Magic, Power, and Authority: Casting Radical Spells for Change

Tell me – When you’re making magic where does the magic come from? From nature? From your ancestors? Perhaps you only cast certain types of spells at certain moon phases? Does it come from the moon, then? What is the thing that creates the change that we recognize as magic?

The idea that magic and magical change or transformation come from something external to us isn’t uncommon, especially for beginners. Many folks are eager to reach out to the moon, to nature, to herbs for their power, their magic. But, in this model the individual making the magic is powerless. The magic maker is taking magic from nature or from another spirit, and using it to create the change they desire. They’re giving nothing back. They’re unable to raise their own power and are only able to manipulate external magic.

When you craft your spells are you relying on the magic of nature/the ancestors/whatever deities you work with? Are you only taking from the magic around you? You might not feel that you’re inherently magical. You might think that you don’t have it, or that it’s been locked away too deep, or that it is inaccessible to you. Instead, you reach out for books that tell them prescriptively how to do magic, teachers who offer them hierarchical structures for magic, and take the magic of nature/the ancestors/divinity. All without ever giving back, without offering from yourself.

I think there are a lot of problems with this way of thinking about magic and power. Not only is the idea that you aren’t individually powerful inaccurate, it also perpetuates a harmful tendency of imperialist-capitalist-colonialist-patriarchal thinking: that you can take without giving back. By believing yourself to be powerless you cast smaller, less transformational, less powerful spells. You also do nothing to confront the paradigm of entitlement, of individual powerlessness of the imperialist-capitalist-colonialist-patriarchal system. And in doing this you unwittingly perpetuate, and cast spells for the preservation of, that system.

The fact is you are magical. You are powerful. And you need your own magic, you need to claim your own power, in order to make magic that makes change.

Power is essential to magic.

Let’s start with some definitions.

  • Magic is…
  • …the idea that you are powerful.
  • …the notion you can create change.
  • …the intention to get exactly what the fuck you want with ease.

Witchcraft is…

  • …acting on that idea.
  • …taking responsibility for your power.
  • …accepting your authority.

Another definition for magic that I like to work with is that magic is any hidden or unlikely connection between two things (credit for this definition goes to my teacher, Ren Zatopek). We make magic when we manipulate that hidden or unlikely connection to some effect. Here’s the question: Why do we manipulate that connection? To what end? Why are we able to manipulate that connection at all?

Maybe you’ve guessed the reason because of the title. But even if you have…is it an answer that sits well in your body? Do you believe that you the reason you CAN make magic is because you ARE powerful? Because you HAVE power?

“Me?” you might be thinking. “But I’m not powerful, not really.” But that’s just the thing. It’s true that we live within oppressive systems designed to remove much of our power. But is it actually the case that these systems have stolen ALL of our power from us? I hope that all the amazing organizing that has been done over the last year has shown you just how wrong that thinking is. When people choose to exercise their power, they discover that they have so much more than they’ve been led to believe. And that is when change happens. That is when we begin to usher in the future that we’ve been dreaming of.

You see, the idea that you’re not powerful is just a convenient excuse. It lets you absolve yourself of responsibility. To take the easy route and not do the hard work of claiming and exercising your power. AND it feeds the systems that seek to keep you as powerless as possible. AND it means that that future you’re dreaming of? It doesn’t get to happen.

Or maybe you know you’re powerful, but you’d rather not be. We live in a system, in a time, in a world that is so very defined by misuses of power: police brutality, racism, unjust laws, capitalism… I could literally go on and on. Abuse of power and its horrifying results are everywhere. It should rightly give us pause to claim something that causes so much harm and pain in this world. The idea of having power when power is what allows so many of the dehumanizing abuses to exist SHOULD give us pause. Power is what is required to commit offense against our fellow humans, against the earth.

Power-Over vs. Power-Together: Domination vs. Collaboration

Whether we want to exert our will over all others, or exert our will in community, exerting our will is exerting our power. And in order to collaborate, to work together to create something new everyone collaborating must be able to show up, speak up, be present in their own power. They must all be able to speak their needs and desires and be heard and accommodate by others. They need to be in their power and be willing to use it.

Power-over is the dominating power which we see exercised all the time in this system. It is the dominating force of hierarchy, competition, police violence, racism. It is rooted in scarcity and driven by fear.

Power-together is a paradigm of power that decentralizes the absolute authority of those at the top of the hierarchy. It is diffuse and collaborative. It is the power that builds solidarity, that builds collective liberation. It is a power that empowers the each individual AND the collective. It can begin in you – in your recognition of your own power.

Magic is an illicit form of power.

So where does witchcraft and magic fit into this? Silvia Federici has a quote that I’ll take as a starting place: “[Magic was] an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work.”

Bold pink words on a pale pink background read: "Magic was an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work." - Silvia Federici

Witchcraft is power. Magic is power. And in a world that runs on submission to waged work, labor, for a wage as the ticket to the necessities of life, it is a radical power – radical meaning it gets to the root of the problem: a system the exploits humans labor.

So magic is power. Yet it is still true that this power doesn’t HAVE to come from us. There certainly are kinds of magic that don’t have their origin within an individual human: deity work, certain ways of working with nature, ancestor work, among others. None of these inherently require us to draw on our power to in order for the magic to work. You can draw closer to a spirit or deity, to nature, to your ancestors, without ever manipulating a connection, without exerting your power, without drawing on your will. And that’s fine.

But if you’re making magic toward some material change you’re exerting your will. And to only pull on external nature, ancestor, etc. magic perpetuates a harmful cycle of taking and never giving back. It does nothing to develop your own power. It does nothing to rebuild reciprocity. It does nothing to uproot the system in which we live.

So, I hope you’ll stop shying away from your power, that you’ll start claiming it, that you’ll start taking responsibility for it. Because, ultimately, we can’t claim power until you claim power. We can’t uproot this system until you claim the thing that lets you get at the roots.

Every collective action that creates change is fueled by individual choices to exercise power. That future you’re dreaming of where we live in harmony with the earth? That future you’re dreaming of where you and everyone you know lives in abundance? That future you’re dreaming of where we can easily access healthful foods and everyone knows the power of the herbs sprouting up on their lawns? That future starts with you. It starts with the choice to claim your power and make your magic.

Witchcraft is a praxis that makes a better world. But you’ve gotta show up for your magic and make it every single chance you get. You gotta claim your power. Magic is reciprocal. You’ve got to tap into, claim, use your power. YOU’VE GOT TO SHARE YOUR MAGIC.

The truth is that, a magical experience mediated through external magics will never bring you the magic you desire. Magic is an interwoven thing. If you’re offering nothing of yourself into that weaving, if you’re only taking external magic (& perpetuating the consumption capitalism has taught us in the process) how can you expect your spells to transform you, let alone create the transformation you’re hoping to see in the world?

You have to harness your magic to cast deeply transformational spells, spells that create new possibilities, a new world. And you can only harness it by unlocking that magic that you’re keeping locked up deep inside you: your power. It can be hard to reach into your soul, find what you’re truly hungering for, then making the magic that lets you have it! But I believe you can do it! The first step is acknowledging that you are magical, that you are powerful, and that you can take steps towards unlocking your magic and creating transformation.

So, tell me – what future are you dreaming of? And how are you practicing for it, claiming your power for it, making magic for it?

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