Witches and Wilderness
Remember chapter 1? We were all so young and innocent back then, weren’t we? Remember how I also said that one of the first things the modern ruling class had to take control of was the land and, by extension, witches? Well it’s about time we talk about liberating that land, don’t you think?
Witches get their power from a connection with the land, but what the heck does that actually mean? In the Disenchanted World we’re all disconnected from our bodies, each other, and especially the land. In this chapter we’re going to talk about what that actually looks like and how to fix it.
How do you kill gods? You put a price tag on them. And that is what has happened to wilderness all over the world. This attack is still going on, even in places that don’t seem very “wild” to most.
I’m not just talking about mountains and rivers and forests here, although those are definitely under attack. I’m talking about the idea of “wildness” itself. Witches started to burn when the land became something to be sold and bought. Today this seizing of the commons isn’t just happening to the land, but anything in our society without a price tag or ability to fit nicely into a premade box. The Disenchanted World simply can’t deal with people, places, or ideas being wild. Politically, this is and will probably always be the central dividing line: Left vs. right is freedom vs. authority, liberty vs. hierarchy, wilderness vs. confinement. I think we know where witches should stand.
Whatever your practice ends up looking like, I’d like to return to your magic the idea of wilderness. No, this doesn’t mean you have to pretend you were born on a mountainside during a thunderstorm and that your mom is actually a wolf and you can talk to animals like the girl from the Wild Thornberrys. It means being okay with not all questions, especially spiritual ones, being answered. It means allowing some things to be nameless, uncharted, free. It means recognizing that surrendering your control to nature does not surrender your power and in fact allows you to see that the divide between nature and you was a fake one all along!
Let’s talk about ways to connect deeper to the land, nature, and its spirits and about what an earth-based revolution can look like.
ALLIES ARE EVERYWHERE
You may remember that earlier in this book I spoke about animism. I myself am an animist, but what is that actually, and how does it fit into activism?
The Disenchanted World is a desecrated one, meaning literally everything has been made unsacred—all the magic and spirits have been sucked out of it.
Not everyone can get along in a world that wants to chew up everything and make it into profit, so the people who run the world act like that sacredness doesn’t exist. Thinking that plants, animals, and even people are more than the sum of their atoms and whatnots and are therefore worth fighting for beyond their just being anonymous “resources” is viewed as stupid or childish by many, but we witches know better. It’s not enough just to save a forest because of some complex calculation about how much carbon it eats or how much oxygen it produces. It’s worth protecting because that forest has a spirit and rights like any of us, rights that aren’t tied to its ability to “work” for us. Rights should never be tied to work or how usefully you can be exploited by someone else.
Animism isn’t really a religion, and it’s not really a set practice either. Like witchcraft, it can be a little hard to explain what you mean when you identify that way without going through a whole lesson in anthropology and history. I’ll try to keep it short and say that animism, much like witchcraft, is a philosophy that’s less about what you think about the world and more about how you interact with it. It’s about what you do, and animism is simply saying that the world is a living thing that we can have a conversation and healthy relationship with. How you go about doing that is going to be up to you.
How this relates to magic is pretty straightforward. But how this relates to our understanding of politics is a little more complicated and for sure going to be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. My own hot take is that this inherent spirituality and interconnectedness form the missing piece of a lot of environmental movements. We are fighting against the desecration of the natural world and the destruction of all life within it, but how can we do that when both sides just look at nature as a bunch of… stuff? How are we different, then, at the end of the day?
To dive into this, I’m going to need to touch on a topic I’ve avoided so far. I’ve resisted talking about it because, well, the whole thing annoys me, and also because I think it’s a cover for the real power in the Disenchanted World—capital—but as is so often the case with our opposition, this subject has things to teach us. I’m speaking about the religious right, specifically as it operates in the USofA. As a movement, the religious right has been incredibly successful. Look at all those Supreme Court justices! Take a gander at those anti-LGBTQ laws! Just sit back in awe of the sweeping victories of the “right” “to” “life” movement! I don’t like them, but damn do those fuckers get shit done.
Why are they so successful when poll after poll show Americans becoming less religious—especially traditionally so—more tolerant of queerness, and more okay with the crazy idea that women are humans? Well, magic, is one reason. They have the power of unshaken belief that they are fighting for something bigger on their side. So, to circle back, what do environmentalists fight for? Who do we fight for?
I can’t separate my animism from my understanding of politics or my activism. When we look at the struggle of power in the world and how we are so close to ecological collapse, I can’t help but hear all those old warnings about what would happen if the disrespected spirits of a place came back to haunt us. Or, when I think about the forest I grew up in and cry because I know climate change will likely destroy it, I don’t just cry because the land is beautiful or I have happy memories there. I cry because I know my friends are dying.
