Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

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Newt Scamander, Politics, and the Value of Caring

In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” J.K. Rowling presents the familiar wizarding world she originated with Harry Potter, but turns it on its head.  Instead of Britain, the film takes place in the United States.  Different laws apply to the witches and wizards of America, a fact which becomes a source of both humor and tension.  Our main characters are not children, but adults.  Instead of spending multiple installments worldbuilding and introducing a magical system, the new series is able to jump us right into a fully fleshed out world where we all know the rules, allowing more focus on storytelling.

But more importantly, our new hero is very different.  Newt Scamander is nothing like the Boy Who Lived.  Where Harry knows from the day he enters Hogwarts that he is marked out as the savior of the wizarding world, Scamander is really nothing more than a dedicated animal lover who seeks only to rescue and preserve the world’s most misunderstood creatures.  He’s a conservationist, not a warrior.

This brilliant article explains it much better than I can.  While Harry was a swashbuckling Gryffindor, focused on courage and great deeds, Newt is a Hufflepuff – a member of the most underappreciated house at Hogwarts.  If the houses are elemental, Harry is a fire and Newt is an Earth.  Harry must focus on strength and justice and the will to fight.  Newt’s goal is to save the earth’s magical creatures, care for them, and educate others about their importance.  He’s much happier digging in the dirt to feed his beloved “beasts” than fighting wand-to-wand with dark wizards.  Hufflepuff’s key word is Loyalty, and Newt is unfailingly loyal to the animals that depend on him (and he’s happy to fight and dark wizards who might happen to threaten them).

Harry exemplifies the classic Hero’s Journey.  Newt’s largest concern is ensuring that his thunderbird gets fed.

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Harry Potter. [Source:]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

Newt Scamander [Source: Warner Brothers]

The two heroes couldn’t be more different from each other, but in truth they complement each other.  They represent two different ethical ideas from psychological research: The ethic of justice and the ethic of caring.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was studied the moral development in children.  His method was to give children a problem, known as the Heinz Dilemma, and ask them their reasoning.  In short the Heinz Dilemma is as follows:

In Europe, a woman was near death from cancer.  One drug might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered.  The druggist was charging $2000, ten times what the drug had cost him to make.  The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could get together only about half of what it should cost.  He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or to let him pay later.  But the druggist said no.  The husband got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.  Should the husband have done that?  Why?

Kohlberg would collect the children’s answers and categorize their reasoning.  In his research, he identified a three-level system of moral development with two sub-stages per level.  The first level focuses on following rules and avoiding punishment.  The second is more about social approval and maintaining order.  The final stage is when a person guides their reasoning based on higher, philosophical ethical principles.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons


It all sounded fine until Carol Gilligan, one of Kohlberg’s students, noticed a trend.  Young girls and women tended to score on the lower levels of the scale more often than boys and men.  Males were more likely to be scored in the upper categories of moral reasoning.  

This did not sit well with Gilligan.  What she realized was that Kohlberg was bringing a masculine bias – a concept referred to in the linked article as “Toxic Masculinity” – to rate his respondents.  Gilligan theorized that men tend to reason through an ethic of justice, while women tend to utilize an ethic of caring.  She developed the Dilemma of the Porcupine and the Moles to test this theory:

It was growing cold, and a porcupine was looking for a home. He found a most desirable cave but saw it was occupied by a family of moles.

“Would you mind if I shared your home for the winter?” the porcupine asked the moles.

The generous moles consented and the porcupine moved in. But the cave was small and every time the moles moved around they were scratched by the porcupine’s sharp quills. The moles endured this discomfort for as long as they could. Then at last they gathered courage to approach their visitor.

“Pray leave,” they said, “and let us have our cave to ourselves once again.”

“Oh no!” said the porcupine. “This place suits me very well.  If you’re not happy, then you should leave!”

As with the Heinz Dilemma, what is important is not the answer, but the reasoning.  Gilligan developed a model of morality that placed self preservation at the bottom, self-sacrifice in the middle, and the principle of nonviolence at the top.  She found that female participants scored higher overall than they did in Kohlberg’s model.


I don’t believe that the two ethical approaches are as clear cut across binary gender lines as it may seem.  Indeed, two men – Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi – famously exemplified Gilligan’s highest principle of nonviolence.  However, I do see both ethical models as valid.  And, rather than pitting them against each other, I think we should see them as partners.

