A Voting Dilemma

20 Oct

We’re coming up on a season that I often dread. No, it isn’t Autumn. It isn’t Winter. It’s election time. You know, the season of negative ads at every turn, debates that leave us with as little insight into the candidates as we had before the exchanges and the pressure of knowing that the decisions we make may literally affect history. So here we are, coming up to elections for offices across the country and I find myself asking some nagging questions: What is a reasonable course of action when we deem none of the candidates on the current ballot worthy of our vote? Do we stay away from the polls? Do we vote for the “lesser of two evils”? Do we vote for third party or independent candidates who have little chance of winning? Do we write in the name of a person not even on the ballot?

I’ve always considered voting to be not only a right but a responsibility. When people complain, whether about individual politicians or entire party platforms, my first question is always whether or not they voted in the last election. Basically, I view voting as the basis upon which our rights to protest rest.

Staying away from the polls is not a personal option for me for this reason although the notion of not participating in a system that seems, at times, to be ineffective and unworkable is appealing. While some consider not voting to be an act of revolution, it strikes me as an act of simply giving away our power.

Voting for “the lesser of two evils” is an option that many people reject. Some refuse to make any choice at all when all candidates are deemed unacceptable. What qualifies a candidate as acceptable? Is it their agreement with our personal agendas without exception? If that is the case, I doubt many of us would ever be able to vote for anyone on the ballot. Does the perfect candidate exist? I think not. Someone who upholds my environmental values may not have the same views on gun control. Someone who shares my goals for tax reform may not feel the same way about immigration. Perhaps it makes sense to identify the candidate who represents our views on one or two issues that most concern us and give them our support, hoping that what we find reasonable in their character will allow them to be further swayed on other issues in the future. I’m not aware of any group, be it political, family, friendship circle or activist coalition where members hold 100% of the same views and priorities.

When we are fortunate enough to have the possibility of a third party or independent candidate upset the status quo, our options can seem even more complicated. We often hear that third party or independent candidates might swing the election in favor of our least liked option. We hear voters who are loyal to the two party system tell us that a vote for a third party or independent person is a wasted vote at best and a dangerous vote at worst as it might result in the election of the greater of two evils. This situation has had my attention for quite some time now. After a lot of consideration, I’ve come to rue my decision to play it safe in a past election when I truly believed in an alternative candidate but bought the argument that voting for him would simply weaken/bolster the chance of the most desirable/least objectionable candidate from winning. I now wish I had voted differently. Voting for either of the two major party platforms, even when they do not meet our values and expectations, helps to perpetuate the status quo and thus give away our power as surely as if we hadn’t voted at all. It allows our decisions to be ruled by fear rather than hope.

Writing in the name of a person who is not even running for office is a way to make a statement but not one that is bound to be noticed by anyone other than the individual voter. My write-in vote for Jane Doe does little else than allow me to say that I did in fact vote, therefore keeping alive my right to rail against the election outcome to my heart’s content when it’s all over.

So, here we are with choices to make.  This year’s state election still find me undecided.  As for the national elections coming up in 2016… I am so grateful that I have a bit of time to decide the best course of deciding my vote. I find myself hoping that a particular independent candidate will be part of the equation and that I’ll have the courage of my convictions when the time comes.

Greening your magics: From the ground up

14 Oct

Throughout this series I have sought to bring awareness to ways in which regular spiritual practice and tools can be altered to help benefit our world, reconsidering strip mined jewels, petroleum based candles, and offerings which either may not decompose, or, in the case of food, be packed with industrialized ingredients and not nourishing for the body.

Today, my last in the series (for now?), I want to talk about herbs and plants. But instead of talking about plants which are overharvested for New Age and Pagan markets (white sage and sandalwood being two contenders I am sure many of us have in our tool kits, I would rather turn my attention to plants which can be easier to obtain and more plentiful.


10 points to anyone who knew this is mugwort gone to flower. Odds are good that for a good portion of the country, you’ve seen this plant before. Mugworts exist in several parts of the world, and are used for culinary, medicinal and magical purposes. Since I am not an herbalist nor have used the herb in cooking, I will focus on magical properties.

Mugwort is a member of the Artemisia family, which also includes wormwood. As such, this makes it an excellent herb for any psychic work. It can be burned as part of a psychic incense, or made into a tea or oil for consecrating scrying tools like a black mirror.

This next item is included FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND I ABSOLVE ANY RESPONSIBILITY IF YOU TRY THIS. The tea can also be drunk to further enhance psychic abilities, but as its active ingredient is thujone, it can build up in the body and potentially become toxic. If you are curious about working with wormwood as an herb but are unsure as to your reaction, this might be an option.

Mugwort is also a very protective herb. If you are looking for an alternative to sage or other bundles for smudging purposes, consider mugwort. A bundle can be ready in six weeks by harvesting several stalks of the plant, binding together with thread, and hanging to dry in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

If you are someone who works in a more ceremonial tradition, mugwort can be in your kit as well. It is a feminine plant, ruled by the planet Venus and the element of Air.

