Wise words about power from Raven Kaldera

Excerpts from Walking the Underworld Paths: BDSM, Power Exchange, and Consent in a Sacred Context by Raven Kaldera

There are deities who rule and deities who serve, spirits of honor and leadership, and spirits of service and sacrifice. There is Ganymede, who carries the cup for Zeus, and Ninshubur who carries a sword for Inanna; there is Neti who guards the gates for Ereshkigal, and Mordgud who guards the gate for Hel, her Norse counterpart; and many others. It’s especially important that we have examples of strong and competent deities who have chosen to serve another, as they demonstrate that choosing to be in a subordinate position does not mean that one is weak or stupid – or not valuable to the leader whose path they make easier.

When we teach about power in our communities, we need to teach skill at being in authority and skill at being subordinate. When we fail to discuss how to honorably use power and to what code the powerful should be held, it’s rather like teaching abstinence and hoping the kids will just refrain from having sex. Certainly the spiritual practice of striving for radical egalitarianism is honorable in its own right, and it is its own kind of renunciation; one could think of it as a sort of power-celibacy. But to hold radical egalitarianism up as the best option is the equivalent of advocating that everyone take vows and give up sex entirely. Non-hierarchy is the appropriate path for some people (and Pagan groups), but not everyone. It’s true that history is littered with bad examples of hierarchical relationships and societies, but that doesn’t mean that power exchange can’t be done cleanly. It just means that it requires a lot of work.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that BDSM play often sensitizes people to unhealthy uses of power in ordinary life that they would otherwise have let slide. This is doubly true for people in power dynamic relationships – and we, too, have something to offer to consent culture. We dissect questions that are often left untouched. How does one cleanly consent to be under the authority of another in a healthy way? (This is a situation that many egalitarian people find themselves in every day, in the workplace or classroom.) How does one cleanly take responsibility for matters of importance in someone else’s life? (This, too, can come up in an egalitarian relationship during difficult moments or because of illness and injury, and people in those relationships often fail to explicitly negotiate where they will take responsibility for each other, which can result in all kinds of confusion and hurt feelings.) How does one sort out one’s baggage, figure out how much selfishness is a good thing and where one crosses the line, figure out how to keep from offering up to another what one doesn’t yet own fully for oneself? (This, too, can be an issue for everyone in intimate relationships.) How does one surrender the ego without losing the soul, and how does one accept the perilous and precious gift of that surrender without having to pretend to be perfect? These questions are the frontier boundary of our work of reclaiming power-over, clearing away millennia of tarnish and crud, and searching for the bright gem beneath. There is nothing that cannot be reclaimed and healed. Say it again and again. Believe it.

Imagine, if you will, if every one-on-one relationship in Pagan religion which might contain a power differential – especially the often-cited “high risk” teacher-student relationship – was negotiated with regard to areas of authority and expectations in the straightforward, everything-on-the-table way the modern mindful power dynamic relationship is hashed out. Imagine if, rather than trying desperately to eliminate all power differential, it was simply acknowledged and discussed, with structures of recourse put in place in case those who take orders are dissatisfied, and the person in charge taught how one should conduct one’s self honorably when given the gift and terrible privilege of power over another person. While there’s nothing wrong with having a horizontal power structure and a commitment to radical equality in one’s group, that’s not what everyone wants or needs. Instead of assuming that the best way to lead is to take as little power as possible, a Pagan consent culture of many paths should be teaching people how to use it wisely, and what they ought to expect from someone in charge.

Raven Kaldera is a Pagan priest and minister of the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel, a Northern Tradition shaman, as astrologer, an ordeal master, a devout polytheist with many Gods and spirits, a polyamorous transgendered intersex BDSM and M/s activist, and the author of many books.  You can learn more about him here: Raven Kaldera – author, shaman, activist 

The essay from which these excerpts were taken can be found in Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy & Autonomy, edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow