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: Libra and the Balance of the Blindfold

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.”

Temple of Witchcraft Libra

Sigil of the Temple of Witchcraft Libra Ministry

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.”

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Twelve Healing Stars: Virgo and the Spirit of Organization

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 12.

Passion is a wonderful thing. It fuels our fire and motivates us to take action. It gives us a purpose to serve. But it takes more than passion to effectively advocate for change. It takes organization.

“Organization” is in the very words used to describe social justice movements. Laborers “organize” into unions to advocate for better wages and working conditions. We talk of “organizing” protests; national political “organizations” such as the NAACP, the Human Rights Commission, or the Occupy movement bring people together to more effectively advance their cause. Without organization, social justice has no form. Without organization, causes devolve into random smatterings of cranky people with signs.

Organizations contain the message, sharpen its delivery, and take the time to train their members in the art of skillful advocacy. It’s not glamorous, and much work is done behind the scenes, but it is vital to any cause. It takes that organized and meticulous Virgo mindset to transform zeal and belief into real world change.

Organizations facilitate change. They are the real-world representation of any cause. Over time, and with patience and effective management, they build financial and political capital to the extent that they become the spirit of a cause. Affiliation with a larger organization gives a single person with strong beliefs the credibility and the resources they need to help make change at the local level. It’s about effective service. The organization serves the cause it stands for and gives its members a way to serve the cause they believe in.

There are many secular organizations doing great work, but there are also some that are expressing Pagan values through their work. One example is the new PaganAid organization. This is a fledgling charitable organization in the U.K. that is the brainchild of Druid Ian Chandler. PaganAid’s goal is to, “break the cycle of destitution and destruction” of the Earth by helping indigenous communities earn money and “develop their own livelihood and the environment around them.” Environmental problems are often exacerbated by the destruction of forest land or other natural resources when large corporations kick out the local people, cut down the trees, and create unsustainable industries like pastures or mining. PaganAid helps indigenous people make money while also protecting their resources. You can learn more about PaganAid on the most recent episode of DruidCast.

Organizations like PaganAid takes that purpose that we all wish to serve and turn them into realities. They take people who wish to serve a purpose and give them the means to do so effectively. But before you can contribute to an organization, you need to know your own Will, your own purpose. What is the cause you wish to serve?

Temple of Witchcraft Virgo

TOW Virgo Ministry Sigil

“Everybody seems to ask, ‘What is my purpose?’ ‘Where is the place I belong?’ ‘What is my True Will?” says Adam Sartwell, co-founder and lead Virgo Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft. However, he says, “We need to re-frame the question to ‘How can I serve?’” All of Arthur’s knights may have quested for the Holy Grail, but in the end the real question was “Whom does the Grail serve?” In the same way, our True Wills in some way serve a higher will, and perhaps and organization that provides the structure for the cause we wish to serve. So in the end, finding out whom we serve, like with the Grail, helps us enact our True Will.

Also like the Grail, “The answer changes for each situation you are in,” adds Sartwell. He advised that we take some time to meditate on the true answer to the question in each facet of our lives. In meditation, he suggests, “Ask your psychic self these questions.” Don’t just stop there. Continue with more questions:

“How do I serve?”

“Why do I serve?”

This last one, says Sartwell jokingly, “can be repeated multiple times like you were an annoying three-year old who just learned the word ‘Why.’” Further, it can be seen in all aspects of your life. “Project yourself to work,” he suggests, “and ask these questions. “ “Project yourself to your house and ask the questions,” and finally, “project yourself to your place of power and reverence and ask these questions…the answers may surprise you.”

“Ask yourself what you think this tells you about your True Will, your purpose, and the place you belong,” adds Sartwell. In this way, we can better identify, understand, and serve our True Wills. And serving that Will often tells us what kind of organization we wish to align with in our individual quests to make a better world.

“Asking these questions may make you want to serve in a way that helps a particular organization,” he says. First, “Do your research about how you can help this organization.” Go to their website and check for volunteer opportunities or donation programs. After you have helped the organization physically, “You may want to add your spiritual energy to the organization.”

