At Forging Futures: Choice and the Goddess

Over at Forging Futures, I’ve written about why I think honoring the feminine divine means that we must trust women to make their own choices about their bodies – especially the choice to have an abortion.

Given the juxtaposition of this piece with the previous one, I want to point out a few things about my political speech, since I am often political.

First of all, what I’m doing is very different from the kind of pulpit politicking that is being pushed by the Religious Right which I so strongly disdain. Yes, I’m ordained as a priestess by a 501(c)3 tax-exempt religious organization. But none of my online speech is as a leader for that organization, nor is it funded with the support of those tax-exempt dollars. These are my personal views and my personal speech. I defend even the most conservative Christian pastor’s identical right to his views and his speech, when he’s not using his tax-exempt organization to push them.

Second, for all that I often discuss how my religion guides my life, my ideas, and my choices – including my political choices – I am also determinedly in support of secular government. Whatever ways of understanding I use to arrive at my conclusions, when I advocate a policy approach that will affect other people, I always, always, always have a purely secular justification for it.

Respecting women’s bodily autonomy and giving them the right to make their own health care decisions should be an obvious conclusion when considering the situation from a secular point of view, and it’s on that basis that I want to see policies enacted. The fact that I also have strong religious reasons for supporting this position is relevant to me, and is something that I discuss as part of exploring how to live out my values in the world, but it is not the defense I offer for putting something into law.

These are the kinds of distinctions that make the difference between religious people who are engaged in politics and would-be theocrats. Respecting them is part of keeping our pluralist democracy functioning.

A 9/11 challenge

Healing takes time. I’ve lost a member of my immediate family (although not to violence), so I understand some of that first-hand. Grieving takes time, and it’s never enough time. I’m glad that in some ways the pain of Sept 11 2001 is starting to fade, at least enough that my day today was mostly normal.

That doesn’t mean forgetting. Going on with life, even in a permanently changed world, is a sign of healing. In many ways I’m just glad that a mostly normal day today is a sign that perhaps we’re not so vehement about taking to the barricades of some of the (conflicting) superstructures we’ve built on top of September 11th.

So I think about right remembrance, and tonight that leads me to a challenge. I cannot remember the terrorist attacks without remembering the events that came from them, which led to hundreds of thousands (millions?) more deaths, to war crimes and the dismantling of some of the American values I hold most dear, and to cycles of bloodshed, blame, and vengeance that threaten to endure for the rest of my life and beyond.

I am challenged to hold all those things in my heart tonight in remembrance. I’m challenging you to widen your circle of remembrance just a little bit.

Even if some of the deaths that followed from the US response to September 11th were right or justified or necessary – and I’m willing to accept that some of them might have been at least necessary or appropriate, although those numbers have to be a tiny proportion of those who have actually died, at home and abroad – they were deaths, and I am sorry that they were necessary.

How many more, though, have died and suffered? I refuse to limit my mourning to just some. I refuse to limit my response to death and suffering to certain circles of the “good,” especially when “good” means “like me.” I refuse to limit the actions I take to try to help and heal.

What challenges do you find in remembrance?

The myth of nonsectarianism

Sometimes someone has to say that the emperor has no clothes. Here goes:

There is no such thing as nonsectarian prayer.

“Nonsectarian” is a polite euphemism for “generically Christian,” and more specifically “generically Protestant, but probably acceptable to nearly all followers of Abrahamic religions.” That’s it; that’s all it means. It’s not an acceptable alternative to “sectarian” prayer because it somehow magically includes everyone. That alternative doesn’t exist.

It’s not possible to give a prayer that doesn’t exclude someone.

The act of praying is exclusionary: most atheists don’t pray.

The mode of praying is exclusionary: some people pray by putting on specific garments; some pray by dancing; some pray by kneeling; some pray by making burnt offerings; some pray by creating artworks; and on and on. Simply standing or sitting with bowed head and folded hands while someone says words is a specific kind of prayer that is primarily practiced by a specific type of religion.

