Featured art: “Indestructible” by Favianna Rodriguez (2005).
This is Essay 4 in the #52Essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.
Magic is real. Magic is all around us as are the people of power who understand it, create it, and use it. In these times of destruction and fear, people of power are creating. They are witches meeting with one another for new moon and full moon rituals. They are theatre-makers envisioning new worlds to manifest on stage. They are writers toiling away on their own, facing the blank page and the audiences (and critics) in their mind. They are organizers and activists, crafting the better world that is possible every day through small and large actions. They are educators, parents, health care workers, artists, and so many others doing their best every day to use what power they have to make magic, to change consciousness.
According to Dion Fortune, “magic is the art of changing consciousness at will.” Now more than ever we need all kinds of people, however they identify, to take on their part in understanding power, creating magic, shifting our consciousness in aid of collective liberation, and defeating fascism in all of its forms.
To stand in solidarity with witches across time who died (and are currently being hunted) for being people of power, I call myself a witch. No, I am not part of a coven or organized witch group (I am what would be considered a solitaire). No, I do not dance naked under the full moon. No, I do not eat frogs or snakes (I’m vegan. Duh.). And no, I do not workshop the Devil. I don’t ascribe to any Christian notions of spirituality. For me, God is Change in alignment with Octavia Butler’s views of transformation.
So what kind of witch am I, exactly?
I’m the kind of witch who loves walking around and taking pictures of trees, milkweed, and beautiful things like peeling paint, rusting light poles, or the sky. I revere the earth. I read. I am the kind of witch that is fascinated by the transformation of clay into a functional and artistic object through the application of my hands, fire, and time. I believe in playing games with and learning from young folks. I’m a proud auntie. I am the kind of witch that believes in the power of cooking and sharing an awesome meal with loved ones. I create spaces for dialogue, visioning, creation, skill-sharing, and healing. I am the kind of witch that shapes and transforms reality through the use of words and images on the page. I take baths in Epsom salts, essential oils, and sometimes herbs. I experiment. I am the kind of witch that knows where to apply an acupuncture needle in order to release a muscle or effect a shift in your body’s rhythms. I know some of the roots, leaves, and fruits that might help your body heal itself. I am creating a podcast about healing and transformation. I listen. I am the kind of witch that can often hear the things you are saying underneath and beyond the things you are saying out loud. I trust my intuition. I act on it. I make mistakes. I learn from them. I have attended births. I have lost loved ones to death. I think a lot about the cycles of life. That is the kind of witch that I am.
For me, none of this is beyond anyone else’s potential. None of this is rooted in the supernatural. For me, all of this is quite natural, rooted in my body and in the material of this world, this cosmos. This is where I know I differ from some other witches, and that is just fine.
I believe that I come from a long line of magical, powerful people who would never describe themselves as magical or powerful. (Probably for the same reasons that I hesitate to call myself a witch. That is a whole other essay to come.) They are post-colonial immigrants, mothers, grandmothers, aunties, fathers, brothers, uncles. Some of them are part of organized religions and some are not. They create family and community out of absence and isolation. They ground their lives in loving rituals, conjuring fridges and freezers full of food, ready for any guest or family member. They turn unyielding desert earth into land that can produce greens, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. They shape and meld the minds of youth. They keep moving and taking care of their own, despite the racism they face on a daily basis.
Everyone has the capacity to practice magic because everyone has access to some kind of power. Most of us are practicing magic all the time. When we set out to make a persuasive argument, we are practicing magic. When we take on the task of encouraging ourselves or a loved one, we are practicing magic. When we create art or events with the intention of shifting culture or transforming thought, we are practicing magic.
The other day my partner practiced a very powerful form of magic in order to help me get out the door. I had done all the stuff that has been harder this week in the wake of the violent executive orders that Trump is making. I got myself out of bed. I got myself into the shower. I got clothes on. All of this is a victory when all you want to do is hide under the covers. I packed my lunch. I packed up my laptop and put my layers of warmth on. I had everything gathered to go and catch my bus and get to work on time, but then I just froze. I just stood there staring at my coffee table, not breathing, not moving. I couldn’t even speak.
