The Magical Battle of This Time

The World Has Gone Bonko.

Devout Christians vote for a self-admitted sexual predator. Climate change revs up hurricanes and whips up wildfires into holocausts—and the deniers in government respond by rolling back programs to mitigate it. 

Having spent the ‘60s and beyond debunking the right-wing assertions that every progressive movement was secretly controlled by the Commie Russians, now we learn that the neo-fascist Russians are mimicking progressive movements online in order to stir up dissension. It’s as if the world has fallen under some evil spell that keeps our eyes riveted on the antics of the Creep in Chief while impotent to do anything about him.

And no one knows any more what to believe.

Through the Lens of Magic

When hard logic fails us, we might gain more clarity by looking at the situation through the lens of magic. Magic—by Dion Fortune’s definition “the art of changing consciousness at will”—in this sense is not waving wands or pulling rabbits out of hats. It’s the heritage of ancient psychologies that admit multiple forms of consciousness—the remnant, in the West, of old indigenous understandings of the world as infused with life, consciousness, presence and underlying patterns.

A magical understanding of the world looks at energies, which we often experience in the form of emotions. If we look at the last few years energetically, 2016 appears to have been one poisonous, roiling mass of toxic smoke. 

Or maybe a plague of dementor-like creatures that spew umbrage and feed on a kind of self-righteous outrage and vitriol coming from both the right and the left, all amplified by social media. 

We now know that the Russians were involved in boosting that signal—but obsessing about conspiracy theories only increases the energetic stench. More important is to learn how to counter it—for that particular energy feeds authoritarianism.

Let me say that again—the energy that comes with obsessing about conspiracy theories, whether they are left or right, wrong or right, only feeds authoritarianism. Stay out of it!

Tools for the Magical Warrior

Audre Lorde said “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Magically speaking, you can’t counter an evil with the same energy that created it.

Magical training teaches us to first recognize what state of consciousness we’re in—to look for the energetic/emotional signature of that state. We think in terms of metaphors. So, for example—this riled-up, puffed-up self-righteousness might be perceived as a nasty spell, as a lung-searing smoke, as a particular color or feel in the body or a sound like nails screeching on a blackboard. 

Step 1: Identify

Try it—can you remember a moment when you’ve been caught up in that energy? What did it feel like?  If it were a smell, what would it be? Is there a place in your body you feel it—or does your body tense in certain ways or your breathing change? Is there an inner dialogue that runs through your mind?

Step 2: Name It

Once you’ve identified it, name it. Knowing something’s name gives us power over it. For me, I think I’ll call that state Toxic Righteousness. It’s something like the dementors of Harry Potter—but instead of just spreading despair and hopelessness, Toxic Righteousness riles up that heady mix of anger and self-certainty. It’s a high-energy state, and so it is seductive, because it feels much better than depression or despondence, and it feeds our sense of self-importance. 

You may find a name for it that works better for you. Once you’ve identified and named Toxic Righteousness, the next step is to notice when you slip into it. When you’re reading that inflammatory Facebook post and your blood pressure rises—can you smell a whiff of that stench? Are your shoulders contracting in that way? Is that inner dialogue looping?

Now, when you notice yourself overcome with that energy, you can say:

“Oh no, I’m falling under the spell of Toxic Righteousness again!”

Step 3: Call Forth Allies

Harry Potter learns to counter the dementors by calling forth a patronus—a positive, protective energy formed of memories of things he loves. 

To counter any negative energy, you can’t merely negate it—you need to call forth something different, a positive energetic-emotional state.

So, to create your own version of the patronus, think of a time when you have acted with courage and integrity, when you’ve valued yourself enough to act in service of what you love. Or, if that’s too complicated, think of something or someone you love and care for. 

What happens to your breathing, your body, your inner dialogue?  If that feeling were a color, or a smell, or a sound, a snatch of song or an affirmation, what would it be? 

Give that state a name, or link it to a word or phrase or affirmation. It can be simple, it doesn’t have to be great poetry, and you don’t have to believe it for it to work. But make sure it is framed positively—for again, names have power. If you say “I am immune to the forces of despair”—then despair is still in your mind. Rather, name what you want to call in:  “Strong in my integrity, I radiate love and truth.”

Step 4: Use Your Tools

Use that affirmation, call up the imagery, the smells, the bodily feelings to counter the toxic energies. Before you share that post, or make that late-night call, or send that irate email, stop. 

Call yourself into that positive state. 

For myself, I like to call it a state of honor. Honor is one of the old Pagan virtues—it means acting with integrity and courage, in accordance with our true values. It’s also what is preached by all the mainstream religions. 