Sartwell, who is also the author of 21 days of Reiki, explains that a spirit is created when a group of people organize to do any kind of work. “This spirit is a lot like our higher self that needs to be fed energy so it can make needed changes to improve the group,” he says. With this in mind, Adam Sartwell, has written a meditation to meet with the spirit of the organization that you wish to serve, the group doing the work that is the most in line with your own True Will. Magick always helps drive the real-world work that creates change. In that spirit, I present Sartwell’s meditation here in full. Whatever your cause is, it can always be beneficial to attune to it directly and serve your organization on levels beyond the physical.


Get into a relaxed meditative state by your own preferred method or by following this countdown method. Relax your body. Allow it to sink into the surface you are on. Focus on the top of your head and relax the muscles. Begin to move your way down the body, relaxing each part. Let a wave of relaxation flow down from the top of the head to your forehead, to your jaw, and down into your neck and shoulders. Relaxation flows down your shoulders and into your arms and down to your fingertips. Relax your chest and back. Relax your abdomen and your hips. Relax your legs and your calves. Relax your feet and toes. Let a wave of relaxation flow through your body. Relax your mind and let all worries and thoughts flow away. Relax your heart and emotions, letting them drift away. Relax your spirit and let its light guide you.

Create before you in your mind’s eye a screen. It could be a theater screen or a blackboard. On it you will visualize a set of numbers from 12 to 1. With each number you go deeper into a meditative state. Visualize twelve on the screen of your mind. Visualize eleven on the screen of your mind. Visualize ten on the screen of your mind. Visualize nine on the screen of your mind. Let the numbers take you deeper. Visualize eight on the screen of your mind. Seven on the screen of your mind. Six on the screen of your mind. Five on the screen of your mind. Four on the screen of you mind. Deeper and deeper. Three on the screen of your mind. Two on the screen of your mind. One on the screen of your mind. You are now in a ritual consciousness where you have complete control of your psychic and magickal faculties.

Once again you will count down from thirteen to one, but release the screen of your mind and relax and just let the numbers take you down. Thirteen, twelve, eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one. You are now in a deep state where all is possible.

Imagine on the screen of your mind a tree with a door. Upon that door is the symbol for the group or organization you want to help. Before you go through that door, call out to your higher self, your Watcher, your Aumakua, and ask them to aid and guide this meditation. Knock on the door and through the door say that you want to talk to the spirit that is the higher self of the group. Open the door and step through. Notice your surroundings. What is this place? Look around until you find the spirit of this place. This is the Higher Self of the group you called out for. Talk to them and get to know them. What is the spirit’s name? What does it look like? In your conversation tell them how much gratitude you have for the work being done by this organization. Tell them about how you wish to act on that gratitude by supporting them. Ask “How can I serve you?” “What can I offer you?” Or ask a question of your own making. The answer may not be in words and may need interpretation. Ask the spirit what its sign of thanks and presence are.

Thank the spirit again for its time and answers. Say goodbye for now. Step back through the door and close it. The door fades in your mind’s eye and you come back to yourself. You can do this in your preferred method or the count up method offered here: Begin to count yourself up to an awakened state going from one to thirteen. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. Wiggle your fingers and toes and come back to body consciousness.

Count up again and don’t bother with the screen, just concentrate on the numbers: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.

Sweep your hands over your head down your body, visualizing all energies not for your highest good being swept away. Say “I give myself clearance and balance. I banish all that does not serve.”


“The most important part of this is to actually do what the spirit asked of you,” Sartwell emphasizes. “The reason you ask for the sign is so there is an exchange between you and the spirit, and so you know that your work is recognized by the spirit.” The organization may like your psychic energy, but what it really needs is your feet on the ground. “Don’t be surprised if it just asks you to do some physical-level work such as volunteering or giving resources.” Practical, real world work may be necessary. Even though the stereotypical Virgo may cringe at this turn of phrase, you may have to get your hands dirty.


Twelve Healing Stars: Leo and the Courage to Express

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 11.

It seemed like an ordinary day on the campus of the University of California, Irvine. Groups of students wandered about, some going to classes and others heading for a coffee and a sandwich after spending hours in a lecture hall. Yet something was different on the grounds outside the library. In the large, open space just on the edge of the campus’ beautiful green park, hundreds of brightly colored T-shirts had been strung up onto clotheslines. They hung there quietly, yet spoke loudly of pain, struggle, and triumph.

