I deeply believe in the power of magick as a spiritual path. I believe in the transformation that occurs with magickal initiation and communion with the gods. I believe in it so much, I’ve devoted my life to it, teaching techniques and holding community that created a container for this to happen. I’ve experienced it in myself and witnessed it in varying degrees in many others.
One of the containers for this is service. In serving a greater good, your ideas and experiences are challenged. It’s the laboratory to the theory. It’s easy to feel you have a level of attainment alone at your altar, in circle with candles and incense going, but something all together when out in the world. Family, spouse, friends, and work carry the known triggers, but it’s the unknown that can challenge us in powerful ways. Service to a greater public can shown us the next stage in our own work as we explore the magickal concept of our interconnection and interdependence to all things.
One of my greatest challenges- prison ministry. It’s an aspect of Pagan service and built in to our structure at the Temple of Witchcraft, but I had no plans to do it personally. We started with a pen pal program but we were soon invited to minister to a state prison and a Temple minister accepted the invite, but then backed out before it was time, leaving the Temple committed but not himself. So I felt I had to fulfill the temple’s commitment temporarily until we could find a replacement. My temporary term lasted eight years.
There I found myself before a small and highly intelligent, diverse, well read group of men in this prison, with about half leaning towards a Norse Neo-Nazi white supremacist bent. While well read they had much less experience in the actual practices. Despite the time, the environment is not very conducive to meditation and ritual. Interestingly enough as time went went on, the one who seemed the most dangerous on that first meeting, let’s call him R, turned out to be the most transformed over eight years.
R challenged me at every step in good and bad ways, inquiring to the why of things as much as the how. At times he scared me, and even after we built a rapport he was always the one to remind me this was a prison for violent people. It was a good reminder. As strange as it sounds, after a while you can forget that its a prison and you have to be vigilent for your own safety. Other times its abundantly clear that everyone around you is quite dangerous. Perhaps six years in, the group had grown to about thirty men and the white supremacy streak in the group had also grown to about seventy-five percent. The African American members were no longer in the prison and the diverse Pagan group of Celtic, Norse, Egyptian, and Sumerian became fixated on Norse. By the time this happened at this one prison, I was volunteering now in a second facility with the same demographic. Funnily enough, R had also been in that facility too, and knew those men. They wanted a religious experience but not necessarily a magickal one. They were decidedly anti-Wiccan in voice but upon execution of the rituals seemed to enjoy the eclectic Wiccan aspects the most and the non-Wiccan folkloric material slowly phased away to a Saxson-Norse eclectic Wiccan group.
From the first meeting, R’s inquisitiveness led to broader questions, outside of Norse, then European Paganism. He read my donated books to the prison library and then asked question about yoga, Hinduism, and Taoism. He had a brief journey in the Native American prison group and asked a lot of good comparative myth and technique questions. By the time the group swelled with a white supremacist undercurrent, he was the voice of tolerance, using Odin’s own quest for knowledge as his own inspiration. If something can help you, why turn any knowledge away? Odin wouldn’t. Many of the Odinist were unconvinced. But it was good for it to come from him as well as me.
At that point we got permission to do ritual outside and have a fire. Our first outdoor ritual the men were allowed to go barefoot and I had one of my most powerful experiences there – throwing out the planned ritual to spend two hours in the grass and with the wild weeds and flowers as it was as much as ten years for some of them to have their bare feet on grass. If I had to point to a single transformative moment for us all, it was that, a true moment with the Earth Mother cutting across anyone’s cultural and religious preferences. While a few were bored, there was a level of simple awe among most of the men. I was humbled to see what a gift this was, as it was something I took for granted and gave little though to until that moment. To be Pagan and not to be able to walk barefoot upon the Earth! The whole day blew my mind.
When I had to address that racist remarks would not be tolerated R backed me up and when our next volunteer, a black high priestess in the Temple joined me to train in prison ministry, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they responded to her, who likewise educated them in the racism in their questions on black magick as a term for evil. We were braced for greater difficulty and while I’m sure some were unhappy with her very presence, no one said or did anything. I think her continued work there after I stepped down and she replaced me also triggered some transformations in a few of the men to question why they are racists. R also backed me up, a little too strongly, when I had to address that homophobic comments would not be tolerated, even in jest.
While R was the greatest example of change, I saw many of the men undergo transformations. R was the scariest of the first group of men I first met, but by the end of our time together, he had renounced his past white supremacy and become open to other cultures and other people through studying their magickal literature. He had left that facility and was on track to return to society. Some others were changing by small increments. Many had set backs. But quite a few, particularly of the smaller, earlier group, moved forward in ways I would have never expected. While I still don’t believe, seeing it first hand, that modern American prisons are very conducive to reform and rehabilitation, it still happens. And for us, magickal education and practice were the catalysts to what I witnessed. And what I had witness changed me deeply as well. Previously held views in prisons and the death penalty shifted.
So in these troubled times of insurrection, growing white supremacy, and runic stages to embolden Nazis at national conventions, I still have hope and I have magick. We can have hope and we can have magick. I have hope even for the darkest of cases. We can participate in change and also be changed by the process. I choose to dedicate myself to the great work, to evolution of self and community, and to the alchemical transformation through the essence of magick. What do you choose? Where will you out your time, attention, and magick?