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 I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
-- "Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear" (Frank Herbert, Dune)
While I never read the later Dune books, and was somewhat annoyed by the earlier ones, this little ditty got me through a lot of scary times. Just the concentration to remember it and recite it five times was enough of a meditation trigger to keep me out of the fear cycle spin-up.
While it was produced in a work of fiction, it still has validity on a Pagan path. Unlike some, I am not unwilling to adapt practices from fiction into my real world life.
Let's take a closer look
- In the first three lines, the reciter is reminded of why uncontrolled fear is a danger. Essentially, it says that unchecked fear will take over your mind, and become all consuming, paralysing you from action.
- The fourth and fifth lines are the way out of the trap. Facing it and allowing it to be absorbed, rather than consuming you, will put it into perspective.
- The final three lines reinforce the triumph of will over fear. You have taken it in, understood it, absorbed it and moved beyond it. You haven't denied its existence, you have taken it inside, let it advise you of any actual dangers, and then let the fear fade to nothing. It's not fear any more, you've faced it and owned it.
What does this mean to pagan practice?
Some traditions practice what I call "Dark Work" - that is to say, exploring and facing some of the darker emotions in our own psyche. The two biggest are generally fear and anger. There is also jealousy, greed, vindictiveness, and a host of other nuances between them. Dark work is done as a part of getting to know, accept and understand your whole self, not just the parts you like or are willing to see. It is not something for beginners, but for those who have entered the personal growth and self knowledge phase of their pagan lives.
The little ditty above is useful as part of a long term method for handling what initially can seem to be an insurmountable piles of fears, terrors and even insecurities. Using it as a meditation can focus you on the steps needed to accept and understand what you are afraid of, and why, and how to face it.
Many fears in our daily lives are rational, but maybe out of proportion to the actual risk. Fear of fire, drive by shooters, auto accidents, airplane accidents, infectious diseases, or even spiders has some basis in rationality at some point in time. It's when they start to interfere with our ability to live, or our ability to understand our selves that we need to pay a closer visit to what causes them. In many cases, a meditation, litany or chant can help us get a handle on them.
It isn't instant. Learning to understand and work through fear is a long term process, and practice makes perfect. To be able to use something like the Bene Gesserit litany above in a crisis you need to have made the habit of using it when things were calm, during introspection. But if you do, you have yet another tool in your arsenal for staying calm in a crisis or situation that would ordinarily paralyze you with fear.