Clothesline Project display at the Old Orange County Courthouse

Clothesline Project display at the Old Orange County Courthouse

PricelessThe T-shirts were part of an art installation called The Clothesline Project. Each shirt was created by a survivor of sexual assault who poured out there feelings onto their shirts in a way that was infinitely more powerful than anything mere words could do. Beside them was a key, telling the viewers which colors stood for which crime: rape, child molestation, or death as a result of the assault.

hurt                           “Art is a little subversive…it gets underneath the surface and reveals what is there;

                            it is a Geiger counter for truth”

                                                                  – Pat B. Allen

Throughout the hours of the project, multiple groups of students wandered through the lines. Almost invariably, they began with nonchalant, casual attitudes as they glanced at the hanging shirts. You could almost see the moment where the realization hit them. Their faces changed, their paces slowed, and they began to give time and attention to each shirt, each victim. As they departed- always quietly and respectfully- you could almost measure the changes within each student’s heart.

 “Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”

                                                                                        – Chinua Achebe

Where debate and logic can break down the validity of a person’s argument, art allows uninhibited self-expression of ideas about life, justice, and morality in ways that seem to bypass the intellect and speak straight to the heart. There is danger, though. As anyone who has ever created something and offered it to the world can attest to, artwork bears your soul and your intimate ideas to potentially painful blows of criticism and anger. It takes profound courage to express your most intimate ideas on any topic, especially those that seek to fundamentally change society. It takes the courage of Leo to stand up like a lion and belt out your strongest roar. It may open you to attack, but it also tells the world where you stand. Art is not for cowards.

Mark Bilokur, Leo Lead Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, compares the courage to create art for social justice to the old idea of the elephant in the room, that problem everybody knows is right there but that no one wants to talk about. “Often,” he says, we don’t want to bring up the subject because it “can carry a big emotional charge, perhaps having to do with race, sex, or gender issues, religion or spirituality, personal or public health, wealth, privilege.” Artists have a way of fearlessly confronting the elephant. In the case of the Clothesline Project, it is well known that sexual assault is an ongoing issue on college campuses, but it’s also a highly emotional topic that stirs up argument, resentment, and defensiveness. So, like the elephant in the room, it takes courage to bring up. The purpose of the project was to humanize the victims and give them the courage to address the giant issue that often goes mostly ignored.

TOW Leo Ministry Sigil

“How do we talk about what we don’t want to talk about, what we don’t want to look at, don’t want to see, let alone reflect upon in our culture, our society, and especially in ourselves?” asks Bilokur. Art is one method of creating that reflection. He relates it to Leo’s lion who, though “often associated with the sun,” is actually “more active at dawn and dusk.” The male lion’s famous roar comes most often as the sun sets and as it rises. Thus the lion brings “the expression of the night/unconsciousness/unknown into the daytime/conscious/the known and from the daytime into night, this is an aspect of Leo, an aspect of Art.”

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

                                                                                             – Albert Einstein

Social injustice is a problem, and social consciousness must be changed in order to solve it. Artwork is one way of achieving that change. “One of the functions or aspects of the arts is to show things from a different perspective,” says Bilokur. Through this, “we bring a different level of consciousness to a situation.” He relates this idea to the Temperance card of the Tarot, which shows an angelic figure exchanging liquid from one chalice to a new one.

Sometimes, Bilokur stresses, that figure is “described as diluting wine (associated with the realm of the spiritual) with water (associated with the realm of the material). Thus the Temperance card can be seen as mixing and blending new ideas, perhaps injecting a new consciousness into them and allowing the public to view the issue in an entirely new way, which is a task artwork excels at.   And of course, some others have a very different name for this card. They just call it “Art.”

Darcy Totten, a former photojournalist and filmmaker who uses her artwork to stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement, expands on this idea by saying that “art is about connection.” She is working to connect the public to the consciousness of Black Lives Matter by “making a series of small shadow box altars and leaving them in public places.” Her altars are “memorials to those killed by police violence and hate crimes” inspired by the work of author and blogger Crystal Blanton. Totten leaves them in a variety of places, including “coffee shops, bus stops, newsstands, and street corners.” She calls them Altars for Justice.