And that right there is why I think having a living, animistic relationship with the world is so vital to your witchy activism. Break it down to its absolute most material, utilitarian function for a second: You are going to fight longer, harder, and with a greater chance of success if you are fighting for your friends, not just a pile of pretty rocks.
LISTEN TO THE LAND
We make a big to-do in the witchy/pagan/new age/whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days scene about being “earth-based,” but what that means seems up for debate.
To some it means looking at the earth as a mother goddess that women are uniquely connected to. Something about this conception has always rubbed me the wrong way. Just like I roll my eyes when people say there’s only one god and he’s some bearded dude sitting on a cloud, why does nature have to be a white woman with long hair and conveniently placed leaves? If we’re talking all of existence, doesn’t gendering that just narrow it down? Plus what about the women who don’t want babies or don’t have built-in baby incubators?
So maybe the earth, or nature, is not a goddess lady (to be clear, I don’t know). Maybe it’s power, a force like we’ve been talking about. That feels a bit better, right? Picky me, I’m still rubbed the wrong way by this sometimes. It makes people think that nature is all peaceful and calm, when these days I don’t know how true that is.
Just to be clear, I really am a fan of walking around the woods and meditating. It’s where I feel the most peaceful and connected. I fully plan on disappearing from the world to live in a cabin someday, so I can spend all my time doing this. I’m just waiting till I’m appropriately wizened. I think nature strives for balance, and, yes, a current of peace can run through that. But right now that balance has been so thoroughly messed up by us humans, there are very few places left where the land feels at peace.
In the appendix to this book (see here), you can find an exercise to connect with the land you live on and learn to talk to it better. When we do this, I think it’s very important that we really listen, not just hear what we want to or think we are “supposed” to hear. The earth is under attack, and when something is under attack, it isn’t usually in such a great mood. Wherever you are—in a city, a town, a tent in the wilderness—I hope you use your gifts as a witch and really listen to what the land is telling you. And if it tells you it is sick, I hope you’ll keep using your powers to help it.
Land spirits, in my experience, form the backdrop to all the other bits of magic people do, whether you know it or not. This relationship—like any others you have—will only grow stronger if you pay attention to it and keep the conversation going. Witchcraft connects us to the circle of life (cue the music), and it’s not just okay to say that life isn’t so great where you are—it’s necessary! Most people can’t understand what the land is trying to tell them. You’d think that hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and mass extinction would be enough of a wake-up call, but some folks just don’t listen.
If you can hear the voice of the land, it’s your job as a witch to speak for it to those who can’t. I might be a total hippie, but I really do think that love is the goal of life and peace and love are goals we need to all be striving for. (I’m a sap, get over it.)
The problem with peace, especially when it comes to the land, is people think of it is as a means and not an end. It can be both, but you may need to cause some disruption, ruffle some feathers, and topple some kings so that the scales can be balanced and peace can return. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do that here—I’ve already given you some homework in this book and I believe in using a diversity of tactics. What I will say is that it’s a tragedy that we don’t get the natural world so many of our magical traditions were born out of—and we never will. There are spirits you will never talk to and animals that go extinct every day. Children are born with poison in their blood, lead in their water, and chemicals filling their lungs with their first breath of air. This is not peace; this is a war on all of us.
Discomfort is not good, but it is good to sit with and consider it. At this point in the book, I think you’ve learned a lot. You’ve learned that things don’t have to be the way they are, that another world is possible, that we have the power to create that world, and that as witches we must speak the words the dying earth cannot. Listen, feel, speak.
We are so separated from our land it can sometimes be really hard to know how to fight for it. It can be even harder to know how to do this the right way. Some people think that loving where you are from means hating everywhere else or that no one from those “other” places should come over to “your” turf. The globalization we talked about with the Battle in Seattle (see here) can be really scary to people, because it means you may lose your culture, language, and way of life. But hunkering down and telling all those “others” to get out misses the beautiful connection that nature and the knowledge of power give us.
Yes, you may be more connected to the place where you live than a place halfway around the globe, but we all share and cocreate this world together. On top of that, our oppressors are often the same people, not each other. Was it an immigrant’s fault for taking your job? Or was it your boss’s fault for screwing both of you over by firing you and paying that immigrant less money to work more? And why is that person you are demonizing here to begin with? Do they have a family thousands of miles away they would rather be with, but can’t because of a war in their country that was started by a bunch of even bigger bosses?
A group that really understands this balance, and whose fight is deeply inspirational, is the Zapatistas of Mexico. The Zapatistas are a revolutionary organization in the southern state of Chiapas, who in 1994 held an uprising and took back control of much of their traditional Mayan territory from the Mexican government. To this day they hold most of this territory and have built schools and medical centers in each of their towns. Women make up half the leadership roles, and I highly recommend you check out the EZLN Revolutionary Women’s Law that all Zapatistas follow.
