As I’ve mentioned not once on this blog, I suffer from anxiety. Which means, fear is pretty much that accompanies me a lot – I can try to put it aside, but I will not get rid of it. Fear, just like pain, by itself, is a defense mechanism that stops us from doing things that are potentially dangerous – as species, we wouldn’t be able to survive without it, and literally feeling no fear is unhealthy for a person as well. But in some cases it starts to malfunction and overreact, by making you obsessively think of things that have the potential of going wrong, things that haven’t happened yet, and are very unlikely to happen; and, most importantly, by making you unable to focus on anything else aside from the object of your fear.
Now, there’s a good side to this as well (because I know I would be miserable if I wouldn’t be trying to find at least something positive in this experience). Fear makes you prepared. Fear of getting sick makes you take care of your health; fear of losing your job makes you work harder or improve your professional skills in general, so that you can be more sure to find another job when needed. An obsessive fear of missing an important deadline makes you double-check your planer and pay more attention to time management in general, which again, helps getting things done. Anxiety often arises because of perceived lack of control – and there are means to exercise control at least to a certain extent. (Another side to this is lack of trust – in people around you, in your God(s), and, mostly important, in yourself – the inability to believe that there’s still a way for you to handle most misfortunes that may fall upon you).
“Where there’s fear, there’s power”. There’s something to be said about “ordeal work”, often described as rituals in which the practitioner undergoes the process of inducing fear and/or pain, done both in traditional societies and certain modern mystical groups. By facing your fear, no matter how “minor” it may seem, and for once refusing to run from it, we gain power; we set at least some small of our psyche free. It is, ultimately, one of the most, if not the most important step in Shadow Work, the process of getting to know your inner monsters, and possibly letting them transform.
And, it’s not just about deep, major spiritual experiences. Even in everyday life, doing things you were too afraid of doing before, be it, can bring very powerful experiences. Often, you recognize that the thing you’ve feared isn’t actually so bad you’ve imagined it to be, and it shouldn’t have such power over you.
Fear of God(s)
In Pagan circles, you often hear talking about fearing the gods as something only Christians or members of other Abrahamic religions do, something, that has no place in relation to Pagan gods – a view, that is at least historically inaccurate, which should be obvious from studying the ancient religions. And while I agree, that constantly obsessing over whether your god will smite you over every little thing is not a healthy spiritual attitude, the so-called fear of god can take many forms.
Rudolph Otto writes in “The Idea of Holy”:
If we do so we shall find we are dealing with something for which there is only one appropriate expression, mysterium tremendum. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its profane , non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of whom or what ? In the presence of that which is a Mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.
Carl Jung in his works speaks of numinosity, the experience of the Divine, which is a Power that is perceived so much more than the Ego, the Power, which is the union of opposites, of God and Devil, Light and Dark, that can both be protection and destruction, and can lead to both enlightenment and madness. An experience, that is usually not welcomed by more grounded, rational minds, but sought after by the mystics. The Divine is not just some distant figure or a character in mythology books – it is present in our lives here and now, often turning these lives around, regardless of whether we are ready for this or not.
All the Pagan deities (if not all the deities) – at least I cannot thing of a single counterexample – have their wrathful, terrible, fear-inducing aspect, that, in my opinion, would be foolish and disrespectful to ignore. I’ve written about some of my own experiences on a pagan forum, so I’ll just cite myself here:
“Which deity or spirit do you honor or work (or have honored/worked with in the past) with that frightens you or scares you the most?”
Why, Apollon does, on a pretty much regular basis. Starting from His attributes, that started triggering my various “phobias” (or, rather, “things that make me very, very uncomfortable)… fear of doctors and hospitals, fear of getting sick, fear of mice even.
Then there’s some… darker aspects of Him; the Destroyer, Lord of Sacrifices, the Wolf God can be very, very intense.
And then, there’s His vastness. He is a being that is much, much greater than I would ever be able to comprehend, and sometimes I have that glimpse, that I only deal with a tiny fraction of His entire being; and to be subjected to more would mean to be completely consumed.
That all is good fear, though; the kind that makes you grow (and suffering from anxiety, I know too well what bad fear actually is, and how it’s different from this).