Photo Credit: Darcy Totten

Photo Credit: Darcy Totten

Photo Credit: Darcy Totten

Photo Credit: Darcy Totten

This is a form of standing up courageously for what you believe in. Totten explains that, “I wanted to make space for grief about what is happening in this country in everyday life for people who may not even be aware that they are carrying grief,” but then she realized that this could be a much larger movement. “Its power,” she adds, “is in the ability to connect people around social justice issues.” Leo_Altar2Anyone can participate in this small but powerful method of connection for justice. Totten asks “anyone I know or who reads this to make one and leave it somewhere in their own community.” Take a picture of it and Email it to Totten at and/or Tweet it using the hashtag #altarsforjustice. “My goal,” she says, “is to reach out to different traditions, cities, towns, levels of activism, and intersecting interests to create a powerful form of group communication and community around issues of police violence and racism in America.” Leo_Altar3

Like the issues of social justice themselves, artwork can cause offense and anger to the point where hearts and minds close themselves tight. One remedy for this, says Bilokur, is to “listen with all of your senses.” Another is the “try not to judge.” “If you are in judgment,” he says, “you are no longer open to new information. Be open to new possibilities, new understandings.” Sometimes, he adds, “We may think we’re listening and be surprised to find we’re hearing more of our own assumptions and preconceptions more than what’s really being said.”

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.” 

                                                                                                 – Caitlyn Jenner

He also suggests striving toward the ancient goal to “Know thyself.” This can be done, says Bilokur, in many ways that sound familiar and foundational to magickal practitioners. Journaling regularly is one. Meditation is another. “Do one thing that makes you happy every day,” he says, and seek to know “the relationship of your Lower Self and Higher Self.” Sometimes this is just as scary as releasing a piece of art, a piece of yourself, into the world, but the improvement of society begins with the improvement of the self, and both behaviors take profound courage.

 “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?”

“Courage!”  – From The Wizard of Oz


This is a tough subject for me because I’m often hesitant to tackle important social justice topics head on (and I’m a terrible artist). But I have to take the “know thyself” advice to heart. Everyone must find their own method of expression before they can use it to improve the world as well as themselves. “We are not only the artists, we are shaped by what we do,” concludes Bilokur. “We are the painter as well as the canvas, the dance as well as the dancer, the singer and the song.” We are constantly re-creating ourselves. If we hide in fear, we become that fear. If we bravely express our voices through whatever medium calls to us, we become more courageous. No true change was ever made by a cowardly lion.



Twelve Healing Stars: Communication, Technology, and Paradox in Gemini

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 nine.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

In October 1962, the world watched breathlessly as the United States and the Soviet Union played a now-famous 13-day game of brinksmanship over the placement of Soviet nuclear weapons 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was perhaps the largest face-to-face conflict of the two superpowers during the Cold War, and certainly the one with the most at stake for the rest of the planet.  With one wrong move, the entire Earth could have found itself devastated by nuclear war.  Two ideologies, two world powers, came dangerously close to destroying everything.

One of the results of the crisis was something revolutionary for the time: a hotline was established between the White House and the Kremlin.  This would have been unthinkable before those 13 tense days, but both sides realized that, no matter their rhetoric, no matter how diametrically opposed their values were, the only way to remain alive was to talk to each other. It sucks to talk to your enemy, but it sucks more to destroy the planet.

We live in a diverse world.  While we may share a common desire for security, love, justice, and happiness, we often disagree intensely on how to achieve those things.  We often succumb to the temptation to caricature our opponents with all sorts of epithets, but that only stirs up anger and worsens the problem. All issues are more complicated than a cursory glance makes them appear.  It may be uncomfortable, but for any real change to occur it is vital to speak our own views cogently, listen (really listen) to the other side, and intelligently decide on a course of action. Debaters must be respectful of each other even in their disagreement. It seems paradoxical to honor your enemy, but effective communication is vital for true change.  The Trickster in Gemini loves to challenge us, and paradox is one of his favorite tools.

There’s even more paradox in this tricky little soup.  We should be getting closer together as a planet.  All of those things ruled by Gemini – travel, communication, technology, information – are better now than they have ever been in history.  We have more access to other ideas, beliefs, and cultures than ever before.  Anything we wish to know is just a Google search away, and we can quickly travel anywhere we wish to go.  And yet, it seems we are growing more and more apart.

Have you seen this video on what the 90’s sitcom Friends would be like today?

…Or these brilliant cartoons that illustrate the barriers we erect in our efforts to stay connected?

