BY TOMÁS PROWER READ TIME: 12 MINS
I’ve heard it said that the times, they are a-changin’… and that certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Well, at least compared to the world we once lived in back when we were young. Could you imagine if someone from the future came to younger you saying that you’d grow up to live in a world where inequality is more pronounced than ever, the environment has been irreparably damaged, and that fascism would once again come into vogue among peoples and governments around the world? Oh, but get this. Then they tell you not to worry because everyone has accepted these horrors as a normal part of how life just is in the future. What would you say? Would you even believe it?
So, then, what the hell happened?! How is it possible for the world to, within our lifetime, have sunken so low and for all of us who currently live in it to have accepted such a low bar of integrity and justice as the new “normal” for daily existence? I’ll tell you how… step by step. Nothing happens in an instant; though by that same token, we cannot expect the world to suddenly be all better tomorrow. But is it even possible to create and live in a more equitable, environmentally friendly, and just world from where we are now? Yes, though it requires more than just hoping that someday maybe someone will come along and fix everything for us. WE are the ones who have to fix it now. It takes action. It takes fighting back. It takes active rebellion.
But, I’ll let you in on a little secret. This long journey toward making the world a better, more just place… it’s nothing new. The times, they really haven’t been a-changin’ as much as our egos of “modernity” would like us to believe. We, as humans, have ALWAYS been combating injustice even before the world became so claustrophobically small and digitally interconnected. Ironically, while we’re more aware of abuses everywhere around the world nowadays, we’re not as active in doing anything about it. And really, what good does all the knowledge in the world do if we don’t use it for action? Still, even if we do take action, we’re actually at a greater disadvantage in the good fight compared to our ancestors because many of us don’t use magic to enact justice.
There are many reasons for this. Everything from letting the cynically skeptical convince us that magic is silly or ineffective, all the way to getting off on that rush of moral superiority that comes along with telling those who have the jackboot of oppression bearing down on their necks that it is “wrong” for them to use magic to enact extrajudicial justice. All this comes from a place of supreme privilege from peoples whose lives aren’t on the line because their skin color, sexuality, gender identity, economic status, or any other signifier of “otherness” happen to be in what this broken society calls “the majority.”
Yes, no society or system of government is perfect, but let’s be honest… democracy, at its best, is still “majority rule,” and therefore “justice” is whatever the majority decides it to be. If bad people are in the majority, then their wickedness is upheld as “just.” Indeed, if two wolves and a lamb vote on whats for dinner, then the effects of their election is “just.” By following the “rules” in such a system, how can the lamb ever get true justice? And if the lamb fights back or refuses to obey the democratic decision, then it’s deemed the bad guy. So, is the lamb just supposed to accept this death sentence? It doesn’t have to, but it can’t change its fate by playing according to the rules of a rigged game. It needs power from outside the system, and it has to de-shame the use of this power. Having power and not using it is the same as not having it.
But finger-pointing between those of us under the heel of the corruptive powers that be is an old trick that keeps us all downtrodden, weak, and small. We’re all in this together. The important thing is that we need to honor magic as a legit and effective tool in combating oppression. And then we need to de-shame the use of that magic in bringing about justice for the poor, the environment, the maligned of all types.
Magic was a powerful tool utilized by our ancestors that helped to win for them many of the unprecedented rights and comforts we enjoy today. In my book Warrior Magic: Justice Spirituality from Around the World, I go much more in depth as to the tools, rituals, and divine allies oppressed peoples from all over the globe have used in their fights for justice, de-colonialization, and a better world. But for now, here are just a handful of reasons as to WHY magic has been so important in this millennia-old ongoing fight around the globe for true justice.
The first and foremost reason why magic has been important in combatting oppression is because of necessity. Like the analogy of the lamb mentioned earlier, the poor and downtrodden often have no way in which to garner justice if they are not in the majority (assuming they live in a democracy at all). They exist in a corrupt system wherein the only acceptable avenues toward justice are those that are ultimately futile and ineffective. The powers that be never give the people the tools, knowledge, or rights sufficient enough to challenge their rule. So, many of our ancestors utilized magic to go around the system.
Whether they couldn’t afford justice or were denied it by colonial courts, our ancestors’ use of magic tapped into the aid of powers higher than the powers that be and into aggressive forms of “influence” even more compelling than bribe money and upper-class connections. Magic allowed them to be at cause in their world with a sense of power.
One cultural example of this can be found in Mexico with the cult of La Santa Muerte (about which I go into more dedicated detail in my book La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic and Mysticism of Death). She is the folk deity of death, and her devotees are often the most maligned people in society. In Catholic, conservative Mexican society, these include: single mothers, the queer community, sex workers, individuals with long criminal records, and more. Such people are already prejudicially stigmatized as “bad” in society, and so they cannot turn to the courts, to their neighbors, not even to God for justice. But they can turn to Santa Muerte because she, like death, accepts everyone equally without preference. With the magic of La Santa Muerte, the maligned of Mexico have a sense of power, and they can bring about the justice that society regularly denies them without having to wait for the majority of society to have a change of heart.
Sometimes the oppressors of the world are not mere mortals, but the gods and spirits themselves. If such omnipotent beings are dispensing justice based on caprice and how they’re feeling that day, then how can any mortal go about getting any real justice? Well, our ancestors understood that the only way to stand up to a god was to have the powers of a god.
