SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Love is a Weapon, Actually
Shoot your shot, citizen!
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A life well-lived is a life well-examined. A life well-examined has a little weird and güd within it. This newsletter is an examination of our weird and güd world.
Though I’m not a believer in magic, it’s hard to resist the temptation of what a spell offers. Spells aren’t free, of course; they cost you ingredients, time, and for the big ones, sacrifices like being indebted to demons and whatnot. Yet, spells offer something you can’t help but wish was real.
A spell is a bargain with one thing to influence another. In reality, your actions are no different than a spell—what you do influences one thing, which influences another. (Perhaps that’s partially why actions carry more weight than words).
The difference between your actions and a spell is mostly logistical; instead of your actions being the catalyst for a desired outcome, the spell does the work for you.
Spells are most tempting when your actions can’t obtain the outcome you seek.
You’re working out more, you bought new clothes, you’ve recruited the help of friends to gain insider information, you’ve read articles about influence and watched videos about charisma, you planned cinematic-level romantic settings, and yet…
What sphere of life better exemplifies the limitations of your actions than unrequited love?
Love-sickness is the ailment no expert nor elixir can cure. Different eras call for different approaches to the pain of unrequited love; one particular approach stretches 4,000 years back into the ancient Near East.
Cuneiform tablets from thousands of years past were found in Iraq. Did they bear wisdom from those who braved a harsh old world? Did they tell stories of the unimaginable experiences of people living so long ago? Not quite.
Archeology continues to uncover ancient messages from the old world only to find that we were just as thirsty then as we’ve ever been.
Evidence for love magic has been found across cultures, from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece, from the Germanic people to the Aboriginal people. If there’s one thing that unites humans across time and culture, it’s the desire to overcome unrequited love.
Love magic was a major part of ancient Greek life, with both men and women using spells to get that proverbial text-back. The love magic rituals of ancient Greece range from the magic-herbs-in-food format you might expect to the less idyllic animal sacrifice. Black love magic was used to punish your ex or break up a marriage, while white love magic would seduce a lover or improve a relationship.
The practitioner of love magic often evoked those who would uphold their bargain, like deities or demons. A curse tablet dated to 4th century BCE Macedonia proves that even in the realm of magic, nothing’s free:
May he take no woman other than me, and let me grow old beside Dionysophon, and no other woman.
I am a supplicant woman before you. Take pity on Phila, dear demons.
Love magic sounds like a romantic endeavor, but the fatal flaw in this otherwise quaint concept is individual freedom.
Whether magician or monarch, forcing others to fulfill our desires, be they for power or love, still goes rapidly wrong.
Maybe the reason we should be grateful that magic isn’t real is that we’re terrible at knowing what we want. A spell might deliver us what we desire only for us to realize we desired something different all along.
The story of Hercules’ death casts a shadow over the temptation of love magic. Worried that her husband was leaving her, Hercules’ wife Deianira used what she believed was love magic to keep him. Not knowing the magic she used was actually poison, Deianira inadvertently killed Hercules’ in trying to keep him.
We hear a lot about the concept of consent today, but love magic takes consent far beyond the realm of hashtag politics.
To transgress the individual sovereignty of another person isn’t just to push them towards what you believe is good, but to become responsible for their suffering if you fail.
From cuneiform tablets to social media posts, we’ve been expressing our desire to possess certain someones for thousands of years.
Love magic is the other side of the rom-com; it’s the last resort for those with no means left to win love. We bargain with the world and ourselves in hoping to exchange one thing for another, whether it’s our time for money, our dessert for fitness, or our alliance with the paranormal for love.
Love magic may not be as popular today, but the desire to obtain something beyond our reach is eternal. While casting spells upon other people without their consent is an ethical quandary, you have to love the lengths our species will go to for love.
I can know what a stranger in South Asia is eating for breakfast this morning.
I can know where a stranger in England went for drinks last night. I can know the political opinions of my 4th-grade teacher. I can know what my estranged middle school best friend’s newborn looks like.