Despite that, honor is sorely lacking in the world today—and yet now and again we see it surface, sometimes in unexpected places. When we do, we should welcome it—even when it comes from people whose political beliefs or policies are diametrically opposed to ours—for it is a strong counter to the self-serving callousness and cruelty that Toxic Righteousness evokes.

The Root of Toxic Righteousness

Underlying the appeal of Toxic Righteousness is a great well of hopelessness and despair, rooted in a lack of a sense of self-worth, in which many are sinking. The dominant culture devalues so much of what is best in us, in favor of external markers of success or extraneous features. 

Real honor comes from the choices we make—not from money or position or skin color or who our ancestors were.  Someone whose biggest claim to value is their whiteness is pretty sad and pathetic, really. Pumped-up Toxic Righteousness may seem like a lifebelt when you’re drowning in a sea of depression.

Transmute It

To counter the energy of Toxic Righteousness in others, try to avoid name-calling and condemnation, no matter how deserved. Condemn the acts, but instead try calling the actors back to their own true honor. Not “You’re a vile and worthless piece of shit”, (no matter how well-deserved that assessment might be), but “You are better than this. You are here on earth to make a contribution, and it’s your job to find out what that is. You have gifts to give, and the world needs you to find them and offer them.”

Our culture is falling apart at the seams, leaving us without a moral compass or a standard of behavior. The scary part of this moment is that when society decompensates, authoritarian regimes arise. Scared and confused people easily grasp at anything that promises order. 

The hopeful part of this moment is that when false values fail and a culture based on them comes apart, we have an opportunity to build something new. If enough of us channel that clear wind of integrity, honor and truth, we can dispel the toxic clouds, and make space for the clear light of a new day.

Me too!

Reading all the stories about sexual harassment under the #metoo thread has evoked a lot of memories for me.

I find myself reflecting on how deeply conditioned I was, and other women of my generation were, NOT to speak up.  So I want to share the story of the French Woman on the Train…

I was nineteen.

Traveling around Europe that summer of 1970, some of the time hitchhiking, some of that alone, let’s just say I experienced A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’m still alive to tell the tale, so it could have been worse. But in my proto-feminist consciousness of the time, my attitude was, “Why shouldn’t I do what I want just because men are creepy?”  Nonetheless, I had decided never to hitchhike again, but to go from Barcelona to Paris safely by train.

In the compartment with me were two men, European, fairly young and good-looking. On the seat across sat a young French woman, demurely reading a book.

One of the men sat next to me.

As the train sped northward through the night, he moved closer. His hand brushed my thigh. I moved over. He moved closer. His hand crept up my thigh. I moved further away. He moved closer…

Before long, I found myself sitting on the floor to get away from him.

He switched seats, and sat down next to the young French woman. She continued reading her book. He moved closer. His hand snaked up her thigh.

She picked it up, regarded it calmly for a moment, then took his ring finger and sharply jerked it backwards. I don’t think she actually broke it, but he yelped, swore violently, and moved away.

I looked at her with awe. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Why was I sitting on the fucking floor?  It wasn’t as if I had considered fighting the guy or confronting the guy and decided not to. I hadn’t stopped myself out of fear. I simply hadn’t thought at all.

Confronting or raising a fuss or fighting back just weren’t even in my universe of possibilities. The creepy guy next to you at the movie theater is breathing hot and heavy—you move away. Who has ever stood up and yelled, “Help—this guy is harassing me!”

Until I saw that woman fight back, it had literally never occurred to me that you could.

That’s the ‘culture’ part of rape culture

—the invisible web of assumptions and expectations that we don’t think about because they have already shaped how we think and respond.  So don’t ask why women didn’t speak out.  Women didn’t speak out because women didn’t speak out.

And now we do.  That is how culture changes.

Lessons from the Fires

“Sacred fire, that shapes this land,

Summer teacher, winter friend.

Protect us as we learn anew,

To work, to heal, to live with you.”

This is the chant we sing each summer as part of the fire protection ritual we do on my land in Western Sonoma County.  As the fires rage, as I worry for our land and ache for our neighbors who have lost homes and even lives, I want to honor fire for the great teacher she is. Those of us who live in places where wildfire is a constant summer threat learn some deep lessons—the very lessons we all need to navigate a world where climate change has intensified the dryness and the winds.

Nature is more powerful than we are.  If you doubt it, look at the pictures of the devastated neighborhoods of Santa Rosa, or for that matter, the flattened towns of the Caribbean or the flooded neighborhoods of Houston.  We are part of nature, but we exist within her constraints, and we ignore them to our peril.