It doesn’t matter that that group is broad and varied. It doesn’t matter that that group is hegemonic in this country. It’s a specific act associated with a specific religion, and if that’s not the definition of sectarian, I don’t know what is.

As for content, most prayers begin by stating who or what they are addressing. Some don’t; they remain in a prayer equivalent of passive voice by saying “We pray that…. and for ….” Theologically, this is a cop-out. It’s the equivalent of those ads you get from the local cable company that read “To our neighbor at…” It’s like playing Pin the Prayer on the Deity: stand with your eyes closed and pray in as vague a fashion as possible, desperately hoping that your words and intent will bump into a kindly power as they wing their way blindly into the universe.

Worse yet, it’s a cop-out that doesn’t fool anybody. At most, it allows people to substitute their own mental image of whomever or whatever they want to address their prayer to. But recognizing that prayer may be directed to many different sources which can’t be condensed into a unified thing is undermining the very idea of a universal prayer. It makes the exercise at best a simulacrum of unity – at the price of already having excluded people – and at worst a farce.

When a recipient is addressed, that by definition excludes people. Not everyone prays to the same deity, and plenty of people don’t pray to someone or something that can be addressed as simply “God” or “Lord.”

The inimitable Byron Ballard wrote about her experience with this in a different setting:

When that wonderful interfaith group came together on the first anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon horrors, we tried our best to come up with a prayer that everyone was comfortable hearing and saying.

And we couldn’t do it.  Well-meaning and well-mannered as we all were, there simply wasn’t a way of creating a generic prayer.

Byron is right. That group didn’t fail because they didn’t try hard enough, they failed because it’s impossible. The opposite of sectarian isn’t “nonsectarian,” it’s secular.

The only places where the myth of nonsectarianism can have credence are places where there’s enough similarity of religious belief and practice to render something like “God” meaningful. In intra-Christian work, nonsectarian prayer can exist; the Catholic priest and the Lutheran and Baptist pastors all agree not to to pray to Mary, not to say “sola scriptura,” and not to say “accept Jesus into your hearts right now.” That’s nonsectarian with respect to the subdivisions of Christianity. It’s still sectarian because it’s specific to the Christian sect.

If you’re in a group that is Christian by definition, go right ahead with nonsectarian Christian prayer. But once you start talking about – or praying in – public situations, open to all, then by definition in this country you are not talking about a wholly Christian population.

It’s true that since the Abrahamic religions are all basically monotheistic faiths that primarily address the divine in masculine terms, it is linguistically possible to write prayers that do not violate any of the fundamental tenets of these religions. I leave it to members of those religions to decide how comfortable they are with prayers like that on theological grounds.

But I guarantee you that if an Arab Christian started out a “nonsectarian” prayer addressing the divine as Allah, which Arab Christians have done for as long as there has been Christianity, the conservative echo chamber would explode with furor over how this supposedly “nonsectarian” prayer was actually evidence of a secret Muslim desire to institute shariah law. “Nonsectarian” has a lot of unmentioned implicit assumptions built in which highlight the ways that it is actually very sectarian, and very much about specific kinds of privilege and power.

When those implicit assumptions go unchallenged, it helps create a sense that the hegemonic group is more inclusive than it actually is. This backfires because it reinforces the power of the hegemons – who, as I observed above, will not relinquish power over the definition of the group that subtly privileges them above all other “nonsectarians.” Then the people who are still excluded – the atheists, the agnostics, the polytheists, the goddess-worshippers, and anyone who won’t play along with the pretend notion that everyone is talking to the same deity – are faced with an even larger, more powerful group.

The idea of “nonsectarian” prayer is nothing more nor less than an invisible set of clothes created and worn by hegemonic Protestant Christianity to excuse and defend it getting to have a privileged place in public discourse, most notably in the prayers given in the context of government business.

