Politics, spirituality and personal power

I’m tapping into to a wider conversation here about politics and spirituality – with reference to a recent Gods and Radicals post about spiritual approaches that enable fascism http://godsandradicals.org/others/confronting-the-new-right/. One of the key points is that we are mistaken if we think spirituality is apolitical, and in being oblivious to the political angle, we make more room for ideas that many of us find objectionable. At the same time, wanting to keep the sacred out of the nasty, sordid business of politics is a perfectly reasonable reaction! So, how to do this well…

Personal spirituality is not political. What that means is that in your intimate moments of interacting with the divine, there is nothing political going on. It’s just you, and what you hold sacred, and whatever numinous, inspirational, challenging, demanding, peculiar things come in that space. Or, to put it another way, what you do privately is your business, there are no thought police.

However, as soon as you are dealing with things of this world, politics are involved and other people are entitled to judge you. How you choose to manifest your spirituality in the world will always have a political dimension. The person who pretends it doesn’t is reducing their own power and scope for conscious self-determination.

The environment is a political issue. If you want trees to hug, animals to bring you omens, or any other interaction with any aspect of the natural world, you have to look at the political implications of your life and practice and the politics impacting on those.

Human interaction is a political issue. Who has power and who doesn’t. Who is included, and who is silenced. Who is permitted and who is denied. How safe people feel. Who is allowed to say ‘no’. There are many of these, but you get the idea. If you have the power to exclude, silence, ignore or force someone else in some way, that’s a power you need to be alert to, and take responsibility for. If you are on the other end of this, then your right to be heard, seen, have space, be safe etc matters, and the odds are your spiritual life is being affected by politics.

It amazes me that anyone could be interested in magic and power, and not want to understand what power they have. It amazes me that anyone could set out to be a will worker and be keen not to know how their actions influence other people. ‘Know thyself’ is an ancient Pagan instruction. If you don’t know what effect you have, then you don’t know yourself. But apparently there are people who are happy not to look at the implications of what they do, even to make sure they aren’t accidentally facilitating a fascist agenda.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I want my actions in this world to be deliberate, and of my crafting. I want to be a deliberate co-creator of my reality. If I do something and it has consequences I didn’t mean or intend or want, I want to know about that so that I can take control and change it. Burying my head in the sand and assuming everything I do gets the results I intend, does not give me that power.

If I choose not to face the uncomfortable possibilities that I could be getting things wrong, I give away my power. In refusing to look at the implications of my actions, I make it easier to manipulate me. I make myself a target for people who would use me to further their own power. I become a tool for someone else to use. Potentially a tool someone else can use for oppression.

I don’t want to be that. I don’t think many people would find that appealing as a way to be.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Politics, spirituality and personal power

  • Scott Tizzard

    Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who are willing to be a tool for oppression. Sometimes the centre cannot hold, and things fall apart. (Yeats). The ability of the human mind to manifest fear as “the other” and to rationalize horrible responses to that fear is seemingly not so difficult.

  • landisvance

    One of the things that we are dealing with in the States is that religion, which is inherently political, has hijacked the discourse. We are seeing a slow steady change though as those who are living their spirituality are increasingly aware of the need to become politically active. Their spirituality is not their politics but it does inform their politics. Nowhere can you see the extremes more clearly than with our candidates Trump (who calls himself a Christian even as he insults and belittles and proclaims policies that are harmful to the world and society) and Sanders (who is highlighting the ways in which we need to care for each other).

    Personally, as I have been working with and for my ancestors, I am having to come to terms with the fact that some of my ancestors owned slaves. I am invited by my black friends to consider my privilege. In doing so, my eyes have been opened to the ways of privilege. Only in the awareness and acceptance of my past can I move forward to contribute to the healing of those terrible wounds. My spirituality is driving the need to engage in this. It is not a political act yet it is seen as such. I am not doing it to make a point but nevertheless I am doing it to change society. The private and public, political and non-political are woven together in ways that are difficult to consider separately

  • karenenneagram

    I’m never quite sure whether to respond on wordpress or facebook, so maybe this time I’ll do both. Because what you say is necessary to say and to hear. I nearly said potently in there – and, the moment potency comes in, then the questions of intention and effect arise. Such a minefield, given the human psyche, and one that needs to be born in mind and considered, often, by each of us. Thank you, Nimue.

    There is another thing I need to say which is personal (ish). I say it in public because it raises – I think – important questions. (The main one, so people can skip the next bit, is about how to be honourably truthful without finger-pointing, judgement or blame – when we need truth so badly!) So here’s what raised this question….

    Your last three paragraphs left me frustrated. I honour your honouring of neutrality and confidentiality, yet you are clearly responding to something(s) specific. Something specific of which I’m unaware. I assume there are people who do know what you’re referring to. For me, though, it’s hard to skip from the general to the implied specific, or to form a response that’s adequate, because it can’t be a response to information that your article refers to (which it does, by implication). Also, I’m left curious – you dangled a taster but without detail. What on earth is it to ‘be a will worker and be keen not to know how their actions influence other people’? Your language is as always beautiful, and specific – you say ‘be keen not to’ rather than ‘not be keen to’. Really? What on earth sorts of people are those?

    As I say – important questions, not just about how we manage the politics of our spirituality, but about how we talk openly without falling into finger-pointing and politics. Thank you.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Just posted an answer to an article against Gods and Radicals because the argument from some Polytheists has gotten so biased against G&R polytheists. This article was mild compared to some that I have seen on line.

    Nor can anyone be denied their political view based on their religion. We have a variety of Pagans who claim Pagans cannot be spiritual and also political. Even our right to practice our religion, and what we believe, is controlled by political power in any society, including here in the United States where religious persecution of even minority Christianity, much less minority religions has a long history that has not yet ended.

    So it works both ways. You cannot not tell a Pagan that they have to be political or that it is un Pagan to be political. It is a matter of choice and must be left to the individual. Be careful about the charges that you make and make sure they are actual and not just your perception. You have a right to ask the same, in fact to demand the same.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’d agree with that Chris, at the same time, we have a saying here – if you do not do politics, politics will be done to you. Which is of course a choice, but people need to know that’s what they’re choosing, and that to opt out, is to be ruled by others.

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