As many (if not most) of you know by now, I am Pagan – hence the title of this blog. I’m a Witch. To be more precise, I am a Third Degree Wiccan High Priestess – to the best of my knowledge, the first and only culturally Deaf woman here in the United States to hold such a title. Why do I mention this? Because as a practicing Pagan, my spiritual path plays an important role in how I deal with the world around me – how I see it, how I understand it, and how I try to resolve the issues I identify within it.
Like practically everyone in this country, my world has been rocked recently by the results of this presidential election. Many people are upset with these results, and have been expressing their feelings in a variety of ways. Some have taken to the streets to participate in protests. Others share their thoughts in posts on Facebook and other forms of social media.
As I struggle to better understand the issues behind such actions, I found myself going back to the teachings of my spiritual path for guidance. And in doing so, I think I have come to a deeper appreciation of just what all this protesting is really all about.
Perhaps the greatest insight has come from the writings of one of the Pagan Community’s best-known and well-respected leaders – Starhawk. She is the author of many books about Witchcraft – including the classic publication The Spiral Dance…considered a must-read in the Pagan Community.
Starhawk – writer and activist
But it is one of her other books that I wish to quote from, a book which I feel really hits home with what’s happening right now. This is a book entitled Dreaming the Dark, which was first published in 1982. It’s a well written book, and as one reviewer stated, “should be required reading for anyone involved in social justice activism.” Starhawk knows of what she writes – she has been involved in many different protests over the past 30+ years, and arrested on several occasions. She’s written of such experiences in a number of her books, including this one.
In the epilogue to Dreaming the Dark, Starhawk explains that
This is a book about bringing together the spiritual and the political.
BAM! Right then and there, I suddenly understood. At the heart of the matter, all of this chaos we are currently experiencing is about bringing together the spiritual and the political. The protesting we witness is a crossroads – where paths of spirit and action join together to create a single trail that many (although not all) people feel compelled to follow.
Now, when I talk about the spiritual, I am not referring to religion. I’m not talking about which church you attend, or what God you worship. I’m referring to something much deeper – the spirituality of the human condition. The thoughts and beliefs and ideas and concepts and struggles and dialogue that define a process by which people of all walks of life identify themselves and their existence in the world.
Attempting to define such a spirituality might cause one to wonder whether all this protesting is indeed about the presidential election. On the surface, this might seem to be the case, but I suspect that if we were to explore the issues further, we find that they go much deeper than that. At the heart of the matter is not the question of who does one support, but rather what one supports…and even more importantly, why one supports. The individuals of the United States of America must ask themselves – “now that I know what I believe, what do I do with it?” That is not such a simple question…nor does it have any simple answers.
What makes Dreaming the Dark such a challenging book for many Pagans is that it presents a harsh but honest ethic:
That if you believe in and follow the Pagan Path, your spirituality will demand that you act, and work to bring about change. And change is never an easy thing to deal with.
By the same token, the American people have been confronted with that demand to act, and that need to bring about change. It is a need that is linked to a growing realization amongst many of us that a world of oppression, a world of domination, cannot sustain our inner lives, nor our lives in community with each other.
The context by which Starhawk brings about such change is political activism. However, she is quick to point out that activism
…tends to involve the risk of bodily harm or incarceration…and to put one into contact with extremely unpleasant people, whether they are media interviewers, riot cops, or at times, your fellow activists. Not only that, it generates enormous feelings of frustration and rage…
So why would anyone in their right mind want to engage in such behavior?
Because if we look at all of this chaos from that spiritual perspective, from that whole sense of the Spirituality of America – the Spirituality of Humanity itself – then we must acknowledge that spirituality isn’t always about feeling good. Spirituality is also about challenge and disturbance, about pushing our edges and giving us the support to take great risks.
It is a mistaken assumption that spirituality must be about calm and peace, and conflict is thus unspiritual. If this be the case, then the Spirituality of Humanity would insist that we sit back and act like passive victims as we endure oppression, discrimination, prejudice, mistaken assumptions, and downright hostility from an unknowing and sometimes uncaring world.
I highly doubt that any of us could accept such a definition of human “spirituality.” If we did indeed see ourselves as passive victims, there wouldn’t be so many advocates and activists in the world, and we wouldn’t be engaging in all of this protesting and resistive behavior.
As a witch, a big part of my own spirituality is the practice of magick. True magick is the art of creating change. And change is something that makes a lot of people mighty uncomfortable. Change is challenging, which is perhaps why so many people shy away from it; it’s demanding, which is perhaps why so many react negatively to it – not wanting to meet the challenge, they instead criticize it.
Marion Weinstein, herself a respected leader and author in the Pagan Community, states that
The work of magick involves transformation, and the first transformation is the shift of perception.
The shift of perception. As I read the countless posts circulating around on social media; as I watch the news and learn about yet another protest, the one thing that becomes pretty clear is that the transformation is indeed happening; that people’s perceptions of America – of what it is, and what it could be, and what it should be, and what it has become is clearly undergoing that shifting. The change is happening, whether we like it or not. The best thing we can do is accept it, and prepare for it.