Another option if you’d like to move away from sage bundles is sweetgrass, which was used by many First Nations peoples in different parts of what is now the United States. It has a sweeter (hence the name) smell than sage, and if you react strongly to those bundles this may be a good alternative. Also, if your spiritual practices include honoring the local land spirits, and you live in an area where the People used to use sweetgrass, your local spirits may feel very appreciative. One of my Heathen friends in the area told me many years ago that among her offerings for the land wights she would include things like cornmeal and tobacco, since that is what they used to receive.

For some further ideas of how you can incorporate local plants into your workings, this recent post by Sarah Lawless should provide some good inspiration.

I do hope you have enjoyed this series, as I have enjoyed writing it. If I’ve influenced some of you into looking at your practices with a new or fresh eye, then I have done my job.

Are there any other aspects of magical or spiritual practice you would like to see “Greened?” Or have you incorporated sustainable practices into your regular workings, such as bioregionalism or general socially responsible? IF you would like to talk about any of these things, please leave a comment on this post and I will get in touch with you. My plan is to continue the series by talking about bioregionalism in paganisms/polytheism/witchcraft/magic but I would also like to know other ways people have put these ideas into practice.


Beyerl, Paul. The Master Book of Herbalism.

Cunningham, Scott. Magical Herbalism.




Activism, Leadership, Trolls, and Accountability

6 Oct

shutterstock_41419060– By Shauna Aura Knight

Lately I’ve seen a lot of examples of Pagan leaders acting badly. Or, perhaps to be more accurate, spotlights on leaders who have acted badly and are finally being called on the carpet for their poor behavior. There are a lot of conversations happening in the Pagan blogosphere, particularly since the arrest of Kenny Klein on charges of child pornography, about problems with sex, abuse, and poor leadership.

The ripple effects of that–and the questions it has raised about Pagan community and events–have brought up further issues of leadership. What does this have to do with activism?

If you’re an activist, you’re a leader. Whether or not you wanted to be one. And when you are a leader–when you stand up, when you take an action–your actions have more consequences, more impact. Leaders must take more responsibility because we have a greater impact.

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Activism and Boundaries : Not Every Cause Must Be Your Cause

2 Oct

photo (1)

Being an activist is hard work.  Most of us understand that the road to improving our world is riddled with potholes and boulders.

We spend hours reading about instances of injustice and atrocities.  We sign and create petitions to get the attention of our representatives, attend rallies, perform civil disobedience, fundraise and blog.  This list could go on for days and still wouldn’t cover the many things various activists do for their beliefs.

Planet Earth is a messy place to live.  The war on women continues and gets worse all the time.  Our LGBTQ community is constantly under attack in any number of ways. Political corruption is rampant.  Pagans and practitioners of other non-Christian faiths are often discriminated against.  On top of everything that is going wrong with the world we still have jobs, families, hobbies, and passions and there is only so much of a person to go around.

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The Politics of Second Sons

29 Sep

Yesterday, I attended Catholic Mass.

Don’t worry; this isn’t one of those posts where I explain why I’ve decided to convert.  I attended Mass for as simple reason:  I was visiting my in-laws and they, and my partner, are Catholic.  Regardless, something struck me as very timely for our American experience this fall in relation to the gospel reading and our midterm elections.

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The Roots of Heartbreak: Uncovering your role in healing your impact and that of your community

26 Sep

Courtney Weber guest posts on Pagan Activist about the People’s Climate March which happened in New York City on Sunday, September 21, 2014. The largest climate march in the world, it attracted 400,000 people. She is a Priestess, Writer, Tarot Adviser, and Activist in New York City. She is the High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and an organizer with the Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC. Her website is The Coco Witch and you can find her on Twitter. @thecocowitch.

What brought me to environmental activism? I can’t point to one moment, but several small moments that all piled up, eventually. Maybe it was my science homework in the 4th grade when I cried as I read about the destruction of rainforests. Maybe it was the family vacations to the Oregon coast and seeing swaths of deforestation like a fresh shave on a wooded giant’s face. Maybe it was in college when I noticed that summer crept longer into autumn each year and it scared the hell out of me. Maybe I’ve always had an itchy bug to fight. As a teen, I jealously watched footage from actions of the 60’s and wished I’d been “born in a time when there were things to fight.” (I’m very careful with what I wish for, now!)

I’m often asked what the environmental movement means to Paganism and honestly, I don’t know how we could separate them. It’s like asking what the philosophy of Christianity has to do with helping the poor or what Buddhism has to do with peace. Our Gods are in the living Earth, itself. How could we not fight for it? I often think of this Alice Walker quote: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” I think all persons have a responsibility to carve out at least one portion of their life for making the world a better place. There is a tendency among Americans to say, “I’m too busy.” But we don’t have time to be too busy to work on this. It’s like a cancer patient saying they don’t have time for chemo. There’s also a frightening tendency among Pagans to act as though directing their energy toward a place of need is enough. When it comes to issues surrounding the environment, sometimes there is a sense within us that we are exempt from the injuries inflicted on the planet simply because we worship it.