The world needs its Harry Potters: the young (or young-at-heart) people willing to risk life and limb for justice. Especially now, we need our activists on the front line protesting DAPL, taking to the streets to advocate for equal rights, and taking to social media to light the fire under under everyone else’s collective asses.

We also need our Newt Scamanders.  We need those who stay calm, assess the situation, and select their battles out of concern for those they care for.  We need our Hufflepuffs who are willing to help those in physical and emotional pain, see to the physical needs of our more vocal activists, and to tame the wild spirit of rage that can sometimes get diffused. We need those who process calmly but get the job done.  As Newt Scamander placidly states while he approaches a dangerous capture: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”  

We are entering into a dark time, both in the Wheel of the Year and in American politics.  Dark times are painful, but they can lead to growth.  Dr. King intentionally led his followers into painful situations to stimulate change.  The discomfort of dark times can stimulate growth and manifest will, but it takes the Hufflepuffs caring for the wounded and as much as the Gryffindors on the front line.

It was Albus Dumbledore, the wisest Harry Potter character of all, who said that Love was the most powerful force in the world.  Love inspires frontline activism as much as nurturing of those who fight and those who fall.  In dark times, each person needs to choose where to focus their love.  Justice is vital, but so is Caring. When the future looked bleak, all of Hogwarts, even the Hufflepuffs, had to come together to defeat Voldemort’s fascist coup.


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Twelve Healing Stars: The Force and Precision of Aries

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 seven.

“So it is with skillful warriors – their force is swift, their precision is close. Their force is like drawing a catapult, their precision is like releasing the trigger.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I’ve always struggled with activism. I know it’s the right thing to do in many cases, but there are so many justified causes that it can feel overwhelming. If you put your finger on one problem, another head of the hydra pops up in its place. You want to be a warrior, but there are enemies everywhere. It’s easy to lose track of where to aim and how much force to use. It can be depressing and paralyzing.

It feels like we often wish to fight against injustice, but we don’t know where to start. So we don’t. We stop paying attention. We learn to get comfortable looking away from this problem, that enemy. As long as we can be comfortable ourselves, as long as we have our distracting “bread and circus,” those who perpetuate injustice have a much easier time doing their work. It’s tempting, but self-defeating, to yield to the siren song of inaction. Instead, if we truly desire change, we must charge forward like the ram of Aries and courageously butt heads with those who oppose us.

Temple Of Witchcraft Aries

TOW Aries Ministry Sigil

According the Michael Cantone, the Aries Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, the lessons of Aries can be difficult for many modern witches and pagans to understand. “It can be hard,” he says, “because the warrior is about war and the witch is about peace.” Paradoxically, however, Cantone adds that “The warrior is a peacemaker. They seek justice by fighting for it, and the true warrior knows when it has been achieved and when to stop fighting.”

One of the cures, then, for the paralysis that many of us feel when faced with all the problems in the world is to actually get up and do something. “Fighting for a cause balances your emotions,” says Cantone. “The warrior walks with confidence.” The paralysis leaves, and the warrior always knows the next step toward his or her objective and that he or she can prevail in the battles they choose. Know justice, know peace.

On the other hand, it’s extremely important to understand the entire battlefield and know exactly where to strike and the precise amount of force to use. Cantone says that, “When you know your enemy, you know the most effective ways to defeat harmful causes and intentions.”

As an example, he cites the Gay Pride movement. The Gay Pride marches that we see all over the country really are protest marches, but, as Cantone points out, “They are done in a jubilant way, with style.” Instead of wasting energy exploding all over their enemies, the Pride movement has taken a more effective tactic: get out in public, host a big party, and have fun. Through this and other venues, the gay community has made extraordinary gains. There’s more work to do, but the movement has made won many victories partially by being deliberately non-antagonistic.  Even when battling the vicious Westboro Baptist Church, the community’s tone has been decidedly jubilant:

“Think about the philosophy of witchcraft,” says Cantone. “What you put out returns to you threefold.”

But it isn’t all parades and parties. Sparrow, the co-host of the popular pagan podcast The Wigglian Way, was recently arrested as part of her protest against the pipeline that Kinder Morgan wanted to build through the mountain she calls home.