The threads are spun out of the artificially-created notion that there is something substantive which can be called “Judeo-Christian” religion. The cloth is woven in front of amazed onlookers by pseudo-generic Christians who have concealed their actual agendas in the frame of the loom which shapes the very warp and weft of their fantasy. It is dyed in the colors of imagined inclusiveness with the assistance of some members of minorities. And it is tailored to fit and flatter only the most privileged of the hegemons.

Others can either shape themselves to fit it – usually doing violence to the unique parts of themselves, their beliefs, and their practices – or they can explain how it doesn’t fit. But because of the wonderful consensus-inducing coating on the fibers, the fact that anybody who doesn’t fit will have parts of themselves show through the gaps in the invisible suit is always put down to their problems, rather than the nature of the suit, much less the fact that it doesn’t exist.

One of the reasons people are so reluctant to acknowledge that the nonsectarian minister emperor isn’t wearing any clothes is that we all want to think that if we work at getting along, we can make it happen. So “nonsectarian” becomes the religious and political version of “Intent is Magic!” If you say a prayer nicely enough, everybody will agree with it.

But part of having an adult, realistic conversation about religion in America today is being aware that, as Stephen Prothero put it, God is not one. He’s not even a he. I’m honest enough to acknowledge that not everyone practices religion in the same way I do. I’m asking for others to recognize the same.

I don’t care whether you have the best intentions in the world; when you are put in a position of speaking for government and you make me feel belittled, othered, and excluded, I am hurt by it. That’s wrong, and that’s one of many things the First Amendment is supposed to prevent. Especially when that exclusion conveys the stamp of governmental approval.

It’s time for the idea of “nonsectarian” prayer as an acceptable, non-exclusionary form of government-sponsored observance to be recognized for what it is: nonsense.

The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

Nonsectarian prayer doesn’t exist.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Pagan Standard Time

Hecate tells the truth about Pagan Standard Time and links to Kerr Cuchulain’s little video about it. Hecate talks about the experience of a circle with respect to PST. Kerr says that it’s a violation of the Rede and gives examples about attending a ritual or leading a class. They’re both right on about this problem.

The worst part is that it’s a Prisoners’ Dilemma. I attended an event earlier this year where the organizers were 45 minutes late, due to inexcusably bad planning about transportation that any reasonable person would have foreseen. This was as predictable as saying that the Metro to the Cherry Blossom Festival will be crowded.* You simply have to know this; there is no excuse.

As a result, I, my spouse, and someone else meeting us there – who realized she was going to be running a few minutes late and rushed to make up that time so as not to be rude or miss the event – ended up waiting outside in the heat for over an hour.

There were also delays because part of the plan amounted to “we’ll call you when we get there” going six different ways. News flash: that’s not a plan. That’s a lack of plan. It puts off the effort of making decisions and disseminating information to attendees at the price of creating a logistical nightmare and a game of, literally, telephone at the site. Aside from its ineptitude, it is a lousy way to prepare for a serious observance because it creates more stress and frustration that we have to ground and center to get rid of first.

The joke about “Pagan Standard Time” is supposed to be that everybody will show up late, because they know the vast majority of others will – that it’s become standardized. But it’s not funny: some people show up on time and get punished by sitting around with nothing happening because of the bad behavior of their fellows. That’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma. None of us have any incentive to fix it until everybody’s going to fix it.

Except that we can’t work that way. Maybe a small circle of close friends can run on PST, but anything larger can’t. It just can’t – festivals fall apart, rituals don’t happen, and our relationships with the earth, with deity, and with each other get damaged.

There’s no easy way out of a multi-sided prisoners’ dilemma. We can try to make agreements with each other beforehand and then stick to them. None of us are perfect; as Hecate points out, crap does happen. So we need to be understanding about that, even while recognizing that our understanding has limits. For example, even though I’m trying to use my bad experience as an example, I’m trying hard not to make an example of the people involved.

I’m not going to use Pagan Standard Time as an excuse, and I won’t accept it from others.

 

*It was not a cherry blossom event. Unrelated examples are unrelated.

