We see the world through the eyes of a dominant culture and can easily assume that things were the same in the past and will be in the future, but our ancestors had a much different view of the world than we do. The secular world is a new idea. To them, the world was populated by gods and spirits, and magick was a vitally real resource and skill, not something only for self-help learned in weekend workshops. Our modern peers can easily dismiss a spirited world view as superstitious while simultaneously honoring the “superstitious” philosophers, doctors, and scientists living in that reality, taking the pieces that fit our paradigm and dismissing the rest. At one time science, medicine, magick, and religion were not divided as they are today.
This enchanted worldview influenced everything, including politics and warfare. Wars are shaped by the beliefs, culture, and paradigms of people in the conflict. We recognize the politics but often fail to think about the magickal element.
I had a conversation with a beloved friend about a past life memory of a war occurring on both the physical and otherworldly levels. Throughout my 20s I did a lot of past life regressions. I was fascinated with my initial experiences in Witchcraft training, and then with Barbara Hand Clow’s Mind Chronicles trilogy, which explored how past lives help unlock magickal, psychic, and spiritual potential. This conversation reminded me of some specific magickal past incarnation memories of war that I had chalked up to youthful fantasies rather than objective fact.
It’s silly for us today as magickal practitioners to think magick was not invoked in war. Most countries were what we would consider theocratic on some level. Culture, religion, and politics intertwined. Depending on the time and place, societies were less cosmopolitan that we might romanticize, with strong tribal and religious identities. Most cultures had gods of war and strategy.
My memory flashes of magickal warfare included Egypt, Persia, and some Celtic tribes. Some involved actual spells and curses against the “other side” without always a clear indication of who that was, or fights occurring simultaneously on the astral and the physical. Were magickal practitioners individually battling, or was this a symbolic representation of the collective oversouls of the different groups? It is easy to have these visions and think you have entered into a flight of fancy, daydreaming a fantasy movie script rather than a historic perspective, but that fails to take into account the magickal worldview of our ancestors and our current worldview, as magickal practitioners in an overtly non-magickal community.
Today, modern occultists and magicians often shy away from such magick, as we live in a secular world, and few military leaders would ask for such help. Western occultism adopted a lot of Masonic custom, including not bringing politics into the lodge. Emphasis on the division of party and class is said to divide the group mind of the order or coven. The “mundane” world is left outside for the mystery within. Yet to the Witch nothing is mundane. Everything is holy.
Modern occultists seek to be above it all and not “abuse” the holy power of magick for a political faction, movement, or nation, seeing that as an unfair advantage as normal human fate rolls out. Yet we will do a love spell or a job spell as fate unfolds. We think one is off limits, but not the other. We look with hindsight to history and see how so many battles were truly unnecessary, but that perspective comes from the history book. We have no real understanding of the hearts and minds of the ancient people involved in those skirmishes. But the modern magician, often urged to go beyond polarity and duality, will take that warning against choosing sides as a call for passivity. We cannot be complacent in the face of harm if we have the opportunity to defend those being harmed. One peer in the New Age community described it like a sporting competition, and sometimes your team wins and sometimes your team loses, but in the end it doesn’t matter. That is a wonderfully privileged protection from someone who is protected from any real harm. It certainly does matter and spiritual movements throughout history have been a part for the evolutionary change politically and socially, as well as individually.
I think we have a collective scar around the use of magick in World War II and the perversion of sacred symbols by the Nazis. Yes, British occultists led by Dion Fortune rose up to stop them, but both she and possibly the elders of the Witch covens paid the price for the expenditure of power. And I think this cost echoes into the unacknowledged magickal wars in our past lives. Even if we don’t consciously know or think about this warfare, we feel it. We know the harm magick has done on many levels, and we must accept that if we had a past incarnation as a magickal priest/ess, particularly in a temple tradition of a community, we have perpetuated that legacy, justly and unjustly, of using magick to promote our culture or community.
Spiritually we have an idealized vision of an ancient peaceful and perfect time predating our current cultural divisions, a one world mythos. This is wonderful mythology and inspiration for ritual as long as it is not used to dismiss real world problems as spiritually insignificant. Today many embrace or reject “harm none” but the real wisdom of the Rede is like the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm, an insight brought to us in The Healing Craft by Janet & Stewart Farrar and Gavin Bone. Sometimes the greatest harm is in doing nothing when you are being asked to help.
