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 13.
Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it “History.”
– From the musical Wicked
They say that there are always two sides to every story, and that would be perfect for the scales of Libra. Unfortunately, I’ve never really believed that. I’ve always gone by a slightly different cliché: Wherever there are two sides, there’s a third. There’s side A, Side B, and the truth. Social psychologists have shown that a person on either side is going to favor their own story and perceive their own side as truth. It’s inevitable. We can only see through our own eyes. But it has also shown that every time we do that, we’re wrong. The truth lies somewhere on a spectrum between the Libra’s scales, never at just one end.
Remember the classic 80’s move The Karate Kid? It featured Ralph Macchio as the innocent Daniel, who moves to California only to get bullied by an evil Karate master classmate named Johnny? Recently, a new interpretation, heavily edited of course, has been making its way around the Internet. This version turns Side A on its head and argues for Side B, in which Johnny is the hero who must stand up for himself in the face of Daniel’s constant harassment:
Or there is this classic comedy sketch in which a “Nazi” soldier wonders, “Are we the baddies?”
In fact, for many years there has been a trend of reinterpreting classic fairy tales from the perspective of the villain, re-casting the villain, if not as a hero, at least as misunderstood. It probably started with the hit Broadway musical Wicked, in which the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz is spun into a solitary hero who stands up to the fascist, and hardly “wonderful,” ruler of the Emerald City. You can see the trend continuing in movies like Maleficent and TV shows like Once Upon a Time.
There’s little in this world that is more simply Good Vs. Evil than fairy tales, and yet audiences are eating up these fascinating reinterpretations. I think it’s because deep inside, despite the psychological desire to see everything through one lens, we know there is always more to the story. Side A and Side B are never right. The third story is the truth between the scales, and in order to find justice we must first locate the truth.
Witches and Pagans should be especially sensitive to this. As Nicole, the Libra Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft explains, “Witchcraft is a minority religion that is commonly misunderstood or misrepresented by the mainstream community.” Therefore, she says, “Just as we strive for tolerant inclusion for ourselves, we should be willing to stand with our brothers and sisters who are not given equal rights or equal protection before the law.” We know all too well what it’s like to be unfairly judged, so we must strive to evaluate others accurately. “We should especially be willing,” Nicole emphasizes, “to defend those who are actively persecuted by their family, community, or government.”
To this end, Nicole suggests participating in activities of basic civic engagement: “Research candidates for political and judicial offices and vote according to their stance on social justice issues. Sign petitions, attend demonstrations, sign letters to the editor,” she says. To go further, “Learn how to mediate conflicts in your own personal and/or professional lives.” Change begins with yourself, and the practice of mediation skills will allow you to discern the truth among competing arguments and how to resolve the conflicts. You can even “become a certified mediator and serve in your local court system” to have an even greater effect.
On a magickal level, Nicole suggests simple candle and petition spells to send energy to those in need. Obvious injustices in the world ignite strong emotions, but Nicole notes that giving in too far to those emotions can harm the process of resolution. “To be a skillful mediator,” she notes, “one must present a calm and trustworthy mien with participants and be able to keep your own emotions in check.” The same is true for magickal work, where the wording of one’s intention must be clear and precise. Emotions can cloud your ability to compose clear and precise intentions, resulting in a dampening of the spell’s effectiveness. Who hasn’t said something stupid when they were angry?
The obvious image to work with in this realm is the Justice card of the Tarot. The card contains two major symbols of the work of justice: the scales and the sword:
We like to focus on the symbol of the scales, for they balance the actions of those who seek justice in order to discern the proper judgment. But the other symbol, the sword, reminds us that there is more to justice than a passive balancing of good and evil. The sword tells us that sometimes we must fight to tip the scales properly. TOW Leo Minister Mark Bilokur says that the sword reminds us that “balance is something we must continually strive for, and this is an active, rather than a passive practice.” In this model, justice is in the interaction between the sword and the scales.
The sword and the shield create balance, a nice interplay of Side A and Side B, but I still think there’s a third symbol that brings the two together. I like this personification of Justice better:
The blindfold is indispensable to the process of justice. Scales are great, and they echo through mythology as symbols of balance and the creation of justice, but far too often our own biases place a little extra weight on one side or the other. The same is true of the sword. It also has two sides. The way in which we fight for what is right can be either helpful or harmful, depending on the methods of aggression we use. The blindfold is vital because, if we don’t know which side is which, we are unable to stack the deck in favor of one side or the other. We must work toward Truth. We must let the scales balance based on what is truly just, and work toward that goal rather than our own personal interest.
In his philosophical work A Theory of Justice, John Rawls puts forward an intricate theory of the just society. His most important image is the Veil of Ignorance. He states that a society is just if and only if rational people would create it for themselves under the Veil of Ignorance. If we all were sitting around creating a society, but we were unaware of what our own positions would be in that society, we would make certain provisions in case we ended up on the bottom rung. In this way, our blindfolds ensure justice for all people regardless of self interest. This doesn’t mean we are blind to issues of privilege and power; it means we work for what is right, regardless of who it benefits, a philosophy that would immediately wield its sword against privilege. The cause that is just will prevail.
There are times when we must use the sword. There are times when we must sit back and use the scales. With the blindfold, we judge based on what is right for highest good of our society, that which serves true justice rather than selfish gain. With the blindfold, we can go beyond Side A and Side B and appeal, as Abraham Lincoln once implored of us, to the “Better angels of our nature.”