So how did the Zapatistas achieve this? They were rebelling against trade deals like NAFTA and organizations like the WTO, which threatened their way of life and their ability to control their own destiny. For instance, the corn they grow, which not only forms a staple of their diet and economy, but is filled with spiritual significance, was at risk of being overwhelmed by cheap corn imported from the United States. This would have meant that not only would many people, indigenous and otherwise, be plunged into poverty, but because of this poverty they would have been further subject to the whims of a government which they viewed as bad and corrupt. Their rebellion wasn’t just against a policy or politician, but against a world that made such things possible. Like at Standing Rock, they flipped the way things were normally done on its head. Their attitude is in many ways encapsulated by one sign on a road leading into a Zapatista village, which reads “You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people give the orders and the government obeys.”
The Zapatistas are guided by their indigenous knowledge and spirituality, and instead of going around the world starting revolutions, they hope others will simply be inspired by the lives they have chosen to lead and dream new lives into reality in their own countries aligning with their own values.
In their first year of independence, the Zapatistas invited people from around the world to come to Chiapas, learn about what they were doing there, and take that knowledge back home. Here is an excerpt of a transcript that was written after that first meeting, called “The 2nd Declaration of La Realidad”:
As to what happened in these days, much will be written later. Today we can say that we are certain of at least one thing. A dream dreamed in the five continents can come to make itself real in R/reality. Who now will be able to tell us that dreaming is lovely but futile? Who now will be able to argue that dreams, however many the dreamers, cannot become a reality?
How is joy dreamed in Africa? What marvels walk in the European dream? How many tomorrows does the dream enclose in Asia? To what music does the American dream dance? How does the heart speak that dreams in Oceania? To whom does it matter how and what we dream here or in any part of the world? Who are they who dare to convene with their dream all the dreams of the world? What’s happening in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast that finds echo and mirror in the streets of Europe, suburbs of Asia, rural areas of America, townships of Africa, and houses of Oceania? What’s happening with the peoples of these five continents that, so we are all told, only encountered each other to make war or compete? Wasn’t this turn of the century synonymous with despair, bitterness, and cynicism? From where and how did all these dreams arrive at reality?…
May the five continents speak and everyone listen. May humanity suspend for a moment its silence of shame and anguish. May humanity speak. May humanity listen.… In the world of those who live in the Power and kill for the Power, the human being doesn’t fit, there is no space for hope, no place for tomorrow. Slavery or death is the alternative that their world offers all worlds.…
But there are those who do not resign themselves, there are those who decide to be uncomfortable, there are those who do not sell themselves, there are those who do not surrender themselves. There are, around the world, those who resist being annihilated in this war. There are those who decide to fight.
In any place in the world, anytime, any man or woman rebels to the point of tearing off the clothes that resignation has woven for them and that cynicism has dyed grey. Any man, any woman, of whatever colour in whatever tongue, says and says to himself, to herself, “Enough already”—Ya Basta!
You better believe it took all my strength to not just copy/paste the whole dang thing into this book. Thankfully though, the internet is a thing that exists, and I really urge you to read the rest there.
The Zapatistas show us a way to love and care for your land and fight to defend it, without it being an exclusive club only people who look like you belong to. The Zapatistas, from the very beginning, saw their movement as international and multiracial. They reached out to people from all over the world to come and learn from them and vice versa, with the dream of liberating all people wherever they are. This is part of something called “internationalism” which means working together on common goals across borders. It’s a beautiful way of looking at the world and finding common ground with other people in it. You’re basically saying “I’m not you, but I see my struggle in your struggle, and I’m going to help you with it.” The Zapatistas see their fight embodied all over the world.
I wanted to include the Zapatistas as my last example of magical activism because I think they embody the lessons from each section of this book. How are you initiating other people and yourself into your movement? How is your struggle connected to the land? How are you living your magic? And how are your dreams connected to the dreams of others?
MAGIC IN ACTION
PROTEST AS RITUAL
Are you inspired yet? Has this book got you all fired up to go out and transform the world! Alright! Let’s do one last exercise to bring it all home.
Like we talked about in chapter 4, there’s almost no limit to the list of tactics you can use when trying to make your political dreams a reality, just like there’s no limit to how many spells you could do.
We’re going to talk about protesting because it’s popular and as a tactic requires a bit more finesse than going to a voting booth and checking off a box. I’m using the term protest very loosely. So if you want to apply this lesson to direct action, occupations, letter-writing campaigns, or anything else you can dream up, go for it!
Now, let’s get one thing straight: The idea that humans are all rational actors guided by pure reason is, to put it nicely, bullshit. We are creatures of myth and story, compelled to action through narrative. If this gets you down, it really shouldn’t! This is where the power of ritual comes from.