The indigenous people of California understood fire.  They regularly burned the land to keep the underbrush down and reduce pests and diseases.  The fires remained low and relatively cool, the forests open and parklike, perfect habitat for game.  But conditions are so different today, and human settlement so much more dense, we find it hard to apply those lessons.

There are many things we can do to reduce the threat of fire—and we do them! Thinning, grazing, keeping a defensible perimeter around our structures, cleaning up, trimming the grass.  But in the end, in a firestorm like we’ve just seen, none of that may avail.  Nature is more powerful than we are.

Possessions are impermanent.  We may enjoy them, even cherish them, but we cannot be defined by them. In fire country we know that they are on loan. If they go, we will mourn, but we will not be surprised. Lives are more important.

We survive by the grace of our neighbors. Our homes are protected by those brave and honorable folks who join the volunteer fire department. They go through hours and hours of training—which also require long hours of driving, and meetings, and more and more trainings. In fire season they are on call day and night, responding also to medical emergencies, and do their best to save homes and lives without judging. We are dependent on their generosity and courage.

Even more than that, we are dependent on our neighbors’ vigilance, their care of their land, their caution with candles and cigarettes, their alertness to report smoke or the glow of fire. We depend on their help in times of emergency, and their company in times of celebration. 

Anyone who thinks they are entirely self-reliant does not live in fire country. Fire does not discriminate—it will not spare you because of your skin color or your prosperity or your affiliation for power, or even because of your virtue. Loss comes to those that deserve better, and luck comes to the undeserving. 

Hope lies in the good will, the courage, skills and selflessness of your neighbors, and the sheer common sense of strangers to guard their cigarette butts. We are all in this together, and the conditions of life here demand that we recognize that truth and help one another.

If the land goes up in flames, there are many possessions I will miss. I will mourn the loss of structures we have built and money we’ve invested. But the greatest loss—once lives are safe—will be the trees we’ve planted, the food forests, the hedgerows of lavender and rosemary, the hours and hours of work gone into the land. We know, when we plant, that everything we do is on sufferance, yet we plant anyway. In that lies our faith—that there is value in the planting, the work, the vision. 

After destruction comes regeneration. 

Redwoods push out new needles; Doug fir seeds sprout. Bees return, and wildflowers bloom. Fire is the destroyer, but also the great renewer.  What comes after will be different, but it may thrive in a new way.

In an impermanent world, I remain grateful for what I have, for each day when the land remains green, for each drop of rain that falls, for the help and stalwart courage of the firefighters and the devotion of the medics, for the friendship of those that surround me. I remain grateful to fire, our comfort in winter, our harsh teacher in these dry and windy autumn days. Despite the worry, the losses, the fear in these lessons, I am grateful to live in a web of relationships forged by fire.

A Statement from Starhawk on the Las Vegas Tragedy

Starhawk's Statement on the Las Vegas Tragedy

My heart is breaking for all the families and loved ones of the victims of Las Vegas, for the lives cut short and the creativity, love, joy and beauty that those who died will not now get to experience.It’s human nature, in these moments, to ask why—to want a motivation, a sense of some sort of reason. If we can identify a reason, we can exert some control over future events, or so we think.  But we don’t know why.  Or rather, we don’t know the specifics of this ‘why?’.

There is a larger ‘why’ when we look at the epidemic of mass shootings and random violence—even beyond the easy access to weapons that against all rationality and instincts of self-preservation we continue to provide.

A society works when we have a social contract, an understanding of a base level of care and mutuality and responsibility for one another’s well-being, when we have a structure of common beliefs and values and an understanding of what it is to be a decent human being. A strong social fabric provides a structure that can hold people together when their internal structure breaks down.

That contract has been broken.

We no longer agree on what’s true, what’s valid, what’s decent, or what’s important.  We are steeped in lies and corruption and falsehood coming down from the highest levels of power.

In the face of all that, in the aftermath of the killing sprees and the denial of the environmental catastrophe threatening us all, I say that to be a decent human being is to care for something beyond your own self-interest. A decent human being cares for others, does not blame victims but takes responsibility for easing suffering and sharing burdens, and speaks the truth, even to power.  A decent human being feels empathy for others, and acts from love.

We saw many examples of courageous and selfless behavior in Las Vegas.  Let us remember that, and take some hope and solace in these challenging times.

Some Monuments I’d Like to See

The Nazi violence in Charlottesville has had one positive backlash—

(Dinah Rogers/European Pressphoto Agency)the taking down of Confederate monuments on a mass scale.  I’m all for it—as they glorify a system of brutal racism and oppression. And if it leads on to downing Washington and Jefferson, as the the racist-in-chief warns could happen, well, maybe that would be a good thing. Most monuments glorify war leaders and politicians, and maybe it would do us good as a country to take them all down, wipe the slate clean, and decide on a different set of values we might want to revere.

