Friday, April 13, 2012

Unofficial Pagan Blog Post: H is for Humility, Hubris and Horse$#1+

Following up on Galina Krasskova's excellent post on humility, I thought I'd offer some of my own thoughts on the subject.  The word "humility" gets a bad rap from people who equate it with servile groveling and self-abasement.  As Galina rightly points out, humility has nothing to do with that.
Instead, it has everything to do with the cultivation of the type of awareness and spirit that renders us best able to take up and maintain the ancient contracts with our Gods, our ancestors, the elemental powers, and each other. It is that quality that allows us the grace of knowing our place in the cosmic scheme of things, not because we are nothing, but because every living thing has its place within the ever weaving tapestry of wyrd. It is important to know that place so that we do not abuse the many blessings that we’ve been given and so that we are able to fulfill the calling of our wyrd well. Humility is the quality that teaches both respect and self-respect. It teaches right relationship.  It is that quality that allows us to bend our heads before the Gods without shame, because it is right and proper to do so.
One of the great American myths is that we can be anything we want to be: we are encouraged to dream big so we can achieve big.  The "Law of Attraction" promises us that we make our own reality. If we want success, fame, and fortune all we need do is ask and the universe will shower it upon us.  (A century earlier this was peddled as "New Thought."  Plus ça change... ). Horatio Alger and his disciples promised wealth for anyone with a good heart and upright moral character: Napoleon Hill promised that all we needed to do was Think and Grow Rich.  The only limitations which hold us back are the ones we accept. By that standard humility isn't just embarrassing, it's downright dangerous.

Add to this the great American myth of our classless society. We have always distrusted the aristocracy and had a healthy distaste for snobbery.  Contrary to many conservative pundits the popular Occupy Wall Street slogan "We are the 99%" doesn't encourage class warfare so much as promulgate the idea that we're all created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.  In light of that idea "humility" looks uncomfortably like bowing to the 1% and accepting that we're not as good as those who are richer, smarter, more popular, more famous or otherwise more successful than we are.

Unfortunately, we're not all created equal; neither can we be anything that we want to be.  Intergenerational class mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark.  Yet a 2000 poll indicated that 39% of Americans thought they were either in the wealthiest one percent or would be "soon," while another New York Times poll found that 11% thought it "very likely" they would become wealthy, while another 34% thought it "somewhat likely." We complain about attempts to teach our children religious myths as science, yet seem to have little problem with teaching them socioeconomic myths as history and current events.


Humility doesn't hold us back from achievement. Rather, it allows us to recognize our weaknesses and acknowledge the barriers we must overcome.  If you are convinced that success will come to us if only we want it badly enough, you may want to consider another famous American proverb: wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.  There's a reason the Greeks considered hubris a grievous failing. If we do not recognize our weaknesses our enemies will recognize them for us. If we do not acknowledge those (mortal and divine) who support us, sooner or later they will withdraw their support.

And while hubris is dangerous in the material realm, it's exponentially worse when dealing with spiritual matters.  Groveling before the Gods is not necessary.  Recognizing They are superior to you in power, knowledge and wisdom is.  Those who slap an eyepatch on Buddy Christ and make him Yr. Pal Odin, or dress him up in drag and make him Kinder Gentler Athena, insulate themselves from the Divine in all its beauty and terror. They create a clean, safe, unthreatening garden and call it wilderness: they light an LED candle and call it a forest fire.  And in doing so they shut out the wild places and turn their faces away from the sun. Instead of escaping Plato's cave, they stay happily chained up and entertain themselves with shadow-puppet shows.

Acknowledging the Gods and honoring them is no more demeaning than saying "if I get into a game of tackle football with an oncoming train, I'm going to lose" or "I am a decent swimmer, but I won't be able to make it across the Pacific no matter how hard I train." Understanding that you are the product of a thousand generations, forged in their love and their lust and carrying their strengths and shortcomings, does not minimize your individuality.  Accepting your place in the grand scheme of things does not mean you should give up striving to improve your position or the world.  In fact, it increases your responsibility.  You may not be the strongest, the fastest or the smartest. But you are here for a purpose and it behooves you to do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose and your responsibility to those who came before you and to Those who created you.