But change to what? To a fuller range of possibilities, to a broader spectrum of spirit. Not change to something else…but to something more. First we learn to know ourselves, then we expand… stretching our hearts and minds and souls, and exploring and developing new territories within ourselves, and within our community.
Yes, I can sense it now…people rolling their eyes and thinking
What kind of horse manure is this woman trying to preach at us? This all sounds like New Age baloney to me! I’m not falling for that Witchy Voodoo crap!
And of course, eyes open up wide, jaws drop, and folks ask me…
You mean to say that MAGICK took during this presidential campaign???
Well, certainly! And it still is! In fact, it’s going to take even more magick to help us get through the coming days. The change is only beginning. There’s a lot more work to be done.
Magick can happen anywhere. It can happen in spacious skies and fruited plain; in purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain. It can happen in the halls of Congress and in the kitchens of the Heartland; in the Oval Office of the President of the United States, and the tiny cubicle of an entry-level technical employee. From sea to shining sea, magick happens. That it would be occurring here in America should hardly come as a surprise – considering the sacredness of this country in the hearts and minds of the people who now fight to preserve that very sense of sanctity.
In her article “Toward an Activist Spirituality” Starhawk writes of the use of magick:
Much of our magick and our community work is about creating spaces of refuge from a harsh and often hostile world; safe places where people can heal and regenerate, renew our energies and learn new skills. In that work, we try to release guilt, rage, and frustration, and generally turn them into positive emotions.
Hmmm…correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this what the American people have been working for all along? Isn’t this at the heart and soul of what our country means to us – the creation of that space of refuge; a safe place where people feel free to be who and what they are; to share what they think and express what they feel – to regenerate, to renew, to release?
And wouldn’t it be perfectly normal that a community which has raised so much energy, and focused that energy towards the creation and sustenance of such sacred space would react with vehemence at any action which threatens it?
This doesn’t mean we have to constantly remain in that state of anger and frustration. What it does mean is that we need to use our magickal tools – our identity, our pride, our heritage, our unity – to face those sometimes overwhelming realities that confront us, acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, and transform them into positive change.
Magick is about power – about calling forth power and utilizing it for that positive change. But if we are going to raise power and channel it as energy for achieving our goals, then we need to understand what it is…and what it is not.
Power, to those of us who work magick, should never be a power over another. Rather, it is a power that comes from within.
Power-Over is basically the power of oppression, a power of domination, a power of annihilation.
Power-From-Within, which is the power that I speak of, has nothing to do with oppression, nothing to do with domination, nothing to do with annihilation. It is a power that takes its definition from the root meaning of the word – podere, from the Latin “to be able.”
Power-From-Within develops from the ability to control ourselves, to face our own fears and limitations, to keep commitments, and to be honest. To be able to channel this power requires personal integrity, courage, and wholeness. It cannot be assumed, inherited, appointed, or taken for granted…and it does not confer the right to control another.
As I read the news, it strikes me that what this protesting is really all about (as are most protests) is power, and the perception of power. Undoubtedly each side will accuse the other of that Power-Over, and in fact already has. I’m not going to debate who’s right and who’s wrong in this regard. The fact is that we all have within us the potential for both types of power – the potential to do good and to do bad, to build and to destroy, to empower and to oppress, to love and to hate. If we are going to accuse others of such behaviors, we better be ready and willing to take a good hard look at ourselves.
What Power-From-Within dictates is that we must act responsibly…that we must utilize that power properly, and ethically. Yes, that merger of the spiritual and the political often does mean that we must act to challenge systems – particularly those which perpetuate that hate and oppression. We must act to recognize those who have too little social power, and those who have too much.
As Starhawk explains, trying to equalize that power means changing the system. And systems don’t change easily:
Systems try to maintain themselves, and seek equilibrium. To change a system, you need to shake it up, disrupt the equilibrium. That often requires conflict.
Conflict in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; oftentimes it is an essential part of change and transformation.
But conflict isn’t violence. Control isn’t coercion, maneuvering isn’t manipulation. If we are going to practice the concept of Power-From-Within, we cannot act on Power-Over principles.
Violence can be defined as the act of using Power-Over.
We have seen examples of that violence – both during the presidential campaign, and certainly since the election. Sadly, it’s been perpetuated by both sides. If we are to truly move forward, if we are to truly learn anything from this protesting, then we need to take a good hard look at these two concepts of power. We must now acknowledge, accept, and analyze how they are being applied by both sides.
Then perhaps we can figure out to get beyond these power struggles to a deeper understanding of the issues, and a greater appreciation and respect for one another.
The author wishes to express her gratitude to Starhawk, as well as the many other Pagan writers, leaders, and teachers who have shared their knowledge over the years – knowledge which has assisted in the writing of this post.