Maslow's theory of needs is a simple one. Depicted often in pyramid form, it illustrates the needs of a human as a hierarchy. Starting the bottom of the hierarchy are the most base of needs, for example the need to be fed, clothed and housed. Next is the need for security, the need to be in a safe environment, to enjoy the security of regular income. This is followed by the need for social interaction, including sexual relationships and friendships. Above social interaction is the need for self esteem, to be validated in the eyes of others, to be respected and to have self respect. At the top of Maslow's pyramid is the need for self actualisation. Self actualisation is a more complex construct and covers a range of definitions, including but not limited to an understanding of self, the ability to view others and situations objectively, being comfortable in your own company, being true to yourself and developing individual ideas and thoughts.
I'm not really breaking new ground by suggesting that this way of viewing the growth of the needs of a human is a limited viewpoint. Maslow revised his own work with the suggestion that self actualisation be split into two separate sections - the first dealing with the focus on developing the potential as an individual and the second dealing with the ability to help others to achieve their potential. My fundamental interest in all of this is how we do we define and quantify that elusive second part of self actualisation. What is it, how do we get there and is it necessary for us to achieve our full potential as a human?
I want to make three observations about the theory of needs first. Here, I am speaking with relation to Maslow's initial hypothesis, with self actualisation as a single tier dealing specifically with potential of the self. The first observation must be that all levels of the pyramid are concerned with self to some degree. Be it the basic need to be fed or the need for personal growth, the focus is on the individual.
The second observation is that humans are not static. We change our needs fluidly as our environment and our circumstances change. I could be meditating on the ethereal nature of spirit today but if I lost my job tomorrow - I'd be back to focusing on my basic needs pretty quickly. So it isn't as simple as saying I'm a stage 4 person and you're a stage 3 person. We're all on the move up and down the levels on that pyramid. I'd also argue that it would be pretty difficult to find somebody who has never achieved any level of self actualisation. Speaking personally, anybody I have ever got to know moderately well has displayed at least some indication that they have been at the top of the pyramid a few times.
As a third observation - having established that needs are a changeable thing, it is also necessary to examine which needs are a necessary thing. If we believe Maslow, to become a fully integrated human being capable of self actualisation, a person must have worked through all the stages of the pyramid. I'm happy to go along with his thinking on this. If a person hasn't learned how to interact successfully with others and hasn't learned how to understand and respect themselves then it is unlikely they are able to actualise themselves into achieving their own potential. (As a side note, I'm not sure if this means they cannot be happy. That's a different question.)
I feel confident in drawing 3 key conclusions. 1. Nobody has the same needs all the time. 2. Everyone experiences all the needs at some time in their life. 3. Each and every level of needs must be mastered in order to reach the heights of self actualisation. So the original theory of needs can be taken to explain the nature of a human, but only the nature that deals with individual self. This is where the limitations kick in. The original theory of needs doesn't deal with any needs that are not related to the self as an individual.
There's a key question in itself. Is there more to an individual than their own needs? It depends on how you look at it. A person who lives their life solely based on achieving their own needs can certainly be said to be surviving. But surviving on what level? To what degree of self? Can a person ever be truly actualised if they live with no concept of philosophy? We need to examine how we define those experiences and characteristics that go beyond the needs of the self. A chap called Viktor Frankl defined these further needs as “the longing for ultimate meaning.” The big questions, the meaning that lies beyond our own lives. These could be termed as spiritual needs.
Its hard to get a single meaning of spirituality as an Atheist, a Christian and a Pagan will all give very different definitions. Some say spirituality is a relationship with the divine, others an awareness of life, of nature beyond the self. (Actually the dictionary isn't too sure either, it defines spirituality as the quality and nature of something spiritual. Hmm, helpful!). I'm going to take a very broad definition and say that the spiritual is something outside the traditional experience of the five senses. So how do we move beyond the five senses? Essentially how do we move beyond our own perceptions and our own self?
Self transcendence can be achieved in different ways. Philosophical thought, meditation, communication with the divine. Maslow talks of peak experiences – those moments when you just stop and have that perfect awareness of being still and complete while the world moves around you. Transcending the self is a sense of perspective, an understanding of yourself as a tiny speck of life in the midst of all this infinity and eternity. Its realising your own insignificance in the biggest picture.
