Ask A Witch: Activist Edition
Calling yourself a witch is a rebellion. It’s also a privilege, and a responsibility: there are still folks TODAY being persecuted and attacked for witchcraft (whether they’re actually practicing or not). Historically, witches are The Other, a threat to colonial capitalism, a warrior for the kind of community that oligarchs try so hard to squash. But for white witches especially (and I mean, white SKIN not white magic. We’ll talk about that later.) we aren’t so othered these days. We’ve inherited a lot of social power that directly contributes to the marginalization of every other “race”. I mean, we have the privilege to call anti-racism “activism” instead of having to survive through racism ourselves, ya know? And so it is our responsibility to give our social power away while claiming our spiritual power for the forces of anti-racism and anti-capitalism.
We’re living through an extremely powerful time, both cosmically and socially, and some days it feels impossible to bring about the huge mindset-shift needed to facilitate tangible change. But it’s not! Witches are more present than ever, and if we believe in magic (which we do, right?) we know that our collective power can topple empires.
I’m realizing that a lot of the magical training/studying I’ve done is biased or downright racist. How can I still be a witch?
It’s true that systems of oppression don’t only touch the mainstream; in fact, countercultures can be some of the worst breeding grounds for bigotry, and witchcraft is no exception. The ways we interpret Tarot, Astrology, pagan holidays, even ancestor worship are all influenced by the same politics that shape the rest of our culture.
Consider the omnipresent concept of “white magic” and “black magic”. For a long time now, those words have flippantly identified “good” magic and “bad” magic. So why even have that color-comparison at all, if we already have words like “good” and “bad”? And for that matter, who decides what’s good and bad at all? I encourage you to dig into that question, especially as it relates to magical traditions like Indigenous Shamanism, Vodou, and Hoodoo/root work. Why do Salem tourists insist on telling me they like the “vibe” of Salem more than the “vibe” of New Orleans? That’s not a rhetorical question.
The main thing to remember is that if it’s racist, it ain’t sacred! So feel empowered to twist and turn archetypes that don’t sit right with you. Or invent totally new ones! Your practice is about your power and your healing, so why continue to worship tropes that don’t hold up? It feels like a big undertaking, but try starting small: what does each number represent to you, really? Does three really have to mean a trinity of deities? What does each color represent to you, really? Does red really have to mean aggression? Incorporate those new symbols into your spellcasting, and I bet you’ll see some big results.
There are also lots of brilliant creators re-framing archetypes to reflect this Great Uprising. Alice Sparkly Kat’s Astrology and Storytelling workbook is an amazing anti-capitalist, anti-fascist interpretation (and critique!) of Western astrology, and Jerico Mandybur’s Neo-Tarot Boxset is a fabulous update to the traditional practice of Tarot reading (featuring folks of every color, unlike most traditional decks).
Can my scrappy DIY spells actually influence systemic change?
Every little bit helps! Especially if you’re putting all your oomph behind it. But it can also be extremely powerful to cast spells that you know other witches are also casting. One of our sister witches reminded me recently “what one witch can manifest in a year, a group of witches can manifest in an hour”. You could gather a coven (virtually, or *outside from 6 feet apart with masks*) and build a radical ritual together, or you can participate in already-planned practices like this Protection Ritual for Black People. Our favorite author Ariel Gore also compiled the stellar Hexing the Patriarchy anthology of spells for the revolution; there’s seriously a spell for everything in there, and lots of contributing witches that you can then follow for more magic.
It turns out that my ancestors were pretty shitty… How am I supposed to call ancestors into my spells now?!
Hey, mine too! My ancestors were on the wretched Mayflower. I carry the trauma of their abominations with me, and I still benefit from the awful systems they imposed. When I feel pangs of white fragility or defensiveness, I know that at least some of it comes from their presence.
But witchcraft is about healing: by dedicating my service to Indigenous causes, specifically the Wampanoag peoples whose ancestors were massacred by my ancestors (and who are still fighting to retain their ancestral land), it feels like I’m helping to heal a tiiiiiny bit of that trauma, as well as freeing myself to see and uplift more truths. I don’t honor those ancestors, I apologize for them. I release them, through action and magic.
Shitty ancestors are also good for practicing your advocacy: Worried about talking to your mom about her All Lives Matter post? Engage an ancestor! Protect yourself (like, a lot), but be receptive to what they tell you. It can give you some clues about where your living relative’s bias comes from (and maybe reveal biases you didn’t know you held). Just remember that whatever your ancestor says, they can’t really act on it any more except to make you feel gross. And you are NOT gross, you’re working to undo the harm they did.
