As we’ve been sailing through Cancer season this year, I’ve been contemplating how the glyph of Cancer looks similar to the Taijitu symbol – that’s what we sometimes call the yin-yang symbol. The astrological sign holds some of the same energy of duality and paradox, as it is both solid and fluid, both open and protected. Cancer is often described as nourishing and mothering, but it can just as easily starve or defend itself against those it perceives of as “the other” or the out-group. It is, after all, the sign that also rules nationalism. And it is the Sun Sign of the United States of America.
With all of this in mind, I’ve been actively trying to turn my focus away from a binary trap I had allowed myself to fall into. This particular binary has had me pointing out/at the villains (racist, misogynists, transphobic shitheads, stupid af presidents, etc.), and trying to be place myself on the right side of history.
This, like all binaries, is a false and fragmented worldview. I admit it. I get caught in this a lot. My brother asks his children when they are arguing, “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be kind?” I think there’s a place to be outraged, rebellious, and disruptive for the sake of throwing attention on injustice. Rather than the bland, self-censoring “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anthying at all,” is there a way to say disruptive things while still showing empathy?
Sometimes we think that empathy is a magical force that people either have or don’t have. But really empathy just means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” That’s it. A longer definition tells us that it is the “ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual's emotional state.”
Perhaps some people come in this ability. But more often than not, empathy is something that we have to learn. It must be taught. Just like racism, sexism, and other forces of hate, it must be taught.
While empathic is often thought of in almost supernatural terms (think Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation), being empathic simply means “showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
For people who have been violated, victimized, and systematically oppressed by colonization or abuse, I would never suggest finding empathy and/or understanding for the abusers. Healing from trauma often needs to include expressions of rage and other charged emotions. As a survivor of sexual assault, I have gone through such a process over decades, and it won't look the same as other human's process of healing from violence.
As someone with a lot of privilege, my position is often to consider how I can be a bridge; it's my job to remember to have empathy for people who are fucking up (and for myself fucking up) so that we can learn how to move out of this oppressive af system. I must open and listen to the anger of others saying NO to the bullshit of patriarchal white supremacy. I must allow my own anger about this shit. And then, if appropriate, I must see how I might intervene to disrupt harm not just in the present moment, but for the long haul. That part takes empathy, patience, and the willingness to be with people that I am perhaps uncomfortable being around.
Though some people might find this idea uncomfortable, those with white/hetero/cis/ablist/body privileges are losing out too. Racists are being harmed by white supremacy. Sexist assholes are missing out when they demean and exclude women. All the other bullshit lies we are fed that push us into us/them mentalities only diminish our capacities as human beings. So how can I be of service to people I disagree with as well?
Spells of Remembering
In witchcraft, as well as many other shamanic traditions, the changes that happen through the process of magic and ritual are sometimes fast, but more often it takes months or years before results surface clearly. This is challenging when considering one spell we have to contend with in our modern times: the spell of urgency. This spell says that everything’s got to happen in a flash, including the extraordinary transformation of human society necessary for the continuation of life on the planet! Things are indeed truly dire, but it is a mistake to fall under a limited perception of time; it breeds hopelessness and despair that we cannot possibly succeed. If we are desperately short on time, we can spend all of it just arguing on what’s most important since we couldn’t possibly achieve a complete vision. It’s easy to see how “us vs. them” becomes a reflex if this is the mindset we start out with.
Snap judgments about the “other” are the real enemies to our common cause -- whether you’re an atheist socialist organizer, a feminist witch, an antifa activist, or a politically engaged Christian. We all have simple and not-so-simple explanations of why we are here and what’s possible to achieve. We are looking for something to connect us, and paradoxically, this is often precisely what divides us.
It’s easy to get attached to our ideas and thus lose our openness. Faith – in a political or spiritual path – that only accepts one possible reality has to impose this reality on others, ostracizing anyone with a different view, feeding into a notion of separateness. It’s either X or Y, you’re in or you’re out, with us or with the terrorists. This kind of thinking casts a powerful spell that creates a fractured reality, one where people are pitted against each other in the fight to prove that their way is the only right way. There are too many examples of this kind of fracturing we create and recreate by clinging to labels, definitions and ideologies. Instead, we might think about how something as simple as language and intention might consciously alter our reality, moving us out of the trance of habitual dualistic thinking toward a very different future.
Over and over again, I come back to that Zapatista proverb I heard in my twenties, that says we are “fighting for a world where many worlds are possible.” It continues to remind me of the work I want to do. The philosophy it encapsulates makes our task easier and more challenging at the same time: easier because it recognizes that we don’t have to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution to life’s puzzles; challenging because it requires that we stay open and flexible in all situations. Contrast this with the world of the colonizer, which purports to have the one right way to live and demands obedience to that way.
Life is too complex for absolutes and quantifiable explanations. Making space for mystery, the unknowable, is a vital aspect of many shamanic traditions, including modern witchcraft. Making space for mystery within political movements might be necessary if we are to stop recreating the same situations. When we admit we don’t have all of the answers, we let go of our attachment to the idea of how the world should be. This frees us to dream up new creative structures and communities. We might even surprise ourselves.
Coming up on Sunday the 23rd, we have a New Moon in Leo. This marks the beginning of the Eclipse season. Remember that eclipses are rife with change, but inherently unpredictable. To work with eclipse energy, open to the events of the next month with the playfulness of a child and the nobility of one who listens deeply. The energy rises to a pitch with the Full Moon / Lunar Eclipse in Aquarius on the 7th of August. Then it continues to get weirder and weirder until the second New Moon in Leo on August 21st, which is also the much-buzzed Solar Eclipse happening across the US. For general eclipse guidelines, refer to my handy guide here.
To hear me interviewed by Allison Carr about this particular eclipse, go here.
To take a one-hour teleclass with me on July 26 to prepare for the eclipses, go here.
To read more about being alive in these times, go here.
For a wonderful read about witchcraft and hexing, which is a form of protection magic, check out these voices. Hexing and binding is another tool of political magic. I think it could be said that hexing in some forms is the work of a true warrior of compassion, as it seeks to stop others from inflicting damage.
In all you do, in all that you are, in the beauty that moves though you, and the truth that you embody, blessed be.
LEO SAYS: BE BOLD, BE PLAYFUL, MAKE ART, HAVE FUN.