And can a person be complete without the ability to do this? Well that is the crux of the matter. What has a person to gain from transcendence? I would argue that fundamentally a person's moral nature is linked to their ability to transcend. Whether a person believes in a deity or not is irrelevant. The ability to perceive good and bad as absolutes beyond the nature of the individual is crucial to the ability to act morally. When we think – “I would like to do this because it feels good to me, but I won't do it because I know it is wrong,” we are making a moral judgement that transcends ourselves.
When we address our spiritual needs, we also gain perspective on our own lives. We start to understand what matters and what doesn't. The person who lives in the moment of their own self at this particular crossing of time and space is incapable of that kind of perspective. To borrow a phrase: “they cannot rise above it.” I've heard people argue that they can't concentrate on spiritual matters because they've got too many problems, life is too stressful etc. This turns the rationale upside down - the point is that you can only gain perspective when you have transcended yourself, not that you can't transcend yourself until you've gained perspective. This is a criticism of Maslow. The pyramid of needs suggests a linear progress between the satisfaction of needs. As each stage is conquered, the next becomes relevant. Self transcendence isn't just the top of the pyramid, it is beyond the linear structure. We can't say that we'll work through all our needs and then we can start to make some spiritual progress. (That would be a bit like a Christian saying, I'll just make sure I've got a good job and I'm highly regarded as a person and then I'll start worshipping God.) It doesn't work.
There's also too many examples of transcendence without basic needs fulfilled to support the idea that self transcendence only happens when other needs have been met. Take the victims of Auschwitz for example. Poorly fed, poorly housed, no basic security yet many were capable of the most powerful spiritual experiences. To quote Viktor Frankl again, himself a survivor of the death camps: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” Even in the worst human circumstances imaginable, people found the ability to transcend their own reality and to move beyond their basic existence.
Morality and perspective aside, there is also the question of personal growth. How do we grow as people without an understanding beyond ourselves? If I cannot move beyond myself, I cannot understand somebody else. Without that understanding, I am unable to empathise. So effectively, I am cut off from my ability to communicate with others. Only by standing in your shoes can I understand who you are and how to relate to you. Only by stepping out of my shoes can I step into yours.
I'd also be concerned with the element of personal peace and serenity. As somebody who meditates regularly, I need that time to step out of the world, to forget myself, my problems and my life - albeit for a short time. A person who is unable to transcend themselves is unable to forget themselves, however briefly. How can serenity be achieved if you can never forget your problems?
The big difference between animals and humans is sentience. We see humans as more advanced because they have the ability of conscious thought. Animals do not have the choice to become sentient, to move toward a higher level of consciousness. Do humans have the choice to transcend? Can you aspire to something you can't understand without experiencing it? Do some people just choose not to?
And if people do choose not to transcend? I'd be fascinated as to why. Why would anybody ever want to live their life and never ask the big questions? How can a person go about their daily business every day and never look up at the sky and wonder if there is a God? Or question if there really is a grand all encompassing meaning to life? How can anybody live and not think? Is it possible to make the choice not to ask the questions? Or are people too mired in their own lives to even see the questions?
To reach some tentative conclusions about the questions I started with. The elusive second part of self actualisation is the ability to transcend the self. This is achieved by developing an awareness beyond the world that we perceive with our senses and an understanding of the importance of the world and the events that lie beyond us. Transcendence is necessary for our ability to make moral judgement, to fully understand other people, to reach an inner sense of serenity and to appreciate the perspective on our own lives. From a religious point of view, self transcendence is a necessary element in forging a relationship with the Gods.
And is self transcendence necessary for us to achieve our full potential as a human? I'm going to conclude that it is. You can go a long way as a human in your own skin but to become the person you could be, the one beyond the mundane, to achieve what, potentially, you were born with the potential to achieve, you need to travel further, you need to travel beyond yourself.
Image - unable to find source. Will credit if advised.
Most people interested in either/both Paganism or BDSM will have heard of Raven Kaldera, an internationally respected Neo Pagan Shaman and an authority on the subject of how Paganism and BDSM can be blended together into a fulfilling spiritual path.