In any case, the public squares of our country are now dotted with empty plinths begging to be filled.

I would like some monuments in every town to heroic child care workers, those dedicated women and men and gender-fluid folks who tend children not their own, wipe their noses, comfort their tears, and prevent them from beaning other children with toy trucks.  How about a Caregiver’s Monument, honoring those selfless souls who love and care for someone with Alzheimers or ALS or any debilitating disease?  Could we have some statues of people who stop on the freeway and help stranded motorists change tires?

Or if its history you want, let’s get rid of the dudes with the swords on horseback and raise up some statues to the true and awesome heraism of the mothers who gave birth under slavery and nurtured children they could not protect from abuse, from sale down the river, from separation and abandonment, yet gave them the love that formed a core of strength to survive.

 

How about honoring the courage of the immigrants, not just the Pilgrims but the potato-famine immigrants, the ones who came fleeing the pogroms and the Chinese workers who built the railroads, all the ones who do the low-paid, thankless jobs that actually make life better for other people, the housecleaners, farmworkers, day laborers, nurses?

But whoa, let’s back up here—before we do that, how about honoring the original indigenous nations whose territories our neighborhoods are built upon?  And make them commemorations not of battles but of the fortitude and beauty of  everyday life—gathering acorns, showing a child how to use a bow, preparing food, singing in prayer.  Or, if you truly feel white people are neglected, why not commemorate the peasant rebels or the Witches who died in the flames?

Too depressing?  What about some statues of animals?  Not just war horses, but a big, faithful, affectionate poodle or two, some cats, a dolphin, and a lot of endangered species.  I’d like to see a monument to a hundred of the best healing herbs, or a rosebush, or the humble earthworm who does so much to create fertility in the land.

 What would our cities, our towns, our psyches be like if instead of worshiping heroes of violence and power we revered images of life, of everyday acts of kindness and caring, of nourishing and nurturing and human resilience?

It is possible that violence is sometimes necessary in this brutal world, but do we have to put it up on a pedestal and make it something to aspire to?

Take them all down, I say—every bronze conqueror and warlord, and give me one simple statue of a goodhearted person holding out an open hand to welcome a stranger. 

A Birthday Gift

Starhawk_gardenDear Friends,

In just a few days, I’ll be sixty-six years old. Maybe I should be retiring—but with the Arctic melting and a climate change denier in the White House, it doesn’t seem like the moment to sit back and crochet afghans.  Climate change is not just carbon—it represents massive ecosystem degeneration—and ecosystems include people, too.

We need to respond with massive ecosystem and social regeneration, and that’s why I spend so much time teaching our Earth Activist Trainings, which combine ecological design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on activism and organizing.  Together, our trainings offer a powerful set of tools for reviving desiccated landscapes and renewing ravaged communities. And by offering Diversity Scholarships, we’re able to get these tools into the hands of folks from frontline communities who most need them.

And so I’d like to ask you all for a birthday present Our scholarship program has been amazingly successful, building new networks and increasing diversity in the permaculture movement.  Success generates more demand, and we currently have more people wanting scholarships than we have grants to support.

 I just hate to say ‘no!’  So I’m asking for a birthday present, not for me personally, but for the work.

Can you help?  Could you donate $66?  Or $660?  Or $6?  Maybe there’s somebody out there that could kick in $6600?  (If you did, I’d definitely crochet you an afghan—during the program while my co-teacher is presenting!)  Feel free to donate whatever you can.  Donations are tax-deductible, and any amount will help and be deeply appreciated!

EAT students deep in process

Earth Activists in Training! Photo Credit: www.brookeporterphotography.com

I’m not doing a fancy GoFundMe, or setting up a flashy website–I’m just asking!  We have a Donate page on our Earth Activist Training website—check it out and take a look at our courses and programs while you’re there.  We need to raise $10,000 right now.  Can we do it by my birthday, June 17?

We have a stellar group of students requesting scholarships for our upcoming Midwest trainingJune 25-July 9—from black youth working on urban gardens to a whole group of water defenders from Standing Rock.  My dearest birthday wish is to be able to say ‘yes’ to them all!

Thank you so much for your support—it has a huge ripple effect!

-Starhawk

You can donate HERE to support Earth Activist Training Diversity Scholarships!

 

Poets and Heroes

This weekend is the funeral for a young man named Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, who, together with veteran and father Ricky John Best and poet Micah David-Cole stood up against a white supremacist spewing hate and threatening two young women on the Portland Metro.

