Intersections: A Pagan View of Modern Culture

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Twelve Healing Stars: Leo and the Courage to Express

Twelve Healing Stars is a yearlong project in cooperation with the Temple of Witchcraft that explores social justice through the lessons of the 12 Zodiac Signs. This is part 11.

It seemed like an ordinary day on the campus of the University of California, Irvine. Groups of students wandered about, some going to classes and others heading for a coffee and a sandwich after spending hours in a lecture hall. Yet something was different on the grounds outside the library. In the large, open space just on the edge of the campus’ beautiful green park, hundreds of brightly colored T-shirts had been strung up onto clotheslines. They hung there quietly, yet spoke loudly of pain, struggle, and triumph.





The T-shirts were part of an art installation called The Clothesline Project. Each shirt was created by a survivor of sexual assault who poured out there feelings onto their shirts in a way that was infinitely more powerful than anything mere words could do. Beside them was a key, telling the viewers which colors stood for which crime: rape, child molestation, or death as a result of the assault.


“Art is a little gets underneath the surface and reveals what is there; it is a Geiger counter for truth”                                                     

                                                                  – Pat B. Allen

Throughout the hours of the project, multiple groups of students wandered through the lines. Almost invariably, they began with nonchalant, casual attitudes as they glanced at the hanging shirts. You could almost see the moment where the realization hit them. Their faces changed, their paces slowed, and they began to give time and attention to each shirt, each victim. As they departed- always quietly and respectfully- you could almost measure the changes within each student’s heart.

 “Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”

                                                                  – Chinua Achebe

Where debate and logic can break down the validity of a person’s argument, art allows uninhibited self-expression of ideas about life, justice, and morality in ways that seem to bypass the intellect and speak straight to the heart. There is danger, though. As anyone who has ever created something and offered it to the world can attest to, artwork bears your soul and your intimate ideas to potentially painful blows of criticism and anger. It takes profound courage to express your most intimate ideas on any topic, especially those that seek to fundamentally change society. It takes the courage of Leo to stand up like a lion and belt out your strongest roar. It may open you to attack, but it also tells the world where you stand. Art is not for cowards.

Mark Bilokur, Leo Lead Minister for the Temple of Witchcraft, compares the courage to create art for social justice to the old idea of the elephant in the room, that problem everybody knows is right there but that no one wants to talk about. “Often,” he says, we don’t want to bring up the subject because it “can carry a big emotional charge, perhaps having to do with race, sex, or gender issues, religion or spirituality, personal or public health, wealth, privilege.” Artists have a way of fearlessly confronting the elephant. In the case of the Clothesline Project, it is well known that sexual assault is an ongoing issue on college campuses, but it’s also a highly emotional topic that stirs up argument, resentment, and defensiveness. So, like the elephant in the room, it takes courage to bring up. The purpose of the project was to humanize the victims and give them the courage to address the giant issue that often goes mostly ignored.


“How do we talk about what we don’t want to talk about, what we don’t want to look at, don’t want to see, let alone reflect upon in our culture, our society, and especially in ourselves?” asks Bilokur. Art is one method of creating that reflection. He relates it to Leo’s lion who, though “often associated with the sun,” is actually “more active at dawn and dusk.” The male lion’s famous roar comes most often as the sun sets and as it rises. Thus the lion brings “the expression of the night/unconsciousness/unknown into the daytime/conscious/the known and from the daytime into night, this is an aspect of Leo, an aspect of Art.”

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

                                                                                             - Albert Einstein

Social injustice is a problem, and social consciousness must be changed in order to solve it. Artwork is one way of achieving that change. “One of the functions or aspects of the arts is to show things from a different perspective,” says Bilokur. Through this, “we bring a different level of consciousness to a situation.” He relates this idea to the Temperance card of the Tarot, which shows an angelic figure exchanging liquid from one chalice to a new one. 

Sometimes, Bilokur stresses, that figure is “described as diluting wine (associated with the realm of the spiritual) with water (associated with the realm of the material). Thus the Temperance card can be seen as mixing and blending new ideas, perhaps injecting a new consciousness into them and allowing the public to view the issue in an entirely new way, which is a task artwork excels at.   And of course, some others have a very different name for this card. They just call it “Art.” 

Darcy Totten, a former photojournalist and filmmaker who uses her artwork to stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement, expands on this idea by saying that “art is about connection.” She is working to connect the public to the consciousness of Black Lives Matter by “making a series of small shadow box altars and leaving them in public places.” Her altars are “memorials to those killed by police violence and hate crimes” inspired by the work of author and blogger Crystal Blanton. Totten leaves them in a variety of places, including “coffee shops, bus stops, newsstands, and street corners.” She calls them Altars for Justice.**





This is a form of standing up courageously for what you believe in. Totten explains that, “I wanted to make space for grief about what is happening in this country in everyday life for people who may not even be aware that they are carrying grief,” but then she realized that this could be a much larger movement. “Its power,” she adds, “is in the ability to connect people around social justice issues.”






Anyone can participate in this small but powerful method of connection for justice. Totten asks “anyone I know or who reads this to make one and leave it somewhere in their own community.” Take a picture of it and Email it to Totten at and/or Tweet it using the hashtag #altarsforjustice. “My goal,” she says, “is to reach out to different traditions, cities, towns, levels of activism, and intersecting interests to create a powerful form of group communication and community around issues of police violence and racism in America.” 

Like the issues of social justice themselves, artwork can cause offense and anger to the point where hearts and minds close themselves tight. One remedy for this, says Bilokur, is to “listen with all of your senses.” Another is the “try not to judge.” “If you are in judgment,” he says, “you are no longer open to new information. Be open to new possibilities, new understandings.” Sometimes, he adds, “We may think we’re listening and be surprised to find we’re hearing more of our own assumptions and preconceptions more than what’s really being said.”

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.” 

                                                                             – Caitlyn Jenner

Bilokur also suggests striving toward the ancient goal to “Know thyself.” This can be done, says Bilokur, in many ways that sound familiar and foundational to magickal practitioners. Journaling regularly is one. Meditation is another. “Do one thing that makes you happy every day,” he says, and seek to know “the relationship of your Lower Self and Higher Self.” Sometimes this is just as scary as releasing a piece of art, a piece of yourself, into the world, but the improvement of society begins with the improvement of the self, and both behaviors take profound courage.

 “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?”

“Courage!”  - From The Wizard of Oz

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This is a tough subject for me because I’m often hesitant to tackle important social justice topics head on (and I’m a terrible artist). But I have to take the “know thyself” advice to heart. Everyone must find their own method of expression before they can use it to improve the world as well as themselves. “We are not only the artists, we are shaped by what we do,” concludes Bilokur. “We are the painter as well as the canvas, the dance as well as the dancer, the singer and the song.” We are constantly re-creating ourselves. If we hide in fear, we become that fear. If we bravely express our voices through whatever medium calls to us, we become more courageous. No true change was ever made by a cowardly lion.


**Photo Credits for all Altars for Justice: Darcy Totten

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I am a teacher, theater lover, and witch who loves both reason and magick. I believe that all things are connected, so I strive to write about connections between Paganism, pop culture, science, and the arts. My work was published in the Ancestors of the Craft anthology and in Finding the Masculine in the Goddess’ Spiral.  


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