I had the pleasure of reading one of his books “Dark Moon Rising: The Ordeal Path” last year and though the whole book was an extremely instructive (and fascinating) read, there was one section in particular that I wanted to share with you, namely his section on Monster work, dealing with the hidden parts of ourselves that we so often shy away from, hence the whole allegory of monsters in the basement.
Kaldera is mainly writing with regard to our shadow selves associated with bdsm – the hidden dominant, submissive, sadistic, masochistic selves that many hide away and refuse to acknowledge. The “beast” we keep in the basement. But the profound understanding of human psychology that he demonstrates with such ease in his highly intuitive work could actually be applied to any side of our own personality that we try to hide from.
"Yes, he's still down there.
In the basement, where he belongs.
We all have one down there, don't we? Some of us have more than one. I’m talking about the Beast. The creature who can't be allowed to run the body because he'd do something stupid or destructive or embarrassing or perhaps even evil. The part of yourself you'd like to pretend doesn't exist. Perhaps you even manage to convince yourself that he – or she – isn't there. Perhaps you manage to ignore the banging and clanking going on down there... until they saw through the floor and hijack you, if only for a moment.
We've all been there, too – "Why the hell did I do that? Where did that come from?" The truth is that the more you ignore them, the more vulnerable you are to them. Its when you turn your back that they get you.
Kaldera’s monster work really resonated with me as a witch. As a non Wiccan witch I end up in a lot of debates about “dark” intentions, “black” magic, “shadow” work etc etc. And I spend a lot of time justifying why I feel it is important to use all sides of who I am. And one of those reasons is because, I agree entirely with Mr Kaldera that locking up parts of your personality away and refusing to confront them can be detrimental to your growth as a person. It would endanger me as a unified synthesis of my diverse parts and it would weaken my craft. And he’s right; “the more you ignore them, the more vulnerable you are to them...” The more you fail to look in the mirror and understand all the parts that make you, you, the more you run the risk of those parts of you taking control when you least expect it.
Kuldera's book details seven key rules of Monster work and I’m going to replicate his rules here as I think they will be extremely useful in the context of witches who want to believe the world is a light and fluffy place and any thoughts of darkness or malice should be buried as deeply inside themselves as possible. (All italics are direct quotations from the book).
Keeping your monster locked up and pretending that they aren't there never works. They will bang and clank their chains, they will slam against the bars, they will keep you up all night, they will shout awful things at you at the worst possible moment. In order to block them out entirely, you must go about in such a state of blindness, deafness and denial that you will constantly miss things, a dissociating emotional zombie. You will also miss it when they saw through the floor and break out, long enough to make you say or do something you will regret later, before the internal guards lock them back up. You won't see them coming and thats even worse... because then you have to make excuses for them and clear up their messes.
So - failing to acknowledge all the parts that make you up will have a real impact on you as a person. You put so much energy into pretending those parts of you don’t exist that the rest of you doesn’t have the energy left to function properly. Effectively, you just wear yourself out with denial.
Given that this never works – even though most people have to try it anyway, usually for years and years – it means that sooner or later you have to haul your ass down there to the dark place and face them through the bars. Just finding the door may be difficult. Finding where you hid the key to the door may take even longer. Making your way, step by step down that dark stairway when you'd rather be almost anywhere else, that can be interminable. Still, its better than being suddenly transported there without your consent, via depression or madness or pain or some other horrible happenstance. Go there on your own while you're still healthy. It will be better in the long run.
Confronting the hidden side of yourself when you have the emotional capacity to do so would seem to be significantly more healthy than waiting until you are too weak to fight any more. This is when the shadow side of you will spring to life and triumphantly take over. Through acknowledgement and honesty you will gain the control over the parts of yourself you fear. Once controlled, these can be mastered and used for effect in the workings you do in your craft.
Monsters that you throw into the same locked closet together often fuse. At the very least they rub off on each other. That means that the things you are afraid of or disgusted by or angry about start to get linked together, often in weird ways. There's little hope of untangling them, at least not at the point where your monster is pissed at you.
For a witch this could be anger and hatred for example. Managed and faced properly, you may well do effective workings that incorporate both. But left to fester until your anger is blisteringly psychopathic and your malice senseless cruelty, you may well end up doing spell work that you have no control over. Better to be the master than the servant of your own mind.