These examples are funny, but in Trickster fashion there is a tragic flip side to them. Now that we are all locked behind our phones, more and more groups seem to be isolating themselves behind the walls of their own ideas and blocking out all information that contradicts them. When rioting tore apart Baltimore, each side had awful names for each other that precluded their humanity.  We’re seeing “religious freedom” acts passed in order to allow discrimination against the LGBTQ community, public beheadings broadcast over the Internet by Muslim extremists, and a toxic political culture is Washington that butters its bread by vilifying the other side. Kennedy could talk to Kruschev at the height of the Cold War, but our elected officials can’t speak civilly to each other for fear of losing the support of their base or having the wrong quote turned into a meme. Connection has separated us; the tools of communication have been turned on their head, and they must be set right again.

Steve Kenson, Co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft and the Gemini Lead Minister of the organization focuses on “communication, expression, and queer mysteries” in his ministry.  With these mandates in mind, he says that his social justice focus is on “expression, freedom of association, and diversity.”

“Diversity affects everyone,” says Kenson.  “Oppression or marginalization of any one group or class is not only unjust to those people, but it affects the whole.”  He notes that feminism, as an example, is more than just the fight for equality for women.  It extends into questioning “many of the gender assumptions implicit in a culture that affect and limit men and queer people, who are tangled up in that web of gender rules and requirements.”  The same logic applies to all groups who fight for equality.  There are assumptions implicit in both sides of the fight that must be exposed and dealt with.

“Freedom of expression,” says Kenson, “is the key to helping ensure diversity.”  He adds that “Marginal and minority voices must be heard,” adding that, “Such communication can be the basis for empathy, compassion, and understanding, the cornerstones to creating a culture of diversity and power-with rather than power over.”

As Pagans, we often look to the natural world for guidance.  Kenson stresses that, “Nature teaches us that diversity is strength and prosperity, while monoculture is weakness and vulnerability.”  In yet another paradox, only diversity of thought and opinion can ensure the health of our own opinions, no matter how much we wish the whole world would suddenly convert to our beliefs.

There are real things win the real world that everyone can do to help facilitate greater diversity within the world. Kenson advises three important real-world actions:

  • Communicate: While we are blessed to live in a time of incredible access to communication, “Such communication can also alienate us if we choose to allow it to make us callous and unsympathetic toward the real people we are communicating with.” We’ve all had our social media rants and those times when we’ve called out those who disagree with us on an issue. Whatever you think of their opinions, those people are real people, and your rants do nothing to win their hearts. In fact, they probably hurt your cause. They make you feel better, but they negate the humanity of your opponent and turn a debate you may be able to win into an attack that closes the opponent’s eyes to your views. It’s natural to put up stronger walls when people attack you.
  • Educate: The same technological resources that make communication possible also give you no excuse to be ill-informed on a topic. “Ask respectful questions and get answers rather than making assumptions,” says Kenson. “Find out how to be an ally, a supporter, or a champion of causes you care about.”
  • Express: “Cultures are self-policing mechanisms, and we are its creators and maintainers,” he says. “Express clear and direct opinions, both supporting the culture you want to see and calling out behaviors or ideas you feel are harmful.”       After all, “If we don’t act to try and create a culture of diversity and openness, we can’t expect others to do it for us.”


On the magickal level, Kenson advises us to, “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…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.” In many ways, this is an “as above, so below” issue. Create sacred safe spaces, act in a way that encourages diversity on the magickal planes, then let that energy return to the physical world.

One of the most important pieces of this, says Kenson, is to always be sure you are working on yourself. “One of the greatest magickal things we can do for the world,” he says, “is to work out our own stuff and become the best people we can be.” In perhaps an even stronger way, your example of being the best possible person you can be does more to change the world around you than any spell or journey.

Importantly, Kenson warns, “Don’t fall into the trap of thinking yourself a superior and enlightened being helping poor unfortunates, because you’re down here in the dirt with the rest of us.”

It starts with yourself. “A spell for social justice is good,” Kenson emphasizes, “but a spell backing a donation, volunteering, or speaking out is even better. If you want to work for change, do it on all levels.” Writing was the original magick, the first form of permanent communication. Simply communicating respectfully with your opponent is a powerful form of creating change.

