Most serious Pagans avoid the term “powers” like the plague. It reeks of bad fantasy novels and people who are trying to figure out how to shoot fire from their fingertips. We prefer terms like “skills” which anyone can develop, and “wisdom” which is more valuable than “powers” throughout most of our lives.
But sometimes the situation is desperate. Sometimes skills and wisdom just aren’t enough – you need powers.
Here are seven critical powers you need. The good news is that you already have them right now. Like the main characters in fantasy novels, you were born with these powers. You just have to realize you have them and start learning how to use them.
1. The power to observe
We spend most of our formative years listening to authority figures tell us the way things are. Much of this is necessary and good – I’m a strong proponent of education. But some things we’re taught are more opinion than fact – history is far from the only field where winners decide what is good and true. Authority figures can be wrong, and some of them lie. Who can we believe?
Fortunately, we have the power to observe. We can look at things with our own eyes and listen with our own ears. Does what we see match up with what we’re told? Does a product really provide what the advertising promises? Do a political candidate’s promises have any connection with reality?
Along with observation, we can investigate. If you can read this, the resources of the world’s academic and journalistic institutions are at your fingertips. None of them are infallible and “consensus reality” can still be wrong, but with a bit of digging we can greatly improve our odds of getting a clear picture instead of someone’s misinformation and misinterpretation.
2. The power to reason
Once we observe something, we have to figure out what it means. Is it important? What’s likely to come of it? Reason is the proper attribution of cause and effect, and it is not the exclusive property of materialists.
In the important but contentious arenas of politics and religion, we see countless claims that don’t stand up to reason. People make claims they want you to think are true (and maybe they really believe it themselves) but are they true? Will following the “right” religion bring prosperity into your life? Will cutting taxes for the rich trickle down and help the poor?
The more we use our power of reason, the more we realize the world is far more complicated than we like to think. How did life begin? What happens when we die? What is the impact of human activity on world climate, and how are those changes going to be experienced by various people in various places? We have no certain answers to these and many other questions, and yet we still must deal with them. We have to use our own power of reason.
3. The power to reject other people’s bullshit
Let’s face it: some peoples’ powers of observation and reason are pretty weak. That doesn’t stop them from building entire religious, political, and cultural institutions around them, or from perpetuating ideas that might have made sense in an earlier era but that are decidedly unhelpful to us here and now.
The good news is that you don’t have to follow along. Does the religion of your childhood not make sense to you anymore? Or worse, does it offend your ethics and your sense of virtue? There are many other religious options – we live in the most religiously diverse and free society in the history of humanity.
If people are invested in a belief or an institution, they tend to cling to it rather than change even when presented with clear evidence it’s wrong. You don’t have to follow along. If it doesn’t work for you, you have the power to reject it.
4. The power to choose
We start by seeing the world as it is. We follow by making reasonable deductions and inductions. We reject commonly held ideas that don’t make sense, or that prove to be more harmful than helpful. Now what?
There are many ways to live. There are many approaches to the Big Questions of Life. There are many ways to live in community with other people and other species. Pick one.
No, it’s not that simple. These are questions to be approached with deep reflection and consideration. But for every religious, political, or cultural issue, there are many possible approaches. You have the power to choose which one seems most right to you and best for you.
5. The power to take baby stepsChanging your religion, your political affiliation, or your philosophical outlook on life isn’t easy. It took many years for me to overcome the fundamentalism of my childhood. But one thing is certain: if you don’t start, you’ll never get there.
The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can start with one thing. Read one book. Pick up one new spiritual practice. Attend one new gathering.
Just stopping something from your old ways isn’t going to be enough. Taking something out creates a vacuum, and unless you fill that vacuum with something new, the same old garbage is going to seep back in.
Changing your life takes work and it takes time. But you have the power to take baby steps in that direction… and before long, baby steps become adult steps.
6. The power to maintain the integrity of your mind
“I’m 16 and my parents won’t let me practice witchcraft.” “After I work my paying job and take care of my kids I don’t have time or energy for anything else.” “If I change my religion my family will disown me.”
Using these powers is simple, but it’s far from easy. Sometimes your situation makes it impossible to do what you want to do, or even what you feel like you need to do. While no one should stay in an abusive situation, running away from home often creates more problems than it solves, whether you’re a teenager or an adult.
But no one can control your mind, and certainly not if you’re exercising these seven critical powers.
It helps if you can read things that support your reasoning and your choices, even if all you can read are a handful of websites and blogs. Listen to good music and watch inspiring movies. But mainly, use down time, commuting time, and time doing mindless work to think about these things over and over again.
As a kid I wasn’t allowed to argue with the preacher. But in my head I rebutted every sermon every week, and if I knew he was wrong but couldn’t quite figure out why, the imaginary debate continued during the week until I figured it out.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.” Whether you’re worshipping, imagining, or contemplating, you have the power to maintain the integrity of your mind.
7. The power to persevere
Perseverance is perhaps the most powerful of these seven critical powers.
Half of life is just showing up. But the other half is sticking with things long enough for them to pay off. It’s not quitting when things get hard or unpleasant, or when unexpected obstacles arise. It’s remembering why you started a journey in the first place, and what you expect to find when you get there.
If you want something, keep working toward it, even if it doesn’t come as quickly or as easily as you’d like. Perseverance is how we develop and refine and perfect the other critical powers. Perseverance is a virtue.
Bonus power: magic
These seven powers are critically important and they’re available to everyone right now, but there’s nothing supernatural or Otherworldly about them. But if you have need of them, you probably can also use an eighth: the power to use magic to enhance these seven.
Magic is part of our heritage as humans. It works on three different levels. It can’t give you what you want, but it can make it more likely that you’ll get what you want (or at least, what you work for) sooner or later.
If you’re in a difficult situation – and these days, who isn’t? – use all the tools in your tool box. I prefer sigil magic. Some of my friends are better with traditional witchcraft. Others do energy magic, or some other form.
Magic isn’t as straightforward as the first seven powers. It takes longer to learn, and it really helps to have some instruction, either in person or from books. But it’s there, and if you need it, use it.