There is so much pain in the world. U.S. citizens have their access to water denied by their own cut off. Ebola, a disease rooted in poverty, inequality, and lack of access to the basic resources of life, is ravaging parts of Africa and is beginning to make its way around the globe. People of color are standing up for their rights to walk the streets without being shot by officers sworn to protect them, and journalists are being beheaded by masked madmen in the name of some homogenous “Islamic State.”
Those of us who walk a Pagan path are often concerned not just about the planet we live on, but also our fellow humans who share that planet with us. We want to help. We crave to do SOMETHING every time we hear of another incident of suffering in the world. We don’t care if the victims share our theological views. We don’t care if they are from the same nation as us. We want all people to experience love, happiness, and justice.
Members of other religious expressions might pray for justice. We may pray, but we also have an extra tool: magic. When you walk between the worlds and use that walk to create change in accordance with will, you are blessed with the ability to offer aid to all people around the world who suffer. There is always something you can do, whether in this world or the otherworld. The question becomes: what do you do and how do you do it? I asked this question to a number of prominent people in the magickal community. Their answers are inspiring, challenging, and enlightening.
“I’m a big believer in setting the energy of change with magick first, with spell work, and then going about the real world
action. In the late 1990’s I was part of a marriage quality ritual through a group some folks from the Boston community called magickalactivism.com, though it didn’t go anywhere further and I was able to work with some of those people in founding the Temple of Witchcraft. But while the change was not immediate, and we were not the only ones taking action, magickal or otherwise, involving marriage rights, it’s interesting to see how that issue has blossomed. I encourage the different ministries to use their esoteric education in spellcraft to spell for the changes in the world they wish to see, then follow it up with real world action, personal actions, activism and even political action, as appropriate for the issue.”
“In 1970, the rallying cry of feminism (attributed to several different people but truly claimable by none) was “the personal is political.” What we do, personally, and how we live, personally, are the most political acts of our lives. Everyday acts can either contribute to, or seek to dismantle, systems of oppression. Everyday acts have significant environmental consequences. Everyday acts can mean the difference between 10 people dying of an outbreak or 1000 people dying of an outbreak.
So, in light of that, I want to push back against your original question a little bit, because you ask, “Knowing we can’t always physically lend aid, what magickal acts can you suggest to help heal some of the world’s most difficult problems?” and my personal, political opinion is that we can always lend physical aid, even in small ways, in our daily lives. I have long held that it is best to “pray globally, priest/ess locally,” which means doing the work that is right in your immediate sphere as you hold for a better overall world. Personal acts can truly make magick, or “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”
What might that look like? For me, I measure my political efficacy by “thought, word, action.” On the thought level, one might read books or websites that give accurate statistics from reputable sources about the nature of various forms of oppression, global issues, history between warring nations, and the realities of a political system or situation. That might also be a good stage at which to light a candle and perform visionary work for a better future. But if you stop at the thought, it really just disappears in a puff of smoke when that candle goes out.
From there, move on the word: speak up in person and online against injustice; acknowledge your own privilege (humbly, not in self-congratulatory or self-centralizing way, or for show); tell people when what they have said or done is politically unaware, uninformed, inappropriate, and/or weighted in favor of their privilege; be quiet and listen to the members of an oppressed group and let them have their say, as well as their own authority and sovereignty in their affairs; pray for healing in epidemics, relief in drought and disasters; give voice to prayers for ending systems of oppression. In CAYA Coven, our Mothers of the New Time and Fathers of Change workings to dismantle the patriarchy and build a radically new system of power serve this function in alignment with our Coven’s matriarchal, or mother-source, ideals. But if you stop at the word, you are really just blowing hot air.
The action piece is crucial. Some examples might include: men choosing to volunteer money, time, goods or services to women’s activism groups without trying to dominate the narrative or mission of the groups and their discussions; white people giving money, time, goods or services to local agencies for the rights of people of color, without trying to centralize their own views and ideas about how POC handle their own affairs; people who have financial privilege supporting vulnerable gay, queer and trans* people who do not have financial privilege by creating scholarships, supporting healthcare and drop-in centers, or providing safe, non-predatory career and educational mentorship; heterosexual people demanding that the same privileges they enjoy be given to gay and queer couples; people of all backgrounds pitching in to help relieve poverty or disasters (for instance, paying someone’s water bill in Detroit, or
donating to Doctors Without Borders to aid in treatment of Ebola). One might also organize events that help bring greater awareness to personal, political issues. The Pantheon Foundation, for instance, is offering the upcoming Pagan Activism Conference Online that Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir and I are coordinating. And if you like, for good measure you can bless that money you are sending, seal with wax and a sigil your letters to your local governmental officials,
make a prayer or intention before casting your vote, or wear a personal symbol that represents your commitment to justice. But if you don’t back your symbolic actions up with practical action, they are really just an exercise in making yourself feel good.
