When Uncertainty is the Only Certainty

28 Jul

Taking a stand and taking action is what we, as activists, do. We all have experience with fighting for causes in our towns, state and even on a national level where people have come together over issues of common concern and pooled our creative talents to figure out ways to make a difference. Our collective successes are motivating, strengthening, heartening. But there are issues facing us now on a global scale that defy reason or our ability to fathom the depth of violence, hatred or potential for destruction that they bring. Israel/Palestine and Russia/Ukraine are just two examples. Sadly, there are so many more.

I am sometimes envious of those who have a clear, black and white vision of who is right vs. who is wrong, who is the perpetrator vs. who is the victim, who represents the world’s hope vs. who is an evil that must be eliminated. Indeed, that certainty of position is what often moves us to action but those of us who are still trying to make sense of it all can get stuck in a place where taking sides is impossible because even a small perspective from the “other” keeps us questioning. I recently re-read a book entitled Who Owns History by Eric Foner. Mr. Foner talks about perspective and how it influences one’s view and determination of those things just mentioned. Events around the world affect all of us. Whether governments remain neutral or intervene in events taking place halfway around the world, each decision becomes a link in a chain of unforeseen consequences. If ever there was a time to be able to see into the future, this surely is one but sadly, that is not possible.

As an activist, I want to determine my positions, share my perspective in hopes of influencing others and then determine actions I can take to correct what I deem wrong. I see my job as being an active participant in not only bringing injustice to light but then involving myself and hopefully motivating others to work toward a solution. That is only possible with clarification and certainty of where I stand and lately that certainty eludes me. For this I weep as surely as I weep for the lives being torn apart across the globe.
As a human being whose heart is breaking for every act of aggression, violence, blind allegiance to any particular dogma, I want to shout “STOP!” in a way that could actually make that happen. I weep as well for the fact that such a possibility is merely the stuff of dreams.

I long for a time when people and governments will begin to ask WHY questions. Why do “they” hate “us”? Why are “we” afraid of “them”? Why have we all allowed human relations to evolve as they have? Why is it so impossible for warring groups to stop hostilities long enough to literally sit down, break bread and actually know each other? I can hear the predicted responses from many in my circle of family of friends, responses from both sides of any of the conflicts we choose to talk about. Some will respond with outrage that I might consider the “other” side. Some will call me naïve and useless. It is the second of these possible reactions that most troubles me because it is a possibility that I fear may be true. I keep thinking of John Lennon’s words in the song Imagine: “You may say I’m a dreamer…” Dan Fogelberg’s song There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler suggests: “There’s a light in the depths of the darkness. There’s a calm at the eye of every storm. There’s a light in the depths of the darkness. Let it shine, oh, let it shine!” Dear Goddess, let my activism take the form of daring to dream, to helping find a way to shine that light.

There is one more song I must share here because it speaks to the very heart of the matter. I hope readers will find some truth in its words and help those of us who feel stuck to believe that we are making a difference. The song is titled Swimming to the Other Side and was written by Pat Humphries. Please find a recording and listen if you can.

We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper
We are washed by the very same rain
We are swimming in the stream together
Some in power and some in pain
We can worship this ground we walk on
Cherishing the beings that we live beside
Loving spirits will live forever
We’re all swimming to the other side

I am alone and I am searching
Hungering for answers in my time
I am balanced at the brink of wisdom
I’m impatient to receive a sign
I move forward with my senses open
Imperfection, it be my crime
In humility I will listen
We’re all swimming to the other side

On this journey through thoughts and feelings
Binding intuition, my head, my heart
I am gathering the tools together
I’m preparing to do my part
All of those who have come before me
Band together and be my guide
Loving lessons that I will follow
We’re all swimming to the other side

When we get there we will discover
All the gifts we’ve been given to share
Have been with us since life’s beginning
And we never noticed they were there
We can balance at the brink of wisdom
Never recognizing that we’ve arrived
Loving spirits will live together
We’re all swimming to the other side.

Blessings to all who are working for what I must believe is possible….

The Ethics of Your Personal Journey

28 Jul

rider-Waite_The_hermit_large2Today I wanted to write about something I’ve seen a lot of lately. When you become a vegan – or a feminist, an environmentalist, an activist of any flavor – you start to notice things. You have interactions with people that you didn’t have before.

