I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast. Join me on an exploration of mindful modern magic, a journey towards deeper understanding of self and transformative individual spirituality. It's July 15, 2021, and on today's episode we'll be talking about spiritual empowerment, equality, and how our spiritual histories have warped our sense of self worth. Are you ready to grow your soul?
Happy Thursday and thank you for listening. I just finished laying out the episode plan for the rest of the year and there’s some really fun stuff on the horizon, so before I get started with today’s episode I want to take a moment to just give you a glimpse into the future. I did an interview on the podcast last week, and I’m going to be doing more of those. We’ve got more interviews coming up, I’m going to be bringing people on to talk about their own experiences and stories about finding and creating their authentic spiritual practices because I know I talk about it all the time but, of course, the way it looks for me to have a practice that’s authentic to me isn’t the way everyone’s looks. That’s the whole point of authenticity, right? So that’s coming up.
Also, if you caught the series on emotions in spirituality or the one on the basics of magic, the next series is starting in a couple of weeks and I’ll be doing seven episodes on using tarot for personal growth.
And finally, about the same time as the tarot series ends, late September, I’m releasing a book called Deep Self Magic all about finding your authentic self, making space for your authentic spirituality, and using your authentic magical abilities to evolve as a person.
So, let’s get into today’s topic, which is spiritual empowerment and equality. And I’ve been working on the last bits of my book manuscript this week, so this has been in my brain a lot lately. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that we’ve all been on spiritual paths, been involved in religious traditions that aren’t the one we’re on now or which have led to us being kind of in-between paths. I grew up evangelical protestant, I’m a preacher’s kid, and then I was Catholic for a while, and then sort of took this meandering path through neopaganism. My wife was raised Catholic before getting interested in Wicca and then becoming sort of agnostic. I don’t know of anyone in my life, at least, who hasn’t explored more than one spiritual direction in their lives.
And the result of that isn’t just that we sort of end up seeing the world through a bunch of different spiritual points of view. Our spiritual beliefs don’t just tell us what to believe about the world or whatever, and that’s not the only thing we carry in parts with us for the rest of our lives. We do carry that kind of thing with us whether we’re in those paths or not. There’s things we don’t… if we don’t make a point of picking apart how we still carry little bits of beliefs and assumptions and stuff from things we’re taught in the past, then those things stick around.
Like, if you’ve grown up in a Christian path and you learned about heaven and hell and god and the devil, and then you left that path but never really thought about how other spiritual traditions don’t work on that same structure, maybe you associate various things as being evil and satanic when really satan doesn’t exist and you’re just still carrying that piece of Christianity with you.
So that’s a thing, but there’s an even bigger and more important part of spiritual belief that tends to stick even deeper than that. And that’s the basic value of humanity, and even your value as an individual. It’s not as blatant as other things that we learn from whatever religions we’ve been part of, but if you think about it, if it teaches that humans need to be fixed or saved or enlightened or whatever, it means that we become acceptable only if we do what that tradition says to do, and it teaches us that at some level we’re not good just because we’re human.
And that comes in all kinds of different flavors, that idea that humanity is bad. That our human nature is bad. And it’s something that’s so common to so many spiritual paths that we don’t often really question it except in the ways that it pokes at us specifically. Like, being in a tradition that told me that I was especially bad for being gay, that’s the kind of thing we notice and push back against. But when it’s like, okay, I’m apparently totally wrong and bad for my sexuality, and if I was straight I would just be, you know, the regular amount of tainted and in need of being, like, cleansed of my human awfulness, we don’t really give a lot of thought about that second part. Largely because we get community out of religion and spirituality, we get belonging. So once we’re not being pushed to be super inauthentic just to fit in, the rest of it kind of goes unexamined.
If you're enjoying this episode of Waxing Soul, subscribe to the show! Each week we will dive into a different part of the world of spirituality, magic, and self-evolution. Check out last week's episode where I interviewed Bryn Maycot, author and astronumerotarologist, about the importance of creating space in your life for your authentic self. And come back next week, when I'll have either a great interview to share or a topic as yet to be determined.
One of the reasons we don’t really think too much, or most of us don’t, about what we’ve learned and internalized about our worth as a species and our self worth is that, I mean, religion definitely isn’t the only part of our culture telling us we’re not good enough, right? Who’s thinking about whether humans are inherently bad when they’re worried about their appearance and their ability to make money and have relationships and all of that.
So it’s just not something that we tend to be aware of, it’s not front of mind. But it does definitely have an impact on how we approach spirituality and life in general. I think most people tend to settle into a default setting for how capable they consider themselves, what their limitations are when it comes to what we have the power to do and deal with on a spiritual level.
So here’s what I mean by that. One of the things I picked up growing up was that emotions were bad. Well, so called negative emotions were bad. Anger and disappointment and frustration and all of that, those were things we were supposed to turn over to god. Which, okay, first of all doesn’t work, and second of all means that I never learned how to deal with those emotions as a kid. I did’t know I was lacking a really important coping skill and, you know, important part of functioning as a human being. I got through childhood with a deep seated belief that hard emotions were something I wasn’t supposed to be able to handle, I was just supposed to avoid them. It’s incredibly disempowering. So one of the big revelations when I first did serious shadow work was that I was missing this skill and needed to learn how to manage those feelings, to stop fearing and pushing those feelings away because it was holding me back in a whole lot of ways in life.
So if you come through your spiritual history and background into adulthood and don’t stop to kind of unlearn the limitations that you’ve picked up and internalized, you just keep carrying them.
It’s really enlightening to think about all the things you turn to a higher power for. The things we turn to religion for. Because those things highlight what we believe we are and are not capable of and what we do and don’t need done to us to make us acceptable and valuable and good. I’d say we’ve all got some contradictory things in there.