In short, when you are committed to using your daily thoughts, words, and actions to level the playing field, offer relief, confront oppression, or serve justice, then you are making real magick.”
“Magical intervention is always a powerful tool and there is no simple way to identify which issues in society to intervene on. I chose my action based in the issues that I feel the strongest about. When I am able to use that energy and direct it towards justice, then I am able to use those feelings for good cause. And like with most magical interventions, timing is very important. Utilizing the ebb and flow of energy within society when it peaks around a particular issue can give us focus and extra energetic support in our workings. I don’t want to discredit the assistance one can give through magical means yet I do not think is stops there.
We can get involved in a myriad of ways with topics and issues that need support. Becoming educated activists, donating time or money, spreading information to others, and being present to participate in community events are all
ways that our magic can be magnified by action. I consider these actions also to be magical in themselves as well. As a social worker and activist, much of my magical work is in the work that I do, not just the candles that I light or the
mantras that I recite. We have a choice to lend our energy to the manifestation of change and justice, and that process is a magical one.
While the needs of those around us can be overwhelming, picking one place to start and support change is the best
thing we can do. Ignoring the social and justice needs around us correlates with ignoring our own magic and the impact that we have individually and collectively.”
– Crystal Blanton, Activist, writer, and priestess
“Something I’ve noticed is that when we are doing magic for the betterment of the world, we can often miss an opportunity to use our own connection to the world as a magical tool. For instance, I was working with a group of people who were doing magic to heal the environment. When I asked them what each of their own carbon footprints were, they were unable to tell me, and surprisingly none of them wanted to go through the trouble to find out. Another time I was working with a lady who was wanting help to do magic to address a conflict in the Middle East. I told her that her magical spell involved her stopping all gossiping for an entire week. I never heard back from her again. My point is that our most potent magical acts come about when, in addition to the candles and rituals, we include our own microcosmic examples of that which we want to see in the world. It’s always easy to see that there are problems in the world “out there,” but as soon as we are confronted with the idea that we have a personal connection to the problem, we often look the other way, rather than realizing that this connection is our power source.
The entire concept of sympathetic magic is that of the microcosm influencing the macrocosm. That which happens to the poppet, happens to the individual. Therefore, when we choose an issue to take action on, if we aren’t willing to take action in our own lives, in a radically meaningful way, then we missing a huge opportunity to have a powerful impact on the matter, magically. Are we looking for an end to racism? Then it’s time to use our own lives as a catalyst for that change. Where is the prejudice living in us? If we are so naive to think that we have none, than perhaps we aren’t mature enough to tackle such a sophisticated magical operation. Are we trying to effect a healing in the environment? If so, then a major part of our magic needs to be centered on our own interaction with the environment. Where are we polluting? I am acquainted with some people who are very proud of the fact that they are very “green” in their lifestyles, but they are also very toxic and abrasive to people they encounter. If they were interested, they could find a way to reduce their psychic pollution as part of a magical operation, and thus influence the whole very deeply.
There are horrible social injustices happening all the time. So horrible, in fact, that it’s easy to see the perpetrators of such heinous crimes as being part of “the other.” The risk of looking at “the other” as being the sole problem, is that we are often tempted to see them as having all the power and viewing ourselves as being left with nothing to do except complain and pray for a miracle. That kind of self image is the opposite of magical. A magical person finds a way to take responsibility for the situation in order to step into a position of power — the power to change — and then makes choices about their responsibility that then causes a ripple effect that can’t be stopped.
Most of us are fairly well versed in the the “trappings,” or symbols, of magic. Therefore, when building a spell, ritual or operation, we can use those symbols to speak to our deep minds. Our deep minds are connected to the minds of anyone and everyone in the entire universe throughout all time and space. When we “put feet to our spells,” by taking action in our own lives within the realm of that which we want to change, we become the poppet of sympathetic magic. We can find an infinite amount of opportunity to effect change within our own worlds through ourselves; as a part of a larger magical operation, this change can have a dramatic effect on the larger macrocosm.”
“There’s a pervasive notion today that we should be able to download an app on our smart device and end climate change. There’s a feeling that if we log into Facebook enough times this week that corporations might just change their policies of earning as much profit as possible while pillaging the environment and screwing the workers. It’s a nice thought. But behind every one of those Twitter revolutions there are real people that have been working tirelessly on these seemingly intractable problems for years, even decades.
Think about it, the Civil Rights movement began about 150 years ago. Folks started calling it a Civil Rights movement about 60 years ago. The suffragette movement, which one can easily say is the birthplace of the modern feminist movement, is about 100 years old. Stonewall happened in 1969, the year after I was born.
