We were lying in bed, having recently enjoyed one another’s embrace and slowly drifting off to sleep. Through the sound of rain and rolls of thunder, I hear a soft wail in the distance; the tornado siren had begun to sound. Immediately my heart began to beat faster, and I sprang into action. Cords were yanked from their sockets, the dog was herded into his cage and pulled away from windows, and I with my blanket cowered in the hallway. As I sat there I began to be consumed by the fear of a touchdown, the fear of us being in its path. When we got notification of a touchdown, I panicked. I burst into tears and began to feel anger towards my partner who remained exceptionally calm, being content to play Zelda on his 3DS. I constantly checked my phone, drug everything out of the closet so we’d have a better place, my hands shook uncontrollably, and I prayed and waited.
The tornado never came close to my home. While we were projected to be in the path of it, he suddenly decided to take a turn away from us. The damage to my home was minimal, a few branches felled here and there, and the storm in my part of town never got beyond a severe (yet scary nonetheless) thunderstorm. But I was terrified. I could only remember the severe storm I went through last year that did considerable damage to my town, I could only think of all the horrendous things that happened in other places to other people with better shelter. What I experienced wasn’t what scared me.
What scared me was the thought of what I might experience.
See, and that’s the problem. What I might experience. I let fear grip me so hard that I was exhausted for two days based on what I might experience. I’ve let myself make terrible decisions and walk away from things which may have been quite good for me based on the thought that something bad could happen. I’ve ruined things and missed opportunities by letting fear convince me that the worst case scenario is the inevitable reality. I’m an optimist … right up until you give me a reason to worry and be afraid. What good is fear?
Fear is one of the most basic mammalian responses. It has helped us avoid hazards for the entire existence of our species. A healthy sense of fear can help us be alert, make us able to respond quickly in dangerous situations, and help us detect and prepare for potential hazards. Being prepared is a good thing; letting fear control your life? Not so good. When you let fear grip your thinking, it makes it easier for it to grip your speech and actions. When you let fear grip your thinking and make decisions for you, you risk letting it control your life and your destiny. And the funny thing is, most of us who have these struggles with fear have the tools we need to tame our fears.
Anyone who is an initiate into a mystery tradition almost certainly has the ability to control their fears. Most initiations can be failed and several initiates I know attest to needing to calm their sense of fear to successfully go through the process. I can attest to this. While I was nervous, if I let that become the full out icy fear I am used to, I would not have succeeded in becoming an initiate. As an actor, I am used to having to calm doubts, fears, and worries before the show begins. I’d bet that if you look into your own life you’d be able to pinpoint events and situations in which you were able to successfully calm your worries and fears.
Mastering our fears is essential to the work that we must do as Pagans. For those of us who struggle with anxiety disorders, this might be a struggle. As a person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) I know full well how easy it is to worry and fear and tame that fear. Thoughts incessantly running through your head whispering “what if. . .what if. . .” destroying motivation, inspiration, paralyzing inaction generated by fears with as much basis in reality as the best case scenario. But we have to master it. For those of us involved in the occult, magical, art, or liturgical side of things, we have to master it to improve our craft. If you never present yourself to the public and face head on that fear of ridicule, you can never know what does and doesn’t work. And if you let your own fears eat you up it can lock you down from doing what you need to do in order to improve. But, you can channel that fear into energy. Performers do it, painters do it, and athletes do it. Fear can be used to propel ourselves to new heights … as long as we don’t let it drag us down.
For the laypeople in Paganism, mastering fear is also essential. It is essential to stick around in a scene that is so often ridiculed and misunderstood by the larger society. It is essential to get out and take risks with new groups and forming those communities which are so sorely lacking in many areas. And maybe you are afraid to do so because you’ve been burned, maybe you have really bad social anxiety. But you can try. When you are ready and willing you can try, just don’t let fear be the reason you don’t.
Make no mistake, I’m not speaking from a place of success in taming my fears. Fighting against that fear response is a constant and perpetual struggle for me. One that I frequently lose which causes me to make some less than stellar decisions. Control of fear is a process and something that you have to do every single day. And when you let fear make the decision, don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t call yourself a coward. Try again. Try again and be proud. Know that what you are doing is tough but necessary and good and suddenly. Then when you find yourself on stage with 200 people watching, approaching the halls of initiation, or giving a presentation to a room full of people, and you succeed. You quell that beast. You’ll smile and it’ll be the sweetest victory you’ve ever had.
A Prayer for Fear
Athena, glorious and noble Grey-Eyed Maiden
Let my hands not shake, let my stomach by well
Calm my heart and still my mind
And give me the strength to do what I must