“Purity is piety, honesty, and fear of the gods.”
– inscription on the walls of the Ptolemaic-era temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path. When the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, quoted by Frank Herbert in Dune
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
– Alexander III “the Great” of Makedon
Fear is an important concept for the modern-day Pagan who embraces the chthonic traditions of Thrace. To the Greeks, a titanismos was a Thracian battle-hymn so fierce, so filled with the terror of the sons and daughters of Nyx, that the Thracians’ enemies would simply turn and flee, if they weren’t frozen to the spot. And of Titanismos as the modern acknowledgment of our Titanic progenitors, our brother the Anomalous Thracian is fond of saying: “This is Titanismos. You should run.”
What does it really mean to have “fear of the gods,” as the Egyptian inscription instructs Horus’s priests to have? Can fear ever be a positive thing, particularly related to the idea being afraid of the Divine? What about other kinds of fear? Are they a force to be avoided, or, as the Litany quoted above suggests, could they become a weapon to use to our benefit?
The dictionary defines fear with three similar meanings that are usually taken to be negative: (1: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.; 2: a specific instance or propensity for such a fear; and 3: concern or anxiety). The fourth definition suddenly changes tack completely:
4: reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God.
So how is it that fear can be a negative, anxiety-provoking state, and yet it can be reverent when related to deities? One would assume that fear is either good or bad, and that it would be difficult to define it as being both things. Yet, if one takes the first three definitions as negative and the fourth as positive, that’s exactly what is happening.
I invite you to think differently about fear, not as something to be avoided or cursed, shoved away in your own psychological Tartaros or denied.
I invite you to attack it, head on, weapon at the ready, boldly singing whatever battle hymn to whatever deity you hold dear at that moment.
Any healthy, well-adjusted human being is afraid from time to time. Fear is a useful and important emotion that has been with us since our evolutionary past. It was fear that kept our ancestors from dying of exposure, attack, or mistakes. Fear compelled us seek shelter and community, and made sure that we thought carefully about whether that cave or that forest, that mountain or that neighboring land filled with strong-looking people, might be a safe place to live. Fear built civilizations and brought them howling to their knees. It informed the best and worst of human decisions throughout history, and it continues to do so, now, if only we have ears to listen and eyes to see what it is trying to show us.
Be afraid. Be very afraid, if very afraid is the thing a particular situation calls for. Even the Great Alexander was afraid. Had he been completely fearless, he never would have made it out of Makedon, let alone halfway around the world. He knew where to let his fear tell him what to do, and where he needed to heed its caution and then, courageously, move forward in the full knowledge of that fear and with that fear.
The Litany is wrong in this regard, incidentally. In our moments of courage and bravery, it is not fear that passes through us. It is we who pass through it, ready to engage the foe. And fear watches our path…which, if we have heeded its lessons well, will be our path to victory.
May Fear, the mighty son of Ares and Aphrodite born of Ouranos’ starry foam, be ever honored in our lives, as he rides beside us, at the head of mighty Eris, into every battle we fight. May Set, Son of Nut, the Lord of the Red Land and He Before Whom Even the Sky Shakes, help us to understand the lessons of fear fully and without hesitation. May Horus, Greatly Speckled Hawk, raise us to victory on His Winged Disk, and may we one day pass into the House of Night with the Mightiest of Horsemen, draped in wreaths of victory at last.