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Taliesin’s death has especially hit home for me, because, while I didn’t know him personally, he is part of our extended community of Pagans and Witches and activists.  My heart goes out to his family and loved ones, and to the families of Ricky John Best.  Pride and honor are a small consolation for such a loss.  Love and healing, also, to Micah David-Cole, who survived, and who reminds us not to idolize the heroes and forget the young women who were the targets of such destructive hate.

For those young women, I pray that they might come through with the deep knowledge of their own precious worth and sacred beauty, that they may be surrounded by a community that cherishes them, and that their own courage and agency be recognized and fostered.

Acts of hate are acts of terror, meant to reinforce the constant low-level fear carried by every person of color, every woman in a racist, misogynist society—that your mere presence, separate from any act you might take or thing you might do—can make you the target of violence at any moment.

Against that tide, we need everyday heras and heroes, poets and fathers, lovers and protectors—all of us to commit to acts of common decency and humanity.

We are living in a world bathed in a foul atmosphere of vitriol, scorn and lies, amped up by the run-up to and outcome of the elections, reinforced by social media.  It’s like a poisonous miasma, as if somewhere on the astral plane demonic mills are churning out a bath of psychic smog.  Every diatribe on the internet, every racist statement by a leader or politician, every misogynist tweet is like a forced-air furnace blowing toxins into our atmosphere.

The corrosion creeps into everything, even our personal relationships.  We who consider ourselves progressives are not immune—too often we respond to one another with that same energy of castigation and vitriol.  And the damaged and broken among us are most susceptible.  When your psychic defenses are cracked, it’s all too easy for the poison to seep in, fill you up and spill over.  When it does, it finds channels already laid out for itby Trump and Fox News and white-supremacist websites and all the purveyors of prejudice and hate.

Any act of common decency is like a small window letting in a breath of fresh, clean air.  A great act, a sacrifice of such magnitude as what took place on that Portland metro, is a powerful act of magic that opens a great portal.  Such love is a powerful force; such fierce compassion is a wild, cleansing wind. Into the toxic stew of hatred and lies and vitriol reinforced by that pathetic man who has seized great power, now pours a gale of truth and love.

 

Now it is up to us all to pry open that portal even further, to assert with our daily choices and actions that to be truly human is to care for others, to fight lies with poetic truths, to fight the ugliness of hatred and violence with beauty and courage.

We are each faced with small choices, every day, that can pour a breath of compassion and caring into the dank air.  Let out memorial for these heroes be a wide-open door, and through it let the storm winds blow!

Thanksgiving at Standing Rock

The sign at the main entrance to the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock says, “This is a place of prayer and ceremony.”  

To be honest, I was afraid to go to Standing Rock.  Not so much of the cops, despite their violent assaults on peaceful protestors, but of the cold and the discomfort.  In my mind, I’m like those wizened, tough old biker crones in Mad Max—but in reality, I’m a fat old lady with asthma, arthritic knees and a compulsion to pee multiple times throughout the night, and camping out in freezing weather is no longer something I contemplate with alacrity.

Moreover, the crisis in North Dakota and the election crisis coincided with various personal crises that culminated with the urgent necessity of packing up pretty much everything in the house I’ve lived in for thirty years to prepare it for renovations and partial sale, and a related financial crisis.  So it wasn’t the best time to go—but the Thanksgiving weekend seemed to be about the only window of time I could go, and the weather wasn’t going to get warmer.

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I also wrestled with the question of what my role should be as a white ally of an indigenous-led movement.  Was it an act of colonial violence for me to come, an assertion of white privilege?  Should I just donate the money my ticket would cost, and stay warm?

But I’m a public person, with a platform of writing and speaking, and I knew I would be a more effective advocate if I went there myself.  And I hoped to be able to make some contribution.  My training collective, Alliance of Community Trainers, would be there, and my old action buddy Lisa Fithian had been there for weeks and was organizing actions.  So I interrupted my marathon of packing and cleaning, and went.

And as soon as I saw the sign, I knew I was right to come.  For decades, I’ve been writing and speaking, organizing and teaching around the simple concept that spirit and action go together.  Activists need some kind of spiritual base to sustain what is very hard, sometimes dangerous, and often frustrating work.  And spiritual folks need to be engaged with the world, taking action to alleviate suffering and protect the sacred.

So how incredibly affirming it was to walk into a place where everything is grounded in ceremony and every action is seen as embodied prayer.  Lakota spirituality is not my tradition, although deeply aligned in values and world view.  But I have no authority or permission to hold ceremonial energy or lead—and so I was blessedly free to listen, absorb, and do my personal work in a way that I rarely get to do in my own tradition.

