Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Am I standing with the philosopher or the mob?
“Take great care with the inside, not what’s outside.” That’s part of the quote by Epictetus that inspired today’s prompt. And it’s absolutely true. Your moral compass has to be calibrated to your own true north, and that direction can only be found from within. It must dictate how you react to outside events, not the other way around, or you will lack direction.
I’ve talked before about one of my personal motifs–the eight-pointed star distilling a drop of blood. I’ve talked about how it has its musical inspiration in Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 8. But no symbol that has meaning for me has just one meaning. The eight-pointed star is also a compass rose, and represents my own moral compass. The distilled drop of blood represents that sometimes it is not easy to find a way in the world to be true to yourself without metaphorical bloodshed. My star is half-drained, but remains intact. The symbol of the blood droplets themselves comes from the Bibilical imagery of the pelican, who, having slain her young for being too boisterous, brings them back to life by vulning herself. It’s symbolic, of course, with the slain young being the downfall of humanity through sin, and the revival being the Resurrection through the shed blood of Christ–symbolism I deeply respect, even though I now lack that faith.
That’s also the imagery behind the SCA’s Order of the Pelican. And in the fourth decade of my involvement with the SCA, that’s the Peerage order that defines me. I became a Laurel when I was still in my 20s, still in grad school, still not in any sense of the word mature. I still had lessons to learn about how I approached service, what I put into it, and what I got out of it. I became a Pelican in my thirteenth year in the SCA. What that pointed out to me is a new path, one of service that went beyond performing an office well, but into true servant leadership. And it provided an ideal to aspire to that went far beyond the SCA.
There are those in the SCA who hold that being dubbed a Knight was what has come to define them. I understand this, because that is how I see being a member of the Order of the Pelican. But it was never an honour I strove for, worked towards, or tried to become. I did not know what it meant to me until well after I was elevated. I served because jobs needed to be done. I served because I had energy and skill, and a love for creating newsletters. I enjoyed the process of creation, and thrilled to see my name in print as the chronicler or editor. It was in becoming a herald and a scribe that I began to see that I had a calling to serve the community, to serve others, to enable joy, to provide a foundation to build upon. At some point, it ceased being about me. It began about serving the great nexus of humanity within our small club, and above all, about justice–in the Stoic sense, endowed with wisdom and kindness and courage. Those first two were easy, but did I have the strength of heart to say the right things, even when they might not be popular? To speak kind but hard words, even to friends? I did not know, but I knew I had to try.
And that was when I knew I was ready to consider the job of Lawspeaker. When I was chosen, I had to put aside all oaths except for the single oath I swore to Ealdormere. And I took that to heart. I am not the person I was when I took up the position three years ago–a transformation that extends far beyond my SCA involvement into a deeper understanding of that moral compass I spoke of earlier. Courage was called for–the need to say difficult words with kindness, and so my heart was tested, in the final instance during a time when the world outside also screamed for kindness, wisdom, and courage. And while I believe I met the challenge, it was not without some metaphorical bloodshed. It was hard. But it was the job I signed up for.
I am now in my final weeks in the office. I conducted a roundtable of the candidates to succeed me last Friday, and was amazed by the three very different, strong, talented women who are seeking to take up the privilege of this burden. I will not cast a vote–my last act of impartiality–but I do know who I would pick were it up to me.
What will I do then? I believe I have found a voice I did not know I had, urging me into unknown corridors where doors await, closed, but not locked. I have passed beyond the need for recognition or even appreciation. No, the things I need to do now serve something greater. Our society and our Society must change, and heal, but also must build on our strengths. The best I can hope to do is to serve a vision of what I believe it has been, is, and can be. It is daunting. But it is not impossible.
It had occurred to me, as a ceremonialist, about a thing that is a part of an SCA ceremony, and is treated as so very special by many of the people who have gone through it, about the odd role of the suffering of pain in these rituals. It is often very much in keeping with the idea of rites of passage– the transition from one state to a new one–but it is also knit up in the idea of sacrifice. During the Middle Ages, the ceremonies people would have been most familiar with were those associated with the Church–baptism, marriage and extreme unction being rites associated with transitions in life, but the ceremony at the heart of Church life was that of the Eucharist, the symbolic commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice of his body and shedding of his blood. It’s all very ritualized, but as per medieval Christian dogma, the bread and wine, in the Mass through the process of transubstantiation, become the actual body and blood of Christ. It gave me thought, though. The buffet is to Knights a kind of ritualized violence marking their transition into their new status. The Order of the Pelican’s central image is that one of sacrifice by literal shedding of blood. What, then, would be the reaction to a ceremony, should a candidate desire it, with actual shedding of blood? What would I say if a Pelican candidate came to me and said, “I have seen the power of the buffet in the knighting ceremony. In my ceremony, I wish to publicly vuln myself and draw actual blood, and swear my oath on some object embued with that blood.” I’d probably think to myself, “Wow, that would be really cool in a fantasy novel.” And part of me would also say to myself, “Wow, that’s some serious ju-ju.” And then I’d say to the candidate, “What you do in private during your vigil is your own business.” Because as powerful as that symbolism might be, it would likely freak the public right out. It’s too intense. It’s too real. It would involve actual pain. There’s actual blood. It could leave a mark. It invites observers to witness an act of violence as part of the public acclamation of someone worthy of emulation. That’s not something you just spring on people!