By Helle Bent
Greetings from the fiery pits of Hell! Although New Yorkers just call it August.
As the apocalypse slowly plows through 2020 like a near-sighted octogenarian driving the wrong way through a toll booth, I remain cozy in my one-bedroom apartment awaiting the exciting news that the virus has magically vanished, as promised by our government. Until then, I, like others in my responsible science-loving Satanic community, am doing my best to stay healthy and informed.
With lots of extra time on my hands, my apartment is now spotless, my 85 plants are repotted and thriving, and I took up knitting and foreign language study! I’m completely kidding. I’ve been watching what’s probably an unhealthy amount of tv and movies and listening to ASMR on YouTube when my anxiety flares up. My brain isn’t capable of much more these days.
Listen, Apocalypse Brain is real. We are in fight or flight mode whether we know it or not and things like creativity and the ability to focus take a back seat to not dying. Our brains are on constant high alert. So I haven’t been too hard on myself for not being more productive. I live alone (happily), I am grateful my circumstances are not more severe, and I’m doing my best to maintain my sanity. So what’s a Satanist in isolation to do? Sounds like it’s time for some good ol’ introspection.
This particular cartwheel through my cranium started with gratitude for TST’s first tenet and my inferred inclusion of the Self when practicing compassion. No one else will look out for me the way I will; it’s up to me to affect my circumstances as best I can. That includes giving myself a break and showing myself the same compassion I so freely extend to my loved ones – something we should all do unapologetically. Yet this is the tenet with which I struggle most.
Being an overly empathetic person to begin with (to my displeasure), I feel everything intensely, especially the discomfort of others. It’s an effort for me to not always take on the responsibility of making sure everyone is at ease in a social setting. I am well acquainted with that feeling, and if I can help, I will. I just know that I have always been deeply appreciative of a friendly gesture when I felt uncomfortable and I assume everyone feels as uncomfortable as I do. Groups of people can be outright torture.
My concept of compassion, though, is inextricably linked with my sense of justice. In a perfect world everyone would be genuinely kind to everyone else, curing a slew of societal ills. But on this planet there exist scumbags with few redeeming qualities, and they ruin it for everyone. What if my showing someone compassion means a lesson is left unlearned? An offense is left uncorrected? What if I deem the person unworthy of my benevolence? What if it causes me great pain to be civil to someone? I believe empathy is a skill and compassion is a choice (though I’m open to debate on this).
Example. There is someone at work who repeatedly asks me the same question. She refuses to learn this one simple thing. It’s quick and easy. She could write it down. She could search for my emails from the last six times she asked me. Her toddler could memorize it and recite it back. She has the power to easily acquire this information herself but she would rather bother me. Every. Time. She is either stupid or lazy and I respect neither of these qualities so in communicating with her, anything less than sarcasm would feel disingenuous. A particular trigger for me is when capable and kind humans are forced to cater to those who are either lazy, dangerously ignorant, or narcissistic. And the world is full of this (cut to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner). For me, it’s dishonest to be nice to people I do not respect.
The “within reason” at the end of the tenet is crucial to my practice, holding me responsible for my judgement. But I often wonder if the magnitude of my emotional reactions is unreasonable. These reactions are capable of hijacking me. However, being an introvert, I live largely in my head so most folks don’t see the path between my initial emotional reaction and my eventual outward response. This path took years of hard work to forge. With every necessary instance I force my rational mind to interrupt my emotional tendencies with mindful reflection. It’s exhausting.
If we’re lucky, we have a ride or die friend who will help us bury the bodies before daybreak. Why am I more likely to be empathetic and forgiving towards someone if I care about them personally? My friend could steal an ambulance and set a house on fire with people still inside and I’d assume she had valid reasons, but if someone is taking their time in the supermarket checkout lane, they most certainly deserve a horrid unspeakable death for their refusal to hurry the fuck up. Although the level of “horrid” depends entirely on how quickly I want to get home and how heavy my basket is. Ok so maybe my reactions aren’t always the best judge of appropriate punishments for indiscretions. But I know I am not alone in this.
We are our own gods. There is no supernatural hand of justice coming down from the sky to fix everything. We are responsible for governing ourselves. So when I see any imbalance, any human taking more than their fair share, anyone choosing to remain oblivious to others around them, any person who preys upon the kindness of others, or refuses to help themselves and excepts everything to be handed to them, this ignites my inner rage. (Fine yes I have a lot of triggers.) I know everyone has battles to fight. People are dealing with truly terrible things. My rational mind knows this, and knows the right thing to do. Just be cool. Don’t be a dick. I know all of this. But what if I want to be a dick just this once?
The tenet states to act with compassion and empathy. It does not state that everyone is always worthy. I find this significant. There have been days that have found me fragile and raw and barely able to hold myself together. We’ve all had them. No one owed me anything. I may not have deserved the compassion that was shown to me, but I sure as Hell appreciated it. I physically felt it lighten me and I will never forget that feeling. All we really have is the hope that others will live ethically, respectfully, and not treat us like shit. So I have to be one of these people I expect others to be. Like voting or that miserable group project in high school, we all need to do our part or the results may be less than desirable. Also I abhor hypocrites; I can’t allow myself to be one.
Compassion is easy when people are lovely, but there is no value in arbitrary criteria – any exception can be rationalized. Religious and right-wing fucknuts know this well. We are all fallible and have different ideas about what merits leniency. If I can’t define concretely and objectively who is worthy of basking in my brilliant sunshine and grace, then maybe attempting to remove criteria altogether is in fact the logical way to begin successfully practicing this tenet. (Yeah I picked the wrong pandemic to quit drinking.)
If I want to proudly call myself a Satanist, I have to strive to be compassionate towards all creatures (regardless of personal triggers), and *not* push into traffic the assholes who are very slowly walking with their heads in their phones. If I allow the application of my ethics to become subjective, then I am no better than the aforementioned religious and right-wing fucknuts. I may one day find myself on the receiving end of the unreasonable emotional reaction from someone less stable and mindful than yours truly, and I don’t want that to be ok.
Lastly, a bonus item for self-reflection: compassion towards the Self is more difficult because there is no outside person to challenge us, no one to define any measurable repercussions. We stand unchecked. If we talk to others the way we talk to ourselves, it might constitute abuse. Be kind to yourselves, beloved Satanists. We are all fallible. And you’ve already come this far.
Hail Satan. Hail Lilith. Hail thyselves.