“A witch ought never to be frightened in the forest, for she should be sure, in her soul, that the most terrifying thing in the forest [is] her.”
As witches we know that where there is fear, there is power. The birthplace of Monstrosity is found in the space between those two concepts — in the relationship between fear and power. A fearful or repulsive thing that is powerless is merely contemptible. We don’t call those things Monsters. For something to be truly monstrous, it must have the power to affect us, else we wouldn’t be afraid.
In our society, in these times, a Monster is often the name we give to something that has more power than we’d like. An ideology, a lifestyle, a value set – people acting from contexts we disagree with, don’t understand or fear, we call those people Monsters.
And we, ourselves, are called Monstrous when we represent, embody or champion a context the people around us disagree with, misunderstand or fear. When facets of our identities that feel threatening to others – to their sense of their own physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual safety – are given the mere agency of unapologetically existing, much less speaking of and for themselves, demanding visibility and space in the conversation – those facets and our entire being, by extension, are labeled Monstrous.
But this was not always true. Originally a Monster (from the Latin monstrum, meaning divine omen or portent) signified only the name for something we did not yet understand – the darkness on the other side of the doorway, the line on the map beyond which “there be dragons”. It signified the understanding that wherever the line of our current understanding is drawn, there is pressure, both from within and without, to expand. We want to understand what we do not understand. What we do not understand wants us to understand it. Monsters stand both to ward and to point at, beckon us toward, the Other. And to remind us that, whenever and wherever two Others meet, Change is coming.
Is that change welcome? Or not? Should all uncharted territory be explored? Should some doors remain closed forever? Are these Monsters signposts that tell us, rightly, to keep away? Or are they arrows pointing to the next necessary adventure?
The original meaning of the word Monster, the meaning that this work allows us to reclaim, held no answers to those questions. No value judgment attached to this word that simply pointed and said Look. This is important.
What line each Monster marks, what is important about that line, and how we should respond to the inherent challenge of that Monster’s existence – those are answers we each arrive at individually in what is perhaps the most frightening thing about the work of the Necessary Monster: It is not in relationship to morality. We have been Monsters – marking the line of spiritual autonomy – since we became witches. We have accepted our own spiritual authority since we became Reclaiming witches. This work assumes we mean it.
Who decides what a Monster represents?
Who decides if the challenge a particular Monster represents is to be embattled or embraced?
Who decides what kind of Monster you are, and what that power asks of you?
Here there are no easy answers. Here other people’s maps of right and wrong fall away. Here you navigate with your intuition, your integrity, and your relationship with your gods to guide you. Here, there be dragons.
We’ll talk about three types of Monsters, in this work.
The Feral Monster is the monster as we know it now. Fearful and/or repulsive. Other. What we do (or are supposed to) oppose. But because this is an incomplete understanding of the Monster, it can operate in mysterious and counter-intuitive ways. The ways in which monsters are seductive, for example. And the secrets (shadow work) we keep from ourselves to avoid the cognitive dissonance inherent in that allure. We do not entirely understand why monstrosity affects us as it does, and that allows monstrosity to live in shadow, to operate under the radar, and to run our lives.
A current, systemic example is the concept of Privilege. Monstrifed or Fetishized (which is what gives Privilege it’s Monstrous Power). Privilege is real. It rides and enforces the lines between the people who embody it, and the people whose marginalization and oppression are upheld by it. If a particular Privilege doesn’t seem monstrous to you, then you might represent that Monster for others. As long as Privilege is denied, misunderstood, allowed to lurk in the shadows of our society and our individual psyche, it has free rein to shape the world around us.
The Wary Monster is the Monster we acknowledge, in ourselves and others, as necessary to do the (often unpleasant, often unwelcome) job of marking and making Change. The truth is that monsters should be alluring. They should arrest our attention, call us into contemplation, seduce us forward into assessment, analysis, revelation. That is their original, necessary purpose.