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I sat at the Sacred Fire and listened to people speak from the heart about the struggle.  I got up early to go to the water ceremony, led by women, where we processed down to the Cannonball River to offer tobacco.  I was given permission to offer our Waters of the World, and when an Irish-American woman gave some water from Brigid’s Well, I asked to share one of our Brigid Chants at a time when many people were sharing songs.

I sat in meditation at the Global Prayer for Standing Rock, and heard one clear message that said to me: “White people can’t heal until they come to terms with the Witch persecutions.”

For so many decades, I’ve been writing and teaching about the forgotten heritage of the ancient Goddess traditions in Europe and the Middle East.  I’ve been working to recover, or create, the rituals and ceremonies that link us to sacred nature and community.  I’ve proudly called myself a Witch, in an attempt to uncover and reclaim that heritage.

And I’ve also gotten worn down, tired of endlessly explaining the same things over and over again, tired of fending off the same nervous jokes or correcting the same misunderstandings.  I’ve been more excited to learn the practical ways of earth-healing, to share the formula for compost tea rather than the esoteric formula for some magic spell.

But over and over again, at Standing Rock and elsewhere this year, I’ve been brought back to the importance of that early work.  Young people simply do not know the Goddess history—and for people of European heritage, it is vital to know that we also have indigenous roots, have ancestors who knew that water is sacred, and traditions we can connect to that can help us anchor in the land.  So many people hunger for that connection—and we don’t have to take it from someone else although we should always be willing to listen and learn from other cultures.

Sunday was our day for a women’s action.  Lisa had arranged for me to connect with Cheryl Angel, a Lakota elder who was leading the action and to stay in her yurt.  We woke before dawn for a women’s sweat, poured by a Dineh poet, singer and songwriter Lyla June. As I stumbled out into the dark and cold and found my way to the fire, I noticed Lyla June was wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned Boudica—the ancient British woman warrior who led an uprising against the Romans.

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A Statue of Boudica in London. Boudica was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

A group of about twenty or more women undressed and crammed into the lodge, and Lyla June spoke to us from the heart about her life and sacredness of water.  Then she began to talk about the Witch persecutions—about how the brutal murder of women in European history has separated those of us with that heritage from our indigenous roots.

I was amazed, and again felt deeply affirmed.  After the sweat, I led a training for over a hundred people in some of the magical activist tools we’ve developed for nonviolent direct action.  Then we scrambled to get ready for the action—a march through the camps and out onto the bridge and the barricades that separate us from the drilling sites.

The march through camp was beautiful—although at a faster pace than I would have preferred.  Cheryl Angel was very determined to have a silent, prayerful action, and people were very good about holding the container of silence.  I was mostly praying not to have an all-out asthma attack before we even got to the barricades, and thankfully that prayer was answered.

The elders at Oceti Sakowin had asked that no one do actions that weekend, in order not to divert attention from the eviction notice, and because they were worried that actions might not be completely nonviolent.  But we had received permission from one of the elders, who asked that we stop at the Sacred Council Fire to do ceremony.  When we got there, however, we found that the elders were not in agreement.  Some of them wanted us to go back—but Cheryl listened respectfully, and then simply led us on.

At the barricades, the next obstacle was our own security, who were acting more like cops than cops, telling us we had to go back, that they had ‘orders’.  Eventually, they let the elders through, and I followed Cheryl, LaDonna who is from the area and owns some of the land we’re camped on, and a group of others, including another Reclaiming Witch, River.

I stood behind Cheryl and listened to one of the most powerful moments of pure nonviolence I’ve ever experienced.  She prayed aloud, apologizing to the earth and the waters for our failure to protect them, speaking to the police who stood on the other side of the barrier and telling them that our prayers were for them, too, and for the safety of their children and grandchildren.  She spoke with such heartfelt power, sometimes crying, sometimes smiling—and I was watching the faces of the officers change, from that stone-faced cop look to meeting her eyes. I saw their faces soften, and saw them begin to nod.  LaDonna spoke, telling them how she had grown up there, how she knew them and had gone to the same schools, how her father had been a law enforcement officer.  By the end, when Cheryl told them we were going down to the river to do ceremony, they agreed.

Although I’ve written about nonviolence, practiced and trained people in it for decades, I generally think of it as a great experience.  I am ever-hopeful, but rarely convinced, that we can truly change the hearts of our opponents, and more often think of it as a strategy to galvanize the hordes of those who are unconvinced or uninformed, and marshall political pressure on our opposition.

