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A Guide to Magical Activism
By Sarah Lyons
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- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
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Being an activist means, in part, being actively engaged with the world around you. It’s like making a pact between yourself and the spirit of the earth, that you’re going to continue fighting for it, and looking at the bad parts of it, even when that’s deeply uncomfortable. Once you realize how messed up the world is, it’s hard to let that go—and man oh man are things messed up right now!
As an activist myself, I’ve been all over the place the last few years, taking stock of what’s been going on and advocating for change. I’ve marched, organized, and agitated; slept in tents on the path of pipelines with snipers in the distant hills; been arrested for civil disobedience on one of the largest bridges in New York City; and seen tanks rolling down more than one street—under two different presidential administrations. It’s all given me so many reasons for despair, but also for hope.
Why hope? Because it’s been incredibly heartening to see more and more people get enraged and engaged over the last few years. There’s a building sense, around the world and especially in the United States, that things just can’t go on the way they have been for much longer. Young people, from my generation and the ones below, seem to have an especially keen sense of what’s happening and what needs to change. People in general are more politically engaged than they have been in years.
Now, it’s been said that there is no such thing as a coincidence. In fact, I’m saying that, right now. (Give me a second while I get my first foot up on this soapbox right here.)
I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all that witchcraft and the occult are seeing a revival at the same time there are great shifts in our politics. In my humblest opinion, understanding and doing witchcraft the right way mean acknowledging its political dimension. Politics, after all, is about way more than just elections. Politics is about the movement, wielding, and embodiment of power in our world. That may not seem immediately tied to witchcraft, but try replacing the word power in that sentence with energy and you’ll start to get a sense of how much the political is tied in with the magical.
Witchcraft in particular is having a bit of a moment—a fact that is still a little weird to me, since up until very recently being into the occult was a bit like the goth version of being a Revolutionary War reenactor (but hey, I’m not complaining!).
We could go into all sorts of fancy sociological reasons for the revival of witchcraft. I could run the data, pop out some cool charts, and delve into some boring statistics about markets and demographics and on and on. At the end of all that, we might have some good reasons behind why kids these days love the occult so much, but what good would that be for us? Witchcraft is about what you do with it, and I say that while there are many reasons, scientific, economic, and spiritual, for the rise of witchcraft, what really matters is what we do with the power of the witch.
And powerful witches are getting involved! Witchcraft is in many ways the earth’s immune system kicking in at the last moment and, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the earth is kind of in trouble right now. Like Peter Grey writes in his Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft: “If the land is poisoned, then witchcraft must respond.” So how then do we respond? Welcome to the world of magical activism!
This is a book about magic, politics, and how we can change the world when we blend the two together. If you know lots about witchcraft, but nothing about politics outside a voting booth, this book is for you. If you know loads about politics, but your knowledge of witchcraft begins and ends with Harry Potter, this book is for you, too.
Maybe you bought this book for a cool kid in your family, and you decided to flip through it. Maybe at a certain point you went “By science, this woman’s crazy!” It’s all good, I get that this much “woo-woo” in a book about activism can make some people uncomfortable, and for good reason! Religion and spirituality combined with politics have hurt a lot of people, and so some just choose to say no thank you to the whole thing. I actually don’t mind if you’re one of those people who is side-eyeing this book right now, but I will make a utilitarian plea to you, just once, before you put it down and walk out of the store to post something angry on social media: Magic, or at least a belief in magic, has been around for pretty much ever, at least if the oldest artifacts of humanity are to be believed. And the way I see it, we can either make a home for these beliefs or face the consequences of leaving all this power and history for our political adversaries.
Or maybe you are that cool kid and got really excited when you saw this book! Maybe you’ve read a bunch about witchcraft, and you know it has something to do with feminism, which means it could possibly have something to do with activism. You know something is wrong with the world, but dang, you just don’t know how to make the pieces fit! Well don’t worry, this book will hopefully be just the metaphysical duct tape you were looking for to pull it all together for you.