To be an activist, in a sense, is to step outside the bounds of what’s proper and try to push, pull, or encourage others to change. To be an activist, even when you’re silent, is to critique people. It’s not always going to be popular. Sometimes you’ll see sides of people that you didn’t see before. And you’ll have the opportunity to hear people’s justifications for their beliefs and actions. People who share the same mainstream beliefs don’t necessarily ask each other why they believe what they do. Minority status (which I’m using in the broadest sense) can offer a different perspective on majority culture.

What I’m seeing is a lot of people talking about their personal moral journeys.
Continue reading

Greening your Magics: Wildness and Waters

21 Jul

If the land is poisoned, then witchcraft must respond.

(Point one of the Apocalyptic Witchcraft manifesto, by Peter Grey)

Last year, I started the Greening your Magics series in a fit of inspiration for what is my activism: sharing information and changing my own practices as I learn. I got inspired to start writing posts in this series again after a post from my friend Lupa on sourcing ritual items secondhand and another post about the use of animal parts as an ecologically friendly practice. (I can’t find it now though) Then it seemed like I was seeing blogs right and left posting about matters like this. And then there was Peter Grey’s Rewilding Witchcraft essay, which I encourage you to read if you have not already. I also recommend Sarah Lawless’s response. (and Sarah, if you see this, I had forgotten the actual title of your post when I was coming up with mine.)

I read posts like this and my mind races. The fire builds. The waters of emotion overflow. I want to should from the rooftops, shake people, dance like mad, and DO. Whether or not you identify as “Earth-based” in your traditions, the reality remains that you live upon this earth, and there is not a spare one waiting in the wings, nor a Christ to replace a ravaged one as the Wise Use proponents claim.

So first, I give you this reminder about using your magics in whatever form. Do your rituals. Use your words. In ancient Egypt, magic was heka, which also translates as authoritative speech. Execrate, and be like Set at the front of Ra’s barque, slaying Apep, the snake of Uncreation, every single day to ensure the sun rises again.

And then there are the days when I wonder if it’s all just pointless. Because we have too few people like this and too many more like Peter Brabeck-Letmathe who do not even consider water, the building block of life, to be a human right. Oh excuse me, no, it is but it must be “properly managed”. Apparently that proper management includes taking it from the California water table to be bottled at a huge markup. You might also be interested to learn that the same state wants to charge up to a $500 for private citizens who use too much water. But what about businesses who do? What is our culture when we want people to pay such high prices for the very thing which supports us into life? Any deny people it flowing into their homes because of questionable billing practices, like in Detroit?

I’m reminded of the Cochabamba protests of almost 15 years ago, when people in Bolivia were able to overturn the privatization of their water supplies. If that happened in this country, how many people would even protest? I have to wonder now.

Because of the feelings stirred up for me by these readings, I had to reign in my anger, my passion, my sadness, and not let this post turn into rants and screeds. They won’t help. Attacking and demonizing in a blog post does not make for effective magics. Clear thought and words do.

Let us gather our magics. Find our fire, and our water, but do not let either of them overcome us. Suck out the poisons, wherever they are. Let us try to do better by our communities, seen and unseen.


Used with permission

Sins of the Whistle-Blower

14 Jul

iStock_000000908646Medium– Shauna Aura Knight

In the movies and on TV, when someone blows the whistle and reveals the illegal doings of a company, or speaks out against their rapist, or outs an abusive leader, there’s always a happy ending. And–the person is always telling the truth.

The middle part of the movie might have a lot of dramatic tension where the whistle-blower is in danger, or people think they are lying, but ultimately they come out as the hero. I wish it were always that easy. I wish that people believed the activists who rise up to speak the truth.

For that matter, I wish the whistle-blower was always the truth-speaking hero. Continue reading

One Step Back, One Step Forward

7 Jul

This past week has been an emotional roller coaster for me.  I was heavily invested in the Hobby Lobby case decided one week ago by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and the decisions reached by the court was not the one I was hoping for  I spent a great deal of time both thinking about the case, the arguments made therein, and trying to do what I could to make my voice and my view known and, in the end, it felt like it was all for naught.  But, later in the same week, Lawrence Lessig’s MayDay PAC reached it’s five million dollar fundraising goal for the time from June 1 through July 4.  I wrote about the MayDayPAC before, and after the let down that was the Hobby Lobby case, this was a much-needed boost at the end of the week.

Continue reading

No One Will Be Turned Away for Lack of Funds

30 Jun

Have you played the game I never? It goes like this: one person says “I never___”. They fill in the blank with something they have never done.

Lets play. I’ll start.

