast thou the courage to make the Assay? For I tell thee verily, it were better to rush on my weapon and perish miserably than to make the attempt with fear in thy heart.”
Novelist Katherine Kurtz phrases it better in her excellent 1983 historical fiction Lammas Night: “O thou who wouldst cross the boundary between the worlds, hast thou the courage to face the tests which will be required of thee? For I tell thee, it were better to throw thyself upon this sacred blade and perish now than to essay the trials with fearing in thy heart.”
A challenge is rather common in initiation rituals. The Entered Apprentice (i.e. – first) Degree of Freemasonry includes a challenge at sword point, but at least in the versions I can find online, it does not include the warning against entering with fear in your heart. Gardner was writing at a time when witchcraft was still illegal in Britain, and he was writing something he would pass off as having been handed down from the burning times. Clearly, he wanted to make the point that you could not be an effective witch if you were afraid either of the authorities or of whatever you might encounter in the world of the gods and the dead.
It can also be argued that Gardner was simply being overdramatic, but if so he’s far from the only religious leader to do so. In any case, his point is valid – living in fear is no way to live.
The work-related stress I’ve been suffering from has its roots in fear: fear of unpleasant confrontations, fear of continued long hours, fear of loss of prestige, and ultimately, fear of losing my job and income. These fears, while at times overblown, are not ungrounded.
But the goal of spiritual development – in any religious tradition – is not to make life easy. As the Buddhists say, before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water. The goal of spiritual development is to learn to transcend life’s sorrows and difficulties.
Throughout my life I have repeatedly shown that when faced with real challenges I always find some way through them. Most of us do. We work a little harder, or a little longer. We get out of our comfort zones and do what we have to do. We recognize our limitations and ask for help. We recognize a lost cause and try something new. We re-evaluate our priorities and refocus on what’s really important.
I’ll get through this stressful time at work – I always have. And if my worst fears come true and this job goes away, I’ll find another one. I’ve done it three times before, and if I have to I can do it again. But this isn’t the real challenge in this situation.
The real challenge is to overcome the day-to-day, hour-to-hour fear that is the true source of my stress. It is the fear – not the long hours, not the difficult work, not the demanding co-workers – that is distracting me from my daily practice, that is keeping me from being a good exemplar of Druidry, and that ultimately is a roadblock to my spiritual growth and development. I like to talk about preparing for “something big” that’s coming somewhere down the road, but this is about as big as it gets. This is here and now.
Hast thou the courage? While Gardner’s challenge is rather dramatic, the real challenge isn’t to enter the circle with no fear. The challenge is to have the courage to enter in spite of your fears. Have perfect trust in the perfect love of the Goddess and God and move forward boldly.
The first test comes tomorrow at 7:30 AM.