This book is about ways to bring your witchcraft into the revolution against what I’m going to call “The Disenchanted World.” To help fight against this great evil, I’ll be going through different concepts and ideas pulled from magic, grounding them in political history, and giving you exercises to bring it all into the mix. I’ve tried to keep these rituals and exercises pretty loosey-goosey, since I think you should be able to add your own pizzazz once you’ve gotten the hang of them. Having said that, I do expect you to, at some point, really sit down and work through the practices in this book. There’s a weird, but common, misconception that witchcraft is radical because it “gets you something for nothing” or doesn’t require work. Oh honey, if only! I’ve been at this game for over a decade, and I’ve still got work to do. Now, don’t let that scare you—these exercises are pretty 101. I’m just saying that even Hogwarts assigns homework.
Now, let’s get started.
A Witch’s Place Is in
So why witchcraft and activism? Why not just magic more broadly or a Necronomicon-style book that will summon the Old Ones to reclaim the world? A few reasons.
1. I know witchcraft best. 2. The second option would drive you insane. And 3. Out of all the flavors, traditions, and schools of the occult, I think witchcraft is set up particularly well to take on the problems we face in the world right now. Here is a short, sweet, and incomplete list of why I believe that is:
Witchcraft requires a living relationship with the land.
Witchcraft emphasizes femininity.
Witchcraft comes from a time before capitalism.
Witchcraft is a magical practice, not a dogmatic religion.
Witchcraft is weird, wild, and hard to define.
Witchcraft resists nihilism and alienation.
DEFINING MAGIC, POLITICS, AND WITCHCRAFT
Before we go any further into the relationship between activism and the occult, it might be good to stop and define just what it is that I’m talking about when I say magic, politics, and witchcraft.
Let’s start with magic. There are about a billion ways to describe what magic is. Find two people who have been practicing for years, ask them what they think magic is, and there’s a good chance that you’ll get two very different answers.
I don’t love everything he wrote, but I do like this concise definition of magic from the famous occultist Aleister Crowley: “The art and science of causing change in accordance with the Will.” In Crowley’s practice, the Will means something akin to concepts like dharma or fate, but his description works pretty well for magic as a whole, no matter the specific practice.
Magic is about realizing that we can change the world, often with just our thoughts. Even trippier than that, magic is about realizing we actually change reality all the time, every day, without noticing it. It’s also about recognizing that just as the material world has an effect on us, we in turn have an effect on the material world. Another occult phrase you’ll often hear used to describe this concept is “As Above, So Below, As Within, So Without.” Essentially, both spiritual beings and things in the material world, like gods, spirits, and the stars, shape us, but we simultaneously shape the world around us through mastery of our inner worlds.
You might be thinking, “But that’s too simple. I’ve already done that!” Yes, you have. We all do magic all the time without realizing it. That’s what makes it so cool! When you saw this book, you had a vision of yourself reading it. You may have seen yourself getting pleasure or knowledge from it; maybe you even imagined reading it in the very place you are reading it now. So, to make that vision in your head reality, you bought (or stole, or borrowed) this book. Now you are reading it, in accordance with your vision. See how simple that is?
To recomplicate things, yes, magic is made up of the simple, everyday acts of manifestation we engage in, but it also involves reorganizing your material world to better suit the reality you see in your head. Really good magic essentially hacks the part of your brain that creates and absorbs reality and makes it work for you. Something like the placebo effect is often brought up to dismiss “magical thinking.” Basically, it’s been proven that if you believe something has power, or that interacting with it will have a specific effect on you, then that result is statistically likely to happen, whether or not it was “supposed” to. “Aha!” the skeptics say, “this proves magic is just all in your head!” Well… no, that’s actually what we’ve been saying all along. If anything, things like the placebo effect don’t disprove the effectiveness of what we call “magical thinking”; they prove it. What you’ll be doing in magic is, in many ways, leveraging the placebo effect on yourself to create the life and circumstances that you want. The power of belief is the power of magic.
This is a hard concept for many people to understand at first. You might think, “Sure, my thoughts have an impact on me, but they can’t possibly have much impact on the material world around me.” That’s an easy trap to fall into, but if you stop and reframe things, chances are you’ll realize that you’re already living in the reality others have magically constructed around you. So let’s go through some examples.
I’m going to ask you to do a very hard thing and think of Donald Trump right now. Have you ever noticed how he says fake things, pretty much all the time, but people believe him? And, much more importantly for our purposes, even the people who don’t believe him end up living in his constructed reality whether they want to or not. Trump probably isn’t a billionaire, but he acts like he is, so people treat him like he is. He also isn’t fit to be president of the United States, but he pretended he was capable of holding the position, until one day he really was president. This, my friend, is magic.