My partner, Jim, saw me and said something gentle like, “Hey, buddy. What’s going on?” I think I just shook my head, saying in my head, I can’t. I don’t want to. He sat down behind me in one of our chairs, and I slowly turned toward him. He coaxed me into sitting down, saying stuff like, “You can call in sick. You don’t have to go.” That made me realize that I at least wanted to try. He brought me a glass of water, and that is when I started to cry. He showed me a video of an otter, and that made the tears come harder because Trump’s administration doesn’t give a shit about the otters or us or climate change or…
The tears kept flowing and eventually they stopped. We sat in silence and that is when what follows popped into my head:
Remember. Every day of your life has prepared you for this day. In that same way, everything in history has prepared you and your loved ones for this moment. You get to choose what narrative you are a part of.
I spoke this out loud to Jim and was able to stand up, thank him, gather my things, and leave. I only showed up to work 15 minutes late and I was able to accomplish a lot that day. I felt distracted and shaky, but I was there. That is magic. Jim created the space for that to happen. The magic, mind you, is not that I was able to get to work and be a good worker bee. Absolutely not.
The magic is that change in consciousness that I underwent. In the space that Jim created, I was able to realize or remember something that was vital and that helped me literally move. The emotions that had been stuck, that had frozen me, were able to flow. I was able to access my courage and use it as I saw fit. That is the magic.
I know that there are people out there asking, “How can I tap into the use of magic all around me?” To them I would say, please first recognize the magic that is in you and that you practice every day.
Think about power. I was trained up in the ways of power by queer, Black feminists. To me, power is the ability to make choices and changes in your life and in the world around you. It is the ability to shape and redefine what is “normal” and it is something to be shared. I think about power as having three levels. Individual, group, and systemic.
Individual power governs the choices I make every day: the clothes I wear, the toothpaste I use, the food I put into my mouth. These choices are absolutely impacted by larger systemic forces, but I still have some agency in what I act on due to my class privilege.
On a group level, power manifests as the choices and actions I take as part of any organization, family, or affinity group. On a group level, I strive to cultivate power with others and dismantle interactions that assert anyone’s power over another. I therefore usually choose to organize in groups that are nonhierarchical. Questions about shared power within a group might be, “Will we pool our resources and create a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter?”, “Will we craft a collective statement about Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban?”, or “When is the next potluck? Who is bringing what?”
Systemic power manifests as all those larger systems that impact the small groups and individuals. I like to remind myself that these systems depend on the individuals who keep them going. The power of prisons, education, health care, military, economics, media, and food is all systemic, and this is not an all-inclusive list. The magic that is needed now, more than ever, is the kind that changes these systems, redirects resources toward the people, and decriminalizes queer, disabled, Black, Native, Brown, and poor bodies.
Queer, Black, Native, feminist activists and organizers have been making magic toward these efforts all along. Now is the time for White and non-Black POC and people of power to redouble our efforts and support what has already been laid forth as we do our best to love, protect, and stand in solidarity with those who are overtly under attack: Black folks, LGBTQ folks, Native folks, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and the poor.
This action will require intention. Creating intention will require visioning. This is the stuff of magic and witchcraft, and it is happening whether it is happening under those guises or not. It is happening quietly. Not for the gaze of Facebook or people who might judge, mock, or not even try to understand. People of power who practice magic are consistently marginalized (at best) or killed (at worst), so for anyone who is wondering where the magical people are at, just know that they are all around you. You are probably one of them.
The individual who is unaffiliated and uninitiated has some options. You can join organizations that have already formed. You can form your own organization. You can also not join an organization and do your magical work as a solitaire, but do make sure that you are building a practice for yourself. Your practice will be your container, the crucible that holds space for your transformative work.
Some Thoughts on Practice
A practice is more or less a ritual to which you are committed and that connects you to your best self, your intentions. Your practice has room for you to show up in any shape you come and possibly be transformed. This essay is part of my weekly practice of writing one essay per week as part of the #52essays2017 challenge by Vanessa Martir. My consciousness has been shifted in the writing of this essay, and it has grounded me deeper in my intentions for myself and my work this year.
To support your practice, consider creating an altar or look around you and notice the altars you have already created. Altars are a helpful tool for grounding yourself and for me they bring together intention, object, and location. For example, in the corner of my dining room I have a small altar. It is built on a small, square table covered by a purple cloth. On it I have a small succulent plant, books by my political and spiritual ancestors, items from nature that remind me of my loved ones, candles, and other meaningful things that remind me of my intentions when I forget them. I may meditate at this altar or sit next to it in silence, but sometimes I don’t have time, so I do what I can to keep it maintained and to keep that plant on it alive. As I tend to the plant on my altar, I am tending to my intentions.