We’ve never been more connected and yet, never more guarded.
So-called social media enables the most anti-social behavior; strangers berate you for jokes they didn’t understand, employers fire you for evidence of partying in your time off, and social media companies penalize you for expressing any of the ever-changing Unapproved Opinions.
Social media offered us connection in the most technical sense, but we’ve paid for it in the most personal sense.
Emotional intimacy is a concept usually reserved for close relationships, like the friend you ask to confirm whether your left nipple is shaped weirdly.
What a lingering hug and a warm hand in yours do for you physically is what understanding and close attention do for you emotionally.
Emotional intimacy doesn’t just feel good; it has measured effects on wellbeing. There’s even a fancy questionnaire called the Emotional Intimacy Scale (EIS) that measures it.
Your A in biology might feel great, but a high score on the EIS comes with a sense of self-efficiency, life satisfaction, and social support. Failing this test also comes with more than just a bad grade; a low score on the EIS correlates with pain, fatigue, and stress.
Here’s the cheat sheet for connection:
Emotional Intimacy Scale
This person completely accepts me as I am.
I can openly share my deepest thoughts and feelings with this person.
This person cares deeply for me.
This person would willingly help me in any way.
My thoughts and feelings are understood and affirmed by this person.
Your first instinct is probably to apply this scale to your partner or some other close relationship—that’s what it’s meant for and you should do that. There’s another, unauthorized use of this scale that our hyper-connected society begs for, though.
I’ve adapted the EIS scale to be applied not to an individual person, but to an entire culture.
Salomé’s Unauthorized Scale of Cultural Emotional Intimacy:
This culture allows me to be who I am.
I can openly share my authentic thoughts and feelings in this culture.
This culture respects my individual dignity.
This culture supports my growth.
Sharing my thoughts and feelings is my right in this culture.
By definition, a culture can’t be intimate. Yet, a culture does move farther from or closer to authenticity and connection across time. If it sounds like useless idealism to examine the level of connection in a culture, consider that your culture’s level of connection will influence yours.
The more time we spend conforming to our culture, the less time we spend as ourselves.
If growing the emotional intimacy we have in our close relationships improves our lives, increasing the openness in our culture should compound that. If we can’t stand to foster more connection in the wider culture, we can at least aim for not eroding it further.
We can’t and shouldn’t be brazenly open with every person we meet. The balance between closeness and distance is what makes closeness rewarding and distance healthy.
It’s when the balance between emotional closeness and distance is skewed that we suffer. Maybe ignoring our neighbors and avoiding eye contact with the barista is too distant. Maybe posting videos of us crying in outrage over today’s clickbait headline is too personal.
Have we lost the balance between closeness and distance? Do we seek closeness with online strangers while growing the distance between us and the people we share space with every day?
We exist for each other. Being the last human on Earth might be an adventure for a day, but it would turn into a nightmare as each day went by.
When a broken culture pushes us to close ourselves off in disdain and fear, the courageous choice is to pursue closeness.
When the norm is to attack others for their inevitable flaws, courage is to bear our all-too-human flaws with humble honesty.
When spite and hatred is the default lens, courage is to see goodness and humanity in each other.
Culture is infrastructure; the crucial difference is whether that structure is a bridge or a prison. It’s a mistake to believe culture is something static that requires removal or rebuilding. Whatever you do to change your culture is an inside job, influenced and contained within the culture you seek to change.
Emotional intimacy is rooted in culture, whether it’s the culture of a single family or an entire country. Just like a family can set rituals like movie nights and rules like phone-less dinners, a country’s culture is malleable too. What matters is whether you’ll be swept along or actively forge the path.
The upside of our overwhelmingly connected world is the number of opportunities we have to influence each other.
The power of emotional intimacy lies in its contagious nature—every choice toward genuine connection extends an invitation for another person to choose connection, too.
Pantomime No. 3, 2017. Denis Sarazhin.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
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