There are all sorts of Pagan and otherwise spiritual activities that focus on being in control of something. There are strong associations in many traditions between being spiritual and being disciplined. Often what religious practices are for, is taking us away from our basic animal urges towards something more elevated.
How does this work with Paganism? Does it make any kind of sense to try and discipline ourselves away from our animal selves? We are animals, mammals – is it even possible for a human to do something that isn’t a reflection of our animal nature?
Perhaps part of this stems from the mistaken ideas we’ve had about what animals are and how they exist. We have a considerable history of reducing animals to meat machines that do everything unthinkingly, by instinct or by conditioning. This clearly isn’t true. There is so much evidence out there to demonstrate that mammals are thinking, feeling creatures and that we all have a lot in common on that score.
Most mammals spend a lot of time resting. Humans often describe that in ways that assume laziness, or sensual indulgence. What we project onto animals has so much to do with wanting to feel superior to them. What we imagine when we see them not actively doing something, is that they are doing nothing. We don’t assume that a cat gazing into space is contemplating philosophy, or deeply involved in some spiritual practice. Just because we have to write books and read books and talk to each other a lot and try very hard to develop prayer and meditation practices doesn’t make it special. Maybe we aren’t superior for having figured this out, maybe we’re inferior because cats just crack on and do it anyway without needing the paperwork.
Being in control is itself often an illusion. We only think we are in control because we don’t understand the influences affecting us. We don’t realise what we’ve unconsciously absorbed, and which stories we are playing out, all too often. We like to feel busy and as though we are being productive and making progress. The more in control we appear to be, the more progress we feel like we’ve made.
I see this come up a lot with how people approach dreaming in a spiritual context. The value placed on controlling dreams bothers me a lot. It feels to me like a process of cutting down a vibrant ecosystem and replacing it with things we’ve planted in straight lines. That’s not progress. It is control and it takes away far more than it gives.
I think of dreaming as being a wild landscape. There is more to gain from entering that wild landscape without wanting to control it, I think. There’s a lot to be said for looking at anything humans have come up with and asking whether it is designed to try and take us away from our human, animal selves. Existence is not something to overcome, it’s something to embrace.
I have a dreaming book that isn’t about controlling things, more over here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming