Witches, pagans and other magical activists have thrown themselves into social justice work over the last year.
Building on decades of activism within the magical community, they joined hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have felt a collective call to stand up against injustice. They joined ranks in Washington DC and in cities around the country for the historic Women’s March. They sent money and resources and went themselves to offer aid to the Standing Rock protests. They even put their magical practices to use with attempts to “hex,” “bind” or otherwise disrupt President Donald Trump.
And now, as the summer heat gives way to fall in the Northern Hemisphere, pagans and witches of many stripes are gearing up for Samhain, an annual holiday that invites them to turn inward when still much work remains.
This ancient Celtic holiday, from which Halloween is believed to derive, pays tribute to the dead, to the ancestors and to the coming winter. Many modern day celebrants view Samhain as an opportunity to turn inward and evaluate all the forces seen and unseen that impact our world. It’s considered the “Witch’s New Year” because, like the seasons, every death is an opportunity for renewal.
But what does renewal look like in a flawed and unjust world?
Many of the forces affecting our communities today seem hopelessly beyond our control. This autumnal season has already brought us deadly natural disasters, mass shootings, and decisions from the country’s leaders that seem to pay no mind to the people’s lives they impact.
HuffPost spoke to several spiritual activists who are celebrating Samhain this year for their thoughts on how to harness the spirit of the holiday to fight for a better world.
Chani Nicholas, astrologer and activist
“Because Samhain is also known as the Witch’s New Year, for me this is always a time to remember our magic, which is to say our invisible powers. We spend so much time trying to amass what will bring us a sense of security and praise; fame, money and power, all of which has lead to the destruction of our planet and increasing environmental and social injustice. Samhain is a time to remember that external wealth and power will come and go, but true wealth, true power, always lies within and with our relationship to the entirety of creation.
“Every time we define ourselves by choosing to fight for a more loving, tolerant and just world, we are creating magic."”
For me, this year signifies a time to double down on our commitments to finding ways to support and be supported by all the vast networks we depend on. Whether that be showing up for protests, marches, rallies, community gardens, restorative justice circles, interfaith social justice movements, friends in mourning, friends in joyful celebration, friends in need of a hug or validation, we must show up. Every time we affirm more of what we want, we are making magic in the world. Every time we stand up against injustice, we are making magic in the world. Every time we define ourselves by choosing to fight for a more loving, tolerant and just world, we are creating magic. Every time we call in our ancestors, those that risked their lives for us to have the rights and freedoms that we do, and honor them by placing ourselves on the right side of history, no matter the personal cost to us, we remind ourselves of the magic that we are made from. And this broken, broken world is in need of as much magic as we can individually and collectively conjure.”
Marysia Miernowska, director of the California branch of The Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education
“As spiritually minded activists, we can harness the power of the season to midwife the death of systems of oppression. We can explore systems of oppression within ourselves, our home, work life, community and work on releasing and transforming them. Rather than focusing on ‘resisting’ social injustice, the season is inviting us to let go, release, and soften into a space where oppressive systems are allowed to die.
“This fall, let us release any old stories where we wait and hope for 'the father to do his job and take care of us/save us.'"”
The patriarchy is dying. And it is an ugly, loud, temper tantrum death that is working hard to make a mess on it’s way out. This fall, let us release any old stories where we wait and hope for ‘the father to do his job and take care of us/save us.’ Let us use this window where life and death are but a thin veil apart to cradle and lull the destructive systems of oppression into the arms of the Mother. Let us let the patriarchy inside of us die, so we can be transformed into more radically loving, engaged citizens of the Earth. Let us nourish ourselves, each other, the Earth, our communities and let us lend our hands, sweat, and prayers to cultivating regenerative systems where Life is sacred.
In our communities, we can organize on a grassroots level to create and support systems focused on renewal and regeneration. When people are united, organized and community-minded, we are more powerful. ”
Amanda Yates Garcia, witch and healer known as the “Oracle of Los Angeles”
“For a Samhain ritual, witches might want to get together in their covens and each bring a story from a historic social justice hero who’s inspired them. For instance, we might set up an altar to those social justice warriors who have gone before: Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Dolores Huerta, Berta Isabel Cáceres, Phoolan Devi, Queen Liliuokalani, to name just a few... For each story, witches can extend their gratitude, give offerings, listen for guidance from the spirits.
“Since last Halloween, over 800 people have lost their lives to police brutality. We should say their names."”
Samhain is also a good time to honor and mourn those that we’ve lost. Since last Halloween, over 800 people have lost their lives to police brutality. We should say their names. We should remember their families and the ones who loved them.
Now is the time to renew our commitment to taking action against injustice. It is not enough to say that we repudiate hate and oppression ― unless we are actively doing something to stop it, we are part of the problem. Samhain is a time to mourn, to confront our fears, to ask for help from our heroes, and above all, to remember that despite the fact that darkness gathers, the days grow short, and winter comes, spring always returns. We will get through this. Our descendants will call upon us in the future, and remember the work we did to create a happier, healthier, more beautiful world.”
Courtney Weber, Wiccan priestess and author
“This year, Samhain for me is not so much about the past as it is the future. Usually, I focus on the deceased beloveds who have influenced me. While I will certainly still leave plentiful space for that, I will also focus on my own legacy, specifically what am I doing in this moment to benefit those who will come after me? What will my descendants thank me for when I am only a photograph on their Ancestors altars?
“What will my descendants thank me for when I am only a photograph on their Ancestors altars?"”
As for activists, thinking about the future is a necessity. What is the world we wish to see? Chances are we may never see full manifestation of our dreams for this society while we are alive. We must remember that many great social changes took more than one generation to implement. By keeping in mind that we will one day be Ancestors of our movements, we must take steps each day to make that future world a reality. We must celebrate small victories and know those are our gifts and legacies to future generations.”
John Halstead, climate activist and Editor-At-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com
“Samhain calls to mind the myths of the Wild Hunt, the spectral host of hunters which rides forth at this time of the year in pursuit of anyone caught out in the open. In this time of environmental desecration and social injustice, I imagine a different role for the Wild Hunt.
“I imagine in Hunt riding forth from the past, from which the activist heroes and heroines who began the fight or social, environmental, and economic justice call us to action."”
I imagine the Hunt riding forth from the earth which has been poisoned by tar sands extraction, leaking pipelines, and fracking. I see among the Host the spirits of the violated land and the other-than-human beings who have been driven to extinction by human greed. I imagine the Hunt riding forth from the Otherworld, where the restless spirits of victims of violence dwell, among whom I see spirits of Black men and women murdered by police and by White supremacists; spirits of lesbian, gay, and transgender people killed by bigots or driven to suicide by a homophobic and transphobic culture; and spirits of women and girls murdered by husbands, boyfriends, and strangers.
I imagine in Hunt riding forth from the past, from which the activist heroes and heroines who began the fight or social, environmental, and economic justice call us to action. This Hunt rides forth demanding justice, equality, and love in all our relations. The people of ages past ran from the Hunt. But we must go forth and join it.”
These reflections have been edited for length and clarity.