Create circles of resistance. Decide how you want to create resistance or consider bringing others together to create and share intentions for creating collective resistance. This can be very simple. On January 2nd I hosted a small gathering at my house that was all about creating. We colored, ate food, and I played with clay. We shared our ideas about the world we want to live in and we shared ideas about what stands in our way. I found that gathering quite magical, and I feel that we all left it a little transformed.
Observe cycles that you are a part of. One major cycle that many witches center their practice around is the moon cycle. As it has an effect on our oceans, people believe that it has an effect on our bodies. During the new moon, when it is dark, people of power often think about what they want to begin and what is standing in their way. When the moon is full and bright, people of power take that light in and meditate on abundance, completion, and release. The moon begins to wane and in noticing that some people of power give themselves permission to wane, knowing that soon the moon will be waxing as part of its natural cycle.
I love thinking about the cycle of seasons and how each person has their own seasonal cycles. This thinking comes from my training in Traditional East Asian Medicine, specifically the Five Phases paradigm. It honors the idea that we are dynamic, shifting bodies and beings, and no person can live an eternal summer. We have the permission to be in winter, our branches barren, our energy down in our roots. If we can let ourselves rest and gather here when we need to, we can surely look forward to a spring when we emerge like the sap of roots and help to sprout leaves and berries and fruits and flowers.
Listen to your intuition, or as most people call it, your gut. Intuitive knowing is different from thinking, and listening to one’s body can be a real challenge to those of us who come from marginalized communities, but it is the work. I cannot say that listening to one’s body or intuition brings any comfort. In a white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist, ableist world, in order to function and excel, people of power often need to ignore the many yellow, orange, and red “flags” that we perceive when we are listening our intuition or body’s messages. However, when we have knowledge we have power, and we can still make choices. Few of us have the privilege of removing ourselves from problematic institutions, so when we connect to all of our ways of knowing, we often carry around a lot of uncomfortable information as we navigate treacherous waters.
In my opinion, if we are conscious of that and know why we make certain choices, we can remain intact. If we can separate ourselves and our beings from the choices that we have to make sometimes, we can remain intact. If we can try, in small ways and in large ways to push back against the oppressive institutions in which many of us must operate, we can remain intact and possibly bring about change.
This work is exhausting, so I strongly suggest that people of power disidentify from problematic systems of oppression and ground our bodies and beings in spaces and places of love and safety. For me, that is my home and quite often the pottery studio, but I am also noticing that as a witch I can use the tools of casting or creating a circle to make any space into a safer or braver space.
Take individual and collective action. Yesterday as an act of resistance and healing, I made a ginormous pot of vegetable soup for myself and my partner to eat all week. I know I will end up sharing it with co-workers and friends. It’s something I have been doing since the election. When I feel terrified and like people with bodies like mine are under attack, I make an awesome meal. I do what I can to nourish this body and show it love.
To take part in collective action, yesterday I set this essay aside and went to O’Hare Airport for an emergency protest and press conference against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban at Terminal 5. 18 people were detained there and through our actions in solidarity with protests across the country, our detainees were released.
We are not in our current political predicament because of a lack of magic in our lives or the inaction of people of power. It is our collective magical work that has gotten us to this point. I think of the words of Benji Hart who says, “The thought that has been providing me with a surprising amount of grounding: We wanted to be here. We asked for this. We’ve pushed against the very walls of empire, demanded they be pulled up at their foundation, and empire is pushing back. We expected this. We’ve prepared for this, and now it is happening on a larger scale. This is a mark of our success, not our defeat. This is a testament to the force of our organizing, an indicator of our political strength. This is proof that our movements are working. Let’s not, when faced with what we always knew was coming, abandon movement.” Witches and people of power have been on the front lines all along, in some ways staving this moment off for as long as possible and in other ways bringing us collectively to this very moment.
What might be possible if we joined efforts and focused on a single target? It’s a tempting idea, I have to admit, and at the same time, I thoroughly support a diversity of tactics.
It is simply my hope that people who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, people who’ve been comfortable in silos and ivory towers, or people who mostly talk to people who agree with them will claim their own power and join with people of power to resist the violence all around us with focused, intentional, powerful magic.
To close this essay, I’ll lean on the words of Lakeesha Harris, founder of Black Witch University, who quotes Audre Lorde. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ So what will dismantle the master’s house? Your tools. Go and reclaim your tools. Your magic will dismantle the master’s house.”