Pagan Paths

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The Space as the Tool for Healing and Change--Don't Skip It.

My apologies to Anne and the crew at Witches and Pagans for being absent for awhile. I started several pieces--one of which is polished and ready to publish, but it still sits in my draft-box. Every time I would start to write something seemingly poignant and important, the world would change with either horror or triumph and would render the piece no longer relevant--at least for now.

Several years ago....

b2ap3_thumbnail_Empire-State.jpgWhen New York State (where I live) embraced marriage equality, I was sitting alone in my grandmother's living room in South Carolina. After months of letter writing campaigns, phone banks, and one hellava Beltaine ritual focused on Marriage Equality, our State Senate opened its mind and heart and accepted that all New York residents had the right to marry a person of their same sex. But it was very late at night. My family was asleep. The next morning, people might politely wish me and my state congratulations, but there would be no cheering at the bars for me, no skipping through the streets at the weekend Pride march, no jumping up and down with my Coveners at the next meeting. I was privately celebrating in the midst of people who had other things on their mind and it was absolutely excruciating. All I wanted to do was talk about it and there was no other place to do it but social media, which can only scratch an itchy desire so deeply.


Flash forward a few years to the now--marriage equality has finally cloaked the nation, but so has a deep, painful sadness and anger in the wake of the Charleston shooting and series of acts of arson against Black churches.


(Photo above courtesy of the Huffington Post) At my Coven meeting this past Saturday, we allotted more time for individual sharing. Normally, each person has 4-5 minutes. When someone has the space, they speak and the rest of us listen. We may murmur an affirmation, but we don't respond. We listen with intention and confidentiality. It's a space to be heard and to hear. At this meeting, however, I gave seven minutes to each person. So much had happened to our home country of the United States since we last met, we needed to carve out just a few minutes more for people to speak to how the incidents as of late had impacted them. A Christian friend of mine put it beautifully as "Sitting Between Two Hashtags" in reference to #lovewins, celebrating marriage equality and #propheticgrief, mourning the murders at the Charleston church. Two extra minutes doesn't seem like a lot of time when you're browsing Facebook or waiting for cookies to finish baking. But when you're suddenly given an additional 120 seconds to speak, uninterrupted, about the joy and pain you feel, those two minutes have quite a bit of weight, indeed.


The space was complicated. How can we be truly happy over something wonderful when something terrible has just happened so very recently? How can we translate our anger over the murders into a productive way to address racism in our own communities? How can we focus solely on sadness when finally all of our Witchkin are free to marry, after how hard we as a community worked for it for years? How can we really celebrate Pride when our Trans and GNC kin are still being abused and killed, themselves? It was a confusing space to sit in. But it was in acknowledging the confusing space that we were able to make a little more sense and order of our feelings. Upon doing just that, we then had room to focus on the healing work we'd dedicated for that weekend's Coven meeting. It was effective, likely because we'd given ourselves space to work on us, first.

When tragedy, horror, or great joy impacts the community, the need to connect with like-minded others beckons. When we don't have get that connection, the Spirit suffers.

As leaders, one of our roles ought to be to recognize when a collective injury requires community space. When it does, there are many ways it can be created. Some are simple. Some need more work. But injuries to collective souls are helped and healed by coming together. These are a few suggestions. I'm sure you have others of your own!

A Group Sharing practice

When tragedy hits the community, we may not be able to talk about it. Maybe we work jobs that need us to keep our thoughts to ourselves. Maybe our families understand, but talking to them about it is like preaching to a very tired choir or maybe they don't understand at all. Maybe the pain impacts our loved ones even more than it does for ourselves and in the helpful framework of comfort in/dump out, we're not in a space to process it with them.


Our groups can be a source of private, confidential expression. How this is done, however, is important. We've had the most success when we pass a baton or other object around the room. Whoever has the object has the floor. If someone is not willing to share, they are free to pass on the object. The agreement is this--we speak from places of honesty and respect. We listen from a place of confidentiality and do not judge. We don't open the space for back-and-forth dialogue. Each person gets a chance to speak, if they want, uninterrupted. We also keep a timer and each person gets the same amount of time. When I first started the practice, I was worried that the time limit would inhibit people. But with the firm boundary, people utilize the time more effectively, speaking deeper from the heart as they know they only have a limited time to talk. People listen deeper when they know there is a limit as there are no sideline wonders of, "Will this person ever stop?" Sometimes, if someone has a deeper, more pressing issue, we carve out time at the end of the meeting so that they can speak a little longer.

