“No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny.” – Hannah Arendt
“You don’t question what you believe. You cannot. I must.” – Hypatia from the movie “Agora”
By the end of the film I was weeping: for Hypatia, for our destroyed Pagan history, and for humanity itself, that doggedly pursued zealotry and ignorance over and above knowledge and reason.
It was an interesting slide into emotion during the watching of Agora. One part of me was stating, “This is one way that humans are. This is about the loss of our humanity to mob rule.” Part of me was responding to this and nodding yes, another part was crushed at the fragile human response to easy violence, and yet another part was mourning our Pagan past. Connecting to all of these, I saw that I could choose to not experience the full force of an emotional response, I could follow the energy of my God Soul and watch humanity playing out this well worn story. I chose, instead, to say to my macrocosmic soul, “Yes, the patterns of humanity upon each other and the earth are varied, and yes, the rise of ignorance is a story as old as our DNA, but right now, I want to simply feel this!” Awash in emotion, I wept. I wept for the burning of the scrolls. I wept for the taking of the scientist and philosopher. I wept for her death. I wept for never having seen the great city of Alexandria at its height, before the Pagans fell into excess and the Christians took false power. I wept for all of those who failed to turn the tide of ignorance, political greed, and mob rule. I wept because tyranny had once again triumphed over freedom.
This made me less reasonable and more impassioned with my friends after the film than I might usually be. I felt bereft and devastated. Stunned, we staggered to the nearest place that had food and drink and huddled around our tables before the conversation started. Part of the argument that began was whether or not idealism was still the proper response to life, to politics, to our work and Work. A friend teased that I was saying the world would be a better place if we were all enlightened. Of course, I replied. I just want us all to get to Tiphareth. “Oh, is that all?” Yes. A tall order, I am sure, but one worth spending my life working for. A couple of others mentioned that there would still be conflict, that there is a need for severity. Yes, indeed. But what sort of conflict?
Conflict is part of how we learn and grow. Conflict can be enervating, destructive, or instructive and enlivening. We seemed divided about whether or not constructive conflict would actually arise in an ideal world. Really, we were questioning idealism itself. A few of us held fast to the need to not give up our ideals, whether or not it seemed the culture supported this work. Even though cynicism was easy in the moments following the film, I was sitting at a table of artists, scholars, and magic workers who would not live the lives they do were they simple cynics. Art is too important to give over to mob rule. Knowledge is too important to lose to the wash of our own feelings of defeat.
I understand the pain and exhaustion and sense of alienation that drives one to become a cynic. I also feel it is not worth the price on our souls, on our cultures, on our societies and selves. Cynicism is a great deadener. It stops creativity in its tracks. It impedes the flow of love.
I always want to question. I want friends who help me to question. But sometimes, in the midst of questioning, I must find a place to stand firm. That place is inside me – not in some dogma, belief, or creed – in my center, in my practice, in my belly and my heart. It is the place from which I meet you when I am at my best, and the place that sometimes feels more distant, when balance is hard to win back.
Hypatia never gave up questioning and seeking for answers. She never became a cynic, despite ample opportunity to do so. We don’t know a lot about her history, but we do know that she was dangerous enough to the mob that they flayed the skin from her bones (which the movie kindly spared us, giving her a more poetic end). This tells me that she never gave up. The flame within goaded her on. I do not wish her ending, but I wish to hold fast to my ideals: we can strive toward love, liberation, and knowledge. We can become free.
The life of Hypatia teaches me these things: Don’t let politics and hatred keep you from your calling. Find a way to seek out the humming of truth, even when it feels ever out of reach. Gaze upon the beauty of the stars, and find inspiration and comfort in their burning.