Crowdsourcing: Examples of magical victim-blaming

I’m working on an article about the problem of victim blaming by magical practitioners. I have a handful of examples – including one stunning one from Buckland – but would like to collect as many as I can. So please share: where have you seen or experienced victim blaming in magical contexts?

I’m interested in either examples of written material that I can cite (print and internet both) or first-hand stories that you are willing to have me share and cite in the article. Unfortunately, second-hand stories (“This happened to a friend of mine…”) are not as useful.

If you have a story of your own that you’re willing to share, please include your reaction. Did you recognize it as victim-blaming right away? How did it make you feel? How did you respond, both at the time and after the fact?

Thanks, everyone!

Respect and Consent

Getting consent for spiritual practices – even ones that I might regard as inherently “harmless,” like Reiki – is a matter of basic respect for others.

Some time ago the Slacktiverse had a post about the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead and the tension between that and respect for the beliefs of the deceased. A very active conversation ensued; after reflecting on that, I became much more convinced that consent for spiritual practices is absolutely essential.

After someone defended the Mormon practice from multiple perspectives, I finally went into great detail about exactly how and why I find it extremely offensive. I don’t care if it’s an “invitation” or something equally innocuous; it goes against everything I believe in, the way I live my life, and what I want after I die.

There are lots of people who feel the same way I do. In particular, Jews have been especially horrified at the Mormons’ blithe misappropriation of genealogical information for this purpose. The suggestion of posthumously baptizing Anne Frank is adding insult to injury.

A recent post on Religion Dispatches highlights one way that some people have chosen to protest this: All Your Dead Mormons Are Belong To Us. Playing on the LDS aversion to gays, a website allows people to “convert” deceased Mormons into gays and lesbians. Though this is obviously ineffective, it highlights the disrespect for individuals’ control over their own lives inherent in the proxy baptism process. The author explains,

Finally, though, there’s the weird fact that we Jews are offended by Baptism of the Dead even though we don’t believe in it. I assume none of my fellow Israelites really believe that because someone puts a dead person’s name in a jar, that person is really converted to another religion. In other words, we’re offended by something that we don’t think even exists.

Of course, what we’re really offended by is that some living person somewhere thinks that this is okay to do, using the names of our deceased and our historic heroes. It’s not offensive because their belief is efficacious; it’s offensive because of what it reveals about their intentions and attitudes toward people we hold dear.

Come to think of it, that’s true whether the people in question are dead Jews or living gays.

There’s the rub. That’s why I won’t do Reiki or magic for people without consent: others may find the idea of contact with Reiki or Goddess or whatever to be as distasteful as I imagine contact with the Mormon ideas of the divine to be. I don’t have to agree with that position, I don’t even have to understand it, but I do have to respect it.

Some people, especially Reiki practitioners, like to say that they send energy without consent but with the caveat that the person’s “higher self” will have to give consent for the Reiki to be effective. I have several objections to that; most important is the question of why the practitioner doesn’t have consent. Is it because you’re afraid to ask, because you think the person would say no? In that case, what makes you think the “higher self” will accept? Isn’t that implying that the “higher self” is really fundamentally different from the person herself?

TW: Rape apology

Ultimately, the explanation that “the person said no, but the higher self said yes” is identical to a certain kind of rape apology: “She said no, but I knew deep down she wanted it.”

End TW

Ultimately, doing magic or sending energy without consent shows that you think your need to do this thing is more important than my right to control my own life. It’s treating me as an object for you to act on. That is one of the worst forms of disrespect and is entirely antithetical to the principles and beliefs I hold dear.

Updated: Sustainable Sandalwood

After further research, I’ve found two sources of sustainable sandalwood oil, but no incense.

Both Aura Cacia and Mountain Rose Herbs carry Australian sandalwood oil. Aura Cacia products are available at Whole Foods stores and other natural-products stores. For larger amounts, I’ve found Mountain Rose Herbs to be a good source of affordable, high-quality ingredients. (Please note that I’m not associated with either company.)