A word or two in Circle

When the protests in Ferguson, MO began, the Executive Vice President of my company wrote a blog in the Huffington Post about the feelings he, as a Black man, had while attending a Church service led by a mostly white congregation at which absolutely nothing was said during the service about Michael Brown's death or the subsequent pain and unrest in Missouri as a result. To be ignored, whether it's intentional or not, is the worst kind of injury and insult.


It may be easy to say, "This doesn't really impact us" if the collective injury is far away or different than , but we can't assume that the people in the room aren't being affected just because the geography is far away. We also can't slip into "I don't know what to say...this isn't my experience." I'll admit I slipped into that myself in the beginning of the unrest following Michael Brown's death. I truly didn't know what to say and everything I tried to say didn't give any of what I felt, and what others felt, any sort of justice. But as a leader, it was my responsibility to say something. Hearts heavy from an unjust injury to our collective look for solace in ritual, among other places. If the presiding people say nothing, it can make those whose hearts are most aching over it to feel lost, unsupported, and it unwittingly says that their feelings do not matter. 

A few words at the top of the Circle, even if it's merely to the effect of, "Let us be sure to send Doves of Healing Light to those recovering from the earthquake in Nepal...", can be profoundly healing. Let us not underestimate the power of acknowledgement. 

Dedicating a Sabbat's intention to healing a community wound

b2ap3_thumbnail_1103121834_20150701-175632_1.jpgThis might make the most sense if the injury happened directly to your community as the need is most pressing. When Sandy hit New York, we dedicated our entire Samhain to healing the pain it had caused on the city's inhabitants. I do not think we could have gone on to do effective work had we not given the Sabbat space to the injury none of us could avoid thinking about. 

If the injury can be helped by a fundraiser or supplies drive, this is often a good opportunity to collect for that. Not only is it helpful to the community, it's healing to help. Please be mindful, however, that unless you are direct contact with the persons or place that is injured, donations of supplies can be cumbersome. After Sandy, we collected clean-up supplies as we were in direct contact with relief workers who could tell us the pressing, immediate needs. For a situation like the earthquake in Nepal, sending goods would be a hassle as we are too far removed to know what the pressing needs are. This article highlights the problem with well-intended used-goods donations in the wake of a disaster. A situation that is far removed from the community wanting to help would best be served by a cash donation. 

Creating a separate ritual solely for healing
After the Boston Marathon bombing, I switched the plan for my Wicca class to a ritual honoring the victims, raising energy for Boston's healing, and infusing our own Circle with healing for the scare and sadness we each felt for what had happened. After a series of homophobic attacks in the West Village, one of which ended in a murder, our Pagan community came together for a ritual of peace and protection over the LGBTQ community....calling in the Spirit of our most ferocious Ancestors: The Drag Queens. Last week, we came back together in a ritual of healing in response to the racist attacks in the country--particularly in response to the shooting in Charleston. 

These rituals have been some of our best and most beautiful. They tend to be spontaneous, full of passion, and participants leave feeling revitalized. They tend to need to happen on short-notice. They are best to plan within a week or so of the event that has happened while emotions are still fresh and people looking for a place to work through them.

Whatever you do, do something. While it may be tempting to cast our Circles as a place to escape from the world, there is no escaping from what is happening in our hearts and souls. The ritual may be the only place where attendees can process their hurts. When these hurts are processed, the work of healing and addressing the problems that caused them can begin. But whether it's a few words or a whole ritual in dedication to it, the space is the tool for transformation. Let us use it on all levels, above and below.

So mote it be, or however you say it.

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Courtney Weber is a Priestess, writer, Tarot Advisor, performer and activist originally from Portland, OR living in New York City. Her writings on Witchcraft have been published in numerous publications, including Spiral Nature and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess" and "Tarot for One: The Art of Reading For Yourself", both through Weiser Books. She is the producer and designer of "Tarot of the Boroughs" a contemporary Tarot deck composed of original photography set in NYC. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.


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