Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part four.
“I wear the chains I forged in life”
-The Ghost of Jacob Marley
in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Responsibility is a strange thing. We seek it out, but it weighs us down. The more of it we get, the less free we are. The less we have, the more angry and destructive we become.
We have so many responsibilities that chain us down to our homes, our jobs, our obligations. The holiday season seems to make it even worse. You can almost hear the clanging of more chains snapping closed with each new necessity. Be sure to buy enough gifts to please all your relatives…Clang! Get to the office Christmas party and put on a good face….ClangI Credit card bills…Clang!
Capricorn, the sign that teaches us of responsibility, begins in the darkest time of the year. It’s cold and dark, yet our culture wants us out at the mall when sometimes all we really want to do is sit at home with a cup of tea and a nice fire roaring. We have to make choices between our responsibility to ourselves and our responsibility to friends and family.
Early in Charles Dickens’ famous story A Christmas Carol, we see the spirit of Marley, a man who chose business and personal gain over humanity. He is imprisoned to an eternity of walking the earth bearing the chains of his mistakes. It is very reminiscent of the figures in the Tarot card associated with the time of Capricorn, The Devil:
In this dark time of year, associated with this rather disturbing card, we really feel those chains of responsibility to ourselves and others. But much like with Marley, The Devil card also teaches us that our chains are of our own creation. Like Marley’s warning to Scrooge, we have the choice to put many of them on or take some of them off. It takes strength and fortitude, two more lessons taught by Capricorn.
The Capricorn Ministry of the Temple of Witchcraft works with the spiritual and physical needs of two extremes. It works with the Divine Masculine and male mysteries, and it ministers to Pagans who are incarcerated. It seems contradictory. Men are the freest people in our society. Our patriarchal system ensures that freedom and power is in male hands, and prisoners have less freedom and power than anyone in our society.
Yet most prisoners are men. Through their own actions, they forged the chains under which they labor. Outside the prison, most men have chained themselves to responsibilities, even ones as mundane as paying the mortgage and climbing the corporate ladder. They are tied down to the socialization that men who show emotion are weak. They can’t show weakness so they overexert their power, but that doesn’t help. It just chains them more. Men drink more, smoke more, eat worse, commit more crime of both the white and blue collar varieties, and die earlier than women. We all have our chains.
Here in California, we used to have an anti-sexual assault campaign that was aimed at men. After all, it is men who perpetrate sexual violence so it is only men who can stop it. The slogan was “My strength is not for hurting.” It counseled men to use their physical strength (and, unspoken, their power that comes from the patriarchy) to help rather than hurt others, to free themselves from the shackles of power-seeking. It was a powerful statement that suggested that the physical and political power men hold is better used building others up rather than controlling and violating them. It’s still a relevant and useful statement for both men and prisoners who labor under their own chains.
Casey O’Brien, a deputy in the Capricorn Ministry, says that the greatest contribution the ministry can make is “in the area of men’s mysteries.” He says that “a sense of community is important to men,” especially Pagan men, and that “men need to have their own sacred space by getting together and honoring the Divine Masculine through ritual and open discussion of men’s mysteries, both spiritual and physical”
O’Brien cautions that sometimes men don’t “feel comfortable talking to women about certain subjects” and may feel “the need to censor themselves” in mixed groups. Men’s groups, he says, can create a “cohesive atmosphere” by which we “deepen our community and make it stronger.” Lisa Curley, another deputy in the Capricorn Ministry agrees, adding that it is important to “heal male-ness around the world.”
On the prison side of things, Curley and O’Brien see the issue in a similar vein. Prisoners are men who, when released, have the potential to do more damage. If we can utilize spiritual counseling and ritual to heal them of the need to use their “strength to hurt,” then we can make a great investment in our future. Unfortunately, Curley notes that different states have different laws about Pagan prison chaplaincy and O’Brien says that, while there are often chapels in prisons, the resources and and services are “predominantly Christian.” Some inmates even get teased about their spirituality.
This is a problem. O’Brien says that this can make Pagan inmates feel “cut off from the rest of the world.” Someday, those inmates may be free, and an ex-convict who feels “cut off” from society seems very likely to commit more crimes against that very society who has ostracized him. In this case, he needs some chains to connect him to the society he hopes to succeed in, otherwise he’ll go back to his old ways. Recidivism is a huge problem in prisons. Prison ministry isn’t popular, but it’s vital.
Whether free or imprisoned, men need to learn to balance their power with compassion in a responsible way. The Strength card embodies a lot of this message:
You may have a weapon, but it’s not always the right choice to use it. A large part of owning power is knowing when to use the sword and when to put it down. Otherwise your power is nothing but brainless brute force, and too often that is the type of power we men turn to. I’ve always loved this card’s message of different types of strength. In the words of Morrissey, “It’s so easy to hate. It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”
The lessons of the Strength card can be a powerful focus for a working to “heal male-ness.” It can be added to just about any candle, petition, or knot spell with the intention of transforming male energy from hurtful to helpful, power-with instead of power-over. Of course, real world action also must be taken. Men should go out and be role models, embodying the proper use of strength and speaking out against patriarchy and abuse of power against women. Women can help by using social media and other platforms to build up men who have cast of the chains that used to control their behavior.
Prison ministry is part of this. In 2010, a staggering 13% of American men were incarcerated. If even a fraction of those men re-entered society with a spiritual community to connect, with a commitment to put down their swords and work for a better world, they would be powerful role models in their communities. They would be men who have chosen not to use their strength to hurt.
I know that many witches want to “burn the patriarchy.” I understand this, and I agree that something has to change. As in the Devil card, patriarchy chains both men and women. Patriarchy sucks. But even if we were to burn the Devil in that card to ashes, even if patriarchy were destroyed tomorrow, we’d still have the chains around us. Nature abhors a vacuum; something else would step in and pick up the chains.
Instead of burning, therefore, perhaps it’s better to transcend the patriarchy. Transcend our chains. Men who learn the proper use of strength will no longer be chained down to the need to dominate, achieve, and govern at the expense of the powerless. They could move from responsibility as an indicator of power and learn to be responsible to all humanity.
After death, poor Jacob Marley learned that “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.” Our strength is not for hurting, and using it to hurt only traps humanity into mutually destructive patterns. We can move toward a better world if we could heal male-ness, break our chains, and learn Marley’s lesson of responsibility, love, and cooperation.