Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Spiritual Activism: Uniting Spirituality and Activism for Transformative Change

spiritual activism, witchcraft, activism, intersectionality, social justice, social change, collective liberation, witch, wicca, wiccan, pagan, hedge witch, green witch, spirituality, kitchen witch, justice

Spiritual activism is a form of activism that is rooted in spiritual philosophies and practices to dismantle oppressive systems. It combines spiritual knowledge and passion with radical real-world action. According to AnaLouise Keating, "spiritual activism is spirituality for social change, spirituality that posits a relational worldview and uses this holistic worldview to transform one's self and one's worlds." On a large scale, spiritual activism works to preserve and heal our planet and the life that resides here, while on a smaller scale, providing an opportunity for us to grow and mature spiritually. 

Spiritual activism is not part of the "Love and Light" movement. In fact, it works in opposition to "Love and Light" which promotes spiritual bypassing. According to John Welwood, spiritual bypassing is the act of using "spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional 'unfinished business,' to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks." In short, spiritual bypassing is a type of spiritual gaslighting where the individual ignores the "shadow" aspect of humanity in favor of the "lighter" aspects of life and spirituality. Ignoring these problems in an attempt to remain "positive" does two things: it dismisses the experiences of marginalized groups while simultaneously absolving white people of their personal responsibility to combat injustice. I have talked about spiritual bypassing before in The Darkness Within: Is the Love and Light Movement Hurting Us?, and how such beliefs and actions are detrimental to our mental health and well-being. It's important to note, however, that spiritual bypassing upholds also white supremacy, which is in direct opposition to true spiritual activism. (You can read more about spiritual bypassing and how it promotes racism in Unpacking Spiritual Bypassing: Why 'Love and Light' Without Action Can't Dismantle Racism and Spiritual Bypassing: The Work of Anti-Racism in Spiritual Communities.)

Traditional activism is often driven solely by anger and the idea that you have to "beat" your opponent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being fueled by anger; it's completely justified in the face of oppression. When anger is your only motivator, however, it can lead to burnout and ultimately remove you from the fight, which helps no one. Furthermore, the true goal of activism is to secure lasting change, which often means changing the minds and actions of our opponents, not beating them into submission. In the end, traditional activism is not always sustainable for most activists, but adding a spiritual component can help reduce the chances you burnout.

Spirituality is a search for meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. It can root your activism in purpose, one that focuses on not only changing oppressive systems but also self-care. As I say in my book The Green Witch's Guide to Self Care you cannot fill the cauldron (help the community) if you do not first fill your own cup (engage in self-care). Your spirituality and practice act as the soil in which you can plant your intentions and cultivate them daily in a sustainable and meaningful way. But what does this look like in action?

Action Based on Compassion for Justice
First and foremost, there must be a spiritual motivation in pursuit of justice, and this motivation should be rooted in altruism and the desire to build community while removing oppressive systems. Some spiritual activists argue that our motivation should not be to destroy but to build, but I see the value in destruction. From destruction comes new life; just as a fire destroys a forest, it adds vital nutrients to the soil that allows life to prosper in its wake. I believe the same is true here. To build a better world, we must first destroy the systems of oppression in place that prevent our collective liberation. However, by shifting our mindset away from anger, fear, and despair toward compassion and love, we can be driven by a greater purpose and reduce our chances of burning out. Anger, fear, and despair are the killers of motivation when we rely on them as our only driving force for too long.

Recognition of Interconnectedness and Intersectionality
All living things are interconnected with each other and the nonliving things that surround us. When one group faces oppression, we all do, even if we cannot immediately see it. Our disconnect from each other and the world around us leads many to distance themselves from taking accountability for the suffering they cause, such as purchasing from companies that exploit their workers or the environment. When you dig deeper and seek these connections, you discover what is good for the oppressed is good for us all. As I always say, we are not free until we are all free. Furthermore, we must recognize that activism is inherently intersectional. To care for one oppressive group while neglecting or even demonizing another is to engage in oppression. I understand it can feel daunting to help in all areas. I am certainly not asking you to take up every cause. However, you should be aware of how your actions intersect with other causes and make the conscious decision to avoid helping one marginalized group at the expense of another. Recognizing interconnectedness and intersectionality also includes approaching our 'enemies' with compassion and moving away from the "us vs them" mentality toward the collective "we." When we move from separation to cooperation, we are much more likely to succeed at dismantling oppressive systems. This does not mean you back down on issues because it makes someone uncomfortable. Far from it. Always be hard on the issues, even when they make others uncomfortable, but soft on the people. 

Accountability with Action
There are going to be times when you mess up. I have certainly made mistakes over the years and continue to make mistakes today. Institutional and systemic racism, msyigony, abelism, and homophobia are insidious and sometimes present themselves unconsciously. A large part of spiritual activism, or just activism in general, is learning and acting on new information. You must take accountability for your actions, whether you meant to harm or not. I know we talk a lot about intention in witchcraft, but when it comes to activism, your intention matters far less than the impact your actions have. However, accountability without action is meaningless. Societal-level transformations are dependent on the accumulation of changes happening on an individual level. Engage in regular shadow work and make the inner changes required to better the world.

Willingness to Learn
One of the most important aspects of activism work is an openness and willingness to learn. It is a privilege to be able to look away from oppression, a privilege that has no place in spiritual activism. Shielding yourself from suffering prevents transformation. Not only must you be willing to keep your eyes on real-world events, you must be open to learning how your actions harm others without your ego getting in the way. Listen to Black, Indigenous, and other people of Color (BIPOC). If their words provoke you, stop and reflect on why. Again, engage in the shadow work necessary for growth and change privately. The comment section is not your journal and marginalized groups do not owe you their time and energy. When you do learn something, pay the teacher for their work!

Commitment to Spirituality and Self-Care
Finally, spiritual activism demands commitment to your spiritual journey, which includes radical self-love and self-care. You should engage in your spiritual practice on a regular basis, taking time to pray, meditate, or otherwise connect to Spirit, such as journaling, gardening, mindfulness walks, and forest bathing. Heck, hug a damn tree! Engagement in spiritual practices helps us to recharge and refocus our engeries while combating exhaustion and burnout. Remember, we are trying to build a sustainable practice, one that can catapult society into a better, more inclusive future. We need you.

In the end, spiritual activism is about creating sustainability rooted in justice and compassion. You may notice there is a new page featured on my navigation bar titled "Spiritual Activism." On that page, you will (eventually) find links to articles, books, and other resources, as well as actionable steps you can use in your own spiritual activism. It is time we stop being bystanders.

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