But listening to Cheryl, I began to to believe that maybe we can invite even the police to our table, that maybe a strategy for this time of ever-consolidated power might be, as I wrote in The Fifth Sacred Thing, to fight on the terrain of consciousness, to contest not the guns but the mind that chooses whether or not to use the gun.  “Consciousness is the most stubborn stuff in the cosmos, and the most fluid.  It can be rigid as concrete, and it can change in an instant.  A song can change it, or a story, or a fragrance wafting by on the wind.”

consciousness

We went, down a steep bank and over muddy ground.  I stood behind Cheryl and was able to give her some of our Waters of the World, water we have used in ceremonies and for offerings at sacred places for more than thirty-five years, that includes waters from every continent and ocean and many, many political actions.  She gave it to the river, with prayer.

Then we walked back.  The action was over, the silence held.  Will the prayers be answered?  That will depend on the support and the political will we can all muster in the coming weeks.

For myself, I am grateful I decided to go, and even more grateful and humbled by the immense commitment and faith shown by the water defenders.

I had to leave the next day, as the weather changed and a blizzard blew in.  This week, with the eviction notice, the struggle intensifies. Please send prayers and every form of support to those who will remain in much rougher circumstances than I experienced.

Water is sacred!  Water is life!

This article, from Indian Country Today Media Network, outlines many of the options for giving material support to the struggle. The Reclaiming Spiral Dance cell is donating $500 to the legal collective. If you are in a position to give material support, these are the most pressing needs right now.

water-is-sacredwater-is-life

What Now?

what-next

Painting: “Light Weavers” by Autumn Skye Morrison.

People often turn to me for comfort, and I’m not sure what solace I have to offer on this morning when the country has been submerged under a wave of toxicity.  It’s a moment when we crave some deeper faith in goodness, but my faith is not, ultimately, a comfortable one.

The Goddess, as I understand her, is not a personality, not a Big Mama who somehow guides your life and makes everything turn out all right, not a love-worn blankie we can cling to when we desperately want something to make us feel better.  She represents the great cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration that move through nature and through human lives and history—cycles that include death and decay and loss. But her promise is simply this—that out of decay ultimately comes regeneration.

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So today is a day to commit ourselves to the forces of regeneration—even if we can’t see clearly what they will be or how they will manifest.  Reach out to your friends and community.  Consider how you can have one another’s backs.  Consider how you can have the backs of those whose sacred and precious lives have, today, become all the more precarious and risky—people of color, immigrants, indigenous people, Muslims, the LGBT community, women, the defenders of water and justice.  Consider how we can somehow still protect and heal our threatened and beautiful earth. Plant a seed today, or create something beautiful; care for a child or an elder or a person on the street.  Be kind to someone.  Be kind to yourself.

And do it as a magical act, an act imbued with intention: that whatever comes down around us, we will choose compassion.  We will serve regeneration.

We always have that choice, and whenever we do, whenever we choose love over hate, we become one small weight to tip the balance.

Today, be good to yourself.  Heal.

And tomorrow—consider how to organize and take action, so that out of  decay we can bring some new rebirth.

chrysalis

Painting: “Chrysalis” By Autumn Skye Morrison

Pre-Election Day Thoughts

A while back, I wrote a post explaining why I was supporting Hillary Clinton for president.  It garnered more comments—and more ire—than anything else I’ve ever put up on the internet.  Now that the election is looming, I want to respectfully respond to some of the things I’ve heard…

 

“How can you vote?  With all you’ve done and written, how can you participate in this corrupt, money-driven system?  I thought you were far more radical than that!”

Political strategies and tactics are not jealous lovers.  You don’t have to be monogamous.  Direct Action will not feel betrayed if you also vote from time to time—you can be poly in your tactics.  And I am.  Of course I vote!  If you’re a woman, or a person of color, or a person who doesn’t own property, or even a white male who doesn’t belong to the nobility, centuries of struggle and many deaths have bought you the right to vote.  I vote to keep faith with peasant rebels and suffragist hunger strikers and civil rights workers braving the lynch mobs of the South, if for no other reason.  But there is another reason—because who we vote for has an enormous impact on real peoples’ lives.

 

“I’m voting for Jill Stein to send a message and build a third party that will be a real alternative.”

You can do that—but if you are in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, New Mexico or New Hampshire I would beg you not to!  And even ‘safe’ states aren’t necessarily all that safe—nor is our democracy should Clinton win the electoral college but lose the popular vote.