Remember too: ancestors aren’t just people. You have ancestral lands and folk tales and art. There are so many ways to engage with your lineage without inviting in violent or hateful spirits. In fact, calling in your ancestral land and culture can help you separate yourself from the toxic patriotism that the US pushes; it can help you understand whose land you’re occupying, and why their culture should eclipse Americanism.
How do I make financial offerings (donations) if I have no money?
For a lot of witches, our first spell is an abundance spell. Manifestation. So we should be manifesting for bail funds and mutual aid, duh! Rosemary is a great plant ally for bringing in money, so burn some dried/steam some fresh, and thank the universe for the endless money flowing to (insert grassroots org or individual here). Other great abundance spell tools: green or gold candles, shiny shiny pennies, pyrite, cinnamon.
Do you add music to your rituals? This live playlist on YouTube is donating all ad revenue to Black Lives Matter (and posting their donation receipts on Instagram) so hit play and cast your spells! Other creators are doing similar things with their ad revenue, but be careful to choose one who is transparent about their receipts. If you see someone pretending to donate… hex ‘em (just kidding. Kind of.)
I’m an Empath, how do I do this work without completely overloading my nervous system?
First: Don’t argue with hardcore Trumpers on the internet. Just don’t! It’s not gonna work and there is no spell that will keep you from feeling like a dumpster fire for the rest of the day. Seriously.
Instead, use your Empathy to connect authentically with the people you can realistically reach. Build a network strong enough to push the nasties out, and nurture it. I don’t mean “close your eyes and cover your ears and ignore everything bad going on”, I mean “have a network to rely on when you need to borrow some strength or balance”. Nurture each other; no one should be alone in this work. For Black folx feeling the ever-crushing weight of white supremacy, feel welcome and justified in healing spaces just for you, like events with You Good Sis?
Here’s a secret that capitalism doesn’t want us to know: we are all Empaths. Everyone. Of differing degrees of course, but we all feel things collectively. And we know that when we all act on those feelings together, we can make big changes to a system that relies on our mistrust of each other. That’s why companies tell you not to discuss your wages with other workers, or why cities and towns are still so clearly segregated. So while it’s important to establish boundaries and safe spaces for yourself, it’s also important not to shut out all energy that isn’t ours. It’s important to let community, not capitalism, drive our actions. Maybe we all just need to cry and scream together. Or maybe we need to have specific action steps: when I feel overwhelmed with grief over the housing crisis, I have a list of email contacts where I can channel that frozen-with-fear feeling into meaningful action (and if I just so happen to be in the bathtub at the time well that’s my business!)
Now, for white folx, we need to really examine what we mean as Empaths when we claim to feel everyone’s pain or be affected by everyone’s struggle. Energetically, that may or may not be true for the moment that we’re around those feelings. But removing ourselves from those places (physically and psychically) is a *huge* privilege. We’re only getting a taste of someone else’s experiences, just like we’re only learning about racism instead of experiencing it. We cannot make any progress if we keep colonizing the pain of marginalized folks. And we can’t use it as an excuse to step back, or shut down, or lash out at other white folx who are on their learning path too. So if you find yourself centering your own feelings and reactions right now, even under the umbrella of Empathy, take a second to ground yourself. Identify what is and isn’t yours. Seek out tools to find those answers, like the Me and White Supremacy Workbook by Layla Saad. Also consider donating to The Loveland Foundation to fund mental health services for folx who can’t step away from their own victimization.
I don’t feel safe yet appearing at in-person protests, and I don’t have much money to donate. How else can I help?
Well you can learn about your local government and who’s in charge of defunding the police, to start! A lot of this stuff happens on a local level, and an email to your City Councilor could count a lot more than an email to the Biden campaign. You can even embed a spell in your message: hide the letters of a phrase like “systemic change comes to (your town)” in the text. Write it out on paper, and leave a candle or something else to represent fire on top of it (a penny, Carnelian, dandelion, whatever you’ve got!). Then, hit send.
Have a marker? Access to some posterboard? Make signs! Add protective colors and sigils for your friends who are taking to the streets. You don’t have to be present to be present, ya know?
What else do you want to know, witches? I always love hearing from you, and you’re welcome to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or directly on Instagram @junk_witch.
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