This is an important point, so listen closely. You cannot decide to heal your monster. Lets say that again. You cannot decide to heal your monster. It won't work. While some people do manage to get their monsters to change, if you go down there with any hint of an agenda of changing them, they'll smell it. (After all, they do know you, they do live in your head.) They'll notice that you don't love them as is, warts and all, and they'll rebel and say "Fuck you." You'll get no cooperation out of them then.
No matter how much you pretend you’re intrinsically candyfloss lovely, you’re probably not. Accept it and move on. Learn to like the bits that the world has been telling you are “negative” for too long. You have a shadow side for a reason. Embrace it and use it.
That brings us to the most important rule of the lot: You must learn to love them as they are, horrid and dangerous and shameful and all. You must find it in your heart to love them, without ever hoping to change them. And know, you can't keep a tiny corner of your mind hopeful that by loving them as they are, hey will eventually heal and change. First of all, they'll hear that, and they won't like it. Second, it might not happen. What if you were to go to your grave with them this way, still embarrassing and awful? You'd better find a way to be ok with that. The point of this is to get a better relationship with them, not to change them.
And again, the idea of synthesis and unity. You can’t change yourself, so learn to love who you are. As a witch, you work with intent and power of will. Lack of self belief and self doubt will weaken your faith in yourself and this will have a detrimental effect on your own perceived self image as a witch and a tangible negative effect on any magic you perform.
That said, sometimes you do have to wrestle them down. Its hard to do this in a spirit of love, but try to think of yourself as the alpha in the little pack of needs in your head and when members of your tribe act uppity, you knock them back down and make them show throat to you. You don't hate them for it; you consider it part of the deal of being alpha. They're testing your strength, to make sure you are strong enough to be trustworthy. And once you have wrestled your monster down, and he obeys - if only temporarily – he is no longer your enemy. He is now your dependent, and you must hunt for him and feed him. Taking care of his needs is now your responsibility. You can decide which things he can have, and which are just not going to happen, period, but starving him is irresponsible behaviour towards someone you want to trust you. He needs something to believe that you really value him.
Once you’re in command, you don’t have to fear these parts of you any more. And once you stop being frightened of them, you can use them constructively to advance your abilities as a witch.
When it comes time for negotiations, a starving monster will demand the moon with ketchup on top. They are used to being denied, and they don't really believe they are going to get fed this time – not after all the disappointments and denial and ignoring – so they come up with a truly ridiculous list of demands and claim that they won't be satisfied with anything less. Don't be fooled. Don't give up hope and go away in disgust, no matter how tempting it might be. Start small. Give your inner beast some little thing that they want, or a mild version thereof. Yes, they will want more, but you are the one in control. Give them as much time as you can safely give them, then set the boundary. Over time, when they see that they are getting at least some of their needs fed, they will scale back on the demands. They'll still want those out of reach things, but they won't be constantly screaming for them. There are ways to compromise, but you have to make your way to the middle first.
Start off small and work up. Don’t jump from fluffy little love spells to huge big whopping curses. You may never choose to use parts of yourself – that’s fine. As long as you become comfortable with who you are, you can choose to use as much or as little of any part of you that you want. But to make this decision you do need to know who you are and you do need to confront your monsters.
I’m giving the last word to Kaldera – he says it better than I could.
Those of you who deal with the darkness know this well; if you don't deal with what lives in your basement, it will deal with you. The predator that you chain and starve then has only your mind to prey on, and he will. He will. Believe it.
All italics direct quotations from the book Dark Moon Rising: The Ordeal Path by Raven Kuldera and used with full permission from the author. The book can be purchased here on Amazon.
For further information on Raven Kuldera, please see a direct link to his excellent website:
Image http://fav.me/d4lqagy (Deviant Art)
Being a witch in the modern world – as we discuss often on this website – brings many challenges that would have been widely unknown to the witches of older times. However, living with a witch also brings a whole host of challenges of its own with friends, parents and long suffering partners struggling to make sense of our witchier ways….
Don’t get me wrong, there are some real benefits to living with a witch. Free tarot and oracle readings, someone to hex your enemies and for those living with a witch who observes the sabbats – eight damn good opportunities a year to really let your hair down. And witches are notoriously easy to buy presents for. I’m the best person in the world to give a present to. I’m as happy with a pretty stone from the beach or a feather picked off the pavement as I would be with anything expensive from a shop.
