Author and Reclaiming Witch
Author and Reclaiming Witch
Many years ago, in a year not so different from this one (the year Ronald Reagan was first elected), may of us in our then-seedling Reclaiming community found ourselves in a state of political despair. Being Witches, we conceived the radical notion of offering a public ritual to transform despair into some other more positive state.
With Reagan's inauguration planned for January 20, we chose the festival of Brigid on February 1 as the time for our ritual. Brigid, Brigit, Bridghe, are all names for the ancient Irish Goddess of fire and water, the holy well and the sacred flame. Brigid is the Goddess of the forge, of the fire of inspiration that is poetry, and of healing. She seemed a fitting power to address the prospect of our country being led by someone who believed nuclear war was winnable.
On the eve of Brigid, also called Imbolc, we gathered about a hundred people in a large, open room in the college I was then attending. We grounded, cast a circle, called directions, and sang a chant to the goddess Brigid. Then we asked people to break into small circles. Each circle passed a bowl of salt water counterclockwise, and people named their feelings of powerlessness. We raised energy to transform the water, and passed the bowls back, sunwise this time, as people shared where they felt power in their lives.
"I feel power dancing, birthing, when I make art, when I speak a difficult truth to my partner." Listening to the voices, my own thinking about power crystallized into a new understanding that more than one kind of power exists. Power over, or domination, is limited: If I have power over you, you don't have power over me. I can control your resources or options and punish you if you do wrong. But the kind of power I heard in that second round was power-from-within, creative power, akin to what we call spirit. And that kind of power is unlimited. Indeed, if I find power in speaking my truth to you, it may awaken your power to speak truth to me, and others.
We darkened the room except for a cauldron in the center. As our fire blazed up, we drummed, and people took candles, came forward, and lit them from the cauldron while making pledges to Brigid. Light after light was kindled, and we danced with our candles like stars wheeling and spiraling in the night.
The ritual worked in the way magic works: It brought opportunities to take actions that would transform our despair. Later that year, a blockade was called at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, built on an earthquake fault in central California. Many of us participated, offering rituals in the camp, on the blockade itself, and eventually even in jail. By the next year's Brigid feast day, which fell on the eve of a blockade at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, our ritual was transformed into one of empowerment.
Over the years, we worked ourselves up from despair to action to hope to empowerment, back to despair, up again to vision. Some years, our ritual was overtly political; other years it was simply beautiful. Last year, I spent five days in jail in Seattle after the World Trade Organization protests. I decided to join the solidarity efforts that meant we would go to trial and not accept a deal that would have given us probation for a year. My trial was scheduled for Brigid. "Great," I thought, "we'll do a ritual here in Seattle!" By the time the feast day arrived, my charges had been dropped, along with most others. The ritual became a celebration and a commitment to ongoing work to change the world.
Ritual is not a substitute for action. But ritual can give us the courage we need to face danger or hardship. Ritual affirms the support we give to each other.
Reclaiming offered a ritual last April in Washington, D.C., before the blockade of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Months later, a young woman came up to me at a conference. "You know that thing we did in Washington," she said, "where we were throwing yarn around?"
"The ritual?" I asked.
"Yeah. I was so scared that day; I was terrified all day long. But after the ritual, I felt strong. I knew I could face whatever might come."
We are heading into challenging times, for Pagans and for the earth. A Brigid ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle and asking yourself these questions: What do I need to forge in my life? Where do I draw inspiration? What do I need to heal? What is my pledge for this year, and where can I find the courage and support I need to keep it?
In the Northern Hemisphere, the light is beginning to return. Brigid marks the time when we can notice the days becoming longer. The last months have taught us that we can't afford to be complacent about our rights, or to assume that our freedom is guaranteed. May Brigid inspire us to forge the alliances we need to build. May she inspire us to speak truth to power, to bring poetry and magic and art to even the most bitter of struggles. And may she bring us the healing that we need in our own lives that we may be healers of this wounded earth.