Lying to yourself and believing it make you delusional, while lying to others and them believing it form trickery—but doing both simultaneously is magic. Another example is the power (remember this word) that large companies possess. I’m almost certain that you have a Netflix account (or that you are borrowing your friend’s), but despite the company being so big and so ubiquitous as of the writing of this book, Netflix still hasn’t really made any money. Yes, technically they have ended up with hundreds of millions of dollars in profit at the end of the last few years. But after making that profit they need to spend the money, and borrow more, to spend billions of dollars making content. The same goes for Twitter and Amazon. Wait, what? But they’re so important! How can they have never actually made a cent? Because investors speculate they will make money someday—or, in other words, they are willing their profitability into being. Things and corporations and people have power because we believe they do.
Now think about borders for a second. They’re fake—literally. Borders are lines drawn on pieces of paper or screens, rather than fixed features on the globe. However, they govern everything about how society works the world over. Stand on one side of the invisible line, and you are a citizen, but step to the other side without the right talisman—or, as the nonmagical might call them, legal documents—and you are a criminal. Even if you move between two states or provinces within the same country, those invisible lines still determine a whole bunch of things you can or can’t do, and that’s only because we have chosen to believe that borders are real.
Finally, let’s go even bigger, conceptually, and think about money. Money is also fake, strictly speaking. I like to call money “belief points” because it’s something that only has power because we believe in it. More and more, our money isn’t even a physical object, but simply numbers on a screen—and those ones and zeros determine who lives and dies in this world. To really understand the gravity of this, think about how wild it is that you can be a totally good person, with a family and people who love you, and maybe even tons of practical skills, but if you don’t have enough numbers on a screen or pieces of colorful paper in your pocket, society determines you are worthless. It’s totally nuts! Even if you go back in time to when money was backed up by things like gold and silver, those metals don’t really have a ton of value beyond the imagined one we placed on them.
As I hope you can see by now, it’s true that your mind has incredible power—but it’s not the only thing that does. Something that steams my broccoli when I read books about magic or see new age lectures is how they will often shift all responsibility to the individual. Think of all of the circumstances that are truly outside of your control. Is it my fault that rising sea levels washed my home away? Or that the markets crashed and I lost my job? The truth is, you and your mind have incredible power, but it’s just one power among many, all fighting, existing, and supporting one another—which is exactly what politics is.
Pick up any almost any book on magic and you’ll read a lot about energy. Energy is the current flowing through all things, both in this world and others. It takes different forms; manifests in different fashions, moods, and flavors; and exists in unique ways in all of us. Lots of people have come up with words to describe this thing we call energy, like chi, prana, or, if you’re a big ole nerd like me, the Force.
I don’t like the word energy. I think it sounds wishy-washy, lame, and like a placeholder that’s waiting for the English language to come up with something better. The word I like to use instead is power.
Power has a bunch of negative associations surrounding it because we are so used to power being employed in horrible ways. If you have power, surely you must want to control, abuse, and mistreat those with less power than you. It doesn’t have to be that way though! Everything in the world has power, and although we may have different powers at different levels, that doesn’t mean we have to hurt one another. There is a difference between “power with” and “power over” others.
One of the biggest reasons I like to use the word power instead of energy, and the reason we’ll be using that word in this book, is because politics is about power. If you grew up like I did, you probably sat in class as a young person and took detailed notes as your teacher explained that politics is all about compromise.
Well kid, that teacher lied to you, although not maliciously, because they probably believed what they were saying. The thing is, politics has never been about compromise, and believing it is starts you at a disadvantage when the time for compromises actually does come.
Sure, compromises happen all the time in politics. They’re necessary at some points. But the important thing to keep in mind is that the people sitting at that compromise table got there through power, and one or more people are going to have their power taken away or redirected, at least somewhat, by the outcome of the compromise. Here’s an example: Every treaty the United States ever made with indigenous peoples was technically a compromise of sorts, but if you actually ask the people who got the short end of those compromises, they’ll tell you they were all about the use, abuse, and misuse of power. Similarly, history is full of times when people pooled their collective power to change things for the better. Just like in magic, politics is about feeling the flow of power, finding it in yourself, and combining it with other people’s to make something happen.
- On Sale
- Nov 5, 2019
- Page Count
- 168 pages
- Running Press