Want to economise? Marry a witch! My husband usually crafts me a wand from word cut from the trees in our local woods for birthdays and anniversaries and although to the outside world, giving his wife a stick for her birthday may not be the most romantic of presents (although possibly that does depend on what he does with the stick ;) ) for me its the perfect present. I don’t think my lack of interest in materialism is all that unique either, its true for a lot of witches. In general we place little value on acquiring (certainly much less value on the acquisition of status symbols) and more emphasis on doing. Sundays tend to be more about going for walks in nature than trogging around the local shopping centre and many witches will get as excited going home with a pocket full of acorns as other ladies would buying a new hat. (And acorn hunting is cheaper and a lot better for your health!)
But despite the benefits to your health and your wallet, a witch isn’t always the easiest person to live with. The trouble is that we do strange things… They don’t feel strange to us, indeed they feel eminently rational - I store bottles of my own menstrual blood because I know it will give a positive boost to the herbs that I grow – but to the non witch a room covered in bottles of blood could seem a bit weird? (And old bottled blood smells absolutely revolting. Pity the people who share a house with me when I’m watering my plants toward the end of the month!)
Talking of those herbs, you probably wouldn’t want to go randomly picking a handful of anything out of a witch’s garden. Some of the plants growing in my greenhouse at the moment are capable of causing some pretty nasty side effects. Death is certainly a nasty side effect and consuming quantities of my Belladonna, Hemlock or Datura would almost certainly result in a rather nasty death. You take your life in your hands when you pick anything a witch happens to be growing. Though on the positive side (there’s always a positive…) we’re pretty good at growing things that will interest you as well. Suffering from a cold? I’ve got herbs to cure that…. Fancy a hallucinogenic trip without breaking the law? Yep, I can help with that too!
After a while even the strangest things become acceptable and what might cause a raised eyebrow or two in the average house goes unremarked on in my home now. Its rare these days that I cause the horror I did when I first boiled up a dead badger’s head on the cooker. You get used to a house that smells of incense with the occasional animal skull lying around... My husband has even got used to the fact that I insist on sleeping (alone) on the floor of my witch room next to my four tarantulas under a tree from which I hang all my drying plants and flowers. I regularly wake up to find myself covered in dried flowers with stray crickets hopping over my bedding...Its not a sleeping environment for the faint hearted…
A witch’s relationship with animals can cause problems for those choosing to share their home and their lives with her. I’ve filled our home from ceiling to floor with animals, the only animal free rooms in my house are the kitchen and the bathroom and I’ve got plans for frogs in one and terrapins in the other (shush…don’t tell the husband!) Its rare you find a witch without a few animals grunting and growling around the place. So anyone wanting to live in a pristine and ultra hygienic environment would do well to avoid cohabiting with a witch. It simply isn't in our nature to be too clean. Witchcraft is a messy, dirty, hands on soil, blood, sweat and animal hair business. If you want to live in a show home, marry an air hostess.
A witch needs to communicate well with those around her. Families can feel neglected if you keep nipping off for solitude. I speak from experience, my own husband sometimes forgets what I look like…the two of us can go for days at a time with only an occasional passing chat. Its important for a witch to explain why she needs so much time alone. If those around you don’t understand the need for meditation, magical working, journal writing, spells and spending time talking to other witches then there is a danger the family may feel snubbed and slighted. The only time I really panic is when I feel my solitude is being threatened and it’s hard to always expect other people to appreciate that . Don't be surprised if the witch you live with disappears a lot. Try and understand, its a witch thing!
Most witches are intensely private about their craft. Some, like myself, speak out to a varying degree but the essential nature of being a witch is linked with a certain amount of secrecy in regard to personal practises. This does make living with a witch easier as a lot of the things we do are done in the privacy of ritual rooms or quiet space. I do not perform magical workings in front of my family, I rarely involve them in my rituals and although I am open and frank about what I do, I don’t share the specifics and the details. If you lived in my house for a week, you may not even notice you were house sharing with a witch…Even those closest to me are probably unaware to what degree I involve my craft in my life on a daily basis.
