One of my oldest friends has a two-year-old daughter. She’s made of sunshine and giggles, but she bursts into tears whenever a stranger pops their head in the front door. Since few people are stranger than I am, and since my schedule keeps me from visiting as often as I would like, I remain terrifying to her—but only for about fifteen minutes after I arrive. By then, Dad will have convinced her I am not the boogeyman, and I will have tried to bribe her several times with whatever colorful toy or tasty treat is closest at hand. I smiled all the way home the day she finally agreed to share a drink with me.
When she responded to the same tactic with “NO!” a few weeks later, I laughed out loud. Her parents might not appreciate it right at this moment, but their daughter is learning how to set strong boundaries that will serve her later in life by indulging in her Terrible Twos. With how much time and money the Pagan and Occult communities devote to reclaiming our personal power, perhaps we should all be so terrible once in a while.
The last year has been a learning experience for me. I am using that phrase in the way I suspect many people do, as an attempt to re-frame a chaotic time in my life as something positive. I’m not sure why I’m bothering. Maybe it is because I’m used hearing that we should all see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. I know one thing for certain: whenever I have reached out to someone about the water level of my cup, all I have ever wanted is their help refilling it.
Sadly, I’ve found that many people worried about how others fill their cups do almost nothing to refill their own. These armchair magicians read endlessly but rarely cast spells or hold rituals. These holiday magicians never celebrate outside of the major holy days but want to run our daily practice. In mundane life, these maiden aunts call to plan wedding to spouses we haven’t met yet, and these backseat drivers scream at us to slow down but vow to never get their learner’s permit.
Worse yet are those people who fill their glass by draining ours. These sorts email us questions easily answered within Google’s first five hits. They ask us for favor after favor but disappear mysteriously the instant we require assistance. They lure us in with promises yet their promises seem to evaporate once we have upheld our part of the bargain.
Magickal or mundane, these people drink from our glasses. I wish I knew why. I’d like to believe most do not realize what they are doing, but some may simply prefer a different vintage than their own. In the end, it doesn’t matter. They drink from our cups without refilling it, and our cups runs dry.
After this last year, I plan to be more protective of my cup going forward. That doesn’t mean I plan to be a hermit. I am glad to be a member and Initiate of the Temple of Atem. I wish I lived closer to its members. Until such a miracle occurs, however, I am the sole Demonolater in my area… as far as I know! I am the only person who has chosen to out themself, so I might as well be alone. I attend both Wiccan and Christian churches in the meantime, and they provide me with face-to-face spiritual nourishment and companionship. In return, I volunteer and am seriously considering some sort of career in interfaith ministry. I feel grateful for these kinds of reciprocal relationships because they help refill my cup and the cups of many others. Yet I do not walk through my local spiritual community blindly, nor do I think that everyone I meet follows their path’s version of the Golden Rule. If anything, the last twelve months have made me far too aware of the manipulative games all of us play, myself included.
Consider the act of applying for a job. By presenting myself well, I can convince potential employers I am doing them a favor just by submitting my resume. The truth is, I have sought them out because I want their favor in the oldest sense of the word. When I apply for a job, I want paid. If this last year has taught me nothing else, it is that people offering help out of the kindness of the hearts may be using similar techniques to extract a favor from me.
When your gut tells you that an offer feels too good to be true, stop for a moment before you say yes. Put on your boss hat and ask yourself:
- What is this person actually asking from me?
- Can I realistically provide this and do I want to do so?
- What are they offering me in exchange?
- Do I believe they can and/or will provide actually this?
- Is this a fair exchange? If not, is it worth it?
- How will working with the person affect me in the short term?
- How will it affect me in the long term?
- Again, is it worth it?
These questions are not hard-hearted but practical. When you do a favor for someone, you are working for him or her. Working for them without compensation doesn’t negate the time or energy taken up by that work. Every hour spent on free favors is a droplet taken out of your glass. If you do not charge for supplies but create tangible products as part of your favors, these “freebies” can become cracks threaten the integrity of the entire vessel.
No matter how good giving feels, those that give endlessly may someday discover that they have nothing at all left to give. Bodies fail. Money runs out. This can be especially devastating to writers, artists, and crafters who donate their work in exchange for “recognition,” or for witches, diviners, clergy who donate countless hours and dollars to their community by providing rituals, readings, teaching, often without any sort of traditional payment whatsoever.
Saying no the first time is hard. Saying no after saying yes fifteen times can feel insurmountable. That’s why so many of us turn to magick in those situations. We go to shamans and ask for stolen soul pieces back. We ask witches to bind those who leech on us. We banish malicious spirits of self-sabotage with elaborate exorcism rituals.
But we don’t need an old priest and a young priest. We need to go through the Terrible Twos again. We need to say no when asked the first favor that feels wrong, when our guts originally twist with discomfort, right at the beginning. If we know we are being too nice, then we have only ourselves to blame when do not reach our goals.
Of course, we usually do not need to be as loud as two-year-olds. Saying no with tact takes practice and can take a lifetime to master. Yet we still acquire this basic ability as toddlers. We may forget that we possess it, or it may have been stolen from us along the way. Even so, we can reclaim little by little, by saying “no” when our highest selves counsel that we should, and when it is safe for us to do so.
Ave Satanas, everyone, and happy full moon.