One of the hardest lessons in the realm of Gemini is that you must speak to your enemies. As Kennedy learned during the Cuban Missile Crisis, straw men and caricatures of the black-hatted “bad guys” only get you so far. They inhibit communication and only make the world a worse place. Any spell calling upon the deities who govern communication, entities like Hermes, Thoth, Raven, Coyote, and the other Trickster deities to facilitate communication among all parties in a conflict can be helpful in its resolution. Many of the Trickster/Messenger deities also govern magick, so they are excellent choices to help you manifest your desires.

Languages are being spoken by all kinds of people across the world. The oppressed may speak in the language of riot. The colonized might speak in the language of revolution. The privileged might speak in terms of economics and assimilation. The paradox comes with the realization that none of them are intentionally evil. All of them are right, but all of them are wrong. It’s the quicksilver fluidity of genuine communication that can bridge the gaps and help create a better world.

Even at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy realized this. The hotline connection to his enemy gave the two powers an opportunity to communicate clearly whenever their competing interests threatened their very existence. If he and Kruschev could solve the paradox despite such terrifyingly high stakes, surely we can. As Kennedy stated in the aftermath, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”


Twelve Healing Stars: Helping in the Small World of Aquarius

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 five.

I live a few miles from Disneyland. We are close enough that throughout much of the year a loud cluster of explosions from the park’s impressive fireworks finale announces the arrival 9:45 p.m. It’s kind of nice, like the old time village criers announcing “9:45 and all is well!” It’s our little community ritual.

Tucked way in the back of the Happiest Place in Earth is one of its most famous yet least popular rides: “It’s a Small World.” The ride was originally created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Billed as a “salute to the children of the world,” the ride is a journey by boat to different areas of the world. Each scene features not-quite-audio-animatronic children from various areas of the world singing the ride’s signature song to you in multiple languages. It’s a cute, though perhaps overly optimistic view of the world.

But that song! calls it both “the greatest earworm of all time” and “the most performed and translated song of all time.” It’s so catchy the even Disney made fun of it in The Lion King. And now it’s stuck in your head. Sorry.

It’s really easy to ridicule this simple little piece of music, but the world would certainly be a better place if we could get past our cynicism and really listen to the lyrics:

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears.
There’s so much that we share,
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all.


In a world where cartoonists are shot for ridiculing one of the world’s most popular religions and where young black men are suspicious simply for wearing a hoodie, we could do much worse than to remember our kinship with all residents of the earth. Everyone struggles, everyone has pains, and a world where we focus on our kinship and healing our differences instead of accentuating the things which divide us from each other could only improve the planet for all of us. Sharing, caring, and forging community bonds with all people is the focus of Aquarius.

There is more to social justice than protest and boycott. Some people are called to help those in need, the people who suffer, whether their suffering comes from injustice or natural disaster. Oppressed communities need help, but so do those who are down on their luck. I remember the desperate attempts to get water to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Water is life, and Aquarius, the Water Bearer, seeks to bring life to all who can’t sustain it on their own. The Aquarian mentality seeks to make the world smaller.


Lisa, the Aquarius Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, puts it more succinctly: “When the going gets tough,” she says, “you need a community that is going to step up.” She’s not alone. Religions of all kinds take their share of criticism, and much of that is fair. Especially with the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings, it can be easy to write off all religious practice as encouraging exclusivity and violence.

Yet in their highest aspects, religious communities of all kinds work to help people. Catholic groups around the world help the poor. Many Christian groups participate in programs such as Toys for Tots. Islam requires its practitioners to donate a fixed amount of income to help the needy. The Pagan community does its own work.

Lisa oversees the TOWER (Temple Of Witchcraft Emergency Response) program. Like the Tower card in the tarot, sometimes your life falls apart all at once. In these situations you need help, and Lisa’s ministry offers that help. At this time, help is limited to the TOW community, but she says “we are working on ways to facilitate emergency response for larger, worldwide emergencies.”

Temple of Witchcraft Aquarius

TOW Aquarius Sigil

Many other Pagan organizations are doing this work. The Reclaiming Tradition’s Five-Point Agenda states that, “Misfortune comes to everyone in life. The cost of illness, disability, or natural disasters should not be borne by individuals alone but be shared among many,” and their work is famous for putting that responsibility into practice.

Reclaiming Tradition member Ravyn Stanfield is a prime example of a Pagan whose spiritual practice led her to go out and help heal the suffering. Inspired by “hundreds of well-run Reclaiming transformational rituals, consensus meetings, and personal development exercises” to work to increase consciousness of communities.

