…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
—the Charge of the Goddess
Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.
What Is Power?
First, given that the word power has acquired so many meanings over the centuries, I’ll state that there are actually two senses employed in this post, the dictionary defines:
1 —physical strength or force…
2 —the capacity to direct or control…
Gerald Gardner uses the first meaning—energy or force when he describes witch power.
“Witches…believe that the power resides within their bodies…; this power they believe exudes from their bodies….”
—Witchcraft Today, G.B. Gardner
Gardner speaks separately of will-power when he discusses power, making it clear that the bodily energy-as-power is distinct from the mental control-as-power that witches must use to direct and control the power raised from their bodies. Small wonder Gardner employed the term will-power for the second meaning when speaking of how witches manage the first meaning.
Now, as to what is meant in the Charge? Given the pairings and contrasts within that text, I take power to mean the capacity to direct energy. After all, She has already listed strength in the initial paired qualities, “beauty and strength.” Thus, when She uses the word—in this context‚—power must mean the second meaning—control, what Gardner calls will-power.
Power is thought, in today’s materialistic world, to be a synonym for energy. Once again resorting to the dictionary, I find an interesting distinction:
energy (n.) 1590s, “force of expression,” from Middle French énergie (16c.), from Late Latin energia, from Greek energeia “activity, action, operation,” from energos “active, working,” from en “at” (see en- (2)) + ergon “work, that which is wrought; business; action”.
Used by Aristotle with a sense of “actuality, reality, existence” (opposed to “potential”) but this was misunderstood in Late Latin and afterward as “force of expression,” as the power which calls up realistic mental pictures. Broader meaning of “power” in English is first recorded 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807.
Power-as-energy is what Gardner meant when he spoke of “witches raising energy from their bodies”—but power-as-control is how Gardner describes how a Witch High Priestess puts power-as-energy to use in working magic.
Power in the Occult
Anyone who has experimented with sensing auras—what some occultists refer to as the subtle body—will likely recall their surprise at the discovery that their hands, deprived of sight, find a sensation of presence some inches away from skin-to-skin contact with another person. Such “aura-sensing” exercises are among some of the basic energy-sensing experiments that my coveners undergo. Tangible energies of living beings may be discovered by such simple means—human, dog, cat, tree, and even stone. Power-as-energy is what’s being sensed. Growing or moving power-as-energy is an intermediate exercise. All of which steps lead to the coven raising power from our bodies to empower our magical workings. Back to power-as-control—a common term among modern Pagans is “power-over”—and not all Pagans today know whence the term derives. It’s from Starhawk, whose The Spiral Dance was first published in 1979, the same year that Gardnerian Wiccan priestess (and NPR journalist) Margot Adler first published Drawing Down the Moon. In the very first chapter of Spiral Dance, Starhawk says, in small part:
“… There is the power we’re all familiar with — power over. But there is another kind of power — power from within. … that doesn’t depend on depriving someone else.”
—The Spiral Dance, Starhawk
There it is, the Neopagan origin of the phrase “power over” or control. And there, power-from-within, is Starhawk’s term for Gardner’s power-as-energy that we sometimes simply give to the gods at a Sabbat.
Looking once again to the dictionary for assistance, innate power—as a natural ability—produces many synonyms: ability, capability, capacity, faculty, gift, skill, talent…. Faculty strikes the truest note, to my mind. The Oxford Dictionary gives its first (earliest) meaning for faculty as “An inherent mental or physical power.”
So…coming back to the Goddess’ instructions, what does She mean when she tells us to have power within us? She means, as I understand Her, three things—matching the threefold meanings of power.
- Husband the energies of our bodies (power-as-energy), and put them to good use.
- Choose wisely when employing power-as-control.
- Employ our native faculties (power-as-capacity) to the best purposes of all.