While we can look back upon the Nazis, upon Hitler and his occult advocates, and see clear evil, the distinction gets much blurrier in military conflicts afterwards, from Vietnam to the Middle East. Americans realize that in many of these conflicts, we could be the villains, or at the very least, not be clearly operating on the side of the good as we feel we were in World War II with the Allies. That realization is like coming to the personal realization that while we tend to see ourselves as the hero of our own story, when we act thoughtlessly and hurtfully, we become the villain in someone else’s story. But today, we come upon a situation that deeply evokes the World War II comparison for us, and the clear, if not pure, protection of human rights against a fully corrupt enemy combining corporate greed, religious zealotry, prejudice, and persecution, literally evoking the symbols, images, and ideas of Nazi Germany in contemporary America.
Modern Witches will say Witchcraft has always been political. Yes, but it has been more commonly utilized for personal survival and justice and less so historically for systematic change. Political magick has been woven into tribal and nationalistic expressions as much as anti-authoritarian ones. Along with “Operation Cone of Power” from British covens during World War II, I think back to the Benandanti, the Good Walkers, as depicted in The Night Battles by Carlos Ginzburg, spiritually fighting against the Bad Walkers of decay, illness and blight. Were their enemies just spiritual forces, or actually incarnate people? We may never now, but these non-Witch identified Witches fought for their community.
“War” magick today is often personal, cursing against personal enemies and obstacles. It’s often petty too, which is why many people leave magick for traditions that emphasize consciousness and evolution. The cursing of institutions and the people who run them is viewed as a longer term prospect, though there has always been an underlying theme of societal obligation. It was the duty of the bardic sorcerer to shame the unjust ruler into change, but when magick and the bardic role are displaced from society, this responsibility falls to comedy and media, which lack the same magickal voltage.
When we do rise up magickally, those in opposition also rise up, perhaps calling their practitioners “prayer warriors.” Opposing forces always give rise to reaction, yet magick can be used to envision a future. Opposition eventually becomes the thing to which they are opposed, but changing the narrative, the perspective, and the rules of the game can transform the situation. Art, story, and music do this already. I think of the “war” in The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, how near the end, the warriors are told they have been misinformed. This is not a war. This is a rescue mission. Boom! Paradigm shift, along with a change in energetic posture and motivation. Changing the paradigm, the perspective, can pull you out of any feared duality or polarity that encourages inaction, and help you contribute to meaningful change. I look at all my actions as healing, even when something needs to be destroyed. I don’t use “battle” imagery in illness as some do, so I don’t use battle imagery in societal change. Opposition is just a healing response to manage, not hate or go to war against.
We need to operate on many levels at the same time, and magickal practitioners have to get over their hesitancy regarding the application of power and instead balance that power in love and wisdom. Inability or unwillingness to use appropriate power, magickal or otherwise, breeds complacency and comes from a place of privilege. Not me, people say, someone or something else will do it. I’m above it, they say.
I am sorry to inform them otherwise. If you are here on planet Earth, you are in it and have some role to play. We need to heal our own wounds and find the appropriate use of power to create change. We must shape our destinies as Witches rather than passively leave the work for others. When we don’t know what action to take, we must go within and search for the answer, but when we do feel a call to take action, we must take it. In addition, it must become a long-standing part of our work, not just a reaction to the latest world crisis. Long-term plans bear fruit.
As we move through life, our skills, roles, and responsibilities may change, and we have to recognize that. I remembered this recently while speaking with a client—while she would like to protest as she did in her youth, she is physically unable, but she is leveraging her financial resources and technical skill into ways she can help. She is also using her magick, as that wasn’t a resource she had in her 20s.
Some of us are called to immediately oppose and to hold the line so it goes no further. Some of us are called to dismantle what is, to make room for what is to come. Some of us are called to heal as the roots of these problems are the unhealed wounds in the souls of nations, communities, individuals, and the world. Some are called to re-weave new visions. Some organize the social and political actions, using these connections to network and spread the word, articulating new visions and ideas as well as calls for action. And some are called to simply witness it through the eyes of magick with compassion and grace.
Together these forces work for change. Magickally, which are you?
(Edited by Tina Whittle)