What does it mean to align our magical practice against oligarchy, against empire, to dismantle the patriarchy and the capitalist-colonial machine? How did our ancestors utilize their animistic understandings of the world in defiance of the capitalist project to objectify and desacralize Nature?
I find this quote from Silvia Federici inspiring: “Eradicating [magical] practices was a necessary condition for the capitalist rationalization of work, since magic appeared as an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work, that is, a refusal of work in action. ‘Magic kills industry,’ lamented Francis Bacon...”
- Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch
Silvia Federici's book Caliban and the Witch is a rich and provocative discussion of the interactions between the enclosures of the commons in Europe, the extreme violence of patriarchy and restriction of women's reproductive rights, the empowerment of a budding capitalist class, colonialism, the rise of the mechanistic worldview, and the repression of witches and the ancient, ecocentric cosmologies of European peasants, all occurring in the early modern “transition” from feudalism to capitalism. If you identify as a witch or magical person and have any connection to European history, PLEASE read this extremely important book.
This book has opened my eyes to the fact that the West is still working through the traumas of this era. Western cultures have not yet recovered the wages, the reproductive rights, the rituals, the Commons, the community, nor the magical knowledge that was stolen from us over 400 years ago. It caused a profound spiritual wounding, leaving a silent, weeping emptiness in the Western soul, so hungry for meaning, so desperate for a return to magic, that it steals the lands and cultures of other peoples, seeking satiation in all the wrong places. And yet, our ancestors have been waiting for us to return to them.
Autumn approaches. The trees will drop their leaves. Dry, dead, they lay down and prepare to rot, glad to be reclaimed by the soil once more. Death becomes life for a later day, at the other equinox. Yet now, I contemplate what it means to let this dry husk of a culture fall to the earth and decompose with the autumn leaves. There is grief in this, there is despair, yes. But there is also hope. There is power in the knowledge of our ancestors. The West may be the only culture that has purposefully forgotten the wisdom of the ancients. Who were our ancestors before they became colonizers, before they became complicit in the robbery of each other’s dignity and the defilers of sacred glens?
Our ancestors were rebels. They were witches. They were healers, songsters, and bards. They tracked the paths of the moon, the sun, and stars with their megaliths; sang praises to the trees, to the hind, and the hawk. This, I believe, is the wisdom we need to survive and thrive through the end of this age and into the next. We can only move forward by remembering the past, weaving new wisdom with full knowledge of the harm that our traumatized ancestors inflicted upon the world, and taking guidance from BIPOC leaders who ask us to repair our relationships with those we’ve harmed, human and non-human alike. It requires a complete and utter break with the status quo, in ways that even I am still struggling to comprehend.
And yet I'm excited and inspired by this work. Some instinct, some numinous force draws me to it. The communities dedicated to the unmaking the old world and remaking the new are vibrant, radical, subversive, queer, and diverse. I am so grateful for your guidance and leadership!
I take heart from the very last paragraph of Richard Tarnas’ book Passion of the Western Mind: "Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of ‘man' himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.”
The other day I had an energetic conversation with an fellow radical. Sitting together on a bench in the tepid April sunshine, our discussion centered around education. My comrade educates young adults to awaken to the waters they swim in; that is, she helps them become aware of the unacknowledged belief systems they are socialized to accept. As the old saying goes, fish have no idea they swim through water. While I cannot speak for fish as a whole, we humans certainly repeat that pattern.
Humanity seems to have an easier time reflecting upon the past than the present. When learning about the European medieval era, we moderns can speak lucidly about the Christian worldview and how that religion shaped European society. We can talk cogently about religious beliefs, comparing and contrasting them with the beliefs of other religions that also existed at that time. But if we were speaking about the medieval era from the medieval perspective, we would not be using the word belief. Few of us would have understood that we were believing anything. We would have simply lived what we knew to be true. For most medieval Europeans, there was no alternative reality to the Christian one; thinking outside of it, seeing it from a critical reference point, was nearly impossible. It was the invisible water they swam in. Only later, when mercantilism increased international trade, did Europeans awaken to the fact that there were other realities besides the Christian one.
There is an irony in this detached reflection on the past, I think, for in contemporary times we are just as unaware of the water we swim in. Though the waters have changed a little, perhaps becoming slightly clearer, many of us fail to name or reflect upon this fluid. So I will name it now: modernism.