With her spiritual community she has advocated for more just communities. Professionally, though, she works to heal those communities. Stanfield is an acupuncturist, and her friends in Reclaiming connected her to the organization Acupuncturists Without Borders. She began serving AWB after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, providing trauma relief through acupuncture to the victims of that disaster on a volunteer basis. Since then she has been employed by AWB, which she says, “provides caring, compassionate treatment in a group setting so everyone treated may experience relief from stress and trauma together.”

In the true spirit of creating communities, AWB also travels to sensitive areas of the globe, where they “train local health care workers, provide clinics, fund community projects and exchange knowledge with traditional healers” as well as treat children who have escaped from the sex trafficking industry. This is a great community to a very special and valuable kind of work. While we can’t all be acupuncturists, we can help support AWB’s work through donation.  Stanfield provides workshops, presentations, and healing services through her website at

Author T. Thorn Coyle has written about her own helping work in her local soup kitchen, and for the past few years she has helped to organize a blood drive at Pantheacon, the indoor Pagan convention held every February in San Jose, CA. Most Pagan Pride Days include a canned food drive. Like any other religious group, Pagans are out there helping those in need. We may be small, but we care.

Every agency that provides assistance is always in need of supplies. While we may not be able to get out into the field the same way that Stanfield and Coyle do, we can help support that work. We can donate your time or your money to the organizations who help. The Red Cross says that monetary donations are the most effective because it allows the organization to purchase exactly what is needed for each situation. However, their disaster preparedness list is also a good guide to the types of donations one could make to help others in case of disaster:

  • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)

  • Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)

  • Flashlights

  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radios (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)

  • Extra batteries

  • First aid kits

  • Medical items

  • Multi-purpose tools

  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items

  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)

  • Cell phones with chargers

  • Emergency blankets

  • Maps of the area


For your own disaster preparedness needs, further suggestions include extra cash and a supply of any medications you take.

The Hurricane Katrina response showed us all that sometimes the supplies have trouble getting to the people who need them. It couldn’t hurt to back up your physical donations with some magickal work to ensure they make it to the needy. In ritual, charge a key to open doors to the needy and send it with your items. Or, to work with the imagery of Aquarius, fill one glass with water and leave another glass empty chalice with water while visualizing healing reaching its target. Then make your donation or volunteer your time.

We are a small community, but we are part of a small world. As recent events have shown, minority communities easily can be misunderstood and misrepresented. Helping others also helps us, making us visible and easing us toward that other Aquarian ideal of sharing community with other world faiths. Valuing community over differences can offer healing of a different kind, a world where we focus more on what we have in common and how we can help each other rather than the fences that drive us apart. As the repetitive Disney song reminds us, “Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all.”

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Twelve Healing Stars: Scorpio, Justice, and Death

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 two. To see previous posts, click here.

You don’t have to be a witch, or even care a whit about astrology, to feel the death and darkness that permeates Scorpio. The dying energy of the sun as it slips toward the winter solstice has become undeniable.  We begin to turn our headlights on as we drive to work, and we have less time to walk the dog in the afternoon.  The land around us, especially the trees, has begun to give up its life force as it prepares slowly but surely for its annual death.


We tend to avoid all thought of death in our culture.  Most of us die in hospitals, where doctors do little more than pronounce the time we crossed, advise loved ones to make arrangements, take off their latex gloves, and move on to their next patient.  Bodies are transported by professionals, stored mostly out of our reach.   Cremations are done in secret in an effort to protect us from pain.  When my grandparents died, they were carted away by strangers, and their ashes were scattered at sea. They requested no funeral because they wanted to protect us from grief. I know that story isn’t unique.

But when you deny death, you deny life.  This study, published by the Society of Personal and Social Psychology, suggests that those who contemplate their own mortality end up living happier, more satisfying lives.  They make better diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices.  It’s also good for the world.  Greater death awareness, says the research, “Can motivate increased expressions of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism.”  In this sense, just preparing for and discussing your death with your loved ones and helping others do the same.  It creates change both within and outside you.  It is an act of magick.