The point is that this “long view” is often pushed aside. We want results now. We want to say “I was there when the wall came down” without perhaps recognising that there might be thousands of people that worked to bring that moment to fruition that will never see it happen.
So what magical practices can I do to support change over time?
1) Recognise that time takes time. Can I devote my life-force to a cause that I might only see minor changes in my lifetime?
2) Work for the Descendants. In many magical traditions we call on the Ancestors to aid our plight. I also work with the Descendants to come. Those that will inherit the world tomorrow. Part of my magic is to imagine them looking back at this moment in time and saying, “those people began this thing then and we have much to be grateful for.”
3) Staying focused. Many magical traditions talk about focusing our will and our magic to bring about change. I lose focus easily. I turn on the news or look through my browser and see 50 things I could equally be enraged about. I have to choose where my magic can be best used in this moment and stick to that as much as I possibly can.
It’s not glamorous. It won’t be everyone’s answer, but it’s what I do to make change.”
– Gwion Raven, Blogger at tobeawitch.com
“I’ve suffered various types of burnout as an activist, an event planner, as an artist, and a writer. Specifically as an activist, I’ve learned to limit my focus. When I worry about all the ills of the world I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and I freeze up.
My activism in the past has primarily focused on environmental issues, but I’ve also done work privilege, bullying, racism, homophobia and transgender discrimination. Of late, my activism has focused a lot on supporting a sex positive culture and fighting rape culture, particularly within the Pagan umbrella. However, this particular activism has also proven to be really emotionally exhausting. Whenever I put up a blog post taking someone to task or asking for accountability, and especially speaking up about sex and ethics issues, what folks might not realize is that I’m then dealing with days of intense comments, hate mail, long discussions/disagreements, and I also field messages from people who have been abused and who need someone to share their story with who will understand.
It costs me in terms of time, stress, and anxiety. What’s the impact on my life? Well, I’m mostly a hermit. And the various shaming, victim blaming, and other crap that I deal with has begun to edge
toward “more than I’m willing to give.”
To the question of what magical acts I can suggest…that’s probably the toughest part of this question. In the Pagan community, I experience that many people use the word “magic” to mean, “Imagining that I’m sending energy to something when I’m not willing to do the actual work to make it happen.” So I tend to be leery of using the word “magic” in terms of activism.
That being said, there are ways I think magic helps with activism. Magic is good for setting intention; you are outlining your goals and putting focus toward them. Which also means that you are limiting what you’re not putting your effort into. So part of magic is boundaries. Magic and ritual are also good for centering; singing, chanting, candles, incense, movement, meditation…all of these are effective triggers to help us center when we’re overwhelmed.
But ultimately, the magic of dedication is where the real work is. It’s the daily work and personal transformation that builds our magical power. And I think I’m going to need a whole blog post to explain more of what I mean by that.”
– Shauna Aura Knight, Author and speaker
“First and foremost, magickal work must be backed up by real-world action! A spell for social justice is good, but a spell backing a donation, volunteering, or
speaking out (in whatever medium) is even better. If you want to work for change, do it on all levels.
Create safe and sacred spaces of all kinds. Spaces for women, for men, for children, for queer people, for elders, for people of different races and backgrounds, for any and all people, and use those spaces to heal, to journey, to lift up, to empower, to ground, and then to return to the world where we all live together to share those lessons.
Don’t neglect self-work! One of the greatest magickal things we can do for the world is to work out our own stuff and become the best people we can be. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking yourself a
superior enlightened being helping poor unfortunates, because you’re down here in the dirt with the rest of us. Recognize that you are a work in progress just like everyone else, and that shadow-work, self-possession, and enlightenment are the work of a lifetime (if not multiple lifetimes).”
-Steve Kenson, Co-founder and Gemini Lead Minister of the Temple of Witchcraft
If there is a theme to the words of this diverse and incredibly wise group of magical people, it’s that we must work both on ourselves and out in the world. We are the microcosm of the change we wish to see, and by working on ourselves we can also affect the macrocosm. We must work within just as much as we work with the world. Our work in the inner worlds to affect change intertwines like a caduceus with our real-world action.
In the heart of the darkness, we find the seed that begins to grow toward the light. Yes, there is darkness in the world. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But, like Prometheus, those of us who work with magick have the responsibility to steal the light. Over the next year, I will be exploring ways to use our magickal practices to help heal the injustices of the world and bring back that light. Working through the Zodiac and its twelve filters that color the sun’s light, we’ll look at twelve different ways to work magick to help heal the world. I hope you’ll join me later this month and throughout the year as we begin the quest through the Twelve Healing Stars in the darkness of Scorpio….