After I finished answering all the Conversations Under the Oaks questions, this came in.
How do you deal with rage, justified rage (well, we all think our rage is justified) in your Pagan practice? Or, do you simply not deal with it in your practice? And if not, why?
Note that this isn’t about taking rage and using it to power X. It’s about powerful emotion and its place in our practices.
This is a very relevant question for me. I’m experiencing a lot of anger right now, and sometimes that anger boils over into rage. I need to write myself through it.
The usual caveats apply: I’m a Druid and a priest, not a psychologist. If your anger and/or rage is endangering yourself or others, see a mental health professional.
What is rage?
I’ll leave the psychological and physiological definitions of rage to the professionals in those fields. But whatever else rage may be, from a magical and spiritual perspective rage is energy. And like all energy, it can be directed toward desired goals.
But the energy of rage is not like the carefully controlled current powering the device on which you’re reading these words. The energy of rage is like a lightning bolt: raw, imprecise, and capable of causing great harm if it lands in a vulnerable place.
As with so much in life, the time to think about rage isn’t when we’re experiencing it, but when we can calmly consider how we want to respond when it hits us.
And in general there are three things we can do with rage: suppress it, let it flow, or channel it.
I’ve always heard it’s dangerous to bottle up rage. I’ve seen that de-emphasized in recent years, largely because raw rage can be so damaging. Domestic violence has many root causes, but it’s often precipitated by rage. Expressing rage in the workplace is a good way to end up unemployed and possibly in jail.
When I was in college I misread an announcement and showed up for a department field trip after the bus had already left. I was so mad I threw my car keys as far as I could, toward the nearby intermural fields. They were barely out of my hand when I realized I had exacerbated my first mistake with a second mistake that was potentially much more serious. I found them after about 15 minutes of looking, but that experience put a filter in my head that always asks “is this going to make things worse?”
Trust me – I understand that suppressing rage takes work. It takes thinking and planning ahead of time, and it takes mindfulness and determination in the moment. But if I have to suppress my rage because expressing it would make things worse, then I suppress it.
Let it flow
The second thing you can do is let the rage flow. But even here, there are two different ways you can do this.
You can let it flow unrestrained and whatever happens, happens. That’s the easiest approach. It’s also the most dangerous approach. It’s a lightning bolt, or perhaps a tornado. Unrestrained and undirected rage hurts people – sometimes you, sometimes the people around you, sometimes both.
Or you can let it flow, but with boundaries. Scream if you must, but don’t scream at anyone. Pound a sturdy table, not a wall that’s easily damaged… and don’t pound the table so hard you break your hand.
But remember that our religions and spiritualities are about cultivating our highest values. Screaming and pounding the table may be understandable, but they’re not the reactions we want to cultivate. They allow you to vent, but ultimately they don’t make a bad situation better. It’s not that they’re “wrong” so much as it’s that they’re ineffective.
Magically, remember that the energy of rage is your energy. Again, from personal experience I can tell you that after the rage is gone, I’m exhausted.
None of us have unlimited energy. Instead of pouring gasoline on a bonfire, it’s better to pour it in your car’s fuel tank.
The questioner specifically said “this isn’t about taking rage and using it to power X.” I suspect that like me, they’ve heard “just channel it into something positive” too many times. If it was that simple I’d have done it already, OK?
That said, channeling your rage is the alternative to either suppressing it or letting it flow into places where it’s likely to be harmful.
The most obvious way to do this is to use it to power a magical working. “Cone of Power” magic raises energy in a circle, then releases it towards its target. Dancing, drumming, and chanting are traditional ways of raising power. They can be effective, but they’re low-wattage compared to rage. And if the target of your working is also the reason for your rage? That lightning strike has a pretty good chance of hitting home.
Do you really want to hit them with that much power? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. Read A Modern Pagan Guide to Cursing before you start down that path.
A less direct but often more effective way to channel rage is to let it motivate you to do something to make your life better. Usually that means changing the circumstances that led to the rage. Let your rage push you through your inertia to find a better job, leave an abusive spouse, or vote for a better candidate.
Rage can give you the determination you need to take risks. Maybe you’re worried about the magical blowback from an aggressive working. Maybe you’re nervous about moving out of your home town for the first time… or possibly out of your home country.
But if continuing to suppress your rage is too painful and letting it flow isn’t going to make things better, how much of a risk are you really taking?
My own current rage
I hate bullies. I hate people who abuse their power. I expect criminals to be criminals, but I expect public servants to serve the public. There are laws that provide harsher punishments for assaults on police officers and other public servants – I think there should also be harsher punishments for police officers and other public servants who abuse their authority. I expect criminals to be criminals – I expect better from public servants. And when they’re no better than criminals I get angry.
Lately I’m very angry.
Suppressing this rage is keeping me out of trouble, but it’s reaching unmanageable levels. Letting it flow is likely to have very negative consequences.
So I have to channel it into something else.
Mostly into the kind of magic I don’t talk much about.
And I’m thinking hard about what may happen in November. I’m working on one plan for a favorable election outcome (remembering that Joe Biden will make a good President but he is not a savior – we don’t get to go to brunch on January 21) and another plan for an unfavorable outcome.
We feel what we feel, and if what we feel is rage, then we’re enraged. Naïve comments like “don’t let it get to you” or “just let it go” only make things worse.
But we have an obligation – to those around us but mainly to ourselves – to do everything possible to insure that our rage does not harm anyone. And if we can channel our rage into something that makes things better, rage can be a very good thing.