Why does the commissary take food stamps?

The Witches’ Pyramid is a saying about the steps to take action: to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent. I’ve said before that I believe this is a cycle, and that being silent means listening, paying attention to the outcome of what has happened so that you can gather new knowledge to shape your next actions.

The silence of the Witches is not passive. It’s the silence that comes from asking questions and then listening, really listening, to their answers, because those answers guide the knowing, the willing, and the daring to make real changes happen.

Today, I ask: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

Take a look at this story from the Washington Post about military members needing help to feed their families for Thanksgiving. They don’t mean that dad’s having trouble cooking his first turkey while mom’s away on deployment (although that’s an issue, too). They mean that many military families have trouble affording food. It’s not just at Thanksgiving; all year round, commissaries take WIC and SNAP and other kinds of “food stamps.”

What does it say about our society that the amount of money it takes to get someone to risk her life is less than the amount it takes to feed her family?

We have a story, in this country, about how anyone can get ahead through hard work and all the other good Puritan values. At times, that story has given hope to people, so much hope that they would come across the ocean to settle in a new land. It still gives so much hope that people struggle to enter the country without papers just so they can have a shot at that kind of success – or just enough to feed their families, maybe.

The military has traditionally been the bedrock of that story. “Look,” people say, “anyone can join the military and get three hots and a cot, and maybe even work for 20 years and then collect a pension afterwards.” After WW II, it was true that many, many people were able to get an education, get a job, and raise a family, largely thanks to the start the military gave them.

Today, that story is a lie.

This is what I learn from asking why the commissary takes food stamps.

People are enlisting in the military not just to have a chance at a college education and a pension. They’re enlisting in order to have their rotten teeth pulled and to get enough money that with food stamps and the commissary discounts and the help of a food bank they might be able to feed their kids.

There’s something that happens when the people with the guns don’t have enough to eat. It’s called a revolution. It’s not pretty.

Telling people to “get a job” when there are no jobs – and when those jobs, even at the risk of your life, don’t pay enough to feed your family – is a variation on “let them eat cake.” It’s the noise made by people who aren’t listening.

Today, as a Witch, I’m listening to the silence, and I’m trying to find the will and the daring to deal with the knowledge that comes from asking a simple question: Why does the commissary take food stamps?

Witches’ Pyramid and responding to violence

The shooting yesterday in Arizona that left multiple people dead, including a federal judge and a child, and critically injured a Representative, was an abhorrent act. As I struggle to shape my response, I found myself turning to a teaching tool often called the Witches’ Pyramid. In short, it is the saying that the four duties or powers of the Witch are “to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent.” In practice, each of those acts is associated with the characteristics of one of the four Elements, and together they form a way to make sure our practices are balanced and responsible. The Witches’ Pyramid has a lot to offer on how we can and ought to respond to this situation.

To Know: Obviously, we don’t know yet all the relevant facts about the situation; early reports were confused, including some saying that Rep. Giffords was killed. The 24-hour news cycle is going to work already with possible details on the background of the shooter and his motivations. The Element of Air and the duty and power of knowing mean that we should not jump to conclusions and should seek to gather all the facts possible. As we do speak – spreading our own knowledge about what happened – we should do so responsibly. That responsibility includes both not saying unfounded things and the responsibility to speak about this. What then should we say?

To Will: One immediate response is to keep those who are injured and the families of the dead in our prayers, possibly including sending healing energy to them. This is a reasonable response, and the Element of Fire certainly includes lighting candles, but that’s not all we should do. Concentrating on our feelings of regret and on our positive wishes for those affected gives us the emotional satisfaction of a deeply-felt response, and we should certainly acknowledge our grief and shock and use them positively. But channeling our deep feelings into only pathos can easily turn into a superficial bathos rather than a real act of will. Fire is also the Element of transformation. When I light a candle for this matter, an answering spark is kindled within myself. Feeding that spark only with the immediate emotion ensures that it will soon gutter and fade. But feeding it with the knowledge – as we continue to learn – of what happened, of the sources and the reasons behind this act, can light a fire that has the potential to transform more than just my immediate feelings. How then do we use that will?

To Dare: We dare to do more than just listen to the news and light a candle in response. We dare to let the knowledge and the spark of our will move us to more emotion than can be soothed with an immediate mourning. We dare to take our response into the realm of Water, into our relationships, and act on it. We talk about what we know: about how violent rhetoric sets the stage for violent acts; about how untreated mental illness afflicts not just individuals but societies; about how easy access to means of violence increases the damage done when other safeguards fail. We look for ways to transform those problems and we dare to put our will to work shaping the world into a better form.

To Be Silent: This is the hardest part of the Witches’ Pyramid, especially in this situation. Here it does not mean that we work in secrecy, that we don’t “advertise” our actions. It means that we take time to listen, to observe, and to reflect on the situation and our actions before we begin the cycle again. In the year, Winter, the season of Earth, is a prelude to Spring, the season of Air. Witches work in cycles, with cycles of nature. Earth reminds us to prepare to listen so that we can know, so we can will, so we can dare – again and again and again. Our response to the shooting should not end in a week, or a month, or a year. Our response reverberates down the continuing cycles as we constantly work to shape ourselves and our world. If we work to limit violent rhetoric, but the result is a chill on certain kinds of free speech, then we may have to decide we’ve gone too far. If we work to assist mentally ill individuals, but end up creating more problems for people who see the world differently than we do, we have to realize that outcome, respect it, and change course.

Only with all the parts of this cycle working together can we make a difference. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.