Santalum spicatum is a species in the same genus as “true” sandalwood (Santalum album), but it is native to Australia. The Australian government is working hard to manage harvesting and replant commercial sources of sandalwood while protecting wild populations.

This whole discovery has really opened my eyes to another aspect of my responsibilities as a consumer who also venerates the earth. I’ve been growing more conscious of the issues involved in my food supply, and am trying to make choices that are increasingly consistent with my values, but this is a whole different kettle of fish. Nothing I eat is in the process of being driven to extinction by human overuse. That makes it a relatively clear-cut choice not to perpetuate the problem by buying sandalwood. I can’t simply sit back and burn endangered wood while visualizing myself as a tree in order to ground and center in connection with nature. On the other hand, it’s also nice to find an alternative that allows for some substitution in my practices rather than radical elimination.

Like many other ecological and environmental concerns, this a difficult situation, where we must weigh multiple factors that are incredibly hard to compare. For me, putting my values into practice means navigating these kinds of situations as best I can, in an evolving fashion.

It’s easy to succumb to despair when trying to weigh incommensurate forms of good and harm in a world with so much environmental upheaval. One of the ways I resist despair is by coming together with others to face such questions, both by talking through the issues and supporting each other in our choices, and by sharing resources and assistance. Writing about this issue is not an attempt to scold or shame others; it’s an attempt to contribute to the ongoing conversation and community efforts to live more ethically. It’s not easy, but we can do better together.

Crowdsourcing: Sustainable Sandalwood?

While I was hibernating between Samhain and Yule, one of the things I did manage to work on was my herbal studies. I’ll be writing more about that in the future; it’s a lot more complex and interesting than I had anticipated. But for now, I’d like to appeal to my readership to help me navigate an ethical dilemma that I have just become aware of.

According to online sources, both true sandalwood (also called white sandalwood) and red sandalwood are endangered because of over harvesting for the incense market. I’m willing to stop using sandalwood entirely if I have to, but I’ve seen some stories that there may be sustainable sandalwood production based out of Australia. The problem is that I haven’t, yet, been able to find out whether my favorite incense maker, Morning Star, uses sustainable sources, or to find any supplier who deals in only sustainably-sourced sandalwood.

So I thought I’d turn to the wisdom of the crowd: can anyone give me advice about sustainably-sourced sandalwood?

Review: Renee, Tarot Spells

Renee, Janina. Tarot Spells. Llewellyn, revised edition, 2000, originally published 1990. Paperback, 294 pages.

More than anything else, this book reminds me of a cookbook. In fact, it reminds me of the Southern Living Annual Cookbooks put out by the magazine of that name – a decent cookbook, with some recipes that are good, and quite a few that are serviceable, but nothing stunning. A beginning to intermediate practitioner who wants to expand the use of his Tarot deck beyond the occasional reading could definitely pull this book of the shelf and do a spell.

It is definitely what it says on the label: Tarot Spells. It is not about understanding Tarot, and it is not, by any means, about how to create your own spells. I want to give it credit for what it is, but I also have some criticisms about how the author decided to frame the book. These don’t outweigh what the book does well. I want to acknowledge that since I’m someone who enjoys crafting her own spells, some of these critiques might be a bit like Anthony Bourdain complaining that Southern Living’s cookbook uses too much salt and sugar and not enough different spices and cooking techniques.

What the author did well was make the book simple to use. This leads to a lot of repetition; although Renee sets up a general ritual for how to perform a Tarot spell in the introductory material, she repeats most of that content, with some variation, for every spell. This indicates to me that the book is clearly not intended to be read in order – it’s set up as a reference, where each spell or small group of spells can stand independently.

To add to its reference value, it also includes 101-type information like an FAQ, a list of color symbolisms, and some other suggestions for enhancing spells. But these suggestions are basic and bland. (And in places, simply false: piezoelectricity has many practical applications, but it is most certainly not true that “If you squeeze a crystal, it will build up an electrical charge.” (p 281)) The basic introduction to ideas of magic in the introductory material also makes it accessible to the beginning practitioner. But the abstract material is more of an appendage hung on what is, at heart, a practical book.

