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.

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