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The Knowledge of Good and Evil

As she untangles the thorny differences between self and other , Annamaria has also become an active participant in her day-to-day activities.  A true child of the Occupy Wall Street era, she has mastered civil disobedience at an early age.  No longer does she submit passively to the indignities of diapering: instead, she puts her barrel rolling skills to good use. Should an escape spin fail, she has learned how to unfasten the velcro straps which keep the hated Pampers affixed to her behind.  A fist balled in a sleeve can slow down the whole process of putting on a shirt: a foot to the face or to a more tender region expresses her displeasure with those adorable little bell bottoms. 

A major part of the maturation process is learning to submit to authority.  You take turns. You stand in line. You raise your hand before you speak. You show the man with the badge your license, title and vehicle registration. You give the boss your quarterly report. You never pass on a double yellow line or park in a handicapped space without the proper placard. We could not have a complex society - or any kind of society, really - without hierarchies and rules of conduct.


Yet at the very root of our identity is defiance. We learn that we don't have to just have to sit back and accept whatever our outside environment has to offer us. Recognizing that we have a Self means recognizing that we have a self-interest. And as we learn more about our environment, we discover that not all laws are just and not all authority figures have our best interests at heart.  

Both these instincts are necessary for a healthy individual and a healthy society.  Sometimes disobedience is a moral response to a superior's immoral order. At other times duty calls us to put aside our wants and feelings and act in someone else's defense.  And both of these demands received due attention in the religious and social myths of the pre-Monotheistic world.

Our ancestors recognized the importance of Apollo and Dionysos, of Tyr and Loki, of Lawgiver and Trickster. Religious festivals recognized historical events like the founding of a city or a dynasty. But equally important festivals celebrated the upturning of the social order. The raucous parties which mark today's Halloween and Mardi Gras celebrations are echoes of ancient sacred observances like Saturnalia and the Bacchanals. Their spirituality was no narrow single Way of Absolute Truth. It was instead a tangled thicket of possibilities and subtleties, a questing-ground full of pitfalls and promise and gods.  

Annamaria has crawled into that thicket with her usual headlong tumbling grace. She is learning that she need not acquiesce to the desires of those larger and stronger than here.  In time she, like every baby before or after her, will be shaped by various outside pressures. She will be told that big children follow instructions cheerfully while spoiled little brats sulk and throw temper tantrums.  She will be taught to stand up for what others tell her is good and fight what others tell her is evil. She will learn there can be terrible consequences for those who stand against the established order.  And, if the Gods are kind to her, she will have the courage to say "Non serviam" as forcefully as she resists wearing that damn sunhat. 

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Tagged in: loki

Writer, columnist, and interviewer Kenaz Filan is an initiate of Societe La Belle Venus #2. Her most recent book The Power of the Poppy was published by Inner Traditions in 2011.


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