World TreeModern Paganism generally views pairs of opposites as complementary, rather than contradictory. We celebrate the cycles of time that lead us from darkness into light and back into darkness again. We celebrate life and death as motions in an eternal dance of being. Many of experience the Divine as both male and female – not the featureless abstraction of a “God” who transcends gender concepts, but rather a very feminine Goddess and a very masculine God in lively interaction with each other.

This is not just a modern invention, either. It echoes Aristotle’s understanding of virtue as being a creative balance between extremes. Courage, for example, is neither cowardice nor recklessness, but a measured response to a dangerous challenge. Aristotle’s conception was a rather static one – a balance, rather than a dance – but it still stands in contrast to the sort of linear thinking that makes good an evil opposite poles or extremes.

One of my favored metaphors for the relationship between complements is that of breathing, We breathe in and then breathe out, in a perpetual cycle. Both are necessary, and in fact each creates the other and is created by it. They must trade off, alternate. It’s not a matter of finding a middle ground or compromise between the two (which would mean not breathing at all), but rather engaging each fully, in its proper time.

An artist creates images from using both light and dark colors, not blended to create a uniform gray, but each applied in its own place.

In using both sides of a pair of complementary energies, we open the way to create something new, something alive with the motion and energy that is implicit in any contrast.

This thinking helps me look differently at life’s struggles and disappointments. Beginnings and endings complement each other, as do joys and sorrows. We can take them all, experience each fully in its proper place, and create something new – a life that is like a work of art. A good story has both defeats and victories; a good symphony has heavy and light movements; a good life both deepens us and elevates us.