And the message has already been sent.  It was sent by Sanders’ near-win in the primaries, which we can build on if Clinton wins.  But if Clinton loses, the Democrats will not turn around and say, “Oh how wrong we were not to choose the more progressive candidate.”  They’ll say, “The country has swung to the right and we must head right or be left behind.”  That’s what happened when Reagan won, and Bush, and Nixon, for that matter, and even though I believe they are entirely wrong-headed, whoever wins will claim a mandate.

The way to build a third party is from the ground up, starting with local campaigns and building a base and an infrastructure.  That’s what the right wing did—taking over things like school boards and city councils.  That’s where the Green Party is most effective and successful, and I’d like to see more of it.

 

“I won’t vote out of fear.”

“Don’t make decisions out of fear” is one of those helpful rules of life we tell ourselves when we need some extra confidence.  And there are times when it makes sense—say, when questioning whether to dive headlong into a wild, passionate love affair.

But sometimes fear is an appropriate emotion.  Should you dare to dive headlong into a pool without checking for rocks beneath?  To eat that unknown mushroom?  To dance freely and spontaneously out into traffic? 

Fear is the Goddess’ way of keeping us from doing really stupid things, and there are times to listen to fear, and heed it.  Fear can be a life-saver!  And in this election, fear of a Trump victory is an absolutely rational emotion—and that alone would be a good reason to vote for Clinton. 

 

“I must choose what my heart tells me.”

This is a good, romantic reason for choosing art instead of accounting for your college major—but it really has nothing to do with voting.  Because what our hearts tell us is mostly that we want something completely other than anything the system offers—and we already know that.  But at this moment we have a serious choice between two versions of what the system offers—and one is much, much worse than the other.  Now is one of those moments when we need to use our heads and think strategically.

 

“The Democrats are just as bad.”

No they’re not.  What they are is not as good as we hope they’ll be.  Yet Clinton’s policies are very good on some key issues: gay rights, women’s right to choose and women’s equality, and civil rights.  She’s running on a Democratic platform that is the most progressive ever, that includes raising the minimum wage, returning to free public universities, expanding and improving Obamacare and adding a public option—bringing us closer to a single payer system, appointing a decent set of justices to the Supreme Court that will uphold civil liberties, and rolling back Citizens’ United.  She believes climate change is real and will be susceptible to public pressure to rein in the oil companies and be a stronger protector of the environment.  Her foreign policy is hawkish but at least it lies within the realm of sanity.  It’s not like she’s running against Gandhi—she’s running against “Why have nukes if we don’t use them” Trump!

 

“The lesser of two evils is still an evil, and I would therefore be evil—or at least, morally impure—if I voted for her.”

Noam Chomsky wrote a brilliant critique of the ‘moral witness’ approach to voting—pointing out that the point of lesser-evil voting is precisely to do less evil—and that’s good!  Here’s what he has to say about moral voting:  “The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.”

You can read his full critique HERE.

 

So when you vote, think about what world you want to wake up in on November 9…

Scenario One: 


Hillary Clinton wins big, and progressive forces celebrate and then mobilize to push for real action on climate change, an end to the Dakota Access Pipeline, an end to militarized policing and the rampant murder of people of color, economic policies that benefit the disenfranchised, and a sane foreign policy.  We build on the momentum from Sanders’ campaign and see some key changes get made. 

Scenario Two: 


Donald Trump wins, and every racist and bigot in the country celebrates.  Every bully has a field day: every misogynist now has license to grab and snatch and harass as they please.  He appoints Supreme Court justices that repeal Roe vs. Wade, uphold the rights of white cops to shoot people of color with impunity, and decide that gay marriage—indeed, gay sex, is once again illegal.  He repeals Obamacare and anyone with a Latino last name lives in fear of deportation.  He undoes every gain that has been made around climate change, and derails every international negotiation.  He carries his bullying personality into foreign policy discussions and embroils us in war after war, perhaps even pulling that nuclear trigger.  Progressive folks spend the next phase of our lives fighting for things like keeping some minimal funding for health care, keeping ourselves out of jail should we happen to love someone of the same gender or need to terminate a pregnancy or worship in a mosque instead of a church, keeping some small measure of economic gains for the middle class (forget the poor) and digging our bomb shelters before the nuclear retaliation hits.

Scenario 3: 


Hillary Clinton wins small—possibly the electoral college but not the popular vote.  Trump makes good his threat to contest the election, whips up his supporters to roam the streets in vigilante groups. A lot of people get hurt or even die—most likely, women, people of color, gender-nonconforming people, or anyone who looks suspiciously Latino or Muslim. 

 

So, folks, we’re down to the wire. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Get out there and vote.  No politician will get us where we need to go—but I believe Hillary Clinton’s election will set move us forward in the right direction.  And then the rest is up to us!