I’ve never been to a Pagan conference.

Let me go again. I’ve never been to a Pagan festival.

I’ve never been to these kind of Pagan events for one simple reason: I lack the funds. However, I have been to rituals. Attendance has been inconsistent because money is uber tight in this, the Great Depression 2.0.

Lots has been said about Pagans and money. There’s the on going debate as to whether Pagan leaders should charge for services, rituals, classes, events, and conferences. I see it like this: no one should be turned away for lack of funds. This language is prevalent on Pagan websites regarding events and rituals. But what is the reality behind this statement?

Depression 2.0 has hit me particularly hard. I have not been able to find a job for many years now. It’s not from a lack of looking, that’s something I do every day. I apply for jobs, get interviews, but for reasons known only to deities, I remain unemployed. During the worst period of this, I slipped into one of the darkest depressions I have ever endured. I needed community, needed it like you need oxygen. It was at this time I was losing my house, rehoming my dog, and choosing which healthcare service to skip so you can imagine the depths of my despair.

isolationI was super isolated trapped within depression and the Depression. I needed connection so I did what I could to try and interact with humans by seeking out to my spiritual coreligionists. I found a group over an hour away from my home. The first ritual I attended, I was pleased with the size of the group. Previously, I had never been in a ritual with more than a dozen people. I loved the energy. Cost of ritual was on a sliding scale ($15/pp was the lowest amount on the sliding scale). Since it took over an hour to get there, I spent, generally, $40 on gas and tolls and another $20 on food to share. So $15+15+40+20=$90. Ninety dollars. For one night. (That math includes my husband’s attendance.) I squirreled away every dollar, quarter, and dime I could find to come up with the funds to attend the sabbats. I wanted to attend full and new moon rituals but that was out of the question. The finances just weren’t there. There were classes I wanted to take that were financially unfeasible. It was on my bucket list to become a High Priestess but that too was cost prohibitive so it remained (and still remains) unchecked on my list.

I’m persistent if nothing else so I volunteered as this was one of the recommended ways to make connections and build friendships. I went early to set up and stayed late to break down. At one point while my husband was working two jobs, I was able to attend one group. It was a regular group of women who went. Soon we self segregated: the two co-facilitators would end group then go into the office, close the door, and talk. Two other women talked mom-stuff, and the last two women talked young woman stuff. I sat alone. Because of the time it took to commute home, I started to leave as soon as group was over since no one talked to me anyway. One time I forgot something and went back in to get it. When I did they were all sitting together, laughing and having a great time. They silenced themselves as soon as I was in the room. Then, as I was leaving one said “Lets to get something to eat now that Michelle is gone.” Later, when I confronted one of the facilitators she said “oh, we go out to eat after group but we know you have no money and besides, it’s food you don’t eat.” I was extremely hurt to be deliberately excluded.

When it came to the sabbats, I suppose I could’ve paid nothing or less than the “suggested” $15 but the infrastructure was not amenable to doing so. The way the room was set up, a line would form behind the woman who took your money, thus a physical barrier was set up. So, one is standing in line waiting to get up to the woman. The social stigma of paying the lowest amount was already there. She cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say a word, her disapproval was in her body language. As time went on and she saw I always paid the lowest amount, her chit chat ceased. She no longer welcomed me, asked me how I was, or acknowledged me unless I initiated conversation to which she would reply politely yet in a manner which made it obvious she did not wish to converse with me. On more than one occasion she talked to the person behind me, all full of joy to see that person only to take my money while never making eye contact. I can’t imagine telling her I was paying nothing or less than the suggestion though that would’ve gotten her attention. It’s like when you put a quarter in the basket sent around at Catholic Mass instead of a bill. No one will say anything to your face but certainly they will let their disapproval be known nonverbally.

I was never turned away for lack of funds, I was ignored away. This was done so in a subtly overt manner which reminds me of junior high girlhood. I gave it about a year before I finally accepted I was unwanted. I believe that rejection came from a lack of greenbacks and my vocalization of such. I was never told why I was snubbed nor have I been contacted by a member of the group since leaving. Sticking to their tried and true manner, they have pretended like I don’t exist.

Last Samhain I thought I’d give the group another try but it was more of the same. Not a single person talked to me or my husband. In a room with over 100 people, I felt an intense loneliness. I have not been back since nor do I plan to go. Ever.

Something good did come out of that rejection: Pagan Activist.

