The camera looks up through a group of wood planks leaning together, their ends forming an irregular pentagon that shines bright with light.

Social justice magic (maybe)

I don’t do magic, not as a general rule. I’m not even sure  I think it exists outside of an internal psychological reality, though a number of people I trust seem fairly sure of it. But recently I found a situation that really seemed to call for a response that was, well, magical. A few days ago, a colleague came into the office at work, waving a piece of paper angrily. It was a flyer she’d ripped down from a a bulletin board in our academic building: an image of a bust of a Caesar in white marble, its empty eyes staring out above the legend “Serve Your People / Identity Evropa.”

Identity Evropa is a fairly new US-based white nationalist/fascist organization dedicated to “promoting the interests of People of European Heritage,” which is dogwhistle racism at its very finest. All of us who saw the flyer were disgusted, and each reacted in different ways: student workers helped us sweep the building to take down any more flyers, a few teaching colleagues used the flyers as springboards for lessons on the dangerous ways seemingly innocuous words can be deployed to spread hate. I spread the word on social media and commiserated with colleagues at other campuses who’d also dealt with this same campaign and other, earlier ones. But one of the student workers had offhandedly joked about burning the flyers in the courtyard, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So tonight, under the dark moon in the rain, I took a copy of the flyer and held a private ritual, which got surprisingly intense.

First I gathered my tools on the back porch: a candle, an old rusty Dutch oven, and bowls of whisky, salt, and water. Before anything else, I lit a small taper blessed with the flame of Kildare, prayed to Brigid of holy fire and holy well that she bless me with ritual purity, and upended the candle into the water, blessing it. (This is adapted from the Hellenic ritual preparation of khernips, but I’m not one to pass up a good idea when I see it.) Outside, I lit the candle and washed my hands and face with the blessed water, washing away any cares of the day that might still linger with me, any concerns that might distract me.

Then I held up the bowl of salt and called out to the Earth Mother: “Earth Mother, our Mother, on whom we live and move and have our being, from whom comes all life and holiness, I ask your blessing in my work. May I be rooted deep in your soil, nourished and sustained by you.” I then scattered the salt all around me, dusting my hands off thrice. I reached deep into the earth and high to the heavens, grounding and centering myself between the waters of potential and the fires of order.

Next I held up the bowl of whisky and called to Manannán mac Lir, my ever-watchful guide. I scattered droplets of whisky three times with my fingertips, asking that he join his powers to mine as I opened the the gates: the bowl of blessed water as a well reaching down to the Ancestors, the candle a pillar of fire reaching up to the Gods, the trees along the fenceline as the Axis Mundi, spanning all the worlds.

The gates opened, I turned to the purpose of my ritual, calling out to Lugh, fierce battle champion and master of all arts. “Lugh Lámfada, Lugh Lonnbéimnech! Lugh of the Long Hand, Lugh the Fierce Striker, skilled in all arts, leader of the tribes! Once you battled your grandfather Balor at Moytura, where old ancestral ways came to bring death and destruction to the Folk. Now, too, we find old ancestral fears festering, sowing discord and hate. In the lightning that has flashed throughout the day, I have seen your shining face. I pray you be present still in my rite; join me at my fire, stand beside me in my work. As once you came in fire to destroy old hatreds, I ask you now to aid me in my own fight.” I scattered whisky all about with my fingertips, then hurled the remainder into the night, saying “Lord Lugh, for your brightness and your glory, I bring you an offering.”

I reached into the Dutch oven and pulled out the crumpled flyer, holding the candle flame to it, chanting. “May their fires be burnt out. May their plans come to naught. As they have no hospitality, may they receive none. As they have no honor, may they receive none. May their work be consumed in fire. May it be brought to dust. May it be brought to dust. May it be brought to dust.” I dropped the flaming paper back into the pot, still chanting as the flames consumed the thick paper, blackening it, charring it into flakes of glowing ash that I extinguished with most of the blessed waters.

As I poured the waters, I smelled a sweet smell from all around, honeys and flowers and life that surely did not emanate from our very dead backyard, and I was suddenly hit with a wall of fatigue that brought me down to my knees, where I remained for several minutes, breathing heavily. It was a struggle to stand again, to thank Lugh for his aid, to thank Manannán and close the gates, to thank the Earth Mother for her strength and end the ritual with a snuffing of the wick of the candle.

I still don’t know if I believe in magic. I do know that what I did tonight felt powerful and magical. I further know that the level of exertion I felt was completely out of proportion to the physical actions I was performing, and wasn’t anything I expected, so I have trouble believing it was psychosomatic. I doubt my little ritual will have any great effect in turning the rising tide of white nationalist racism, but I’m glad to have performed it. We all must bend our efforts to countering hate and prejudice, however we can: in our homes, in our work, in our politics and civics, and yes, in our ritual practice.

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Header image: Paul Bence, “Beam of Light.” Flickr / CC BY-NC.

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