When Privilege is made visible, acknowledged and understood in its mechanisms, it becomes the vital Monstrous face of an engine of injustice. It shows us where and how to push back, to reshape our world in ways that are consciously equitable. We see both its allure and its horror. As holders of Privilege we acknowledge our Monstrosity and, rather than hide from it, or submit to the delusion that we can eliminate it, we do the uncomfortable, necessary work of standing in that Monstrosity, making it visible, in fact speaking openly (and unpopularly) about what it is like to be this kind of Monster.
The Sovereign Monster is the Monster that knows and accepts its purpose. Sovereign Monstrosity is not only worn, but wielded— as a tool or even a weapon in the hands of the spiritual authority of the wielder.
When, as Monsters of Privilege, we not only acknowledge our Monstrosity but begin to leverage it as a tool to dismantle the systems it has forged – when we wield the tool of our privilege to confront minoritizing and oppressive behavior, to demand redress from the powerful, who are Monsters like us – when we turn the tools of this Monster of Privilege, that belong to us as well, against others of our kind, we have made our Privilege Monstrosity Sovereign.
From Fear —
The Feral Monster appears at the horizon. The edge of what you know, believe, understand, imagine is possible. It frightens, repels and yet… there may be an allure there. Sometimes you approach the Monster because you are curious. Sometimes you approach the Monster simply through the inexorable process of living – the Monsters of old age, sickness, death, for example, will draw nearer to us every day, whether we like it or not. You may aspire to be what you fear, you may commit to avoiding it, regardless, once the Feral Monster emerges from its cave in the subconscious, you are in relationship. You become aware of each other…
Through Curiosity/Exploration —
The Wary Monster offers you choice. Does this Monster stand at a threshold you want, or will, or feel compelled to cross? If not, you can leave it to its job, for now. Free of its power over you. But if so… the courtship begins. Monsters are maligned, misunderstood, necessary. All this is true. They are also, legitimately terrifying. They have to be. When it is your job to be uncompromising power… to mark a boundary beyond which there is no passing without enormous, often painful change… then you, Monster, are the Challenger. The Guardian at the Gate. You protect sacred mysteries. No one joins your ranks without proving themselves capable of necessary monstrosity. By the time they stand in front of you, look you in the face, this is the truth: one of you will die. One of you will transform, become, be eaten by, the other. You are the abyss, looking back at what is looking into you.
To Desire —
If you meet the challenge of the Wary Monster, if it judges you fierce enough to wear its face, to guard its mysteries, then you have made this piece of monstrosity Sovereign. You wear this identity without apology, you accept the cost, you wield the power it grants you in service to your values. For someone else, you are now a Feral Monster, disturbing their dreams in ways they don’t quite understand. For someone else, you are now a Wary Monster – a warning, or an initiator. A potential ally.
And that, of course, is the end game. You are a Monster. You are your own spiritual authority. This makes you a being of unaligned Power. You may align and re-align as you see fit, as circumstances change, as the line shifts. Because this line is always shifting. Monsters mark the borders and, once you have faced the Monsters at any border, once you have crossed the line they mark and so become one of them… another border, marked by another Monster, will appear.
You may make Sovereign many monstrosities, in your lifetime. But each time, turn, look… notice the next Feral Monster calling you forward.
We are always courting the Monster. We stalk the Feral, confront the Wary, make Sovereign our own role in the dance. For we are also, always, the Monster that is being courted, the beacon standing in the shadows, promising to those looking on in longing and in fear, “I can illuminate this for you, if you will dare to see.”
You are Fire. What will you light up? What will you burn down? Who decides?
What if some monsters, the necessary monsters, don’t need to be re-framed or redeemed? What if there is a difference- an enormous, important difference between the monsters others make of us, and the monsters we choose to become?
As witches we know that where there is fear, there is power. That facing our fears is one doorway into power. Here’s another doorway into power: Owning our fearsomeness. In these times, as we clash repeatedly with those who wield fear as a weapon against us… well, we have weapons of our own.
© 2020 Laurie Dietrich & Lilah Quinn. All rights reserved.