I am a Pagan and I am an Activist. They are symbiotic. They cannot be separated or disconnected. The deeper my Paganism becomes the deeper my activism becomes and vice versa. Pagan Activist fermented because of the deep isolation and loneliness during this period of time. I saw a wrong and I tried to right it. Goddess, was I mistaken thinking I could enact positive change. Thus, I took to the internet and created this blog as a way to connect to like minded Pagans so that isolation and loneliness would abate. I want no one to feel how I felt (and still do) because they are rejected for a lack of “little green tickets”. I want no one to be excluded by leaders or laypeople, I want no one to be snubbed. The pain I’ve carried these years has been intense enough that it’s kept me from attending ritual with any new group. I crave community and human interaction yet I’ve become a solitary practitioner even though I don’t want to be out of sheer necessity to protect my emotional health and my wallet.

Keeping cool

22 Jun

How do we keep our cool as activists? I’m thinking about this not only in terms of keeping our cool in the moment – when directly confronted with something inherently wrong – but long-term. We talk about recharging and doing self-care and avoiding burnout, and all of those are vitally important, but I also mean something more: how do we keep going when there isn’t an action to do, or when the very necessary action we have to do is waiting?

It’s times like Litha that make me need to ground. (Grounding and centering are of course part of the answer, but not all of it, I think.) It’s days like these midsummer ones when I long to be outdoors, even if the heat and the air pollution aren’t really good for me, and I have to stop myself and put on sunscreen and just generally exercise so much more restraint than I would like. (Explain to me again why I can’t be topless on my own balcony? Never mind.) The energy of these times is pulling me up and out and into action. But sometimes that’s not what I need to do.

I was talking with another Witch about how frustrating it is that when we are confronted with what seems like clear-cut discrimination, the first thing you have to do is wait. You keep your cool in that moment, and you document, and you ask firmly and politely, and you document the responses. You don’t start shouting about the Constitution and firing off curses even if that’s really what you want to do. You don’t crawl away resigned, even if you are shaking a little bit out of shock, even if that’s what a lifetime of being a woman tells you to do. You begin to work the system, gathering allies and mounting a response, and then you wait.

And you wait for a long time. Consulting experts takes time – even finding the right people to consult about something can be a significant challenge. (Your cousin’s niece’s friend who worked at Starbucks by the law library for six months, or anyone else you encounter on the Internet, is probably not the expert you need.) Once you find them, the experts go to work, and you wait some more. You remind yourself that all your other options remain available, but once you get aggressive, you can’t go back, at least not easily. You listen to the advice of the experts, and you wait. Somehow, you sustain yourself.

I’m writing here from the perspective of the issue that I went through trying to get my ordination recognized, but I think the same issues arise in a lot of other activist work. Even when it is not so purely personal, there is a ton of waiting involved. I know I’m waiting right now to hear the Supreme Court decision about reproductive health care requirements in the ACA. That case was heard in March, and the oral arguments were just the latest step in a long line of developments. Now we wait.

Experiences like this are challenging me to develop a more nuanced view of activism. It seems like activism should be all fire – acting and making changes in the world. Litha should be high time for activism. But just as I am learning that I need to ground at Litha, I am learning that activism isn’t all about catching fire. As often as not, the fire will catch you. It does that. The challenge is learning how to channel it, how to direct it, and maintain it, banked and smoldering on a gray and rainy day of waiting.

I am only beginning to come up with my own approaches to this problem. One of them is everyday activism, trying to make better choices on an ongoing basis, in the hopes of contributing to gradual change. This approach is necessarily limited; I do not fall into the trap of believing that consumer choices alone will motivate the necessary developments, even in areas where my consumer choices can make a difference. At the same time, I need to focus on my personal work, and stay connected both to my everyday and to the bigger picture, so seeing my choices in both contexts is helpful.

Another approach is magic. The emotion that develops while waiting can be powerful fuel for magical energy, if I can direct it and not be overwhelmed by it. Gathering up and directing that emotion into energy for change is a powerful experience, and it is not limited to a single time and place; I can do magic for my purposes many times while waiting, and it can be a fruitful outlet.

I would love to hear about your own strategies for “keeping cool” in this sense. What I notice about the two approaches I have mentioned is that both are ways of nurturing hope. Concentrating on my smaller individual choices helps me hope. Doing magic can change emotions of frustration, anger, and even fear into energy that sustains my hope for a different outcome. I think that’s the underlying message that I’m learning about sustaining activism and keeping cool: when I’m not acting, I’m hoping.

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