This is my one complaint: it’s so relentlessly practical that it doesn’t do anything to help the reader move beyond the 101 level. At the end of this, you might have picked up a few ideas about creating your own Tarot spells, just by example, and sure, there are a few ways you can customize the spells a bit, but it’s a cookbook, definitely not a textbook.

Again, if that’s what the reader wants, great. The Tarot material here is definitely more specific, and hence more useful, than broad generalizations like “Combine Tarot cards to represent an image of what you desire.” I also very much like the idea of Tarot as a set of symbols that “can be used to make complex statements.” (p 1) To switch to that metaphor, this is a phrasebook, not anything that teaches you how to construct statements in the symbolic language.

If the author had taken time and space to explain a little more about why each card was chosen, and how they interact, I would have liked the book more. If the author had made the effort to explain how the reader might adapt or customize the spells in more detail, I might have loved it. As it is, I can see how it would be useful to some readers, but I can’t recommend it universally.

I also have some ethical concerns with this book. There are plenty of good spells for three of what I call the Big Four, the four most common purposes that drive people to try to use magic: Renee includes several variations for prosperity, love, and healing. But she walks a fine ethical line in a few places: there is a love spell specifically to gain the love of another person, which I find unacceptable, and there is a spell that borders on revenge (the last of the Big Four). It specifies that a thief “feel nothing but pain and torment” until the stolen item is returned. (p 268) Wishing ill on an ill-doer is certainly a common emotional reaction, but acting on that wish is a very dangerous action and should only be taken in specific circumstances after significant consideration of the ethical issues involved. This is certainly inappropriate in a generalized spell against a thief.

On the good side, the use of symbolism in the suggested card layouts is sometimes interesting – pyramids, staircases, and more complex arrangements provide variety, and are sometimes quite clever. But the layouts vary between narrative – telling a story in order, towards a defined goal – and simply descriptive, with different cards representing different aspects of the desired outcome. Expanding the understanding of that, and possibly incorporating more narrative and less wishing, might have made the spells more interesting and adaptable.

To return to culinary metaphors, since they’re not designed to be customized, and they’re addressed to the widest possible audience, the recipes – or spell recipes – are adapted to generalized tastes. They rely on the basic flavors, with lots and lots of salt and sugar, but a dearth of more interesting seasonings.

The most obvious example of this reliance on a few simple ingredients is the repeated use of cards like the Star and the World, which are used in so many different ways that they become leached of more complex meanings and start looking like generic “good outcome” or “wishing” cards. In 72 spells (aww, almost the same number of spells as there are cards in the Tarot deck, how cute), the Star appears in 18, the World in 17, and the Magician appears in 13 as a general symbol of the person doing the spell. Five other Major Arcana cards appear 8-10 times each.

On the other hand, there is very minimal use of the Minor Arcana. No pip card appears more than six times, the rest only once or twice, and more than a dozen of them do not appear at all. Yes, there are suggestions to use the court cards as significators, but the constant reliance on Major Arcana cards – and especially on a thin handful of pretty generically positive symbols – mean that ultimately, a lot of the spells look alike.

For the casual or beginning magic user, this could be a handy reference with some good examples. I’m sure that’s why it has sold well and been reprinted multiple times. For the reader with a palate for more variety and flavor than basic comfort food, this work will not satisfy your appetite.

Party like it’s 1929

I think the Witches’ Pyramid can be understood as a cycle: being silent and listening to the answers to tough questions, like “Why does the commissary take food stamps?,” is a way to gather knowledge to move into a new cycle of action. As I listen, this is what I hear:

It’s 1929 again. The only question is whether it’s 1929 in the US or in Germany.

We have the knowledge to deal with situations of extreme economic inequality and resulting social unrest. And we also know what can happen if we don’t use it.