Ritual is the act of embodying a story. It is weaving a spell, with your body, mind, and words acting as one. When you protest, demonstrate, do direct action, or march, you are telling a story and asking people to become a character in it. You are enacting a ritual.
Protest and direct action are public rituals. This is what I usually tell people who say you have to do your magic in secret only. Look, there’s a lot about my magical practice that I just can’t tell you and have to keep secret in order to maintain its power, but to say all magic, or all magical rituals, must be done in absolute secrecy to be effective is, I think, a shortsighted view of this thing that literally makes up all of reality.
We engage in public magic rituals all the time in politics. From the inauguration of world leaders to standing and singing national anthems to Election Day, we all live in a world whose very functioning is made by beliefs, and those beliefs are made real through public ritual. That’s just the way the metaphysical cookie crumbles!
Once we understand this, we can choose how we want to create our own rituals of resistance, revolution, and transformation. After all, why should those in power get to have all the fun?
Turn back to the power-mapping section (see here). Let’s say you and your friends have identified a common goal, a thing standing in the way of that goal, and a target you think can be moved to use their power to help you achieve your goal. After you’ve gone through and done all this, let’s say you and your friends decide a protest or a direct action is the tactic you want to use to move this target. In that chapter, I gave you lots of practical advice for staying on message and ways to make your point clear. Now, I’m going to give you techniques for adding some magical oomph to the process.
Some stuff to consider when crafting your action:
What is the story we are telling?
Does our messaging convey this story well?
Who is this for?
Who is this against?
What do we want the outcome of this to be?
And some stuff to consider when you are joining in:
Before your action:
Gather as many participants together as you can. Sit or stand in a circle and talk about your intentions for this action. Why are you here? Who are you fighting for? Speak their names aloud. If you cannot do this with others beforehand, do this by yourself.
What do you personally plan on doing? What story are you helping to tell? What world do you hope to create?
Are there physical talismans of the thing you are fighting for that you can wear during your action? This could be buttons and shirts with a message on it, but if those aren’t available to you, get creative! Put dirt from the land you are fighting for in your shoe, or write a loved one’s name on your arm. Bring the spirit of what you are fighting for with you.
If you are doing an action that involves your body directly, go back to the soul flight exercise in chapter 3 (see here), and just do the first part. Your body is a gift you are about to use in service of something beautiful. Take time to thank and honor your body, your voice, your mind.
If you are with other people, hold hands and form a circle. Do the Meditation 101 exercise from the appendix (see here) together. Chant words of power and feel the power of your group. You are here for each other, as well as with each other. For the next few hours, this is your family.
During your action:
There is a good chance you may be mocked or that people may try to get you to leave. If you don’t want to leave and you know the legal consequences of not leaving, take a deep breath. Imagine yourself as a tree firmly rooted in place, feel roots growing beneath your feet. This will ground you more firmly and make you harder to move.
Don’t get distracted. Give in to trolls or break up too soon, and you can disturb the flow of power that you are building.
But having said that… be willing to let the spirit take its course. This doesn’t mean that you should just do whatever with no plan. It does mean that protests, especially big ones, can take on a life of their own—literally and magically—and you have to be flexible. If it looks like people are going to storm the Winter Palace and there’s no stopping them, you have to make the call to either get out or keep people safe and the message on point while this happens.
If you can’t physically be there, how can you help? Can you follow on social media from home and keep your friends up to date on developments? Can you do protective spells from a distance?
After your action:
It’s always good to engage in aftercare after any activity that engages body and spirit. You need to come back down to earth, even if you only left for a bit. Protest, meditation, magic, sex—all of these engage us on multiple levels of being and power, and we have to take care of ourselves in different ways as we recalibrate.
Take time to attend to your body. You probably need water, food, and maybe a hug. Everyone’s aftercare is going to look a little different, but besides the obvious things like drinking some water, having a snack, and fixing bruises or wounds you may have gotten, here’s something to do: Take a deep breath and, without judgment, take stock of what you are feeling. Happy? Scared? Excited? Anxious? Whatever emotions you have, find where you are feeling them in your body and how they feel. For instance, I feel anxiety like a hamster running on a wheel in my chest, but for my friend it is like her hair is on fire. When you locate the emotion in your body, help your body move through it by giving it what it needs on a basic material level. Maybe a massage will help or just a good laugh. What you are trying to do is locate where negative feelings are clinging to you and help them move on.
Once you feel more or less back to normal, talk to other people who engaged in protest with you about how they felt while it was going on and how they feel now. Was it scary? Exciting? Inspiring? Do you feel like you made a difference? Why and how?
What next? How do you plan on continuing to build and grow the power you gathered today?
Thank your ancestors and the spirits of the place you did your action on.