Years ago, I learned about true energy exchange with the Mother which ironically involved carbon. I once had a single diamond stud earring that belonged to my mother, but after several moves, it disappeared. One day, my dad told me he wanted to have family diamonds made into a brooch for my mother and asked for the stone. I regretted to admit that I didn’t know where it was. A few months later, I visited Mt. St. Helens for the first time as an adult. As a kid, I’d been bored (of course), but in my 20’s, I was deeply moved by the beauty of the natural destruction. The forests were still gone, but the most brilliant of purples dotted the landscape as there is a specific flower that does well in the volcanic ash. I wanted to take a piece of Mt. St. Helens back with me. Despite the park signs that asked people not to take ash with them, I took a scoop for myself. As a Pagan, I knew the power of volcanic ash and would have a deeper respect for it than the average person. In short, it was “okay” for me to take it “because I was Pagan.” I left a piece of hair for the mountain, a piece of me in exchange for a piece of her. Later, I tried to give the ash to a beloved teacher who, while she appreciated the thought, insisted that I return the ash to the mountain.

“Those are her babies!” she said. “The mountain needs that ash to rebuild!”

I realized what a mistake I had made. I’d arrogantly thought my hair was a good enough exchange because my intention was pure, but it wasn’t. My hair would do nothing for the mountain, and in truth, the ash would do nothing for me except inflate my ego for “having a piece” of something so powerful. I had taken for my own desires and injured the landscape. I boxed up the ash, mailed it to the national park, and received a very kind letter from a ranger a few weeks later, thanking me for doing the right thing. Soon after that, I opened a drawer to dig for a necklace and the missing diamond earring rolled out. Carbon-for-carbon…somehow, I’d done something right.

Pagans aren’t blind. We know environmental degradation is ever-present and pressing. There are two dangers I see the Pagan community skirt. One is reclusive complacency: a belief that we are the only ones who care; therefore, stick with others who care like we do. Why bother doing anything else? The other danger is what I illustrated above: Acting destructively on the Earth and feeling we’re exempt because we’re Pagan. We’re worried about climate change, yet we drive fuel-chugging cars thousands of miles to festivals or use disposable products at Sabbats. We not only have a responsibility to be self-aware of our actions, we have a responsibility to aid in shaping the future. It’s our Goddess, right? Would we let people smash our statues of Isis or Hekate? Why would we let people destroy our forests or poison our water? Why would we let ourselves do that?

Pagans have a blessed voice to bring to the action table. We don’t proselytize, so secular groups aren’t nervous that we are out to convert. We are fun! At the Climate March, the Pagans brought the party to the inter-faith group. Buddhists, Jews, UUs, Atheists, Muslims, Christians….at least one of everyone found their way into dancing and singing along with our drums and chants. I love to tell stories of the spontaneous Pagan-Buddhist dance party in Columbus Circle and of the Jewish guy who rode up beside our group in a bicycle-cab, playing his clarinet along with us as we chanted “Air I Am.” Be they interfaith movements or secular rallies, we have spirit and presence to contribute that is unique, timely, and necessary.

Not everyone is able to contribute to the movement in the same way. The climate march was a seven-hour day on our feet—five of those involved just standing. I personally love them, so they’re easy for me. I also have a job that’s moderately flexible with my time and health enough to be on my feet for seven hours. But for those reasons or more, marches aren’t feasible or enjoyable for everyone and they don’t have to be. A thousand people rushed Wall Street the day after the march and hundreds were arrested. I was there in Spirit, but my own life cannot afford me to have an arrest record at this time so that’s not a way I can help. But I don’t have to be arrested to be effective. There are letters to write, awareness to raise, photos to take, hell—just GO to the places of destruction and tell people what you saw. I could quote all the facts about what’s wrong with fracking, but it’s more effective if I simply show the photos from PEC-NYC’s visit to fracking sites earlier this month.

What breaks your heart? What could you possibly lose to climate change? Find that painful spot, and address it in a way that brings you joy. It’s a hard enough battle on its own. Find that place in yourself that injures the world you love and work on it. Find a way to address those actions in your community and work on that, too.

Find the roots of your heartbreak and your own roles in it. In working on it, do so in a way that makes that heart sing.

Nature’s Law and Our Relationship with Animals

22 Sep

demeterIt’s the harvest season and my garden seems to be slowing down. This has been my first season gardening and I’ve been thinking a lot about Demeter, the cycles of the Earth, and our place in all of that. In fact a good part of this post was inspired by a gardening comment I left on one of Michelle’s posts and conversations I’ve had about it.

In the comment I talk about the spiritual experience gardening has been for me, and since it’s a response to a blog about Pagans and food, I mentioned veganism. I really do think veganism is a logical extension of common Pagan values of non-harming, loving the Earth and our bodies, and love of liberty.
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