Reverend Elsa A. Elliott, a High Priestess and the Scorpio Lead Minister in the Temple of Witchcraft, sees death from

Temple of Witchcraft Scorpio

Scorpio Ministry Sigil

both a practical and magickal point of view.  “Part of the work,” she says, “is to inspire us as humans to contemplate our own deaths and communicate with our loved ones about how we want decisions made regarding medical care and other end of life concerns.”  By doing so, we are interacting with the touchy subject of death in a real-world way that can stimulate a happier life while we are living.

At the same time, says Elliott, we must work on the inner planes.  She emphasizes that, “Another aspect is spiritual and magical,” and advises “doing meditative pathworkings to journey to the underworld and interact with the ideas and inner landscapes that are related to death.”  That way, we are prepared and fully conscious of death’s reality on both the physical and magickal planes, living a higher quality life in both realms.

Death and social justice

In my last post, I shared a personal spiritual belief of mine that most of us on a Pagan path will probably resonate with on some level.  In my view, and in my experience working with my own ancestors, we all return to some place of spiritual unity – a common source – after death.  Differences in life cease to be important.  It doesn’t matter whether you were Christian or Muslim, witch or atheist, the source is the same.  We share experiences, learn lessons from each other, and wish the best for our descendents.  All of life’s illusory separations disappear, and all souls return to a shared space in the other world.

Imagine living in that eternal source, understanding that all of our separations are false, if you were a person who lived a life of anger or injustice.  How do history’s most awful, selfish, or ineffective people feel once they have to wander through eternity knowledgeable of how they wasted their time on this planet?  Perhaps if you believe in reincarnation, they have the opportunity to learn and grow in their next existence.  Healing those souls is social justice for the future of the world.  If you don’t believe in reincarnation, then perhaps healing them can inspire you to live a more just and effective life the same way that contemplating death can make your life more fulfilling.

Further, there are those who have died in the name of injustice and those who have died as its victims.  In the fight for racial equality, there are names such as Medgar Evars and Martin Luther King, Jr., among many many others.  In the fight against homophobia there are people like Matthew Shepard and the ancestors of Stonewall.  Whatever the cause you believe in, there are people who have either dedicated a full life or died to defend it.  Working with them can be a source of greater inspiration for a path of justice in your own life.

At the same time, healing those who died to advance the cause of injustice is equally necessary.  Elliott works as an “unconditional mediator” for the dead, helping even the perpetrators of injustice cross over and “incorporate their experience.”  Hopefully, this kind of work allows those souls to learn and heal, so that in their return to this world will be one filled more with love and less fueled by narrow minded barriers and harmful actions.  “It is not the mediator/psychopomp’s job,” she says, “to cast judgment.”

Part of working with the dead for social justice is to heal those who were the most unjust in their lifetimes.  It may be unpopular, but it’s a powerful practice that holds the potential of long-term healing for the people of the earth and the planet as a whole.  Ultimately, don’t we want the causes we cherish to last beyond our own lifetimes?

Physical and magickal action

Since we know that facing and preparing for our own mortality can inspire us to live better lives here on earth, this time of Scorpio is a good time to start really thinking about what you want for yourself after your death.  Talk to your loved ones about your wishes. What do you want your loved ones to do with your remains?  Some forms of body disposal are extremely damaging to the environment.  Standard burial involves a spectrum of chemicals that harm the ground, to the extent that graves are lined with cement partially to keep them from seeping into the ground.  Elaborate coffins add to the problem.  Normal cremation pollutes the air.

Elliott offers a number of resources to explore as you contemplate your final disposition.  Consider a green burial in a biodegradable casket.  There are other options.  Turn yourself into a gemstone or an ocean reef that helps feed living sea animals, or bury yourself at sea to return yourself to the ecosystem.

In the magickal realm, Elliott suggests journeys to the underworld.  “Walk with psychopomps” and “experience the path your soul will take when your body dies.”  Psychological research agrees, emphasizing that, “the dance with death can be a delicate but potentially elegant stride toward living the good life.”  Any good life includes an element of working to better the lives of yourself and others.

Build up energy for this intense work.  Consider taking a vow of silence for a day.  Be alone with your thoughts and truly contemplate your life’s path and which of the world’s many wounds you wish to heal.  Explore your ancestry and ride the waves of their previous work or staunch the bleeding of any injuries they caused.

As always, once you’ve completed your magickal work, you meditations and inner healing, bring it enthusiastically into the physical world.  As Rev. Elliott says, “Contemplate your own death. What do you want to be remembered for? Go and do that!”