The Tea Party and similar sentiments are a pack of lies peddled by rich and powerful interests who are succeeding in getting the 99% to actively work against their own best interests. Falsehoods about anyone being a “self-made man” and relying on no one but oneself are not just lies. They’ve been transmuted through political alchemy as bad as the worst of dark biology, weaponized into memes that infect the general population and replicate themselves, hijacking otherwise good and reasonable people and making them into agents spreading a disease that will cripple nearly everyone – especially those infected.

I mentioned previously the myth of how anyone can succeed in American society. Myths are valuable; even when they’re not precisely true, they can inspire and lead us to do more and be better, especially by giving hope. Today, that myth is a lie and it is being used not to give hope but to take it away. It is being used by the 1% as a weapon to hurt people, to ignore the 99%, to try to get the 99% to buy into the status quo, to continue being the 99%. That story is as mythical these days as “winning the lottery,” and a society where success is a lottery is an unfair, unjust society. As Noah Smith wrote:

A winner-take-all society is not very conducive to hard work; I’m not going to bust my butt for 30 years for a 1% shot at getting into The 1%. But I am going to bust my butt for 30 years if I think this gives me a 90% chance of having a decent house, a family, some security, a reasonably pleasant job, a dog, and a couple of cars in my garage. An ideal middle-class society is one in which everyone, not just anyone, can get ahead via hard work.

The fact that this is a winner-take-all society – and is becoming more so – is why conservatives can’t get people to work hard, and why progressive action towards social and economic justice is the only way to make hard work fashionable again – by making it worthwhile. That means social and economic justice.

The hard-core conservatives who are driving the movement these days aren’t just looking back to the (mythical) 1950s. They don’t just want to conserve the status quo. They want to undo the last century of progress and take us back to the Gilded Age, to the time of obscene economic inequality and injustice that gave rise to Hoovervilles and the Bonus Army. They’ve had tremendous success at doing so, and the news coming out of Occupy encampments reads eerily like the stories of a century ago, updated with pepper spray instead of WW I-era vomiting agents. Better living through pharmaceuticals, I guess.

Economists can give you thousands of charts that show the regression to 1920s-type income inequality, lack of social mobility, and so on. But I know that history doesn’t just go backwards. People will not simply submit to rolling back the last century, and when I look at what happened after that previous episode of upheaval, I am sore afraid.

We have the knowledge to work with this kind of situation. We’ve done it before. Back in the day, being progressive – meaning making sure that people weren’t sold chalk-water instead of milk – was a Republican value, and Teddy Roosevelt signed the law that created the FDA. (Incidentally, this is why I have zero patience for the forms of libertarianism – especially in the fusion form of the Tea Party – that would have us all pretend we can be Jeffersonian small farmers again.)

Back in the day, being progressive meant making sure that old women didn’t end up eating cat food just because they had the temerity to outlive their husbands but be too weak to work. We invented Social Security to prevent situations like that. Fred Clark has investigated one aspect of what it means, ethically, for someone to argue that “he who will not work, neither shall he eat,” unless that person actually believes that some people should starve to death, but the sad truth is that some people can’t work. You can either accept that reality and get busy coping, or deny it and get busy helping to kill those people.

We have the knowledge to deal with these problems. But many powerful groups are actively working to ensure that we don’t use it. This deliberate obliviousness is one of the most dangerous currents in contemporary US politics.

If we don’t use that knowledge, if we pretend obliviousness to the actual problems or their potential solutions, someone will have to come up with an alternate story for how and why so many people are so bad off. The 1% are already using their expert narrators to create a story about how it’s Those People’s Fault, to turn the blame on anyone but themselves.

We know from history that it is entirely possible for them to use social unrest as an explanation for why society must become even more militarized, more authoritarian, more unequal, and more dangerous for everyone. I do not want to see that happen.

That is why, as a Witch and as a citizen, I stand with the Occupy movement. I will continue to support calls for economic and social justice with all the means at my disposal: economically, personally, and magically. I put my will and my daring in action in support of badly-needed reforms and continue to follow the Witches’ Pyramid.

What will you?