For me personally I am very lucky, my home is an accepting one and those close to me take an interest and support me in what I do. Even outside the home my friends, colleagues and family are very non judgemental and this makes practising the craft easier for me than it is for those witches who have to hide themselves away and keep everything they do a secret. Mind you, even in the wider world being a witch can cause problems, I had to let my sister down when she asked me to be godmother to her daughter (though she was very understanding on the matter) and I've certainly had a few cool looks from colleagues when I avoid doing Christmassy stuff (Massive bonus of being a witch, you get to ignore Christmas!). Wearing a pentacle at has raised the occasional eyebrow at times and some of the more Christian members of my extended family have been very quiet on my Facebook wall... Compared to the persecution some witches face though, I've got it very easy and I'm grateful for it.
In the end its all about compromise, articulating your needs as a witch but ensuring those needs are not actualised at the expense of those around you. Its remembering that some people find witchcraft a little intimidating and either taking the time to demystify
the stigma or having the courtesy not to shove your practises and beliefs in other people's faces. Its standing up for who you are but equally making sure you extend that same respect to those you share your homes and your lives with.
The Pagan Midsummer festival, celebrated by many Witches, Wiccans and Druids takes place on or around 20th June. The Midsummer festival is in honour of the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and an acknowledgement of the Sun at the peak of its strength. Litha is the heart of the Summer, after Litha, the days start to shorten once again until Yule – the longest night of the year. In the Midsummer, light has pushed back the darkness and Litha rejoices in a time of hope and positivity.
Litha celebrates nature at its peak. The fertility of the earlier celebrations has been realized and pagans can now enjoy the bounties of the earth. Many magical practitioners believe that herbs and plants gathered during the Midsummer festival have greater potency than those gathered at any other time of the year. Witches will store these herbs, infused with the sunlight for use later in the year when the growing season has ended.
For those who worship deity, Midsummer represents the Sun God at the height of his powers. As the wheel turns, the Sun God will become weaker through the dark half of the year, returning to life at Yule and slowly gaining in strength until once again reaching full power at Litha the following year. The Goddess is now pregnant with the Sun God – conceived at Ostara – and ready to begin the cycle of renewal again.
The Summer solstice is a time to celebrate love and union and many pagan weddings – handfastings – take place at this time of year. It is also a time for community and sharing and the only day of the year when the pagan monument Stonehenge is opened to the public with many alternative religions and pagans coming together to watch the rising of the sun for the longest day of the year.
Traditionally, Litha starts the transition from cultivation to harvest, the crops are in the fields and flourishing under the summer sunshine. Although it is not yet time to reap what has been sown, the promise of the harvest is in evidence and a good harvesting season can be predicted by the strength of the growing crops. To a modern pagan, Litha brings a spirit of altruism. Just as the Sun God is at the height of his strength, so is each individual. Nourished by the warmth of the season and the welcome sunshine, people are at their happiest and doing their best to share and spread their joy among others.
The Midsummer reminds the modern pagan to look ahead. Just as our ancestors would have evaluated and anticipated the growing of their crops, ensuring they had the food to sustain themselves and their families through the winter, Litha is a good time to look ahead and make plans for sustenance through the dark half of the year. It is a good time to make changes that will bring positivity during the darker days ahead – an ideal opportunity to take up exercise, perhaps develop a closer relationship with nature. It is not too late to do some planting, either indoors or outdoors – a chance to bring the beauty of the summer flowers into the home for cheer when the light days are behind us. Litha reminds the modern pagan to count their blessings and to be grateful for what they have. Carpe Diem witches!
Modern celebrations include the decorating of trees, especially the Oak which, as a symbol of strength and transition is closely associated with the spirit of the Midsummer. Bonfires are lit and summer herbs, particularly St John’s Wort are burned to banish sickness (and the Deguwitch recommends the burning of this herb for the banishing of depression as well.)
Perhaps in the modern age of uncertain weather and limited sunshine (certainly for us UK witches!) Litha is an opportunity to make the most of the outdoors and to get out there with some real hands on celebrating. So have a bonfire, invite the family round and make the most of those you love this Summer. Seize the day x
Image http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=1404830 (Krappweiss)
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