What is power?

Many of us see power in a negative light; we don’t trust it, we don’t like it in others. It’s understandable – for a long time, our culture has seen power as the ability to do, especially the ability to do to others.

But through practicing animism, I’ve learnt that power is much more complicated than that. I’ve witnessed power in the moment of vulnerability, of healing, or grief. I’ve seen it in people who are creating through dance, paint, words, song. I’ve felt it in rhythm and darkness, the use of blood and bones, runes in the hands of a runemaster.

Power has been a running thread through my work, coming to understand it, reclaim it and hold it. I’ve seen it manifest in lots of different ways, both in myself and in other people; everyone seems to have a personal way of power.

Power is really the capacity to be present, to be real.

When I’ve found myself deeply challenged, being empowered has always been about standing where I am, being real and honest with myself.

When we think about people who are truly powerful – not simply politically but personally – who do we think of? People who have achieved great things, and also the quieter sort of person, who holds their own space completely.

These are both ways that people hold power; the power allows them to do what they do, but it stems from a deep knowledge and comfort with themselves, acceptance of what they are, where they are.

These are people who are real, and they appear it to everyone around them. They can seem to shine, to be bigger than life, or to be intimidating, or to be subtly alive in a way most people aren’t. They are full of their own power, and it imbues everything they do with energy.

People like this are quite rare, but there are many more of us who experience brief flashes of personal power. Moments when we are completely at ease with who we are and act from that space.

When we are absolutely certain of what we are doing.

These moments come when we can get out of our own way and allow our full power to flow through us and into the world. We can do this because the self doubt has gone quiet, and the paranoia about how we appear to others has eased. We can do it because our fears and uncertainty about what we are and what our life is about have fallen aside.

Moments like this are deeply inspiring and transformative, and they can influence our lives for a long time after they’ve passed. And we can create space for these moments to happen more frequently, and call on this power within us when we need it, by working with the principles and tools of animism.

My animist practice has taught me that this power is available to everyone, and can be accessed more easily when we practice it. The principle of warriorship is most important here, in that it pushes us to face the areas that we are uncomfortable – which are the places within us that get in the way of our power.

For example, I reclaimed a huge part of my power when I healed my fear of madness.

The backstory of this particular wound is that I come from a deeply athiest family that held no truck with spirituality or spirits or anything like animism, and my experiences as a child didn’t fit in that paradigm at all. I discovered that my experiences were considered ‘madness’ by my family and most people in my culture, and it was deeply frightening to believe that I was going to become lost in my own mind if I engaged with them.

When I challenged this fear, I used altars and crafting and ceremony to embrace the madness in myself, and to heal my relationship with it. This was a piece of healing work that required a lot of warriorship; I was facing a fear that really terrified me, getting really close to it, trying it on and accepting it as part of me.

This work returned a huge chunk of my power that I had lost for years, it was very very important. Because of the way our culture works, I don’t think I would have been able to reclaim this part of myself without a knowledge of animism and it’s methods. The way that I did the work was very intuitive, but without the framework of how to work with symbolism, intent, energy and power, it would have been very intimidating and confusing to attempt.

Power is vital when we want to make changes in the world.

Not because it allows us to overpower others but because it gives us the freedom to make our own choices, think our own thoughts, follow our own paths and stand our ground in our nature when things get challenging. If we can’t access our own power, we can’t withstand the pressures of the world that sway us, intimidate us, manipulate us and overwhelm us.

At the most extreme, power is what allows us to face an evil or destructive force.

When we can say – this is who I am, and I’m willing to die rather than betray myself – we have ultimate power. We may be subjected to all the pressure possible to change, but our power allows us to withstand – and when we are dealing with truly evil, destructive or cruel forces, this is the only way we can create change.

This is the power of the peaceful protest – the ability to say “we will not be dissuaded from our protest, no matter what you do”.

Power like that comes from facing the deepest of fears and wounds.

Our mortality, our nihilism, our grief and our lack of control. It may take many rounds of work, but we can come to accept these aspects of our lives, and learn to drawn strength from them.

When we can do that, we have the power not just to do, but to fully and freely be.