This utilization of magic to give preternatural powers to mortals to fight back was a common phenomenon in many cultures throughout the world. One major example was in the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia where human civilization first began. According to the cosmology of many ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, the gods were locked in an endless battle with the forces of chaos, and the gods weren’t always successful at defeating chaos (after all, how can you “defeat” an abstract concept?). So, to help them, the gods gifted humans with enhanced magical powers that were never before seen in the world to help them in the divine fight against chaos.
Though often not considered “magical” by modern neophytes to the occult, the supernatural powers the gods gifted to humans were logic, reasoning, and advanced critical thinking beyond what any other animal species on earth could do. To our ancestors (and to those who are experienced and well-adept in magic), our thoughts and the ability to focus our mind to bring about a specific desired change in the world was absolutely magical. With our focused intent and ability to plan and take action, we could organize the world and mitigate the powers of chaos. But we needed these god-like magical minds in order have some sort of equivalent firepower in combatting supernatural forces of destruction.
One of the most controversial things about magic today that was often not regarded with much concern or credence by our ancestors back in the day is the question as to whether or not magic is even real. Is it all in our head? Are we really influencing the world, or are we just influencing our perspective of the world and therefore seeing “change” when it’s really only our way of seeing that has changed?
One famous recorded instance wherein the opposing ideas of “magic is real” and “it’s all psychosomatic” clashed violently was amid the anti-colonial revolutionary wars for independence in Sub-Saharan Africa during the latter half of last century. To various native peoples in the Congo, there was a belief in the power of a magical potion called dawa that could protect those anointed with it from gunfire by transforming bullets into water upon bodily impact.
Despite the unwavering conviction that the local peoples had in the magic of dawa to stop colonizers’ bullets from harming them, the potion was rarely successful. Still, in the face of almost universal failure of this magical concoction, the peoples of the Congo kept faith in it. This stubbornness of belief became a particular peeve of revolutionary fighter Che Guevara when he traveled to the Congo to help in the decolonization efforts against capitalist Europe. An avowed atheist, he regarded all this magic as “superstition” that was needlessly getting the local peoples killed due to their “unscientific” beliefs in it. He wanted to “enlighten” the people with “reason,” but he ultimately decided against it once he understood why they kept believing in its magical potential.
To paraphrase what he wrote in his diary, Che Guevara realized that to not believe in magic would make their fight seem impossible. Achieving a victory over the juggernaut of Europe with all its wealth and advanced weaponry seemed to them like something beyond their power. They believed they’d need magic to even stand a chance. Therefore, the belief in magic, regardless of whether or not it was “real,” is what allowed the believers to feel powerful, feel like they could win, and keep the flame of hope and revolution alive in their hearts. And at the end of the day, is not that magical in and of itself? Ultimately, Che chose not to dissuade the locals from their belief in magic because even though it didn’t appear to serve them any good in having it, not having it would destroy their belief in victory, and thus victory itself.
Tradition is often the reason why we do a lot of things (even if they don’t make sense or are detrimental relics from less tolerant times). Now, I’m a big proponent in the belief that “tradition” is just peer pressure from dead people. Doing something just because “that’s how it’s always been done” or just because that’s how our ancestors did it despite their situations, circumstances, and reasons for doing so not always relevant to our situations, circumstances, and reasons in this day and age just doesn’t make sense to me (other than for reasons of nostalgic romanticizing of the past… which is a whole other issue). Still, regardless of my or anyone else’s opinion of “tradition,” no one can deny that it’s the motivational reason for why a lot of people do a lot of things. The use of magic in fighting oppression is no exception.
Think of it this way: the societies into which we are born shape our ideas of not only what is “right” and “wrong” but also of what is possible. For our ancestors who lived in a magic-tolerant society wherein spells, prayers, potions, chants, and other “magical” activities were the norm and accepted as practical solutions to problems, the use of magic to help with everything was just part of mundane life. If, however, a society is dismissive of such “magic” (like much of the industrialized West today), then why would someone engage in things they’ve been told all their life don’t work and have never known anyone around them to affirm that it could work? Not only will they not utilize magic, but they won’t even think of magic as a possibility in helping them achieve what they want.
This is why many of our ancestors around the world used so much magic in their fights against oppression and injustice. They lived in cultures, societies, and eras wherein magic was accepted as real and witnessed as commonplace all around them. When a large challenge or affront to justice stood before them, they didn’t see magic as some sort of “alternate” weapon or something “extra.” No, magic was just the mundane, routine thing at hand with which to wield against an enemy… as common as the kitchen knife or walking staff. They used magic in every aspect of their lives; the fight for equality and injustice was no different.
So, what I’m asking you now (what the world is asking of you now) is that you accept that magic can be used in the fight against injustices of all kinds and that you help to de-shame the use of magic for such noble endeavors. We all have different whys as to why we each individually turn to magic and how we wield it, but regardless of reason, we have to use it.
It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be upset at the injustices of this world. To deny your anger is not only unhelpful, but also unhealthy. That anger is what makes change. It was that uncomfortable spark of rage against oppression that lit the revolutionary fires of the abolitionist movement, the Queer Rights movement, the recent Black Lives Matter movement, and so many more throughout history. Don’t lose your temper; use your temper. Reach for your wand and use your magic to help the revolution. All of world history yet to be written is depending upon it.
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