So, here’s one of the reasons that I think authentic spirituality is super important, and that’s because I believe spirituality is supposed to be empowering. It’s not supposed to be a crutch that we use to make up for faults we don’t have. Spirituality is really supposed to be about us getting in touch with and learning to work with what we’ve already got in us, which is, like, the literal definition of empowering. It’s increasing our resilience, our inner magic.
I think I talked about this in the series on the basics of magic. It’s seizing our personal power and learning to work with it, which is obviously a form of empowerment. So if our spiritual life in the past has taught us that we’re not powerful in that way, we’re flawed or damaged or sinful or tainted or unenlightened or whatever and we need some higher power to do those things for us, to be the power in our lives that we don’t have in ourselves, it’s going to be hard to really embrace spirituality in a fulfilling way. We’re going to be stuck in that battle between, are we powerful capable beings or are we not supposed to be trying to be that. Are we meant to master our spiritual potential or is that going against our natural place in the cosmos?
The baggage we carry that tells us we’re not worthy or able or highly evolved enough or whatever to use the power we have? That’s going to get in the way of our spiritual growth and evolution because it’s going to leave us always looking to something else to give us that ability or, like, grant us the status or raise us up or bless us with that. Spirituality that makes us focus on how to get those favors and blessings and get that special help from a higher power is not likely to be a spirituality that is empowering or really teaches us to embrace and embody our authentic power. If our spiritual path teaches us or if we’ve internalized and can’t shake this idea that we’re inferior or powerless or wrong, there’s not going to be much self-trust or self-confidence.
That’s pretty much what we trade for faith, if you think about it. If your spirituality is about what something else can and will do for you, it’s not conducive to belief in self. It divides our existence into the sort of spiritually meaningless things we can do and the significant important spiritual things we have to leave to a higher power, and I’m confident saying that because, really, if we didn’t feel we needed a higher power to fill that gap for us, we wouldn’t even need to have faith.
What spirituality can be, though – I don’t want to say should, but at its best and most effective as far as personal growth and evolution, spirituality is about empowerment and the only faith we have to have is in ourselves.
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Anytime I get into topics that deal with conferring some sort of value system on people or with power dynamics, it comes back to the issue of equality. And that is what we’re talking about here, in case that’s a surprise.
It’s not just the value we feel we have, religion and spiritual traditions, even if they’re not, like… You know, the catholic church is powerful and hierarchical and literally has a was of deciding and telling everyone what god thinks humanity is worth in the grand scheme of things. Not every spiritual path or religion is like that or has that kind of power, but all of them have more than we sometimes realize. Even the informal ones.
And because they have that power, that puts us in a power dynamic not just with the church but with whatever powers the tradition includes a belief in, and that means we’re pretty much always at some lower rung on the value ladder than those powers. That’s why, you know, they’re higher powers. Literally, I guess.
But what we’re not always cognizant of in all its implications is that if our spiritual belief systems or the baggage from the past ones that we carry around with us tells us that humans are no good, we need a higher power to confer greater value on us and improve us, and then gives us the path towards that, if you work that equation all the way out it means that if we believe and do the right things we’re essentially of greater value in the cosmos than nonbelievers.
It also means that if we feel like we’re not doing it right or haven’t been consistent enough, that our value falls. It becomes about equality. It makes spirituality into a competitive situation, which is never good.
I think we tend to pick these ideas up from mainstream religion, even if we’re not in it anymore and sometimes even if we were never formally in a religion or weren’t devout. Those ideas are part of our culture, not just part of big religion. And that means that a lot of the time, even when we’re doing our own spiritual thing, even when we’re doing our solitary eclectic thing or participating in traditions which really should be and have the potential to be empowering, the way it all sits in our heads either makes us feel like we’re superior for our spiritual practice or that we’re not good enough yet and need to lean harder on our spiritual practice to not be so inferior.
It’s a harmful approach to spirituality in general because it’s a harmful approach to our general sense of self.
There’s nothing in spirituality outside of specific religious beliefs and doctrines about whether we’re better than or worse than anyone else. Because it’s not ultimately about our self-esteem or sense of self alone, it’s about how we see others in relation to us. It’s about a sense of equality.
Spirituality is individual. It’s not supposed to put us at odds with each other. That’s religion, right? Spirituality in itself doesn’t have a power structure. Religion has a power structure. So for our sake and for the sake of our relationship to the world around us, the people around us, it’s a good idea and I think it’s absolutely necessary to do the work to extract ideas we get from religion from our spiritual practice. Especially the parts we still carry from religious beliefs we don’t even hold anymore.
No matter how much work we do on ourselves, there are things we miss, and I think this is one of them. We don’t often completely back away from the things we’ve been taught and reexamine all of them because some of it’s just so culturally ubiquitous that we don’t realize it comes in part from our spiritual past as well.
And the final point I want to make is that separating ourselves from those ideas, dealing with that baggage, takes putting some distance between us and those ideas. We have to look at our spiritual past not just as our past and not just as a string of religious experiences or affiliations, but to look at it in context. The much broader context of how those ideas played out in our lives and connected to other things and impacted how we have come to understand our place in the world.
The thing is, we’re all spiritually equal. There is no beginning or end point to our spiritual development, there’s no start or finish line. We just constantly grow and learn and change because that’s what life is. It’s not a goal to reach and there’s no real common scale of progress that we can use to compare ourselves to anyone else. And there’s definitely not a way to rank our spiritual status against someone else’s. So we’re all spiritually equal. And it’s important not just to remember that in order to not feel inferior and to be personally empowered, but also in order to start breaking our habits of considering other people lesser than us on a spiritual scale.
Thank you so much for listening. New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday. All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens. Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two. Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.