“My decisions about how ‘far’ I will go or what I am prepared to do at each given protest depends on many factors,” she says, but, in the quest to protect the Earth and her home, “I knew I was willing to do anything I had to.”

The most recent episode of her podcast includes an excellent interview with Patheos blogger John Beckett on the “care and feeding” of activists. He makes a wonderful point about the value of support, saying that “Charlie the Marine may be doing the fighting, but he needs Rosie the Riveter supporting him in the factory.” Not all of are adept with the weapons of war, so it’s important to know your skills and provide the support that you are best at providing. Someone has to feed those who handcuff themselves to trees. They could use a bit of laundry and some media support too. As always, Know Thyself.

Author David Salisbury, a witch from Washington D.C. who works for the Human Rights Campaign in his day job and spends much of his personal time advocating for animal rights, is an activist through and through. Yet he also knows that there is more to fighting than protests and arrests. He’s currently trying to organize a National Pagan Advocacy Day in which Pagans from around the country would come to the U.S. capital and lobby their representatives for issues that are important to them.

“Our idea is to bring people together from all over the country to meet with their legislators about issues that matter to them, openly as Pagans,” says Salisbury. He stresses that it’s not about the issues; pagans differs widely in their political opinions. It’s about visibility. “Visibility is so important to legislators,” he stresses, “because once they see that they have Pagan constituents who are involved in their area, they may be less likely to pass future legislation that could harm us.”

Recognizing that not every Pagan could attend such a day, Salisbury also hopes to organize an online version of the Day of Action in which, “Pagans around the nation would be encouraged to write letters, send emails, and make calls to legislators, openly as Pagans.” As an extra enticement he hopes to also organize a tour of the nation’s capital for those who attend, because Washington D.C. is “absolutely drenched in occult and esoteric symbolism and architecture.” Interested?

This is working within the system for change, but it also demonstrates to those in power that Pagans and witches are real people, not stereotypes and not evil. We have faces and voices. Doreen Valiente did this when a Member of Parliament proposed re-instating the UK’s anti-witchcraft laws 20 years after they had been repealed. After one pleasant conversation over tea, the MP chose not to pursue his proposed legislation.

Every problem, every enemy, has a different weakness. The warrior learns to direct her force toward that weakness with precision. Sometimes we fight physically, sometimes in the halls of Congress, sometimes in our local forests and neighborhoods. Sometimes we fight with parades, other times we become keyboard warriors who blog/meme/tweet for justice.

Magickally, some of the most effective ways to join the battle are to work on yourself. Cantone, who is a martial artist, suggests that those who fight a cause “Learn to read energy and intuition.” By doing so, you “Understand the psychology of a situation so that you know the best and most effective response.”

He also advises psychic defense meditations and improving your self-awareness. Shielding meditations and attunement to the elemental energies in any situation can help you in the fight. “Strip off psychic” in psychic awareness, he states, “and what you have is aware. The warrior must be aware.”

Sparrow echoes this idea. Especially as she focuses on environmental causes, she says that “grounding is good,” as is “connecting to the spirit of the land” in a given situation. Ultimately, though, she reminds us to be confident in ourselves. “In essence,” says Sparrow, “I gird myself in the knowledge that I am doing the right thing. The armor of doing the right thing and connecting with Spirit are all I need to really deal with confrontation.”

Cantone adds that a lot of the world’s confrontations come from fear of the unknown. He suggests spell work to alleviate this fear. Resonating with his thought of preparing yourself, he also suggests that you use physical exercise in your magickal work. “Exercise purges impurities, releases stress and tension, and builds confidence,” he states. “Work out before performing a ritual or incorporate physical exercise into your work. Make your workout your spell.”

No one will ever be able to fight on all fronts. But, as Sun Tzu classically stated, that would be a waste of time anyway. Your energy should be directed exactly at the enemy’s weakest point with exactly the right amount of force behind it. If you know which weapons you use best, you can effectively decide when and how to use them with precision.

Sometimes movements seem amorphous, ambiguous, and lacking in clear message. These are the movements that fail. The most effective warriors know how to gather just the right energy and strike at just the right point to bring victory.   They know exactly when to draw the catapult, where to aim it, and when to pull the trigger.